Audio IEMs Reviews Universal-Fit

Nuforce Primo 8: A Leapfrog to the Top?

Comparisons

Although the two aren’t the same in terms of frequency response, the Primo 8 most reminds me of the love child between the Shure SE535 LTD, and the now out-of-production HiFiMAN RE-262, a classically mid-centric dynamic earphone with the same gentle warmth but simultaneous sense of transparency that the Primo 8 possesses. Sound signature wise, these IEMs are always composed and clean as a whistle, but are quite warm, and despite possessing great detail, don’t present it aggressively.

However, if we go by the description that the Primo 8 is an over-ear, concha bowl design with quad balanced armature drivers, and is currently Nuforce’s flagship universal in-ear product, then the most comparable products are the Westone W40 and W50. While the newly released Westone W60 is the Colorado firm’s newest flagship, the W40 and W50 are more comparable in price, with the W40 being identical in price to the Primo 8.

Thus, starting off with the Westone earphones, I firmly believe that the Primo 8 is technically superior to both the W40 and W50. The center image presents not only bigger but more accurately, without and odd recesses in the upper midrange. Furthermore, the bass response is far more linear and far nimbler in transient speed. Both the W40 and W50 possess a mid-bass hump that not only occludes part of the lower midrange but also comes off as somewhat plodding compared to the ballerina feet of the Primo 8. Against the Westone models, the Nuforce might be better named the Prima Donna 8.

I’ll admit, 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 is significantly recessed in the upper midrange, while elevated in parts of the lower treble. So, 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.

When it comes to SQ, the Logitech UE900 probably comes closest to the Primo 8 in terms of technical performance, but the Primo 8 provides a better fit and ergonomics for my ear, as well as a sound signature that I enjoy more. These factors, coupled with the fact that Logitech has been questioned for odd business practices regarding the UE900 and its revised UE900S version, make me lean toward the Primo 8.

The Audio-Technica ATH-IM04, a new offering from the Japanese audio giant, is also a direct competitor, and seems to take a departure from the classic Audio-Technica house sound in favor of a bassier sound. I find the Primo 8‘s bass, despite also being lifted above neutral (albeit less so), decidedly less overwhelming than any of its competitors. Thus, the IM04 feels more heavy-handed than the the Primo 8 in the low end. I feel the two earphones are on equal footing, however, just with different tuning choices. The IM04 decidedly provides a more neutral tonal balance to the midrange and lower treble, whereas the warmer, more mid-forward Primo 8 feels a bit more transparent, providing a better formed stereo image.

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 for people who desire to closely monitor vocals. 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.

A last look at the Primo 8.
The Primo 8 measures up well against most of its competitors..

Even though the Shure SE846 has been well-received, I’ve not been a big fan of it, largely because I don’t believe its performance reflects its high price. Its technological showcase is its woofer — people who want the subwoofer experience in a BA earphone should definitely try out the SE846 at one point or another, as it’s one of the few earphones with a beefy lower bass response that doesn’t encroach upon the rest of the frequency range. Clever R&D and manufacturing makes this possible, and it’s one of the only valid justifications for Shure’s high asking price for its quad-driver flagship. I’m less impressed with the rest of the SE846, however. With the blue reference filter attached, the SE846 doesn’t manage to be much better than than the Primo 8 with respect to transparency. 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 both tonal accuracy and level of detail.

Ultimately, the Shure is the better earphone because of its nifty woofer technology and added versatility with exchangeable treble filters, but I’m not convinced it’s fully worth double the price over the Primo 8. If you don’t need three different sound signatures and happen to enjoy the Nuforce‘s voicing, then I’d say the Primo 8 is good enough for most music.

The FitEar TO GO! 334 has been a favorite of high-end IEM listeners ever since it released in 2012. The Primo 8‘s sound tuning philosophy is actually somewhat similar to that of the FitEar 334 — warm, mid-focused, slightly laid-back in the treble, and transparent. However, the Primo 8 is actually a little more mild in flavor (whether that’s a good or bad thing, is up to personal taste); the 334 possesses thicker bass and thicker mids.

