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Product Review - Audio Analogue Puccini SE Integrated Amplifier - August, 2001

Arvind Kohli


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Specifications:

Power: 55 Watts RMS per Channel into 8 Ohms, 85 Watts RMS per Channel into 4 Ohms

MFR: 20 Hz - 20 kHz - 0.1 dB

Input Impedance: 50 kOhms (Line)

THD: 0.1%

Size: 3 /21" H x 17 1/2" W x 14 1/2" D

Weight: 21 1/2 Pounds

MSRP:   $1,295  USA


VMAX Services, P.O. Box 570, Chazy, New York 12921; Phone 800-771-8279; (514) 932-7786; Fax (514) 931-8891; Web http://www.audioanalogue.com; E-Mail info@vmax-services.com

Introduction

For most people afflicted with this hobby, the primary focus is the enjoyment of music. Occasionally, you get sidetracked and become single-minded about collecting equipment, and I admit to such lapses myself. But after a while, the assortment of possibilities, hair-splitting over performance and outrageous costs become bewildering. You quickly return to your senses and pull out some of your favorite recordings and get back to what it is all about, the music.

Often, I get so involved with an album that I must incessantly listen to it for days on end, and cannot bear to part with the music even when at work, doing chores around the house, or reading in bed. Eventually, you realize a second system is needed, even if it is not all that your main system is, but you feel like you need something that will provide enjoyment while you attend to other matters of life. For these secondary setups, I find there is a great selection of integrated amplifiers that make a lot of sense. They cost less than separates, generally have better components than budget receivers and save on space. It is a great concept that attends to the need for good sound, while addressing many real world constraints.

I feel integrated amps are the answer for most secondary systems, and even primary systems where space and budget constraints do not allow for separates.

Company profile

Audio Analogue was founded in 1995, and is mostly family owned. It is located in a small town, Monsummano Terme, in the Tuscany region of Italy. This is somewhere between Florence and Pisa.

The original Puccini integrated amplifier was designed by Federico Paoletti and Santo Prattico, who are no longer with the company. Subsequent refinements to the Puccini were made by Marco Manunto, including the review model. According to Richard Kohlruss, the North American distributor, the design process at Audio Analogue is slow and deliberate. The approach can be considered to be driven by the ear, where all prototypes and subsequent changes are finally judged by a critical listening process.

Product Introduction

Audio Analogue introduced the original Puccini in 1995 and has introduced a couple of upgrades and refinements since. The standard Puccini (40 wpc) retails for $695 USD, and the remote version goes for $895. The SE (Special Edition, at 55 wpc), reviewed here, is currently only offered in a remote version, for a retail of $1,295. Due for release soon is the Maestro Integrated, weighing in at 115 pounds with an estimated MSRP of $4,495 USD.

Audio Analogue also makes one preamp, two power amps, and two CD players. Obviously, they do not believe in creating an assortment of products or changing models every year as a ploy to generate sales. And if you wonder how an imported, audiophile grade unit like this can sell for so little, this is part of the answer. The constant introduction of new models bears a significant overhead cost that eventually the consumers pay for. All things being equal, a manufacturer that offers more models and changes them more often will charge more for the same product. When evaluating a piece of audio equipment, I try to look into the strategies and behaviors of the manufacturer, because it will reveal how efficiently they pass on a product to the consumer, i.e., with minimal unnecessary cost. I applaud Audio Analogue for controlling their overhead costs related to product diversity and introduction. General Motors could learn a lesson here.

Setup

Burn-in was recommended at 100 hours, and I ran it for at least as much before settling in for any critical listening. I did not hear a noticeable difference before and after the burn-in period, but was not doing any critical listening early on.

My primary listening room is 16' by 16' by 8'. For casual listening, the speakers were placed so that there were 70" between the tweeters and 128" from the tweeters to the listening position. For critical listening sessions, all three points were about 70" from each other, and well away from room boundaries.

The secondary setup is somewhat compromised, with about 72" between tweeters and 130" from my ears. The speakers were also less than 12" from the back wall, with a 24" deep cabinet between them. This certainly is not an ideal setup, but is more representative of real world applications.

The Outside

The Puccini SE is available in a Satin black or Silver Aluminum Alloy faceplates (the review sample was silver). It looks absolutely fabulous, with a minimalist design that is very appealing to the eye. The faceplate is 3/8" aluminum, and the rest of the case is made of steel. The full function remote is a sleek and heavy piece, in a silver finish brass case. The remote was very easy to operate and did not need you to look at the buttons to operate it after the initial use. It does not get simpler than five buttons.



The front panel sports two knobs on the right side, one for volume control and the other for source selection. The power switch is actually on the back of the panel, and it is recommended to be left on, unless you will not be using it for several days or an electrical storm is expected. The volume control keeps the amp in standby at its lowest setting, and the amp powers on as you turn up the volume dial. One small LED on the left side indicates power on if green or standby if red. Now that is keeping it simple, just the way I like it. No tone controls, balance, hyperdrive, or rinse cycle. However, there also is no headphone jack for those of you that must have one.



