Primare SPA23 AV amplifier

Primare, purveyor of high-end AV and hi fi, isn't a famous follower of fashion. Its stock in trade is immaculately built and designed parts for the connoisseur. While this doctrine has a natural kinship with two channel hi-fi, it is a less simple healthy with AV, where characteristics and functions are typically stacked higher than Godzilla's galoshes.

The SPA23 home cinema amp wears its characteristics on its sleeve. This really is a delightful-looking amplifier: the distinguishing Primare bullet knobs bookend the unit's screen, which itself is refreshingly big and legible. A quartet of buttons offer a modicum of on-body control.

On the rear panel, Primare has swept away the forest of heritage input signals which regularly blight AV receivers. This amplifier offers five HDMI inputs and two outputs. They'll, however, permit 3D signs, which is some concession to modernity. Both HDMI outputs, it must be noted, cannot be used simultaneously; you need to specify an output signal for any given source in the set up menu. Along with four stereo phono inputs, there is a group of 7.1 input signals for use with Super Audio CD and DVD-Audio players, plus a second audio zone feed and full set of pre-outs.

System management alternatives cover IR, RS232 as well as a trio of 12V triggers. Speaker binding posts are reassuringly significant. Like Anthem's MRX models, there's no network functionality in any way, not even a USB input signal. Should you want file playback, you'll need a different network source.

The SPA23 is a conventional 5.1 design, with each station rated at 120W into 8 ohms. This is not a dream figure. The SPA23 can make grown up speakers bleed, as I found out when I selected Linkin Park Live in Texas with the volume unwittingly ramped up.

Performance is superb. P5HNG ME A*WY, in the band's CD/DVD pack, has a driving urgency that demonstrates the SPA23's skill to ringfence vocal clarity regardless how emphatic the metal wrapper. The same track in the associated live DVD, in DD 5.1, offers even greater delineation. Likewise, Numb drops rapid, deep and tight, with the ambiance of the arena place subtle but totally convincing.

Beneath the hood, the SPA23 employs 24-bit/192kps Wolfson DACs, used together with Burr Brown and Texas Instruments op amps. The Bypass mode, which sidesteps all DSP, offers a tad more transparency than the main stereo mode, but there's very little to select between them both.

Digital diva

The mixture of digital amplification and switch-mode power supply might once have raised eyebrows at high-end hi-fi soirees, but in truth, superior digital amplification can sound exceptionally exciting (a prime example being Bang & Olufsen's ICE Power) along with the tech offers practical benefits in terms of efficacy and heat direction. Naturally, poorly implemented digital amps also can sound metallic and glassy. Here, UFPD keeps distortion uniformly low (particularly around 7 kHz) irrespective of load, evidently helping vocal performance. The SPA23 also uses isolating Power Factor Control technology which regulates the current in the mains voltage, massaging the supply.

The great news is the fact that UFPD sounds lithe and entertaining. As the VFX grow in scale, so does the audio. When the erupting volcano roils around Spock, the shuttle craft spins around the soundfield, its engines apparently doing some heavy lifting from LCR to right rear, all seamlessly muscle via the Primare. This amp does spectacle nicely!

The SPA23 naturally snubs the tendency of omnipresent auto calibration. It takes a more frugal method of set up, but it's not all sackcloth and ashes. The menu is a clean textual affair, covering all of the required input signal, sound, video and speaker settings, plus control/zone 2 configuration. The video input enables you to not only assign and rename sources, but set equipment causes, AV delay (in ms) and default sound processing, be it stereo, all-station celebration mode, Pro-Logic IIx or Neo: 6.

Similarly, individual amount and distance for loudspeakers may be handled. It is possible to alter the size and crossover for left, right and sub, plus centre and encompasses, in 10Hz increments from 40Hz to 200Hz, together with degrees and space. There's also a menu choice, called Double Bass, to engage the subwoofer for stereophonic material (not so nice).

As you may have collected, this Primare has zero interest in additional height or width processing. DTS-HD Master Audio and Dolby TrueHD are decoded using a Sharc DSP from Analog Devices; the amp naturally makes do with sib codecs for example DTS Neo:6, DTS 96/24 and Dolby Digital EX.

Group-leading clarity

While it is unlikely to be shortlisted by studious badge-hunters, it should definitely appeal to those after a superior multichannel experience. It's healthy, fast and capable of course-top clarity.

Primare SPA23 AV amplifier photo