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Inter.view with Santo Pratticò and Federico Paoletti, designers of Audio Analogue

by Lucio Cadeddu

[Italian version]

LC >
1) Audio Analogue is a new and lively name in the Italian Hi-Fi scene. How did the project come to life and what are your aims?

AA >
Well, it was just six persons, coming from different fields in the electronics business, getting slowly, but progressively *together*; their experience ranges from pure research to marketing and distribution, without forgetting industrial automation.
To be brief, let me say that we are six in all: three do the design and development (and tweaking...) work, whereas the other three take care of sales and distribution worldwide.
It's a little harder to be specific on our aims: without being too predictable, there's only one possible answer: passion!
That is, to fulfil ours and that of audiophiles that don't have enormous bank accounts!
The most important thing that all six of us have in common is passion for Music, both listened to (obviously as it should be done!), and, for three of us, played; then there's that of us designers in seeing our creations born, grow, become ever more beautiful, sound ever better and, last but not at all least, appreciated almost everywhere.

LC >
2) Between tubes and transistors, for now you have chosen the latter.
Is this for technical reasons, or are they also economical (i.e. tube amps cost more than a corresponding transistor amp)?
What are the fundamental ideas behind any of your transistor amp project?

AA >
The reasons are also economical; we're perfectly able to produce tube-technology devices, but they would definitely cost more than a solid-state equivalent.
We have decided to operate in a *niche* sector of the hi-fi market, a sector that requires very good overall quality and a price considered reasonable by the majority of audiophiles, that, for the time being, doesn't allow us to think of more costly products.
In any case, it's quite clear for everybody that the so-called *tube sound* is our reference; both a certain Jean Hiraga, who tested the Puccini on the French Nouvelle Revue du Son magazine and a guy named Lucio Cadeddu seem to agree...
This doesn't mean that further on we won't go back to our *roots*... keeping the Audio Analogue parameters in mind, of course!
The *fundamental ideas* can't be summed up in a couple of lines, it's the sum total of many individual experiences.
Anyhow, I can go through a product's development line: we start of with the project on paper and then on to a few prototypes, that must comply with the technical specifications agreed at the beginning; then the prototypes go through the *listening* sessions and are modified according to the results.
At the same time, the production necessities are evaluated, i.e. the availability of components on the global market, keeping prices in mind; then a pre-production series is built, to verify production costs and final retail price (this series is also useful for the many world-wide exhibitions); if everything complies to the parameters, production starts, otherwise, we go back a few squares and change anything that needs changing.

LC >
3) The hi-fi market segment you've chosen, i.e. good hi-fi at *human* prices, is one of the most crowded, both because of the British (or pseudo-British...) competition, and because of the strong presence of Oriental products.
Italian companies have always had great difficulty keeping costs down, mainly for labour problems; how are you trying or thinking of getting over them?

AA >
It's a hard battle.
We're managing not to lose it only thanks to the strength of each of our experiences.
Let me explain: if a company starts of from zero, it definitely has to pay the price of learning; often, this is the hurdle that many companies don't manage to jump, mainly because it's not really very visible.
Audio Analogue has a great advantage in each of its components' experiences in similar fields, and this certainly helps us choose the best possible at lower prices.
Obviously, we're still learning and we too will pay for our mistakes; but at least we're starting with solid foundations. But we're still not satisfied!
We've still got to cut labour costs, our major obstacle (not just ours, I'd say, but Italian on a whole), and try to reach the highest level of quality and continuity from our suppliers, being careful not to leave our self-imposed price boundaries.
It's really hard, at these levels. Every discarded or faulty piece or component takes its toll on time and labour costs; with the marginal profits we've decided to give ourselves, every little problem is important and costly. We're reaching a good balance in any case.

LC >
4) To have success in Italy (nemo profeta in patria - nobody's a prophet at home...), a product must necessarily reach notoriety abroad.
How are you thinking of moving on other markets, in particular the British market, notoriously ultra-chauvinist?

