A 12-hour Impression of the Primo 8
As the title suggests, I only spent about 12 hours with the Primo 8, as Nuforce had other plans for that particular unit later in the week. These impressions are proportionally short. If I get to have another go at the Primo 8, I'll do a full review, and actually do some interesting comparisons that don't require as much condiment dosing...
Build Quality & Ergonomics
The shells fit well in my ear, and I have fairly small ears. I feel they fit better than the W4R shells, but the new W40 shells feel a little more snug. Likewise, they fit about as well as the SE846, with the edge going to the Primo 8 for comfort. The Primo 8 is also more comfortable and low profile than the ATH-IM04.
The shells feel pretty solid; they don't feel borderline brittle like the old Westone shells or the TDK BA200 shells, but more along the lines of the SE535 shells. It's not perfect, as there are gaps between the two halves of the shells, but hopefully the general production run smooths out these issues. I'll refrain from real judgment until then.
Ergonomically, the cable rotates only about 30º because there is a tab that extends into a small recess in the shell, restricting the rotation of the coaxial connector. Well done, Nuforce!
The cable is quite flexible and feels very nice, but does come off as a bit thin and fragile, especially when compared to its braided EPIC 2 competitor or thick Shure cable. It should be plenty durable, but psychologically, a lot of people are going to take a look at the cable and worry whether or not they'll need an aftermarket one.
The ear guides are big and beefy, and have that "soft-touch plastic" type of feel, but they do feel a bit stiff and difficult to mold to the ear. It's a good thing the cable connector doesn't rotate too much, or else I would've had a terrible time trying to wrap these guides around my ears.
The cables can appear to be kind of thin, especially above the Y-split.
I'm not sure if what I saw was all that is included with the final retail package of the Primo 8, but here goes...
There are four sets of single flange silicone tips (XS, S, M, L), and two pairs of Comply T-100. To me, the silicone tips feel slightly stiff and tacky-feeling to the touch, but once inside the ear they don't feel uncomfortable at all.
While I recommend the Ts-100 tips over the T-100 tips because of their reverse horn effects are minimized, the inclusion of Comply as a tips partner is not a problem at all.
The TDK BA200, a sub-$150 product, included a pair of Tx-100 and a pair of Ts-100, which seems quite accommodating to me. I'd also recommend throwing in a pair or two of biflange tips to give people a choice. Biflange tips isolate better and usually sound better than single flange tips; they're just somewhat uncomfortable for people that aren't used to them. It could take some research into finding which kind of silicone (texture, consistency) allow for a comfortable-feeling double flange tip. Low-density foam tips are a possibility as well.
The storage pouch is made from a very soft lambskin leather that feels very nice. However, it does not provide any crush protection.
There are also other "standard" accessories for an IEM of this caliber: two-prong airplane adapter, 3.5-6.3 adapter, cleaning loop/brush, and a nice microfiber cloth. I can't remember if I'm missing anything else.
There was a small velcro cable organizer as well, but I don't know whether it's actually part of the accessories set or that it's just something Wolf brought along with him to keep the cables tidy.
I suggest as deep a fit as is possible, in order to minimize residual canal volume effects on treble resonances/nulls.
The experience mirrors the TDK BA200 (and most other balanced armature-based, concha bowl designs) in that I get the best, most coherent and detailed sound with a deep fit.
The general sound signature is warm and intimate, but deep and detailed. Highs are relaxed, but still extend well. Bass is mild, perhaps +5 dB over an Etymotic ER4S, and never gets overwhelming in any way. Midrange is fairly forward, with the upper midrange relaxed relative to the lower midrange.
What I like about the Primo 8
The Primo 8 is not an aggressive earphone; quite the opposite, it's mostly relaxed, though still stays light on its feet with respect to speed. To me, it's designed for listening for long periods. It won't over-stimulate your brain like a JH13 FreqPhase will do. Rather, it's made for those that want to slowly but steadily appreciate their music.
What I'm not so hot about the Primo 8
The Primo 8, after 12 hours, just doesn't feel like a character-driven IEM. It feels designed to fit a happy medium, more of a product of focus group feedback, rather than the single, concerted vision of a company head, or an expression of a famous house sound. I felt the same way when I heard the the UE900 a couple years ago, and the Nuforce gave me a sense of deja vu. While the Primo 8 strikes a nice, happy medium that should appeal to a broad number of people, it also runs the risk of not appealing to anyone.
The second thing is about the upper midrange response. I don't have a problem with the lower midrange being elevated, but it really should be met with a proportional increase of upper midrange elevation, in order to achieve the best accuracy in the most sensitive band of the human auditory system. While people do tend to be a bit overly sensitive in that region and too much boost leads to appreciable ear fatigue, it should probably still be elevated at least a little bit more over what it presents now, and still be in line with the Primo 8's tendency to be a relaxing, non-fatiguing earphone.
Soundstage & Imaging
Absolute soundstage is very average (likely a reflection of the relaxed treble), but luckily it doesn't ever feel closed in, which is surprising considering how intimate the vocal fundamentals are placed.
Stereo imaging is quite good with the Primo 8, especially in the central approximately +/- 75º or so range of pan.
