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Reviewing equipment is a search for sonic patterns produced by a given device, be it loudspeaker, cable or accessory. This is about permanent known associations. This is what a reviewer does. He searches for known patterns. This is why seeing a 300B tube I subconsciously expected a certain sound, a certain relationship between timbre and dynamics, a particular way of image focus and soundstaging. The Preciso simply eluded those expectations.

Its sound was dynamic and clean and emphasis was placed on precise attacks and voltage swings. There was no trace of romanticism. The name of this game was precision. If I arranged the JAG 300B on one end of a line, the Ancient Audio Silver Grand on the other and disregarded price, the Italian amplifier would sit closer to the Polish amp. On the other hand, the Mastersound Compact 845 I reviewed for ‘Audio’ would sit next to the JAG.

Were I to transpose this exercise to loudspeakers, the equivalent for the JAG and Mastersound would be the Sonus Faber Guarnieri where the Viva Preciso instead becomes a Sonus Faber Stradivari or Electa Amator. I am talking about the general flavor of presentation and tonal balance and most of all dynamics.

The Preciso is a diabolically dynamic machine. From the start you cannot identify a valve output stage and most certainly would never suspect low-power 300Bs whilst focusing on dynamics and timbre at least. The terrific impulse response of this amp certainly requires special commentary because usually with tube amplifiers transients—attacks, hits, the first rise of the sound wave—tend to be slightly blunted and declawed. That’s mostly related to limited frequency response, low power and output transformer core saturation. These and related aspects create the stereotypical tube sound. It's merely relative as not all tube amps sound like it. Nonetheless it captures many particularly with regard to dynamics.

The outcome of such ‘tube voicing’ are averaged and compressed dynamics. This is often masked by good resolution and vividness but in the end it almost always proves to be the case. The Silver Grand monos are rare exceptions to confirm this rule. Other far more affordable exceptions in my circle of acquaintances would be the IA-30T from Polish company Linear Audio Research and the Slovakian Canor TP-106 VR+. By using 300Bs, the Preciso is only the second after the Ancient Audio to play in this league. The above mentions of specific brands and models should assist in painting a general picture.

The lack of dynamic compression in the Preciso manifested in a powerfully vivid rendition of piano. This instrument’s percussive origins are mated to extremely melodic qualities and the Jun Fukumachi at Steinway (Take 2) disc epitomized both aspects. The piano’s powerful upper harmonics teetered on the edge of being pleasurable as is true when standing close to a piano or having a microphone there. Most amplifiers mellow out that attack sharpness even though keeping it real ought not to. As a genre tube amps nearly always do but not the Preciso.

This of course extends well beyond a piano. With that instruments it’s simply easiest noted. Once you’re attuned to it you hear it everywhere else too, say in the percussive elements of Santana’s Abraxas. Here the Italian amp was unusually keen.

As you can imagine, the treble underwent no softening. In fact there was a lot of HF energy. This resembled the tonal balance I knew from the Ancient Audio flagships. Cymbals were potent yet precise. They exhibited no softening or withdrawal. They didn’t sound the same from album to album either. They were well differentiated. Albums that captured less treble energy like the Savage disc Ten Years Ago… (Twenty Years Later…) were shown accordingly, albums with a lit-up balance like the Stereo Sound Reference Record. Nobu’s Popular Selection properly displayed that.

The bass too was powerful. This is rare with tube amps.  Even in the lower bass the workouts on a bass drum—the physical impact of mallet on membrane—had real power and breath to an extent that would be rare even with many transistor amps. The only tube amp which previously excelled in similar fashion was the Canor TP-106 VR+.