Audio Analogue Bellini/ Donizetti Anniversary Pre/Power Amplifier Page 2

The Donizetti Anniversary's thermally-induced changes in distortion, means that it's more important than usual to allow an adequate warm-up period after switch-on before settling down to any critical listening. Drive the amplifier hard, especially into lower impedance speakers, and it will continue to heat up with the possibility of further subjective change. Nevertheless, as a rule, as the Donizetti warms it also becomes markedly more smooth and insightful, even if the overall presentation of this pairing is not quite so easy to sum up in just a sentence or two.

Stark Relief
In many ways, this duo is exceptional. The first thing likely to strike you is the remarkable midband lucidity, and the expansiveness of the soundstage. These amps have an uncanny ability to place both instruments and vocalists in their own space without the presentation as a whole feeling crowded or compressed. What's more, a virtual absence of background noise means that central performers stand out in stark relief, apparently on an otherwise empty stage, with musical accompaniment arranged carefully behind them.

420bellini.remA perfect example of this was American singer/songwriter Norah Jones on the track 'Feelin' The Same Way' [Come Away With Me; Parlophone 7243 538609 2 9]. Heard through the Bellini and Donizetti Anniversary she was seemingly standing in the centre of my room, with backing instruments slightly behind the plane of the loudspeakers. Everything was gloriously well defined and easy to follow. The three-dimensional sense of imagery set up by these amps could astonish at times, and this track showed off this ability perfectly.

This Anniversary pre/power also serves up an impeccable performance when it comes to the top-end – the sheer level of clarity and purity in the treble region is again, first-class, enabling you to hear the tinkle of a pin drop in even the busiest of mixes. Cymbals in general possessed a delicious metallic sheen while more vigorous strikes on the metalwork arrived with real force before shimmering away into the distance. Equally, delicately struck hi-hats were as vivid-sounding as I have heard them, and not once did they disappear into the back of the mix.

One point to note here was that while the amplifiers' performance was tonally similar through both balanced and unbalanced connections, the balanced provided just that extra hint of insight. If you buy this pairing, then going balanced is definitely worthwhile.

Fire Below
My initial puzzlement over this Audio Analogue duo's general character stemmed from the way in which they dealt with the lower musical octaves. Naturally, with the available power on tap from the Donizetti Anniversary, bass was prodigiously extended, solid and taut. Even better, it remained composed even with the amp wound up to thoroughly anti-social levels. However, while one minute the pairing would be pounding out a dance beat or a rip-roaring jazz double-bass line with precision and fire, the next would find it shrinking slightly, and in doing so leaving a well-recorded bass guitar line feeling a little withdrawn.

Nevertheless, the likes of Underworld's 'Jumbo' [Beaucoup Fish; JBO 1005438] showed the amps at their bass-pumping best, the track being delivered with a punch that was absolutely spot-on. The swirling keyboard arrangements and main loping synth-loop remained clearly discernible in the mix after the four-to-the-floor beat kicked in and pummelled my sofa. All in all, the Bellini and Donizetti Anniversary sounded glorious here.


Pure Instinct
Then, as if to illustrate the Donizetti's slight unpredictability, Steely Dan's 'Jack Of Speed' [Two Against Nature; Giant Records 9 24719-2] found Walter Becker's bassline sounding just slightly too big and perhaps just a little less distinct than I am accustomed to. Usually, each note is well defined, making the underlying rhythm easy to follow even if, on this occasion, I could sense some slight hesitation.

Where the Audio Analogue duo definitely came out on top was with its handling of recordings that varied in their quality. The Corrs' 'Only When I Sleep' from their 1997 album Talk On Corners [Atlantic Recordings 7567-83051-2] is something of a sonic mess, sounding steely at best and clearly mixed to make it radio-friendly. Yet never have I heard it sound better than when played via the Bellini and Donizetti Anniversary pre/power. The amps simply cut through the nastiness, managing to impart a sense of order to the proceedings and even bring a hint of purity to the ragged top end.

They repeated this trick again and again, with all sorts of sonic disasters. So if you're seeking a pre/power pairing that is not only kind to less-than-well-produced recordings but also able to serve them up with sweetness and not a little polish, then look no further.

Hi-Fi News Verdict
The Audio Analogue Bellini and Donizetti Anniversary offer a combination of magnificent sound quality with a brute-force styling that I thoroughly enjoyed. They typically make a great job of poor recordings, too. That said, I can think of few other products I've reviewed in recent times where I'd say an extended audition was mandatory, simply because their brilliance can be a touch unpredictable.

Audio Analogue
Tuscany, Italy
Supplied by: Decent Audio, Stockton-on-Tees
05602 054669