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Integrated amplifier
Viva Audio PRECISO

Price: 25 000 zł

Viva Audio
tel.: +39 348 5852581
fax: +39 0 444 593456


Manufacturer's webside: Viva Audio

Country of origin: Italy

Text: Wojciech Pacuła
Pictures: Wojciech Pacuła
Translation: Krzysztof Kalinkowski

The company Viva Audio is Italian through and through. When I saw their products for the first time, during the High End show in Munich, I did not require anybody telling me, where they are coming from. Rounded shapes finished with high gloss auto varnish, a characteristic shape of the more expensive power amplifiers, resembling the letter “V” and tubes – the beloved amplifying elements at the Tiber banks – everything pointed to the motherland of our queen Bona.
Mentioning the Tiber river I am not very precise – Viva is a company from Italy, but from Vicenza. This is a medium sized city (about 115000 inhabitants), in north-east Italy, 60km to the west of Venice. This is one of the richest cities in Italy, and a true Mecca of audiophiles. Companies like: Unison Research, Pathos, Sonus Faber, Franco Serblin, Mastersound, Opera Loudspeakers and of course Viva Audio come from there. Such a concentration of Known, Good, Beloved and Respected audiophile companies is a worldwide phenomenon.
Viva Audio was founded relatively not so long ago, in 1996, by two brothers: Giampietro Schembri (the founder) and Amedeo Schembri (constructor). Similar to their neighbors, also people from Viva talk about opera, music, wine and literature at the same time. This, and family tradition, are common for them all. And one more thing – they share the same philosophy of the product, which in case of the company, of which we test the amplifier today, is comprised in one sentence: “Philosophy and direction we are going to are based – most of all – on keeping the essence of music.” Amen.

Viva Audio is a novelty on the Polish market. We start the acquaintance from a test of one of the least expensive products of that company (although not really cheap!), the integrated amplifier Preciso, which uses 300B triodes in the output stage, working in class A, but – quite unusually – in push-pull setting. Hence two tubes per channel. The company offers also the integrated amplifiers Little Solista and Solista, based on 211 and 845 single-ended tubes, the power amplifier Verona (211 and 845), the line preamplifier Linea XL and phonostage Fono. Like I say, I received for testing the amplifier Preciso, in fact the first existing unit – this is the reason for the hole plugs on the back, etc, which will not be there in the production units. On the photo on the web page we can see, that the unit has one double triode 6H30P per channel, while the amplifier I received has two per channel – on the input the Russian 6N1P-EB and in the driver the mentioned 6H30P-EB – this is a subsequent change. The power stage works in class A, in push-pull setting, so the amplifier can drive a variety of loudspeakers. Those are direct heated 300B triodes. To have a point of reference, I made the test using the tubes Creatè Audio Golden Jazz Series, which I bough to use in such tests as a master.

I asked Mr. Amedeo Schembri for a short interview:

Wojciech Pacuła: Who designed this amp?
Amedeo Schembri: was designed by Amedeo Schembri, it is me, with the teamwork of Viva.

WP: Is this a new construction?
AS: It is a new construction, last version of the model.

WP: I saw it in the Internet with one pair of tubes in the input - I received version with two of them - are there different versions of the amp?
AS: The old version had only one pair of input tubes, using each side of the double triode. In this version the number of stages is the same, but the tubes are different.

WP: You used 2A3 tubes, not 300B - is there any reason to do it?
AS: Actually, the 2A3 is used in a custom version only by request. The regular one uses 300B (more power).

WP: At the back are many blanked holes - is it chassis for other amps too?
AS: The definitive version has no blanked holes. I guess Nick sent you one of the first demo units, that circuit wise is the regular version, but the chassis is a little updated, which is done specifically for this model.

WP: What are the main principles, technical reasons, construction details, etc. that distinguish this amp from other ones?
AS: As it is known, even slight variation in an audio equipment changes the sound, sometimes even dramatically. The Preciso, first of all, represents the choice of solutions that work together to get the best results, with the parts, circuits elements and connections, that match to each other in order to get what we think the best sounding amplifier possible, at a given price and dimensions. This is crucial at this level of our smallest amplifier.

Posed this premise, some of characteristics are:

  • point to point circuitry: we found that this is the way to build up circuits that satisfy more our requirements; it is far more expensive than use of printed circuit boards but leads to far superior results; the technique of mounting the parts, also, is done in the way of avoiding wiring as much as possible, and the wiring itself is done with particular chosen wires
  • optimization of stages and limitation of the number of them: it requires careful design and control, but it get better sound
  • use of pure triode tubes: triodes are more linear, and pure triodes, are better than pentodes or tetrodes configured as triodes
  • chassis made in aluminum, with automotive paint with the possibility of many colors; feet are in solid brass; chassis made in this way is good for mechanical and electromagnetic reasons
  • blend of right components: we choose the parts based on their performance on the specific placement in the circuit, and we do it not based on fame but strictly on our verified performance. In other words, what is good in a place, can be less good in another.
  • proprietary transformers: we design our transformers, output ones, chokes and mains ones, then they are custom wound for us, and we assemble them using special cores.

