Pryma by Sonus Faber 'Carbon Marsala' Stereo Headphone review

Discussion in 'Headphone Reviews' started by dalethorn, Oct 19, 2015.

  1. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    Pryma Headphone by Sonus Faber 'Carbon Marsala' edition review.

    Youtube review:


    Sources: iPhone6+ with Oppo HA-2/Beyer A200p DAC/amps, various computers using the HRT Microstreamer/Audioquest Dragonfly/FiiO E17k/FiiO E07k DAC/amps.

    Review note: My evaluation of the Pryma's sound is based on comparisons to a number of premium headphones, so that my estimation of its overall balance, tonal quality, and smoothness (lack of peaks and recesses) is referenced against those other headphones.

    The sound of the Sonus Faber Pryma is smooth enough that the term 'liquid' may best describe it, particularly the midrange. The headphone I have that's nearest to the Pryma in the midrange and treble is probably the Audioquest Nighthawk, however the Nighthawk can be like a chameleon with different amps and music players, while the Pryma seems less affected by different gear and sources. Whereas the Nighthawk's bass has a broad and significant emphasis in the lower mids to upper bass, the Pryma's emphasis (if any) is lower down, resulting in better impact in the bass. There are few headphones that I've had with very similar bass, and the closest examples I can think of are the MrSpeakers Mad Dog, B&W P7, v-moda M100**, and possibly the Sennheiser Momentum. The more expensive planars that I've reviewed did not have a particularly strong or warm bass - by my standards anyway.

    **The M100 bass is much stronger, but its excellent character is similar.

    I have to pause here to note that I didn't expect a great audiophile sound with the Pryma, being that it was promoted primarily as a high-fashion headphone. So far at least, given ample burn-in and listening time (see the music examples below), the Pryma is living up to its designer's claims for premium sound. Personally, I place it sonically with my five best (out of about 200) headphones ever. A few months ago I described the Nighthawk as having an unusually smooth sound, but finding the Pryma to be just as smooth was surprising. Soundstage isn't easy to evaluate since it's dependent on so many other properties, so I'll just say that the Pryma's soundstage is very good. The Pryma plays loudly and cleanly with my music tracks on the iPhone6 Plus, but some users may have a few low-volume tracks that won't play loudly enough with cellphones and similar handheld devices. A good DAC-plus-headphone-amp will provide better sound than cellphones and ipod-type players alone.

    What makes the Pryma unique for me is it's the first triple-A-plus headphone that I've had, i.e. the packaging, the design and build quality, and the sound are all as good as it gets. If that wasn't enough, it provides premium sound for listening at home, and is an ideal portable headphone. To me, the ideal portable is a headphone that I can pull off of my head when I stop for coffee or to talk with someone, and drop it around my neck where it doesn't get in my way at all. Isolation is modest, but useful, and while it might not be enough on the tube or the bus (let alone a jet plane), I use it in a public park about 100 yards from a busy freeway with no issues. The leakage is low, but will probably be heard by people sitting close by in a very quiet public library, so the volume would have to be kept down in those kinds of places.

    The headband adjustment is 11.5 mm on each side for heads larger than average size, and 23 mm on each side for smaller heads. That adjustment range should fit the vast majority of headphone users. The earcups completely enclose my average-size ears, but people with very large ears might regard the Pryma as "on-ear" if they can't get their ears into the openings. The earpads are soft and spongy, and the openings are deep enough that my ear-parts aren't pressed against the drivers inside of the earcups. The earpads are attached magnetically and pull off easily, so replacing those is very simple, although given the earpad coverings I don't see replacing them for years to come. The headband is detachable as well, leather-covered, with some soft spongy material underneath. In spite of the metal in the headband and around the earcups, the comfort is among the best headphones I've had, due to the thoughtful design. My version is the "Carbon Marsala", with the carbon-fiber outer earcups.

    The Pryma comes with a detachable double-entry cable, connecting to each earcup with 2.5 mm mono plugs, with a 3.5 mm stereo plug on the business end. That plug has the extra connector for smartphones, providing start/stop and next/previous track using the clicker next to the microphone, which are about seven inches down from the right earcup on the cable. The comments in the music tracks listed below can be compared to other headphone reviews I've done, to get an idea of how the Pryma plays the different music tracks listed here compared to other headphones. My suggestion is instead of reading each comment below as an absolute unto itself, you could compare these notes to other reviews as they get posted, and see how the Pryma compares with each individual track.
    Last edited: Jan 17, 2019
  2. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    Pryma by Sonus Faber review part 2 - music samples

    Antonin Dvorak (Alsop-Baltimore Symphony): Just after 0:40 of Movement No.2 begins a counterpoint between two instruments - one followed by the other (woodwind and horn), but not necessarily in that order. The Pryma resolves those clearly, and I leave it to the listener to discern which is which.

    Ben Goldberg - Root and Branch (Jazz): The horns and clarinet have a rich tone, the bass provides excellent supporting weight, and the percussion is crisp and detailed. There's a lot going on in this track, and the Pryma delineates it all perfectly.

