Nuforce Primo 8: Boundless Mids

The Sound

NOTE: Primo is sensitive. You won’t need to set your player or amp very high before its volume ramps up crazily. Combine this with above-average isolation and Primo 8  really kicks it. Be careful. It’s also not the hardest earphone to drive for resolution. A good player, or amp, will net you a great experience. 

Primo 8’s got mids out the wazoo. But they’re anything but whack. They’re anything but schmaltzy. Primo 8’s mids anything are spacious, clear, forward, lovely. Wait, let me back up a bit- mids are so perfectly clear and spacious that, while defining the earphone’s sound, they basically disappear. So often, mid-forward earphones come away sounding hot, bothered, bloomy, blurred, thick, or strident. 

Primo just melts in front of the music. 

Mr. T says it better than ever I could in his excellent Primo 8 review. Here’s what he says:

From my experience with other “phase-coherent” earphones such as the JH Audio FreqPhase demos and CustomArt’s Harmony 8, the large and transparent center image is most certainly assisted by the technical achievement that Nuforce have been able to attain with the Primo 8. Nuforce has been pretty obvious about letting enthusiasts know that they’ve put a lot of work into the crossover arrangement of the Primo 8, and that they’ve achieved flat phase coherence with their Butterworth filter design.

If you’re in the no-know re: Butterworth filters, worry not, Wikipedia’s got you covered.

Essentially, mids melt into all the right crannies and nooks. Their meltyness extends high, and wide, and relatively low. They never, ever, bump against bass, and they jive perfectly with highs. Vocal regions are the furthest forward, followed by percussion. It’s a lounge-style live sound, but you’re rocking out in the sweet spot, and the venue is set for three-hundred people.

King Britt, Bono, John Denver, Perfecto, just for you. If you’re the world’s biggest fan of a certain musician/artist, you won’t get closer to your object of desire outside of a messy love affair. But again, Primo 8 eschews the messy for the intoxicating and rich. And it’s not a one-time thing.

My first listen had me swallowing more saliva than usual. Vocals were clearer – or is it more clearly forward? –  than I had ever heard in an earphone. Still I’m horking. I’ve got 50 gigs of music on my iPad mini, that, paired with a CLAS Solo and a Vorzüge PURE II, just screams for another go with the Primo 8.

James Hetfield has never, ever, filled my head like he has through Primo 8. It’s like my brain’s been scooped out and all that’s left is James. The formerly angry dude’s voice just rolls from corner to corner of my skull, filling all but the bits aft my saliva glands. Cymbals crash in below and to the sides, guitars slide easily between. 

Speaking of, guitars are clean, open, smooth, balanced, and so on. They are neither what I would call meaty, nor are they aggressive, they are sweet, limber, and graceful. They do not grate. If you are a fan of folk, blue grass, Swedish fiddle music, say hello to Primo 8.

It’s not just guitars; everything in the midrange expands laterally, with a somewhat fat blip around vocals. Mean, fast bass buttresses it all up.

And again, Primo puts you in the centre, and wraps you in your favorite music in a way that is quite unique among universal earphones. The veil, my friends, has been torn. 

From top to bottom. 

The mean, fast bass I mentioned above hangs generally around your earlobes. I have a feeling that bass-heads might call it ‘light’. They’d be wrong. Functionally, bass weight and spread ring in north of neutral. But, like every other frequency band, bass is functionally excellent. 

I’ve got this funny feeling that the disgruntled Etymotic ER4 user will fall in love at first listen. She wanted a neutral-sounding earphone, but with Etymotic, got more upper midrange clang and scratch than she bargained for.

With the ER4, never did I finish Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days” with a smile borne of pleasure. After pulling the phones from my ears, I’d be like, well that was a revealing, clean listen. With Primo 8, I’m left howling and tapping, and forgetting everything around me. And, after I go back to shooting speakers, or making dinner, I realize something.

That was a revealing, clean listen. 

The difference is that through Primo 8, clean and revealing are beautiful.

If Primo 8 had that scratchy ER4 thing going on in the highs, it still would be better than the ER4. But I’d not be singing its praises as I am. Highs, like bass, do their thing, then let the mids do theirs. They exist to buttress Primo 8’s incredible, wide, addictive, intimate midrange. And they do it perfectly.

That is- they do it perfectly for rock, for jazz, for live, for symphonies. They do concert hall recordings great. It’s about the intimate, yet lively atmosphere spat out by Nuforce’s phase-coherent drivers. 

