PRYMA 01 HEADPHONES
A new brand? Well, yes… but the company behind it has been around for more than 50 years.
There was a Peanuts cartoon many years ago in which Snoopy is berated for wearing a fur coat on a warm day. ‘ Some of us,’ he replies sniffily, ‘ prefer to sacrifice comfort for style.’ Is there an element of this with the Pryma 01? They’re extraordinary headphones, the first product from a new brand under the auspices of the McIntosh Group, carrying the handcrafting heritage of Sonus faber, no less, the design HQ for the group, but for some reason McIntosh has decided to market the headphones under the Pryma brand, rather than Sonus faber. Perhaps it wants to differentiate between the two marques, reserving ‘Sonus faber’ for speakers and ‘Pryma’ for headphones. The choice of ‘Pryma’ is interesting, because it’s Latin. The Italian would be ‘Prima’, which means ‘before’ or ‘first’. When Pryma is used as a child’s name, it means ‘ energetic, charismatic, ambitious and focused.’
The earshells are branded ‘Pryma 0 |1’ on the outside, but under the ‘belt’ there’s an inscription that reads ‘Fatto A Mano Da Sonus faber Italia’ which translates as ‘Made by hand at Sonus faber Italy.’ Each of the earshells contains a 40mm Mylar diaphragm driven by a neodymium magnet and an ‘over-sized’ voice-coil made from 99.99% oxygen-free copper, with each voice-coil having a nominal (specified) impedance of 32 .
A strong effort has been made to do something different in design terms. There is no sliding headband, no pivoting earshells; instead the imaginative Italians have used what looks like a belt, but which is stitched leather over a metal former, keeping it solid and curved, with light padding underneath.
Other belt-bands are available as accessories—coffee, Marsala and grey leather, or black leather with holes lined in either black, silver or gold. Different earshells are available too—rose gold, heavy gold, matte black, pure black, and all for $799 except for the slightly premium priced carbon-fibre finish, which will set you back an additional $100. Your preferred bits acquired, the headphones arrive deconstructed, headshells individually packed, the belt-band tucked above. You insert the ‘belt’ to the required notch, twist the prong to keep it there (imparting a certain rigidity), then insert the cables into the earshells using small micro-jacks.
There seem to be no markings to indicate which headshell is ‘left’ and which one is ‘right’—the earshells and belt are all symmetrical, so take your pick—but wait… there’s a red ring on the right cable to remind you which is which. In comfort terms there was a significant feeling of both inward pressure and weight (the Pyrma 01s tip the scales at 355 grams), largely from those solid aluminium casings used for the earshells, but it’s a unique system and look, and rich in the Italian love of stitched leather that is also to the fore on Sonus faber’s artisan loudspeakers.
The sound proved interesting too, in that they delivered a two-level performance, by far at their best when played fairly loud—above 13, say, of the 20 level notches available from my iPhone control. Any quieter than this and the sound became somewhat flat, chugging away nicely-enough but with a lack of dynamism holding back the musicality. When I turned up the volume, the 01s came to life, with the high sensitivity (Pryma specs it at 118dBSPL for 1mW) ensuring no lack of level from portable devices, and demonstrating one of the flattest responses I can recall—there’s a little push down low, perhaps, but thereafter not a dip nor peak all the way up the response curve. Very impressive.
Occasionally at those higher levels they could force a vocal into a honk or an edge, so that I found myself moving between the two zones of performance—not loud enough, then too loud, then back. At the price, I must admit to having sonic favourites elsewhere. But it’s likely to be the unique styling (or Beyonce wearing them in ‘Lemonade’) that draws you in, and in that case I very much doubt the sound will actually put you off. And these first Prymas most certainly achieve what is increasingly difficult in today’s headphone market—something different. It’s a signpost to an interesting future for this new marque. Jez Ford