Primare I21 review

A beautifully built, stylish, and capable amp it might be, but its overall character might prove a little too polite for some Tested at £1000

What Hi-Fi? Verdict

If you like a laid-back sound, housed in a gorgeous chassis, check out the I21


  • +

    Grand scale soundstage

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    detailed listen

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    bass delves deep


  • -

    Sonic signature a touch laid back

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    treble veers towards the sharper side

Why you can trust What Hi-Fi? Our expert team reviews products in dedicated test rooms, to help you make the best choice for your budget. Find out more about how we test.

This is a beautifully built component, and makes a perfect visual partner for the matching CD21 CD player (£800). Winningly finished in moody titanium, it exudes solidity, understatement and classic good looks. Every switch feels painstakingly damped and the casework is substantial.

Our affection for this machine's Award-winning big brother, the I30, meant we were very excited when it came to testing this amplifier. But this cheaper machine's somewhat laid-back sonic character was the cause of our slight disappointment. It was good in so many ways, but ultimately failed to be the talented all-rounder we hoped.

Revisiting the I21, we again note its tendency to stroll instead of stride, and it also contains a treble that, with the wrong kit partners, can get a touch sharp. A good long run-in gets rid of a certain amount of unwanted crispness, but even so, avoid using with any kind of lazy-sounding speakers. Also choose a punchy and rhythmic source, rejecting anything that contains an excitable top end. Only then do you experience a thoroughly enjoyable listening sensation.

Suitably matched, the Primare's treble only occasionally slips up, and the amplifier digs up impressive levels of detail, delivering decent (if not class-leading) dynamics and a truckload of good, solid bass when it's demanded.

Substantial soundstage
However, its most impressive talent is a huge soundstage: play Eric Whitacre's Cloudburst, and the amp presents the composer's choral works with grand scale and weight, yet retains impressive levels of composure when the piece gets demanding. Close your eyes and the relative positions of the choir are easy to locate within the stereo image.

Switch to music that demands a firmer hand, though, and the I21 lacks the drive and excitement of the best amps at this price. Massive Attack's brooding tunes sound a little less menacing, and The White Stripes' raw edge is smoothed off, and wants for attitude.

A beautifully built, stylish, and capable amp it might be, but its overall character might prove a little too polite for some.

What Hi-Fi?

What Hi-Fi?, founded in 1976, is the world's leading independent guide to buying and owning hi-fi and home entertainment products. Our comprehensive tests help you buy the very best for your money, with our advice sections giving you step-by-step information on how to get even more from your music and movies. Everything is tested by our dedicated team of in-house reviewers in our custom-built test rooms in London, Reading and Bath. Our coveted five-star rating and Awards are recognised all over the world as the ultimate seal of approval, so you can buy with absolute confidence.

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