There’s a certain elegance to a simple, functional design that focuses on performance rather than frippery. The original Audio Analogue Puccini integrated amplifier was a case in point – and its successor continues that tradition, while adding further sonic urge and impetus
There’s a reason why Italy enjoys a reputation for flair, style and passion. From food to fashion (and the occasional Ferrari), Italians have a knack for producing goods that are both visually appealing and instantly desirable.
The same is true of Audio Analogue. The Italian maker of high-end gear has been dishing up immaculately audio components for 25 years now, which is a significant milestone in an industry best known for its volatility.
The original Puccini was one of those just-right designs: an integrated amplifier with the ability to extract the music’s message in a way that was simultaneously sonically approachable and musically credible.
The Puccini Anniversary was created to celebrate the company’s 20 years of existence by harnessing that compelling musicality in an up-to-date expression of the audio art.
AT FACE VALUE
The Puccini Anniversary epitomises a less-is-more approach. The all-metal enclosure looks smart and feels sturdy in a way that suggest longevity, while managing to exude an understated sense of aesthetic appeal, too.
The amplifier’s satisfying solidity is underscored by its 18 kg weight – the legacy not only of the casework, but mostly the large toroidal power supply housed inside.
In ergonomic terms, the Puccini Anniversary adopts a less-is-more approach. The 14 mm thick, solid aluminium faceplate is dominated by a centrally located, recessed rotary volume controller that takes the form of a shallow disc.
It’s daringly unconventional and indisputably stylish, if not always that practical to operate. There are no other switches or buttons – but all is not quite as minimalist as it seems.
It turns out that the rotary controller is more than just a volume adjuster. Press it briefly wake the amp up. Press it for longer to switch it off. Selecting inputs sequentially requires a 3 sec press of the controller.
Pinprick-sized, white LED indicators confirm source selection and volume level. Because they are also recessed, the LEDs are only clearly visible when you view the amp front on: viewed from above, the lights become all but invisible.
You can also adjust the adjustment response of the controller in four stages to better match the sensitivity of the loudspeakers the amp is hooked up to. Other available settings include balance, and the brightness of the front-fascia LEDs.
Frankly, most users will prefer using the accompanying, all-metal remote control for daily operation, though. The chunky handset offers sequential source selection and up/down volume control, as well as small metal buttons for mute, on/standby selection, and setup.
At the rear, a symmetrical input layout confirms that the Puccini Anniversary follows a dual-mono, fully balanced circuit layout. There are five stereo input sets, of which one set caters for balanced XLR connections. The remainder rely on gold-plated RCA input sockets.
In short, this is very much a focussed design in the classic integrated amplifier tradition, without add-ons such as built-in D/A converters or network capability, which have become popular in recent times.
UNDER THE COVERS
For all its apparent simplicity, there’s a lot of tech hidden away in the Puccini Anniversary’s all-metal chassis. The volume controller is a case in point: to allow it to perform its multiple functions, it employs four high-precision Analog Devices digital potentiometers – two per channel – offering the four selectable adjustment curves.
The gold-plated RCA connectors feature Teflon insulation and are soldered directly onto the circuit board, where they’re activated by signal relays. In addition, the circuit boards use double-thickness copper tracks for optimum conductivity.
As already mentioned, the circuit layout is a dual-mono, fully balanced configuration, while that beefy, centrally located toroidal power supply is rated at 700VA. The design allows for three pairs of power transistors per channel, while the milspec resistors, high-grade polypropylene capacitors, and solid-core pure 7N OCC copper internal wiring all confirm the Puccini Anniversary’s pedigree.
According to Audio Analogue, the reimagined Puccini does away with global feedback, which allows it to cope with low-impedance speaker loads. Usually, negative feedback is applied to control distortion, but the company says the new circuit shows no oscillation tendency or high-frequency resonance.
The spec sheet shows a claimed output figure of 80 watts per channel into 8 ohms, rising to 160 watts into 4 ohms and 300 watts into 2 ohms – underscoring the amp’s ability to drive low impedance loads.
SOUNDS LIKE …
There’s something visceral and intense about the way the Puccini Anniversary goes about its musical business. It seems to capture the essence and the soul of the music with an authenticity that demands and compels.
Also apparent is the amp’s superior control and precision. It never throttles the music with its authority, but it does ensure that the full harvest of musical content is presented with flair and flourish.
That’s true regardless of the musical fare presented: be it the delicate details and harmonics of an acoustic set, the grit and grind of some dirty blues, or the power and majesty of a symphony orchestra in full cry. The Audio Analogue treats them all with an unerring sense of truthfulness and believability.
Tonal range is admirable, and there’s certainly nothing shy about the amp’s bottom-end foundation – it delivers bass riffs and kick drum impacts with muscle and impetus.
While there is a fullness to the midrange and a smoothness to the trebles, the overall sound doesn’t display any tube-like warmth, and there’s no sense of the upper frequencies being attenuated or even rolled off.
