These new earphones bring a wonderfully balanced and transparent quality to the table. With clean, undistorted treble, a natural midrange and ample bass reproduction, the Primo 8’s simply trounce a lot of the competition in the $250 – $500 price bracket. They are also well built and come packaged with a number of accessories and an array of ear-tips to help ensure a comfortable fit for a wide variety of ears.
Optoma NuForce Primo 8 Earphones
- Clean, detailed sound
- About as dead neutral a tonal balance as I’ve come across
- Solid build quality
- Excellent packaging with plenty of accessories
- Requires some experimentation with tips and fit to get the best results
- Moderately expensive
For the past few years I’ve been the happy owner of a pair of Nuforce earphones. My NuForce NE-700x bullet style earphones have been probably the best $60 bucks I ever spent to improve the sound that came out of my iPhone’s headphone jack. They are robustly built, have great sound quality and have given me not a licks worth of trouble in the four years that I’ve owned them. My only issue with them has been that they will not stay in place in my ears with any of the supplied silicone ear-tips. If I want them to stay put, I needed to buy some additional memory foam ear-tips from Comply.
In Ear Monitor (earbuds, earphones)
Balanced Armature Drivers, 4 Drivers per Ear: 2 Drivers for Bass; 1 Driver for Midrange; and 1 Driver for Treble
Manufacturer Frequency Response:
18Hz – 22kHz (Driver frequency response in free-field)
118dB ± 3dB
Blue with Black Trim
¼” (6.35 mm) Headphone Adapter, Airline Adapter, Leather Pouch, Cleaning Tool, Microfiber Cleaning Cloth, 130cm Detachable Cable with Microphone, 2 Pairs of Comply Memory Foam Ear Tips (sizes M and L), 8 Pairs of Silicone Ear tips (sizes S, M, L, XL)
Optoma, NuForce, Earphones, IEM
These, when applied correctly, create an excellent seal, keep the earphones firmly in place and isolate out most external sounds. However, in my case, they also tended to noticeably exaggerate the bass, which can be a little annoying with certain kinds of music. However, considering the price I paid for the NE-700x, these were quirks that I could work around because the overall sound quality was still excellent. So, when Optoma, the parent company of NuForce, offered me the chance to sample the Primo 8’s, I gladly took them up on their offer. I was looking forward to seeing what NuForce could do with restraints of budget pretty much lifted from the picture and I’m happy to report that they really took the ball and ran with it. They greatly enhanced the qualities that I liked about my more modest model of phones while addressing some issues that help to improve overall fit and comfort.
Before I get on about the details of the earphones themselves, let me say a word about their packaging. For a premium product these days, one expects a certain level of care and thought to be expended towards a product’s presentation. NuForce has definitely been hard at work on that front because the Primo 8’s have some of the best presentation and accessory bundling that I think I’ve ever seen with a personal audio product. It goes far beyond a nice looking, well-padded storage box to include a lot of very practical and appreciated extras. Things such as a cleaning brush/tool, a large microfiber cloth, a nice quality leather carry pouch, a dual prong airline adapter (do they still use these?), eight pairs of silicone ear tips and two pairs of Comply memory foam ear tips. You come away with the feeling of the Primo 8’s not just being earphones but, in fact, being fine instruments.
Turning to the “instruments” themselves, the Primo 8’s exterior design is something visually different, resembling a pair of tiny blue pineapples or modestly sized sea shells. Each drive housing is attached to its cord via an integrated over-ear loop wire. The loop wires attach and detach from the drive housings by way of little black connectors allowing easy wire replacement and ear tip changes. The wire itself uses a combination of both fine quality silver and copper conductors wound around a Kevlar/silk core. It is also equipped with a smartphone compatible in-line microphone/control pod for portable use. A separate cable without mic and controls is available for additional cost.
Each driver housing contains a series of four balanced armature drivers, two are devoted to reproduce bass frequencies, one is for the midrange and one reproduces the high frequencies. Balanced armature drivers differ from typical dynamic drivers in that they are each in their own sub-enclosure and they work by having an electrical signal vibrate an armature via a coil situated between two permanent magnets. The armature moves like a diving board transmitting its vibrations to a diaphragm that’s attached by a drive pin. The moving diaphragm then pushes the volume of air out of the sub-enclosure’s port. A balanced armature driver’s design allows it to be smaller than a dynamic driver and in an earphone such as the Primo 8, a crossover is used to allow multiple drivers to work like a three-way loudspeaker. The Primo 8’s crossover is a first order Butterworth design that NuForce claims maintains perfect phase and time alignment amongst all the drivers across the frequency ranges.
Even though the Primo 8’s are designed to be driven comfortably from a portable device, by using the included 6.5mm adapter, they can sound exceptional with a good headphone amp/DAC combination.
For the majority of my testing, I used the NuForce Primo 8s along with my iPhone 5S or through an Emotiva Big EGO DAC tethered to my Microsoft Surface Pro 3 tablet when on the go. At home they were connected through either an Audio GD-Compass 2 headphone amp/DAC or a Burson Conductor Virtuoso headphone amp/DAC using the supplied cables and adapter in all cases.
