Primare SPA23 home cinema integrated AV amplifier review

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posted on Saturday, 20th December 2014 by Steve May

Karma-av  home cinema 

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Home theatre has a been a bedrock of the custom install business since its inception. Indeed, for many it was the starting point, long before home automation and control systems became ubiquitous. Yet as the AV receiver became increasingly sophisticated in a quest to stay relevant, consumers started to seek out simpler propositions. It seems home cinema became a category where complexity has contributed to its creeping demise. Surely the time is right for a stripped back, performance led home cinema champion?    

Enter the Primare SPA23. This integrated AV amplifier certainly has the right credentials. It puts performance stage centre, leaving frippery floundering in the foyer. It's a stripped back, audiophile grade component designed simply to leave listeners with a Joker-wide grin...

Primare SPA23 home cinema amplifier: Specification
The SPA23 is a standard 5.1 multichannel design, rated at 120w into 8 ohms across the board. While not chump change, this figure doesn’t really do justice to the sheer wallop on tap, nor the accuracy with which it can be delivered.

Connectivity is refreshingly straightforward. Rather than offer a litany of legacy inputs, Primare keeps things simple. You get five HDMI inputs plus two outputs. It’s important to note that these outputs cannot be used simultaneously - you need to specify an output for any given source in the set up menu. While there’s 3D support for Full HD, 4K pass through and ARC are conspicuous only by their absence. 

Audio connectivity includes six digital inputs (three coax, three optical), four stereo phono inputs, plus a 7.1 bank for use with Super Audio CD and DVD-A players. There’s also a second audio zone feed and a full-set of pre-outs. Speaker binding posts are reassuringly meaningful. System control options cover IR, RS232 and a trio of 12v triggers.

Fascia (1)

Rear Panel (1)

Primare SPA23 home cinema amplifier: Design and features
This isn’t a receiver intended for multimedia streaming or file playback. There’s no network functionality at all, and that includes direct USB input. Instead, you’ll need to spec a dedicated network media player or streamer. On the plus side, build and finish are immaculate. This is a multi-channel amplifier that puts great store in superior components. It looks darn pretty too. The brand’s distinctive bullet knobs bookend the display, which is clear and informative, and there’s support by a few on-body controls. The SP23 ships with two remotes, a standard button strewn doofer and a simpler credit card sized controller. 

Inside the steel chassis, signal paths are short and layouts uncomplicated. A modular design theoretically allows DSP, video and connections to be upgraded using proprietary boards, as and when required, so there’s the promise of future-proofing.

Primare SPA23 home cinema amplifier: Performance
Sonically, the SP23 is nothing less than outstanding. It’s wondrously dynamic and precise, combining great vocal clarity with tight, hard transient attacks. This characteristic does it great service both with movies and music. The amp is one of a new line of Class D models from Primare designated a UFPD (or Ultra Fast Power Device). Offering a combination of digital amplification and switch mode power supply, UFPD promises solid benefits in terms of efficiency and heat management. The SPA23 also boasts isolating Power Factor Control technology which regulates the current from the mains voltage.

Remote

In home cinema guise, the SP23 is big on spectacle. With crisp directional panning, a wonderfully rich mid-range and capable of solar plexus-bothering LFE punches, it’s an exciting listen. Yet with two channel music, it’s also undeniably refined. Much of this is probably down to the 24bit 192kps Wolfson DACs, coupled to Burr Brown and Texas Instruments op-amps.

There’s no auto calibration software built-in nor microphone supplied, but getting the balance right proves easy enough with an SPL metre in one hand and a cup of Joe in the other. Individual level and distance for speakers are easily managed. You can change the size and crossover for left, right and sub, plus centre and surrounds, in 10Hz increments from 40Hz to 200Hz, along with levels and distance. There’s also a menu option, called Double Bass, to engage the subwoofer for stereophonic material. Menus are straightforward to navigate; Set Up allows configuration of inputs, audio and video, speaker settings and zone configuration.

The video input allows you to assign and rename sources, set equipment triggers, AV delay in ms and default audio processing. There’s a choice of stereo, all-channel party mode, Pro-LogicIIX and NEO6. If required, you can make video adjustments, but most installers will rightly settle for the defaults. There's also the ability to employ detail enhancement and Mosquito noise reduction, along with some other minutiae.

As we’ve established, there’s no talk of Dolby Atmos or Auro-3D here. But if you want DTS HD Master Audio and Dolby TrueHD then you’re in the right place. For purists there’s a bypass mode which sidesteps all DSP; this offers a tad more transparency than the main stereo mode, but there’s not much to choose between modes.

Primare SPA23 home cinema amplifier: Verdict
Compared to so many mainstream AVR rivals, the Primare SPA23 is unapologetically straight-laced However this actually transpires to be a good thing. If you’re looking to install a gratifyingly superior 5.1 multichannel system, that won’t take an age to fine tune, this premium amplifier will do the job beautifully. It’s extremely well made and has the sonic manners of an aristocrat. 

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The Primare SP23 home cinema amplifier is available now.
Retail price: £3,500
The Primare SP23 is distributed by Karma-AV. For more on Karma-AV’s product portfolio and services, visit our partner page here.

Steve May

Steve is a veteran of the UK consumer electronics industry, having covered it for
various media outlets for more than 20 years.

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