Yes, the tone is rich and even saturated, but the music never becomes bogged down, always retaining its pace and incisiveness.
The speed and attack of Antonio Forcione’s acoustic guitar on Tears Of Joy were reflected with real vivacity and splendour. But precision was also very much a part of the Pucccini’s sonic equation.
The amp never sounded sloppy – it easily kept up with the music’s pace, showing off an agility that allowed the sparkle and speed of the guitar work to be highlighted with true conviction.
It also showed off a real ability to express the presence and dimension of the instrument, so that it became a living, almost tangible entity on the soundstage.
At the same time, the amp didn’t allow any detail to escape its attentions: the slide of fingers on the fret board, the punch and impact of the bass notes, the shimmer of the percussion, the sonorous timbre of the instruments – all were delivered with an enthusiasm and a precision that never became analytical, but celebrated the essence of the music instead.
That talent to grasp the heart and soul of the music also extended into grittier material. On The Big Bad Blues, Billy F Gibbons takes ZZ Top sensibilities and sleezes them down into a slow fuse-shuffling, axe-grinding, foot-tapping display of Texas-style blues that will have you out of your seat and boogying the night away.
Gibbons’ guitar spits, whines, screams and pleads, all against a solid backdrop of wall-to-wall drums and bass. So intense, so powerful is the music that you could be right there, next to the stage, watching Gibbons and friends hang loose. Who said the Puccini Anniversary can’t rock ’n roll!
In this context, the amplifier always sounded more muscular than its claimed specifications suggest, displaying loads of headroom and control, but without stifling the energy and enthusiasm of the music.
Meticulously recorded and performed with both musical sensibility and emotive expression, Marianne Thorsen and the Trondheimsolistene’s performance of three Mozart violin concertos is a stern test for any system.
It is especially critical of brighter set-ups, while serving up a rich bounty of beautifully presented detail that demands exceptional resolution of detail to be fully appreciated.
Under the auspices of the Puccini, the recording was a joy to listen to. There was a liquid ease to the delivery that encouraged complete involvement with the music, without the sound becoming lazy or laid back.
Staging was open and inviting without any sense of over-emphasis or artifice, simply reflecting the ambience and air of the actual performance, and adding to the engaging nature of the music.
The Puccini displayed a real talent for pace and timing, closely tracking both Thorsen’s assertive solo violin and the accompanying orchestra with confidence. Dynamics were particularly well represented, adding to the realism of the delivery.
Also of note was the absence of any ‘electronic’ signature. The sound here had an almost organic quality – not in terms of tonal warmth or texture, but rather as far as the amp’s ability to render the music with a sometimes startling aura of natural realism was concerned.
Veteran jazz and fusion ace Bob James sounds mellow and polished on Espresso, his recently released set, displaying an almost intuitive command of the piano that is both articulate and inventive.
Also obvious is the chemistry between James and his co-stars in this trio: Michael Palazzolo on bass, and Billy Kilson on drums. The timing is sublime throughout, with both players fulfilling much more than just a supporting role.
The drumming is both inventive and precise, while the muscular, athletic bass is equally expressive.
I enjoyed the way the Puccini was able to express the close communication between the three artists, and the intimacy of the performance, while still affording each instrument ample acoustic space. That in turn allowed the listener full, unimpaired access to every element of the recording.
And again – there was nothing slow or laborious about the Italian amp’s approach: it sounded agile and lively, while keeping the sparkle and presence of the music very much alive.
THE BOTTOM LINE
It’s easy to like the Puccini Anniversary. It has both the flair and the punch to make the most of almost any recording, while adopting a rich and almost organic sonic approach that adds lustre and presence to the music.
Not that the amplifier could be accused of overt warmth or exaggerated saturation: it remains tonally poised and dynamically agile, regardless of genre, while affording the listener an illuminating insight into the core of the music.
There’s loads of power and headroom, too, allowing the amp to deliver punch and pace in spades, while it’s lucid and particular enough to add precision to its array of talents, too. Yes, the pricing is on the premium side, but it’s easily outweighed by the amp’s sheer capability.
Sometimes, simple isn’t just elegant, but better, too: and that’s certainly the case here.
– 80 watts per channel (8 ohms)
– 160 watts per channel (4 ohms)
Frequency response: 0 Hz – 80 kHz
Signal-to-noise ratio: 110 dB
Inputs: 4x stereo RCA, 1x stereo XLR
Outputs: Two speaker binding post pairs
Dimensions (WxDxH): 445 x 390 x 120 mm
Weight: 15,5 kg
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Antonio Forcione – Tears Of Joy (Naim 44/16 WAV)
Billy F Gibbons – The Big Bad Blues (Concord 96/24 FLAC MQA via Tidal)
Mozart – Violin Concertos – Marianne Thorsen/Trondheimsolestene (2L 96/24 WAV)
Bob James – Espresso (Evosound 44/16 FLAC)