Audio Analogue was founded in 1996, and made its mark with the now-celebrated budget Puccini SE integrated amplifier, which is still sought after and makes its mark on the second-hand market. The company’s HQ is located between Pisa and Rome, near Lucca in Tuscany. This is the birthplace of Giacomo Puccini, hence the name of its first product.
The golden ‘ear’ behind the company is Claudio Bertini, a Hi-Fi dealer and founder who had his part in the voicing of the Vivace DAC. The DAC is also made in partnership with Airtec, a high-end cable company, which makes the cabling within the DAC. Airtec cable is also found in the higher-end offerings from Audio Analogue.
The DAC, which is based on the Texas Instruments’ PCM1795DB chip, has a wide range of inputs which all work to 24bit/192KHz: asynchronous USB, three co-axial, four optical, and a single AES/EBU. It also has both balanced and unbalanced outputs, a decent quality headphone stage, and a fairly comprehensive remote control. It is fully qualified to act as a digital preamp, too. However It doesn’t have DSD capability, nor Bluetooth, which are starting to be more common these days, even in this price range.
The front panel comprises a white-on-blue screen, which shows the present input and sampling frequency. A knob controls the volume if in pre‑amp mode, and is disabled if you chose the direct option. I found the controls a bit fiddly, but once set up the DAC was fairly straightforward to operate. There is a multi-purpose handset, which seems comprehensive and accesses the same menus as the front panel.
Using the Esoteric K-05 CD player as a digital transport, I played Barenboim, conducting the Berlin Phil from the keyboard, playing Mozart’s Bb piano concerto no 18. I was immediately struck by the timbre of the string section, in the overture before the piano entry. The strings had a lushness to them, particularly the higher strings. It’s a glorious sound, which was sumptuous and rich. The woodwinds similarly have a beautiful shade of timbres. This is not a DAC that makes instruments sound the same, but rather zooms in on the differences between timbres and leads the ear into the colours of the music. There is not an ounce of shriek from the top end; it is silky and smooth and is closer to an analogue source than I’d expect from a mid-priced DAC. The bass by contrast seems a bit shy, and under represented. However, the rest of the system consists of a wide-bandwidth VAC valve pre and power amplifier, with B&W802D speakers mounted on Townshend Seismic cradles, a combination which is capable of showing lower octaves precisely. I can imagine that when this DAC is used with smaller speakers, which wouldn’t delve so low, the lack of bottom end grunt wouldn’t really be detectable.