“Patience is a virtue” when it comes to first setting up the NuForce Primo 8s. I say this because it took me a good week before I felt like I got just the right ear tip combination, along with a technique that ensured repeatable insertion and seating of the earphones into my ears. Granted, I expect some people will have an easier time getting the Primo 8s sorted out for their particular ears, but there was a bit of a learning curve with these earphones for me.
The whole over-the-ear wire was something I dreaded fiddling with at first but I eventually got the hang of it and grew to appreciate how it helped keep the earphones anchored and in place. Then there was the plethora of ear tip sizes and whether I wanted to choose silicone or memory foam tips. After much trial and error, I found that the medium size silicone ear tips gave me the best extended use comfort and sound quality. In any event, one shouldn’t be disappointed if the Primo 8s don’t seem like the perfect fit right off the bat. If you take the time and care into getting the fit just right, I really think you will be richly rewarded.
After that initial first week of getting comfy with the Primos and letting them break in a little bit, I started to really use them as my “daily drivers”. They immediately began to impress me by showing themselves to be one of the most neutral sounding reproducers that I’ve ever heard. For a while, I tried to focus intently on every song that was playing, searching for some sort of sonic deficiency in the treble, mids or bass but I just couldn’t pin anything down. The sound was just so scrupulously balanced from top to bottom that, eventually, I gave up and just kept enjoying all my tunes. The Primo 8s definitely shine with well recorded material, revealing all the details and nuances in a given mix. They aren’t ruthlessly revealing per se but they won’t do average recordings any favors. Over and over I kept becoming more aware of the background instruments in my music. Rhythm lines that I always knew were there but were often less apparent became more easily noticeable in some of my favorite songs.
When I played “Primavera” by Santana, which is a great soulful tune with a lot going on, the Primo 8s revealed all the varied instrumentation beautifully. They allowed me follow the background percussion instruments and rhythms more readily while not compressing the overall sound when the searing guitar solos would come into the picture.
Then again, besides just having the finesse for the details, more powerful instruments like the congas and kick drums had a fantastic weight to them as well, not sounding booming or bloated at all. These earphones can have bass that hits hard if it’s on the recording.
And speaking of bass, on the more intimate track, “Red Tail Guide” by David Elias, the Primo 8s did a terrific job with the stand-up bass conveying it’s close-mic’d massiveness while not losing any of the detail of the string plucks or decay in the notes. David’s voice was also handled really well, with just the right depth, presence and grit delivered in his gentle singing. The mandolin played in the track was also delightfully rendered with that lovely clean ring to the notes sounding just as clear as light.
The Primo 8s also handled female voice with equal deftness. On the track, “Your Heart is as Black as Night” by Joe Bonamassa and Beth Hart, Beth’s voice transitions from melodic crooning to soulful wail through various parts of this well-known standard. The Primos 8s do yeoman’s work in delivering all the gentleness and power in her vocal range without losing any of the details. The intro piano part to the song was also a standout, with a lovely weight and decay to the notes.
The results were even better when I had the Primos hooked up to my Audio GD-Compass 2. The better quality reproduction afforded by my home system shone through the Primo 8s. I normally wouldn’t consider earphones to listen at home over headphones but I could easily see myself using these with my home system. Maybe not for hours on end but, realistically, for a decent stretch. A couple of times I had used the Primos with my Surface Pro 3 tablet hooked up to an Emotiva Big EGO DAC (review coming soon) and the sound was superb for such an eminently portable setup. By the end of my time with the Primo 8s, I really came to appreciate their sonic honesty. They never embellished the music or added anything that wasn’t there to begin with.
While not in the same league as the Ultimate Ears 18 Pro Custom In-Ear Monitors I think the Primo 8s would be great to use to monitor recordings, both in field and in studio, for those on a budget. If I had any gripes with the Primo 8s, it would have mainly to do with the in-line control unit. I wish it had actual buttons as opposed to the one-piece membrane switch that it currently uses. It’s not very ergonomic and it doesn’t give you much tactile feedback. It also doesn’t allow for any volume control which would be a handy convenience. Other than that though, there is very little to complain about. I’ve also noticed a number of online retailers selling these earphones now at the $350 price range which helps take a little sting out of the original MSRP.
THE NUFORCE PRIMO 8 earphones inherent quality makes them suitable as a reference pair of earphones for both at home and on the go.
- Balanced, neutral sound.
- Comfortable, if you take the time to set them up correctly.
- Excellent packaging and accessories.
- If it’s on the recording, you will hear it.
- More ergonomic and easier to use, in-line control unit.
- Perhaps a couple of other color choices.
The Nuforce Primo 8 earphones are an excellent performer and an easy recommendation to make for an audiophile on the go. They have a superb balanced and neutral sound signature that is suitable for a wide variety of music. These earphones won’t embellish a recording but they will bring out the best of what’s there. Their detail retrieval abilities are excellent, allowing the listener to pick up more of the nuances in a recording. They come with such a wide assortment of ear-tip sizes and types that, with a little patience and care, a good comfortable fit should be easily achieved. I think that their inherent quality makes them suitable as a reference pair of earphones for both at home and on the go. At the original MSRP of $500.00, the Primo 8s have some decent competition, but they more than hold their own at that level. At the $350.00 price tag that I’ve seen on-line lately, I don’t think you are going to find much that can compare. Highly recommended!