Saturday, March 10, 2012

A Visit with the Audio Analogue Puccini SE

Sadly, in my second system, the Audio Research D-52B started having issues.  The right channel started distorting - leading me to believe there is some electrolytic capacitor issue or problem with the discrete op-amp module.  Since this amplifier is built so compactly, getting into the guts requires a lot of difficult disassembling.  With that in mind, the ARC amplifier and SP-7 preamplifier have been relegated to the shelf.  Searching for a replacement, I came across the Italian-made Audio Analogue Puccini SE.

How did I choose this particular integrated amplifier?  Well, a few years ago, I was taking a small vacation with my wife, staying at a very fine downtown hotel in Ann Arbor.  After visiting the local records stores, I agreed to go to a yarn shop with her.  While she went over the goods, I had nothing to do but stare off into space.  Some background classical music was playing and I noticed the fidelity out of the little wall-mounted Polk speakers was quite good.  In the corner, I saw a nicely constructed silver-faced integrated amplifier.  Some closer inspection revealed the manufacturer - Audio Analogue.  Somehow that experience stuck with me and was filed away.

I bought my Puccini through Saturday Audio Exchange, which is, coincidentally, the place in 1989 that I bought my first ever preamp - a SAE Mark XXX.  Shipping was very prompt and I soon had the double-boxed amplifier in my hands.  Opening the box revealed an extremely well-built amplifier with a thick face plate and a nice heft.  With only two front controls, this is about as simple as you can get - a selector switch that includes a phono input (!), and a volume control that also puts the amplifier into standby mode when turned all the way down.  It's nice to see something so well made, especially made in Italy - which adds an additional cachet.

Setup was silly easy with two sets of speaker jacks per channel and a row of RCA jacks.  Turning the amplifier on and there was zero - and I mean zero - hum or noise.  Even the phono stage is dead quiet.  Initial impressions while listening to a Japanese pressing of  Haircut 100 - Pelican West revealed an extremely smooth sound.  The treble doesn't sound aggressive or forced, reminding me of some much more expensive amplifiers.  Bass output and dynamics seem a shade lighter than some other units I've heard - for example, the B&K ST-140 and ARC D-52 have more weight with the KEF iQ30 speakers.

A quick perusal of the schematic - not that I'm all that good with solid-state stuff - reveals an 5534 op-amp bootstrapped to the power supply, driving a quad of Darlington output transistors.  Power supply is dual-mono, with a toroidal power transformer for each channel. 

The phono-stage uses a 5532, with the linestage duties done by a TLE2072CP.  Not that I have anything against op-amps, since my beloved Audio Sector Phono Stage uses OPA627s, but I really was surprised by the quality of audio they managed to squeeze out of these devices.  I guess this shows the importance of layout, power supply, and circuit design, instead of just the amplifying devices themselves.

Letting this integrated warm up and I was quite pleased with the results.  As mentioned before, this unit has a real smooth musical sound. Though lacking in ultimate dynamics, the Puccini never disappoints in the finesse department.  This is a music lovers amplifier, made for a wide variety of recordings and it speaks to the heart, not the analytical head.  Soundstaging is good with a wide and fairly deep presentation, but that last bit of ultimate detail is missing.  Still, at this price point, I have no complaints.  Very recommended - especially for those who just like to spin records or CDs with maximum enjoyment, not worrying about audiophile nervosa.

Just one additional note: Some reviewers have compared this amplifier to tubes.  Beyond the smoothness, I don't quite hear it.  The Puccini is just very good solid-state, but lacks some of the dimensionality and life-like attributes I hear with some of the better tube units.

Second System:
Integrated: Audio Analogue Puccini SE
Analog: Dual CS-5000 turntable - Audio-Technica AT95E cartridge
Digital: Pioneer DVD-V7400
Speakers: KEF iQ30 on VTI UF stands
Speaker Cable: Kimber 8PR/4PR bi-wire
Interconnects: generic