AOM Logo April 1999


Dolce i Cantabile
Christopher Tocher takes a look at Audio Analogue's Puccini Integrated Amplifier

In the early developmental stages of my particular case of audiophilia nervosa, I had a tendency to get overly excited about almost any audiophile-quality product that came my way. This newly discovered world of arcane, precious objects (toys, some would say) sucked me into its sonic vortex, and it soon became clear that I would never be quite the same. As time went on, and I steadily traversed the audiophile learning curve, my sonic priorities became well-formed and my biases began to emerge. Now that the rose is off the bloom and audiophile reality has set in, I can focus clearly on the glut of products currently on the market, and discern the good from the bad and the ugly. Let me begin by saying that Audio Analogue's Puccini integrated amplifier falls firmly in the first category.

The Audio Analogue Puccini Integrated Amplifier

The Puccini is a substantial box weighing in at 15.5 lbs. The fit and finish is unbelievably fine when considering the product's relatively low price. Simple in its design, the Puccini is aesthetically pleasing, with its brushed, matte silver faceplate and beautifully machined control knobs, and relatively small in size (17 ½" wide by 3 1/3" high by 14 ½" deep), making the Puccini easy to place in almost any setting.

The Puccini features six source inputs: MM/MC phono, CD, tuner, video, aux and tape. While it would have been nice to hear vinyl through the Puccini (the inclusion of an on-board phono stage makes the product particularly LP friendly), my digital-based system only allowed for audition of the amplifier's line level inputs. One of the more interesting features of the Puccini is its standby/volume indicator. When the volume control is turned fully counter-clockwise, the standby circuit is automatically engaged, muting the amplifier's outputs [a similar feature is employed in the latest batch of preamplifiers from Audio Research - Ed]. When the volume is increased, there is a four-second power-up delay before sound is realized.

The Puccini's high quality RCA input sockets are all gold plated and offer a firm grip, making system setup a breeze. Speaking of setups, mine was as follows: A Primare D20 CD player (full review forthcoming) drove the Puccini, which in turn powered a pair of ProAc Tablette 50 loudspeakers through a short run of van den Hul Clearwater cable. At 40 Watts/channel, the amplifier's output power was more than sufficient in this context. All components were blissfully compatible, producing no hum, hiss or other audible oddities.

It is interesting that Italy's Audio Analogue chose Puccini as the name of their excellent entry-level integrated amplifier. Giacomo Puccini composed in the verismo style, a form that highlights real life scenarios, eschewing the soap opera hyperbole of many of his predecessors. This lifelike musical image best explains the qualities of the Puccini amp. The Puccini has more than life, it has heart. It demonstrated the essential vitality of the music most beautifully. Despite being put into service only once prior to my audition (at the recently-held Toronto audio show), the Puccini came alive almost immediately, and only improved with time (be advised that Audio Analogue recommends a burn-in period of at least 100 hours).

My auditioning of the Puccini ran the musical gamut. From Claudio Arrau's magnificent traversal of Franz Liszt's twelve Transcendental Etudes (Phillips 416 458-2) to Chris Isaak's Heart Shaped World to the music of Sarah Vaughan, Lhasa, and Granados, the Puccini proved riveting. The diminutive Italian integrated made it possible for this listener to picture himself sitting in the front row of the concert hall listening to Arrau caress the ebony and ivory of his Boesendorfer. In each etude, complete clarity was achieved in the bass register, and the treble produced an almost effervescent quality that had a sharp bite to it without destroying the overall tonal effect. The variability in the sound of popular recordings was presented faithfully by the Puccini. Isaak's analogue-recorded Heart Shaped World fared particularly well, bringing the singer's velvety vocal texture to the forefront and highlighting his every inhalation and use of falsetto. Live recordings were also a treat. Sarah Vaughan's Embraceable You on Laserlight highlighted her distinct tone and passion, while managing to capture the clinking of glasses in the audience! Subtleties are often difficult to achieve from a mid-range integrated. Overall, I found the Puccini both supremely musical and consistent in the beauty of its sonic presentation.

Audio Analogue has a winner here in the Puccini. Although not auditioned, I feel confident that the upgraded version, the Special Edition, is also a must-listen for anybody wishing to own a fine sounding integrated for a relatively small investment. Whichever you choose, rest assured that you will have your audiophile spirits lifted by the Puccini's ability to bring your music to life like few other products in its price range. Bravo Audio Analogue. Encore!

Puccini Integrated Amplifier
Manufactured by Audio Analogue
North American Distributor: Hi-Fi Forum
Canada: P.O. Box 8, 1217 Greene Ave., Montreal, QC, Canada, H3Z 2T1
phone: (514) 932-7786, fax: (514) 931-8891
US: P.O Box 570, Chazy NY, 12921
phone: 1-800-771-8279 or (514) 932-7786, fax: (514) 931-8891
e-mail: hi-fi@hi-fi-forum.com, web: http://www.hi-fi-forum.com

Price: US$795.00
Source of review sample: Distributor Loan
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