But trance, IDM, and hip-hop, are not genres at which Primo 8 excels in rendering. Every trance fan loves a good rave. Every hip-hop fan loves a good grind. 99 times out of one hundred, live electronic music and the scene around it is better than the CD. But when you’re pounding out reviews at Soka coffee shop in Otaka no Mori, and you’ve got MC Solaar, or Jay-Z, or Perfecto on the brain, there’s not enough table to hide that imaginary grind that you just put on that fine, imaginary honey. Neither genre really metes out its best through Primo 8’s super duper wide, forward midrange. Even when doing its best with genres to which it is best suited, Primo 8 demands a longer introduction. I didn’t immediately in love with it. That took several days. Weeks later I discovered just how rich was the experience the Primo 8 delivered.

The Conclusion

Getting into Primo 8 takes a little longer than getting into some other earphones. But the getting into is, in the longer run, more worth it. And while it may bear a passing resemblance to my favorite Shure SE846, its super-duper wide, airy midrange isn’t Shure’s forte. Outside of Primo 8, it may be no one’s thing.

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Back before he became the main photographer for bunches of audio magazines and stuff, Nathan was fiddling with pretty cool audio gear all day long at TouchMyApps. He loves Depeche Mode, trance, colonial hip-hop, and raisins. Sometimes, he gets to listening. Sometimes, he gets to shooting. Usually he's got a smile on his face. Always, he's got a whisky in his prehensile grip.

28 Comments

  • Reply August 5, 2014

    Fabio_Rocks

    Hi, Which one is better, this or Earsonics sm64?

    • Reply August 6, 2014

      ohm image

      That is a very difficult question. SM64 has more low/high contrast, which is more of a typical sound. Primo 8 attacks from the clear, detailed, wide, natural and lovely midrange. I’ve not heard its like before in to universal earphones.

      Both are really nice and comfortable, though the edge goes to the Primo 8 for fit/cable.

      You need to decide what sound you prefer, then make a decision. Primo 8: from the clear, wide, amazing mids; SM64: from a beautiful contrast between frequencies.

      What is more important to you?

      • Reply August 7, 2014

        Fabio_Rocks

        Basically the primo 8 is more a mid-centric sound-signature than the sm64 that is more balanced with a warm tilt.

        My choice will be the sm64 at this point. Forward mids are too polarizing for me.

        What about you Nathan?

        I put a gun to your head forcing to choose one, which one? 🙂

        • Reply August 7, 2014

          ohm image

          I’ve been thinking of how to answer this question. First, if you held a gun to my head and told me to choose one, I’d probably try to kick you in the nuts. If you had no nuts, I’d probably try something else.

          Then, you’d kill me.

          Perhaps I wasn’t clear enough in my description. Primo 8’s mids are forward, yes; but they are natural, light, open, and very unlike anything you likely have heard. In fact, this earphone sounds much more like an open dynamic earphone than a balanced armature earphone.

          In Japan, the only review of them on kakaku.com calls them “a natural-sounding American earphone”, which I think is cute. But it’s pretty close.

          Still, if it’s the fall and winter and I’m in my trance mood, it’s SM64 all the way. But when it’s spring and summer and I’m listening to folk, beach music, jazz, rock, etc., it’s Primo 8 all the way.

          • Reply August 9, 2014

            lachlanlikesathing

            I think it’s time to get your gun Fabio!!!

            • Reply August 9, 2014

              Fabio_Rocks

              So basically for an Iceland tour the SM64 is better, for a trip in Brazil the Primo8 all the way. Thanks Nathan! LoL
              Lachlan can we trade your Primo8 with my gun? I leave you the dirty job!

            • Reply November 6, 2014

              ohm image

              I don’t like where this is going…

    • Reply November 25, 2015

      Deskolim Cheong

      So, how about these if compare with C6iem? Going confuse to decide these three.

  • Reply August 5, 2014

    Kristian Lindecrantz

    Damned I had my mind all but made up, I was going to go with customs. Maybe some noble audio ones or perhaps cosmic ears… Now I might have to rethink that, or what do you say?

    • Reply August 6, 2014

      ohm image

      Noble Audio and Cosmic Ears both are great. If you are wanting customs, no universal will do it for you, but if you are waffling between the two for various reasons, make a list.

      Why do you want customs? What are the benefits of customs? What about universals? Weigh the list and come back here to discuss. They are two completely different experiences.

  • Reply August 5, 2014

    dalethorn

    How easy and costly is that cable swap?

    • Reply August 6, 2014

      ohm image

      Very easy to swap. It just snaps out and there is so much girth to grab that the cables come off without exerting undue pressure. Costly? Mr. T. of Cymbacavum feels that cheaper cables don’t sound that great with Primo 8. I used PlusSound and Linum, and both sound very nice. Neither are cheap.

