Section :
Testing Ground

Primare I15 Prisma: the best streaming amplifier on the market?

By ALBAN AMOUROUX |

Primare’s integrated network amplifier is decked out to the brim and includes numerous functions within a reduced format and exhaustive connectivity. Such products are made to replace each and every component within an entire HiFi system: nothing more is required than to connect it to your speakers. This is what HiFi in 2020 looks without making any concessions in musical quality…

Primare is a manufacturer of highly connective Hi-Fi products. Today, a good number of their devices are available in two versions: with or without a network card. Those which are equipped with one hold the name Prisma, which refers to the Swedish manufacturer’s streaming ecosystem that’s divided into cards of varying levels of quality according to its 15, 25 and 35 ranges. For the latter two, the cards are exchangeable for when new technologies arrive in the future. On the I15, the device we are testing here, the network card is permanent.

Primare does not exclusively include audio streaming functionality in its integrated amplifiers. Other devices benefit from it too, such as the CD15 and CD35 CD players and the SC15 and PRE35 preamplifiers. And let’s not forget the newly-available NP5 mini-streamer which permits connectivity in Hi-Fi systems that lack such a feature. The world of Prisma is navigated via a dedicated mobile application that gives access to all of the brand’s devices and allows diffusion in multi-room. This article concentrates on the most accessible, reduced format, integrated connected Primare on the market today.

Characteristics

Price: 1,250 euros
Power: 2x60 watts under 8 ohms
Connectivity: AC WiFi, Ethernet, Bluetooth, 1x analog input, 1x analog/digital minijack input, 3x optical digital inputs, 1x coaxial, 1x USB-B input, 1x analog output, 1x coaxial digital output, 1x USB-A port
Formats: WAV, LPCM, AIFF, FLAC, ALAC, MP3, MP4 (AAC), WMA, OGG, DSD
Streaming: Chromecast, AirPlay, Spotify Connect
Weight: 6.4kg
Dimensions (W x H x D): 344x86x182mm

General Presentation of the I15 Prisma

Let’s face it, rules no longer apply to the appearance of Hi-Fi components. Throughout the years, no matter what brand, they were all relatively the same size so as to stack them on top of each other in what today we would call an ‘old-fashioned’ HiFi system. Manufacturers have free rein and use it to their advantage, creating products of dimensions that suit them. With a width of 34cm, the I15 Prisma is of rather compact size, less bulking and easier to integrate with your HiFi setup.

The I15 is easily a member of the Primare family with its characteristic large facade in brushed aluminium with rounded corners and free-standing. The brand’s logo is engraved on the bottom right but also on top of the device. The simplified design of this entry-level model wants only for a volume potentiometer which here is replaced by two little buttons. The I15 Prisma is hyperconnected and everything is controlled through its mobile application.

Two other buttons are provided: the power and source selection buttons. At the centre is a large OLED monochrome screen which provides an array of information such as the input, volume, information on the track being listened and streaming info.

The rear of the device is completely packed. On the left are analog RCA inputs and outputs. At the side are five digital inputs - optical, coaxial and mini-jack. For network connectivity, there is a USB-A port for a drive filled with audio files and a USB-B port to link the device to a PC or Mac.

On top, two antenna enable WiFi and Bluetooth connections. Between the two, are an array of controls: a 12 volt switch for turning on the device, an infrared input and output and an RS-232 port. The I15 Prisma is ready to be inserted into more complex systems if need be. Finally, the loudspeaker terminals accept banana plugs.

Under the hood, the three main cards are linked up with sturdy connectors. There is one dedicated to supply, one for audio and control and another for amplification. Primare have opted for a class D Hypex audio amplifier module. The I15 handles 2x60 watts under 8 ohms and 2x100 watts under 4 ohms. The main card is compatible with daughterboards, wireless and anything digital. Its AKM AK4490EQ converter accepts files up to 384 kHz and DSD128s.

Features of the I15 Prisma

Thanks to the inclusion of network audio protocol Chromecast Audio, the Primare I15 Prisma is initially installed through the mobile application, Google Home. This operation only takes a few minutes.

With Google Home, the amplifier can be voice navigated with the Google Home Mini voice assistant. We can then make use of the Primare Prisma mobile application.

The first screen you will encounter on the Primare app is a list of all the devices made by the brand found on your network. From here you can easily turn on or turn off the I15 Prisma.

The next screen provides us with all the available sources: physical inputs, USB ports, files shared through the network, the contents of your smartphone and streaming services like Qobuz. Note that this consists of a simple link that redirects you to the Qobuz app because the Primare app does not directly integrate the services.

Upon opening the physical sources tab, a list of inputs appears with little icons indicating the type of connection. The personalisation feature allows you to hide inputs that will not be used.

Once on the Qobuz application, the I15 is capable of all kinds of file reading through the Chromecast protocol. Hi-Res files can be read through this means. Highly practical, the I15’s volume can be controlled via the app. Primare have announced that their streaming amplifier will soon be compatible with Roon, which was not available when we took this test.

Upon listening

To make the most of our usual test playlist, we have made fair use of the Qobuz application and connected it through Chromecast. From the first note, this little I15 is keen to elevate sound. On Maxwell’s Sumthin’ Sumthin’ from the album Urban Hang Suite, the drums are restrained and strike with realism urging us to doubt the device’s power, as if selling itself short. In fact, the I15 has everything under control and never reveals its limits unless listened to at very high volumes.

Liveliness of this kind is striking when coming from such a small all-in-one product. The bandwidth appears to be respected across spectrum with fleshy vocals that are always well-centred, pronounced and understandable. In his Live at FIP, Petra Magoni is right there in front of us with plenty of texture. Reproduction is smooth, although it can be a little too emphatic at times. But we won’t hold it against Primare because they offer a far-from-clinical listening experience with warm, rousing sounds.

The I15 Prisma excels on more intimate, smaller works and live recordings in contained spaces. This amplifier manages to recreate a sonic bubble far from that audiophile tendency of hyper-definition that’s close to us and reality. The sound stage is neither enormous nor stretched to its limits. It’s a complete package, purely musical in the very sense of the term. Neither is it overly complicated, it simply allows one to spend long hours listening to song after song without asking questions.

+ :
All-in-one efficiency
Plenty of dynamics
Robust sound stage
Build and finish
Chromecast and Airplay

- :
Limited mobile application
Soon to be compatible with Roon?

Conclusion

This Primare I15 Prisma integrated streaming amplifier is a pleasant surprise. Full of energy, Primare have gifted us with a high level of sound reproduction, punchy bass and a well rounded sound stage. It’s the kind of attention-grabbing amplifier that makes you stop and wonder, even though it’s not perfect. It has the potential of being a musical companion for years to come. Its sufficient connectivity and varying wireless capabilities thanks to Chromecast and AirPlay render it universal. The display is practical for reading the source, track and artist at the same time. Finally, it is wonderfully presented with a great finish and high-grade construction. A real catch, a Qobuzissime worthy of the name.