WP: Why did you decide to choose push-pull and not SET?
AS: A good question – we decided for push-pull, because at this price level this setting delivers better sound. A single-ended setting is much more expensive in application.

WP: You mentioned two tubes in the final version of the amplifier, while keeping the same number of stages – how is this possible? Do the tubes work in SRPP setting?
AS: Previously we used both parts of the tube is a slightly different configuration. But the amplifier with two different tubes sounds better – we use only one half of each tube; this is still single-ended [the input stage – WP] and not SRPP.


Discs used during the listening session:

  • Stereo Sound Reference Record. Jazz&Vocal, Stereo Sound, SSRR4, SACD/CD.
  • Stereo Sound Reference Record. Nobu’s Popular Selection, Stereo Sound, SSRR5, SACD/CD.
  • Tron. Legacy, OST, muz. Daft Punk, Special Edition, Walt Disney Records, 9472892, enchanced CD + CD.
  • Cassandra Wilson, Silver Pony, Blue Note, 29752, CD.
  • Depeche Mode, Hole To Feed/Fragile Tension, Mute Records, CDBONG42, MS CD.
  • Donald Byrd, The Cat Walk, Blue Note/Audio Wave, AWMXR-0009, XRCD24.
  • floating.point, Free Falling, selfmade by Piotr Sczepaniak, CD-R.
  • floating.point, State of Denial, selfmade by Piotr Sczepaniak, CD-R.
  • Jun Fukumachi, Jun Fukumachi At Steinway (Take 2), Lasting Impression Music, LIM DXD 038, silver-CD.
  • Linda Ronstadt, ’round midnight, Elektra/Asylum Records, E2-60489, 2 x CD.
  • Linda Ronstadt, What’s New, Elektra/Lasting Impression Music, LIM PA 046, Gold-CD.
  • Santana, Abraxas, Columbia/Mobile Fidelity, Collectors Edition, No. 06452, UDCD 775, Gold-CD.
  • Suzanne Vega, Close-Up, Vol 1. Love Songs, Amanuensis Productions/Cooking Vinyl, COOKCD521, CD. · Laurie Anderson Big Science, 25th Anniversary Edition, Nonesuch, 79988, Enhanced CD.

Japanese versions of the discs are available on CD Japan.

I received the amplifier for testing from the Warsaw audio salon Audiofil (ul. "Boya" Żeleńskiego 6, Warszawa, tel. +48 22 8259765), where it was burned in, listened to and where some things regarding the power switch were noticed. It has three positions, and the sequence of settings is important. Mr. Andrzej Sztechman tells to set the switch in the following sequence:

  • The switch is resting in the middle position
  • Put the switch down for a few minutes
  • Put the switch up

Start listening. And I followed those suggestions.

Testing equipment is in reality searching for patterns in the sound of a given device, loudspeaker, cable or accessory. This is about some permanent, known associations. This is what a reviewer does – he searches for known patterns. This is why seeing a 300B tube, subconsciously I expect a certain sound, certain relationships between timbre, dynamics, the way of presentation of virtual sources, sound stage, etc. Preciso does not fit in this pattern.
Its sound is dynamic, clean and emphasis is placed on precise attack of the sound and dynamics. Here is not a single trace of romanticism, rather precision. If I would put the amplifier JAG 300B on one side, and Ancient Audio Silver Grand Mono on the other, putting the price aside, then the Italian amplifier would be closer to the Polish amp. On the other hand, the Mastersound Compact 845, which I tested for “Audio” would be on the same shelf with the JAG. If I would transpose it to loudspeakers, then the equivalent of the JAG and Mastersound would be the Sonus Faber Guarnieri, and the Viva – Sonus Faber Stradivari and Electa Amator I. I hope you can understand me – in this comparison I am talking about the way of presentation and tonal balance. And most of all about dynamics.

Preciso is a diabolically dynamic device. You cannot hear from the beginning, that those are tubes, and almost never that those are low power 300B tubes. At least when we talk about dynamics, or timbre. Splendid impulse response of this unit requires extra commentary. Usually in tube amplifiers it is so, that the attack, hit and the head of the sound wave are corrected in the direction of softening and rounding. This is related to the (usually limited) frequency response, (usually) low power and saturation of the output transformers. Those, and other elements, assemble the stereotypical “tube” sound, which is not true in the sense, that not all tube amplifiers sound like that, but which proves itself when describing dynamics of a significant number of them. The result of that way of shaping the sound in most tube amplifiers dynamic fragments are compressed and averaged. This is not heard immediately, because usually the resolution and vividness of the tube amps mask this flaw, which almost always there – and while the mentioned Silver Grand Mono sounds different, it only confirms the rule.
Another, much cheaper exception from the rule, were two other amplifiers: the model IA-30T from the Polish company Linear Audio Research (HERE) and the Slovak Canor TP-106 VR+. Preciso is the second, after Ancient Audio, amplifier using 300B, which is a part of this class. There is a lot of comparisons in this paragraph, names, brands, etc, but this because I thought, it would be fine to put some order to the tube scene.

