Primare V20 DVD Player
I used to be one of those snide individuals who took joy in deriding people who drove Volvos. In my admittedly limited experience, a swiftly moving Volvo was invariably piloted by an aggressive female hell-bent on a mission to get Junior to his soccer game or Missy to her Brownie troop meeting on time. In the minds of these monomaniacal matriarchs, the brakes included on the vehicle were exclusively for emergencies. Then, through a curious train of events, I became the owner of a used Volvo 740GL. Despite some of its nagging proclivities—like spending more time parked in the mechanic's garage than in mine—I became quite enamored of that car. Its boxy shape and heavily overbuilt feel made it a deeply comforting and enjoyable automobile in which to travel. I'm not talking the plush and cushy kind of comfort here. This was more the secure and stable kind of comfort.
Primare's V20 DVD player reminds me of all the good things about the Volvo I used to own: solid craftsmanship, basic but well-thought-out design, and close attention to detail. Both products are from Sweden, the country that gave us dynamite, the milking machine, the adjustable spanner, and ABBA (three out of four ain't bad). Unlike Volvo, however, Primare products are nowhere near as well-known in the United States, having only become available here over the last couple of years. Born an esoteric two-channel company back in 1982, Primare has now made the leap into high-performance home theater.
The first thing you notice with the Primare V20 is its elegantly thick design. Elegantly thick—it sounds like an oxymoron, but it's the best way I can think of to describe the attractive visual exterior of this DVD player. It starts with a 0.19-inch-thick, black front panel that's physically separated from the main chassis by a silver band (approximately 0.31 inches thick). If you look at the V20 straight on, you don't notice that the panel is floating in front of the main chassis. At any other angle, the band (which is recessed about one-fourth of an inch) gives what would have been a plain, black box a look of structural integrity and beauty. In this case, form has followed function, since Primare uses the extension of the faceplate to help distance the fluorescent display from the electronics inside, thus minimizing interference. The chassis and the top cover are both made of 0.06-inch-thick steel plates that are smoothly bent into the shape of the letter U. It's a simple design, but it's heavy and rigidly stable. The top cover alone weighs more than 7 pounds (that's more than the weight of some complete DVD players).
The front panel is simple—with a small fluorescent display on the left, a disc drawer with a curved silver front that gracefully arcs across the middle, and six silver button caps on the right. The buttons offer standard disc-playing features (open, stop, play, previous, and next) plus a standby mode. A hard master power switch is located underneath the main chassis on the left side, about 3 inches from the front. When I hooked up the V20, I thought for sure something catastrophic had occurred during shipping, since nothing I did would turn the player on. I was just about ready to throw in the towel when I chanced upon the hidden switch (page four of the instruction manual would have enlightened me much sooner, had I read it first, but then I would have been deprived of the joy of the serendipitous discovery). It's quite nice to have the master power switch just 3 inches from the front of the unit. If you've ever had to reach behind a stack of components to find a switch that's hidden amongst a jungle of cables, you'll appreciate being able to slide your fingers along the side just a few inches from the front to find this one. It's not something you'll use every day, but it's a good indication of Primare's attention to detail.
Inside the hefty chassis, the layout is beguilingly simple. The power-supply, digital, and analog sections are all clearly separated from one another. The power-supply section is quite beefy (but there's no possibility of mad-cow disease here), with a large capacitor, transformer, and heatsinks. The digital section sports a special connector in the middle of the board that allows an authorized dealer to upgrade the player's software if the need arises in the future. The transport, which begins life as a Sony and gets a thorough reworking from Primare, is a fully encased tank within a tank. It's extremely fast and tracks exceptionally well. My badly scratched Loreena McKennitt CD, which refuses to play past 1:08 on track 8 on all but the best players, played through to the end with only four or five brief pops. With a pristine CD, I couldn't even get the player to skip by banging on the exterior. I think you could probably use a jackhammer and still not faze this player.
I was less impressed with the V20's remote control. It's well-balanced and fits easily in your hand, but its layout is less than intuitive and at times downright awkward. The main transport controls and an oval cursor control pad are within easy reach of your thumb. The menu and "go to" buttons, however, are located near the very top of the remote. Unless you have large basketball-player hands like David Robinson's, those often-used buttons will be hard to reach. Most people will program these commands into a universal remote, so it's really just a temporary distraction from a quite excellently designed DVD player.