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.
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