In keeping with the idea that the Primo 8 is designed for long-term listening, sibilance is not pronounced in any way. It does not mean that there is no sibilance, however, as some tracks reveal the Primo 8 to be a bit crispier in the 6-7k region than the UERM. Luckily, if we translate that crispiness to the time domain, the sibilance occurs very mildly and (more importantly) transiently, decaying away fairly quickly. There's none of that "ringing" that can be heard in earphones like the Ultrasone IQ.
General Comparisons with Other IEMs
Sound signature wise, these IEMs are like the BA-equipped twin of the RE-600 --- always composed, and clean as a whistle, but is quite warm, and despite possessing great detail, doesn't present it aggressively.
If I only compare it against other quad-driver universal IEMs (have not heard the Noble 4, Audiofly AF180, LEAR LUF-4), then it definitely slots above the Westone W40, perhaps a tiny bit above the UE900 and IM04 (though the reverse argument can be made as well, and I just didn't spend the time comparing), but lags behind the SE846, and the TO GO! 334.
The Audio-Technica ATH-IM04 has not been received very well on head-fi; some users have deemed it a poor value because of its reduced clarity over its lower-priced little brothers, the IM02 and IM03, but I give the IM04 a bit more cachet than others do, and it's still a product worth of being a flagship IEM within the Audio-Technica brand. If we compare the IM04 against the Primo 8, a couple things stand out: (1) the IM04 is slightly weightier feeling in the low end while possessing a similar upper quantity, and (2) the IM04 has a more neutral-sounding midrange with respect to tonal balance, but possesses lesser transparency overall.
While I prefer the tonal balance of the IM04's midrange, as the upper midrange allows the entire vocal band to sound a bit more natural and less forward/warm than the Primo 8, the appreciably greater transparency of the Primo 8 is a significant advantage. It's just easier to appreciate the subtleties in vocal expression with the Primo 8 --- voices project deeper in the sound space and take up a larger, more accurate portion of the stereo image.
I've never been a fan of the Westone 4, and by extension, I don't really like the W40 either. It has never been all that transparent sounding to me, with uneven treble to boot. It's significantly recessed in the upper midrange, while elevated in parts of the lower treble. To me, the Primo 8 is what Westone should've come out with when designing the W4/40. The Primo 8 is hands-down a clear step-up over the W40.
No real time was spent comparing the Primo 8 against the UE900, because (1) I didn't have time to do so, and (2) I never get a good fit with the UE900 with stock tips.
Even though the SE846 has been well-received, I've not been a fan of it, largely because I don't believe its price reflects its performance. People who want the subwoofer experience in a BA earphone should try out the SE846 at one point or another, however. It's one of the few earphones with a beefy lower bass response that doesn't encroach upon the rest of the frequency range because of its acoustic design. I'm less impressed with the rest of the SE846, though it is still a fair bit more detailed than the Primo 8. I did try the SE846 with the white, treble-boosting filters, however, and that type of brighter response allows the SE846 pull away from the Primo 8 in terms of tonal accuracy. With another filter, perhaps the advantages of this $1000 IEM are less pronounced.
The FitEar TO GO! 334 has been a favorite of head-fiers into high-end IEMs. The Primo 8's sound tuning philosophy is actually similar to that of the FitEar 334 --- downsloping. However, the Primo 8 is a little more mild in flavor; the 334 actually has thicker bass and thicker mids. However, the 334 is simply sublimely beautiful in response above 1 kHz, and the Primo 8 just can't match the feel of the 334 --- the FitEar just feels more organic than the Primo 8 --- it's an intangible feel that's hard to describe, but FitEar manages a euphony in the 334 that I find has been difficult to replicate with other earphones.
Likewise, the Primo 8 has not been able to keep up with the technical proficiency of my UERM. The two earphones are quite different in sound signature; the Primo 8 is thicker and fuller, but comes up short when it comes to transparency and openness of soundstage. Even the good stereo separation that I laud the Primo 8 for doesn't quite measure up to that of the UERM's. The one similarity that they share is that neither is an "in your face" type of IEM, as neither will feel overwhelming, in spite of the UERM's brightness, and in spite of the Primo 8's forward midrange.
Final Remarks (...for now)
It's difficult to really assess the Primo 8 in full when only given half a day to do so. I tried my best to tick off all the boxes, and prayed that my experience in a variety of IEMs would help give me some valuable insight into the feel of the Primo 8, but the truth is that you don't buy an IEM for a mere day. From the sound signature alone, it's clear that Nuforce designed this IEM to stay with an user for the long haul, and the Primo 8 would perhaps only prove its true worth in a long-term engagement. It has shown me flashes of it being akin to an Old Faithful in the world of IEMs, and I believe it's a remarkably mature-sounding product, at least in the short time I've spent with it.
I'll look forward to spending a little more time with it, as I want to be able to adequately put their assertion of the Primo 8 being a "phase-coherent" earphone to the test. From a superficial level, it seems to work, as transparency and imaging in a crucial area of the stereo image is surprisingly good --- much better than what I would've expected for an IEM with such forward mids.