      • Reply August 10, 2014

        Creator Viktor

        Granted it is the material, not the price that matters… 🙂

        • Reply August 10, 2014

          ohm image

          Indeed. I tend to purchase cables that are medium-priced, but comfortable. For that reason, the Linum cables are amazing.

          • Reply August 10, 2014

            L.

            Which we will review soon here btw 😉

  • Reply August 6, 2014

    Anthony Kimball

    Fantastic review. These are probably going to the top of my in ear list….dang, this is an expensive hobby.

    I was just curious about your impressions with the bass. As far as Hip Hop & EDM (“Neither genre really metes out its best through Primo 8’s super duper wide, forward midrange.”) Did you find the impact(?), slam(?) lacking or did it sound unnatural with those genres? I wasn’t sure what it was you found objectionable…thanks again!!

    • Reply August 6, 2014

      ohm image

      Hip hop: I need to clarify this portion. Bass slam and impact are in no way the problem. The really expansive mids, however, are the focus, and hiphop always sounds better with a higher bass/mid ratio.

      IDM: I find that wide midsections lessen the trance effect, which relies a bit more on contrast between lows and highs. Wide mid sections generally are too hot for Trance. That said, Primo 8’s wide mid section isn’t hot, but it is the most prevalent portion of the music.

      With that proviso in place, and if you can adapt to the sound, Primo 8 really are ready to do anythings else.

  • Reply August 11, 2014

    Andy Q

    Pardon my ignorance but when you say “wide” mids, are you referring to soundstage or frequency band or something else altogether?
    Also in more conventional terms, how is the bass and treble extension? From the sounds of it treble is smooth but is it still well extended? Does the bass have a decent weight and slam?
    Would they be good for say listening to Top 40 pop? Thanks.

    • Reply August 17, 2014

      ohm image

      I mean wide band. Mids are extremely detailed and, yes, soundstage in the mids is huge, but the are wide, forward, but in an airy way that isn’t at all like the traditional balanced armature earphone.

  • Reply August 15, 2014

    Pete

    Which Linum cable did you use? And have you tried the “musical”/”vocal”/”bax” versions?

    • Reply August 17, 2014

      ohm image

      I have tried both vocal and bax. They are both excellent. I’ve not fully tested each for impedance, etc., but I’m a big fan for general use. They sound good, feel great, but don’t support earphones quite as well as they are so damn thin.

  • Reply December 21, 2014

    Miguel Garcia-Guzman

    I am searching for an upgrade of my Ety E4RP (that I like a lot) and based on your reviews I am considering the NuForce Primo, the Grado GR10 and perhaps the Shure SE846. I like clarity and neutrality, with extended high frequencies that are not too aggressive or sibilant, but not rolled off. Basically I love something that is an improvement over the Etys in soundstage and musicality perhaps a bit more bass presence, but without affecting clarify of kids as long as it is fast with excellent PRaT and clarity. Which IEM would you advise me to get?

    • Reply January 6, 2015

      ohm image

      I’m sorry this is late: The GR10 is probably tonally, the closest to your ER4s, whilst presenting larger, but still detailed bass. Highs are definitely smoother, but not at the expense of clarity. If you want something completely different, try the PRIMO. They are amazing.

  • Reply July 22, 2015

    willy vlyminck

    How does the primp do with progressive rock, and or bass loaded rock like Primus, Rage against the machine, classic Yes, Crimson, magma,etc?

  • Reply October 26, 2015

    BigC

    Thanks for your very entertaining and informative review. I have a pair of these iem’s arriving in the courier this week. I hope to drive them with a HRT Microstreamer but want to consider other under $400 USD desktop DAC/amp options like the Fostex hp-a4 or JDS Element if there’s an improvement in sound quality over the Microstreamer. I’d consider portable options in the same price range but assume desktop rigs would offer better sound quality. Any thoughts you have on these previous mentioned devices or other pairings you would recommend would be much appreciated.

    • Reply October 26, 2015

      dalethorn

      If it happens to sound the least bit bright or harsh (after burn-in), you could attach a tube amp to the Microstreamer – that’s what I do sometimes.

      • Reply October 28, 2015

        BigC

        Thanks Dale for the reply. I’m listening to them right now straight out of the box through my microstreamer and they sound a little all over the place. What’s the best way to burn these iem’s in?

        • Reply October 28, 2015

          dalethorn

          You could use one of the classic ‘helicopter’ tracks, or use Grado’s advice and just burn-in as you go (don’t let them play by themselves). Those are the two extremes, and I do both. But be careful of the volume on the first one.

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