Where the $1349 FitEar wins out over the Primo 8 is in its simply sublimely beautiful response above 1 kHz; the Primo 8 just can’t match the organic and open feel of the 334 — it’s an intangible feeling that’s hard to describe, but FitEar manages to produce a euphony in the 334 that I find has been difficult to replicate with other earphones.

NEXT PAGE: Concluding Thoughts

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4 comments

  1. I’m sorry to mention this, but your comments on the recessed upper midrange and its effect on vocals are contradictory and don’t make sense. Female vocals are very much in the midrange/upper-midrange area, and a recessed upper midrange will make them sound distant or “veiled,” not “very forward” as you say. An example of that effect would be the UE900. It’s measurements, in Inner Fidelity, clearly show a large scoop in the upper midrange, and one complain about them is also that female vocals sound distant. I think you need to learn exactly where the upper midrange is, or else learn what “recessed” means (it’s the opposite of forward).

    So this leaves me wondering whether your description of these IEMs as a whole is accurate or not.

    Like

    1. For in-ears, my personal distinction between lower and upper midrange is this: lower midrange is 600-2.5k, while upper midrange is 2.5k to 4.5k, and a provision for a “central midrange” area between 800-1.5k. This distinction is determined by a general survey of vocal formants, fundamentals and harmonics, but divided by the way the average human HRTF works (which usually exhibits a peak at 2.5-3 kHz, and increases most dramatically starting from about 600-800 Hz).

      You can do an experiment yourself, and EQ down 3-4kHz by 6 dB, while boosting 800-2k by 6 dB (a 12 dB swing should make things pretty obvious) — you should very clearly hear that vocals are some how “brought forward” and that they sound “full”, but because harmonics and secondary formants are recessed relative to their fundamentals and primary formants, these vocals will sound “dulled” and slightly too “warm”. This psychoacoustic effect should work on any in-ear that doesn’t have significant midrange coloration by itself.

      As to the UE900, the big difference is that the very low reaches of the midrange (or the upper lows, if you will) are greatly boosted compared to its somewhat even “central midrange” region. Male vocals and instrumental fundamentals will overpower female vocals, which begin a little higher up.

      Keep in mind that lower treble will also affect the way voices sound; extra transient “spikes” in the sibilance regions of 6-8k will often give vocals a delineated “clarity” but do not contribute to the “body” and “fullness” of the way voices sound.

      That’s why most telephony applications have a minimum of 400 – 4000 Hz, but for clarity, these frequencies are extended to 200 – 8000 Hz to cover a wider range of fundamentals and harmonics. Even then, voices don’t sound completely realistic.

      Hopefully, this clears up the way the Primo 8 was described in the review.

      Like

    2. For in-ears, my personal distinction between lower and upper midrange is this: lower midrange is 600-2.5k, while upper midrange is 2.5k to 4.5k, and a provision for a “central midrange” area between 800-1.5k. This distinction is determined by a general survey of vocal formants, fundamentals and harmonics, but divided by the way the average human HRTF works (which usually exhibits a peak at 2.5-3 kHz, and increases most dramatically starting from about 600-800 Hz).

      You can do an experiment yourself, and EQ down 3-4kHz by 6 dB, while boosting 800-2k by 6 dB (a 12 dB swing should make things pretty obvious) — you should very clearly hear that vocals are some how “brought forward” and that they sound “full”, but because harmonics and secondary formants are recessed relative to their fundamentals and primary formants, these vocals will sound “dulled” and slightly too “warm”. This psychoacoustic effect should work on any in-ear that doesn’t have significant midrange coloration by itself.

      As to the UE900, the big difference is that the very low reaches of the midrange (or the upper lows, if you will) are greatly boosted compared to its somewhat even “central midrange” region. Male vocals and instrumental fundamentals will overpower female vocals, which begin a little higher up.

      Keep in mind that lower treble will also affect the way voices sound; extra transient “spikes” in the sibilance regions of 6-8k will often give vocals a delineated “clarity” but do not contribute to the “body” and “fullness” of the way voices sound.

      That’s why most telephony applications have a minimum of 400 – 4000 Hz, but for clarity, these frequencies are extended to 200 – 8000 Hz to cover a wider range of fundamentals and harmonics. Even then, voices don’t sound completely realistic.

      Hopefully, this clears up the way the Primo 8 was described in the review.

      Like

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