    Boz Scaggs - Lowdown (1976): Good sound quality - this is a great test for any nasality in the midrange. Handled extremely well by the Pryma.

    Cath Carroll - Moves Like You (1980's New Wave/Techno): This track's percussion and voice are crisp and well-balanced, and there's a good sense of space or soundstage around the voices and instruments. The Pryma reproduces the space and detail beautifully.

    Chris Isaak - Wicked Game (Pop/Rock): The Pryma plays this high treble energy recording very smoothly - the voice and instruments are very detailed but not edgy - very musical in fact.

    Christophe Beck - Slayer's Elegy (Soundtrack): The voice, percussion, and other sonic effects occupy a huge soundstage, but it all sounds natural and coherent with the Pryma.

    Chromatics - I'm On Fire (Synth-Pop, female lead): This track has a good amount of space around the voice and instruments, making for a very pleasant stereo image. The voice is excellent, and the tambourine sound is clearly identifiable.

    Cranes - Adoration (Goth-Rock): This track begins with some realistic piano notes, and the percussion and voice improvisation are blended in to create a very atmospheric effect. The Pryma plays this perfectly.

    David Hazeltine - Fur Elise (Jazz): A very high-quality recording from HDTracks. The Pryma reproduces the instruments smoothly with a spacious ambiance. The wire-brush-on-cymbal harmonics are extended and detailed.

    Ed Palermo - Crazy (Pop Vocal): A dose of big band, pop, country, and jazz with a unique vocal is Ed Palermo's Big Band, and this track is a great demo for the Pryma - for instrumental tone and ambiance, and a perfectly-recorded vocal. The saxophone lead at 2:51 is especially gratifying.

    Grieg (Beecham-Royal Philharmonic) - Peer Gynt-Solveig's Lullaby (Classical): This very old (late 1950's) stereo recording must have been made on the most expensive gear in the world, since the overall sound quality and especially Ilse Hollweg's amazing voice are as close to "being there" as I've heard with some of the better classical recordings made since the year 2000. The Pryma plays this music perfectly.

    Hubert Kah - The Picture (New Wave): The voice and electronic effects sound quite natural, and the bass synth is properly warm and very detailed. The Pryma plays this lively music with great energy.

    Mantovani - Sunrise Sunset (Easy Listening, ca. 1972): A master musician and conductor** who specialized in light classics and orchestral pop music, Mantovani's accomplishments were overshadowed by music critics who couldn't tolerate the notion of "light classics" or "semi-classical" music, even when those recordings were no threat to the classical music genres. In any case the later Mantovani recordings from the mid-1960's through mid-1970's had the advantage of being mixed for much better hi-fi systems than those which the music critics possessed at the start of the Long Playing (LP) record cycle. Here in 2015, at least some of those digital remasters have improved the sound further, although it's not always the case. This track as played on the Pryma is a perfect example of the sheer musicality lurking in those later recordings, and is highly recommended for soundstage, instrumental tone, and musical balance.

    **Mantovani developed the "Cascading Strings" sonic effect circa 1950, a famous "Wall of Sound" effect for mono hi-fi systems that predated Phil Spector's own famous Wall of Sound effect by 10 years or so.

    Marc Johnson - Prayer Beads (Acoustic): The upright bass has excellent string tone and weight. The Pryma plays this effortlessly.

    Michael Buble - Nice 'n Easy (Jazz): The voice is prominent but well-recorded, the massed instruments are delineated nicely, and the bass line especially is clear and detailed. This sounds pretty good with most headphones, but it's a special treat with the Pryma.

    Porcupine Tree - Trains (Pop-Rock): This track opens with some nicely-detailed string sounds and a forward-sounding male voice with a higher-than-average register. There are a series of "clip-clop" effects starting at 3:19 that should sound like they were made with wooden blocks of some kind. The Pryma reproduces that sound effect pretty well.

    Scarlatti-Kipnis - Sonata in E Major K381 (Classical, Harpsichord): The harpsichord here is slightly dark but detailed, and the Pryma renders the tones and transients faithfully.

    Sophie Milman - Lonely in New York (Jazz): The instruments (trumpet, violin, percussion etc.) and the vocal are very strong, and the voice can be rather sibilant on many headphones - especially those with a strong treble. The Pryma renders this track as musically as I've ever heard.

    Tiger Okoshi - Bootsman's Little House (Jazz): The trumpet here is recorded fairly close up and is somewhat bright with a significant "bite". The Pryma's reproduction is near-perfect, and the close-miked piano is also a treat. For comparison, I have several Maynard Ferguson tracks that feature a similarly strong trumpet with lots of brassy bite.

    Tutt-Keltner - Drum Improvisation (Jazz): The drums have great impact with realistic "skin" tone, the cymbal harmonics shimmer, and the transient sounds are cleanly reproduced. The Pryma plays this track extremely well.

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