AA >
You're quite correct: necessarily.
With sorrow, I must say that a company like ours wouldn't survive if it depended solely on the Italian market: a large slice of our sales turnover is done on non-Italian markets, in particular Southeast Asia.
It's true that the majority of Italian audiophiles only notice that a product exits when it has success abroad. Nemo profeta in patria, precisely.
Regarding the British market (thanks also to an extremely positive test of the Puccini SE on an important British magazine, Hi-Fi World), let me say: full steam ahead!
To help with this, we have the right card to play: one of the designers, in fact, was born and brought up in Her Majesty's Reign!
Who better than he can give that vein of Great British Tradition to an Italian product, or know what pleases the British Audiophile?
In fact, it works! It's even becoming one of our main markets.

LC >
4) From the name, Audio Analogue, it would seem that you esteem the good old analogue sound, and the phono stages standard on your products testify a special attention towards vinyl lovers.
At the same time, you produce a D/A converter; in your opinion, which are the weak points of digital audio, and where can a digital product be worked upon and modified?

AA >
As said before, at Audio Analogue, we all love good sounding music; some of us are also musicians.
If our products (both for their name and choice of inputs) betray our love for vinyl, well that means we think it's a *good sound*.
This doesn't mean that digital products, if well designed... This too is a point on which a lot can be said and written.
Generally, in any case, we feel that digital audio has basically two weak points: the conversion system and the type of media.
For the first point, at the moment, the only thing that can be done is to choose the best product possible among those available, waiting for the new 24-bit 96kHz (or more...) standard.
The second point is easily described: data retrieval from the media (disc) is everything but *error-free*.
If we assume that there'll always be errors of some sort, they must be reduced as much as possible so that the error correction circuit can intervene as little as is strictly necessary. As you know, this circuit inserts *false* data (or data as near as possible, for the circuit, as to what would be expected...) when errors are found, taking its toll on the final musical result.
It's very difficult to get the performance hoped-for from player mechanisms mass-built by a few manufacturers who "cut down" on costs incredibly.
We carried out some interesting tests and have reached the conclusion that the mass-produced mechanisms available to us mere Italian mortals can be made to work a lot better, to the point that changing a few small structural items changes the sound and the *character* of the player.

LC >
5) We're convinced that the MECHANICAL construction of a Hi-fi product is of fundamental importance; just change the product's standard feet with cones or something else and its character will change.
What importance have you given to this aspect of design?

AA >
As you can deduce from the previous answer, very much.
We're rock-sure of the importance that the insusceptibility of a product to external vibrations holds; at least where they can't be totally eliminated we try to make them work for our benefit...
what are those comments I hear? Sorry, it's part of our secrets...!

LC >
7) Looks, according to many, are one of the ace-cards for the success of a Hi-fi product.
How much importance does an original design using refined materials have on a Hi-fi product?
The American market, in particular, is very sensitive to the way all Italian Hi-fi looks; do you have any projects regarding this aspect (use of solid wood, etc.)?

AA >
Design has great importance, particularly for an Italian product from which people have grown to expect a lot as far as looks go.
The market segment in which we are working doesn't allow us too much freedom, obviously.
At the same time, though, we feel that a certain manufacturer's products should be identified by a specific type of *look*.
We have chosen an overall style that is elegant and, even more importantly, sober, acceptable, that is, also by wives (the famous Wife Acceptance Factor), or, why not, by some husbands (better off being *politically correct*...)!
In this type of product, that's how we like them to be: just a few ideas, some original, but never *loud*, as the nostalgic and conservative British tradition requires (see above)...

LC >
8) Two integrated amplifiers, (Puccini and Puccini SE), a pre-final pair and a D/A converter. Anything new coming out next year?

AA >
It's easy to guess: a CD player that will already be out at the Las Vegas exhibition in January.
To be completely honest, the prototype has already been presented in September both at the London Hi-fi and at the Milan Top Audio shows.
For the rest of 1998, there are a couple of products in the pipeline, at least one of which will be something to do with amplification... sorry, no previews (we're British)!

Courtesy Audio Analogue for TNT.

Copyright © 1997 Lucio Cadeddu

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