The rear panel sports six gold-plated RCA inputs including phono and one set of fixed level RCA outputs for a tape loop. The phono output is factory set to MM (moving magnet), but can be set to MC (moving coil) by the user, simply by switching a jumper on the inside. There also is a ground post for the phono connection. A pre-out for subwoofer or external power amp is also standard. You also find two pairs of five-way speaker binding posts, to allow for simple bi-wiring. The binding posts are normally spaced to allow for a molded pair of banana plugs. All connectors are gold-plated. The rear also has a tape switch, which is recommended to be kept off if the tape-out jacks are not used. This prevents signal loss by needlessly sending a signal to those outputs.

All in all, I was extremely impressed by the elegant, simple and thoughtful design of the Puccini SE. There is a strong emphasis on providing quality components and features instead of a lot of them. I really wish all products (not just audio) were designed with such priorities.

Technical

The Puccini SE packs quite a bit into that sleek little case. I noticed the dual transformers were rated at 200 VA each. What caught my attention was the dual-mono design, which is not really heard of at this price point or anywhere near it. The heat sinks are cleverly placed between the transformers and the rest of the circuitry, very clever. I added total capacitance up to 37,600
F (with eight capacitors at 4,700 F each). The fuses on the power rails added up to 6.3 amps per channel (4 fuses at 3.15A each). Each channel has four bipolar devices in the output section. Again, these specs are very impressive, especially considering the price point. This is about what you would find in some high-end power amplifiers, whose power rating is claimed to be about twice that of the Puccini SE.

Rated power is 55 wpc into an 8 ohm load and 85 wpc into a 4 ohm load. The unit is not rated into 2 ohms or lower and is not recommended for such loads. The amplifier is based on a class A/B design.

The Sound

I had absolutely no complaints with the sound. Bass extension and control may not have been quite as ironclad as the 250 wpc Bryston 4B, but this is not exactly a fair comparison either.

Although, only rated at 55 wpc the Puccini had no problems filling up my 2500 ft2 room. But that was while driving the efficient and magical Triangle Titus XS. When driving the less efficient Dynaudio Contour 1.1, at higher levels, the Puccini started to run out of steam. But keep in mind this is my bedroom, I would not normally listen to music at anywhere near that level.

The application of most secondary systems would be to enjoy music at much lower levels. I was looking for detail rather than decibels, and the Puccini delivered in spades. Zia Mohiuddin Dagar is an immensely contemplative piece of work, and is meticulously recorded by Nimbus (NI7048). It occupied me for several weeks, as I listened to it evening after evening while I tried to catch up on my stack of reading. Even on the lowest setting on the Audio Analogue Puccini SE, I often felt so immersed in the music, that I put aside my reading.

Soundstaging was impeccable, even with the less than ideal setup in the secondary system. I know firsthand that the Titus is a soundstaging champ, but even the best components will only sound as good as the weakest link in the chain. In instances where I experience excellent results, I believe each component must be credited with at least the full value of the experience. With the Puccini SE in my system, I was completely satisfied in terms of imaging and detail.

With the amp in standby mode, I was able to hear a slight mechanical hum, only within a couple of feet of the unit. Richard explained that modifications have been designed into current production, by adding resin to the transformer. This is an unusual experience for Audio Analogue and is probably caused by bad AC from my walls. Nonetheless, Audio Analogue has rectified the problem for those few customers that had this problem in the past.

Overall, I could not have asked for a better unit for a secondary setup. All the money saved on frills and massive power seems to have paid off by putting into quality of design and components. The sound is as refined as I have ever heard. I was able to pick out all the nuances and detail of recordings that I have been able to hear in my main system. I would not use it to DJ a house party, but then again you would not use a Ferrari to haul lumber either.

Conclusion

The Puccini SE is an excellent example of the argument for quality over quantity. It does not have a lot of features, power, or cosmetics. What it does have in each of these departments is unquestionably quality. I never found myself wanting for more power or features, but instead enjoying the quality of the experiences that were delivered.

Now, $1,295 is not pocket change for most of us working stiffs, but it is very competitive for a high-end integrated. If you consider the component, finish, and sound quality, you have exhausted any arguments against the Puccini SE.

I would couple it with high resolution loudspeakers that do not dip much below 4 ohms, although it respectably handled the Dynaudio Contour 1.1 that does dip down to 3.6 ohms. Investing in a nice front end and quality wiring would also be appropriate and well justified. I highly recommend this product.

Associated Equipment

Speakers: Dynaudio Contour 1.1; Totem Model 1 Signature; Triangle Titus XS
Amplifiers: Bryston 4B; Acurus DIA 150 (integrated); NAD 317 (integrated)
Preamps: PS Audio IV
DVD: Panasonic A-320; Pioneer 414
Connectors: Self designed


- Arvind Kohli - 

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Copyright 2001 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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