The lack of compression in this device manifests itself in a strong and vivid presentation of the piano. This is a special instrument, with a percussive origin, but extremely melodic nurture, this is why its example is representative here. Recordings from the disc Jun Fukumachi at Steinway (Take 2) sounded incredibly credible in the way the sound imitated the sound of that instrument in reality. Because the piano can sound on the verge of pleasure, strongly emitting the higher harmonics, which do not always sound in a comfortable way, especially when standing close to the instrument, or placing the microphones there. Most amplifiers average that element, round it off, even if the analysis of the sound does not point to that. And the tube amplifiers do it almost always. The Preciso – not.
That what I am talking about is of course not only related to the piano, but with that instrument it is best audible. When you hear at least once what I am talking about, then you will hear it everywhere else. Like with percussive elements. The discs of Santana Abraxas is mostly built around those, and with the Italian amplifier it was more unanimous than usual.

As you can imagine, the treble is not rounded, and there is a lot of it. This resembles the tonal balance I know from Ancient Audio. The cymbals are strong, precise, they are not softened or withdrawn. They do not always sound the same, they are well differentiated, and where there is less of them, like on the discs from Savage Ten Years Ago… (Twenty Years Later…), then it will be shown like that; if there is more, like on the sampler Stereo Sound Reference Record. Nobu’s Popular Selection, then there will be more of them. Also the bass is strong. This is a rare thing in tube amplifiers, but here the lower bass, showing the work of the bass drum, with deep “breath”, the physical feeling of how the mallet hits the membrane was clear, and it is rare even with a large amount of solid state amps. With tubes in the amplifier it was shown in a similar way only with the Canor TP-106 VR+.

Due to all that the Viva builds a big, strong sound and it can comfortably fill with it a room of 25m2 or more, with medium effectiveness loudspeakers (87dB). This is one thing, we usually do not associate with the 300B. And I am not only talking about the sublime, esoteric jazz discs, small ensembles but also about electronics, like from the soundtrack from the movie Tron. Legacy by Daft Punk, or the mentioned sampler Stereo Sound, or from the disc Big Science Laurie Anderson. The amplifier handles separation of the instruments with ease, showing their individual space, dynamics, etc.

And finally the midrange. This part of the sound spectrum will be key for the decision of the potential buyer. It sounds different than most of the “tube” amplifiers. It is here, where the elements are, in which we pay for that, what I wrote above.
The midrange is not as “concise” as in other 300B amplifiers. The push-pull configuration helps in getting rid of some of the distortion and increasing the power of the unit but brings other problems, reduced resolution being one of them. It is not bad, please do not misunderstand me, but it is not as good as other parts of Preciso’s sound. The lower part of the midrange is slightly thinned. This is understandable – you cannot play loud from such tubes with the whole sound spectrum. Withdrawal of the lower midrange and upper bass, where most energy of the recordings falls, helps “saving” some current necessary to drive the loudspeakers.
But you have to think about selecting the elements around this amplifier having this in mind. This is why instead of the usually used interconnects Acrolink Mexcel 7N-DA6300 I used the softer Acrolink 8N-A2080III Evo, instead of the power cable Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC9300 the warmer Live Cable Signature, etc. The same is true for the loudspeakers – Preciso will sound best with loudspeakers from Harbeth or Spendor. I would avoid clearer constructions. It is important to put some weight to the lower midrange – then we will have splendid dynamics with lack of compression and a nice timbre.
It is also worth to think about the choice of tubes. I would rather recommend “carbon” ones, like the Sophia Electric Princess 300B/c, because those tubes have a stronger and warmer bass. I would avoid mesh tubes, because they sound too light – for this amplifier. The Italian amplifier allows to setup a system, where we will have cult tubes, while not having to meet too many compromises. And the unit looks splendidly, what is not without importance.


Preciso is a stereophonic integrated amplifier, a tube one, with a solid state power supply. Its shape is very “friendly” due to the rounded edges, high quality, metallic automotive varnish (many colors are available) and placing the tubes inside, in some extent. This has sense, it is not only a stylistic move, but it protects the sensitive elements of the tubes, which are prone to high frequency noise, so the sockets and things just above them are placed inside the shielding enclosure. Metal shields connected to the sockets of the first tubes at the input, can confirm that this is the right track.
On the fascia we have two knobs – one for the volume control in the middle and the input selector to the right – and a power switch as well as a IR receiver. All controls are hidden deep in milled parts of the front panel. On the back there is a lot of sockets, blocked holes, etc. We have four line inputs – unbalanced, gold plated, bolted RCA sockets. Next to those there are single, not gold plated loudspeaker terminals. And further an IEC power socket. All are deep inside the back plate.

It seems, that the front and back is made from varnished MDF, while the top and bottom covers from thick aluminum plates. The electronic circuitry is mounted like in classic tube devices – point-to-point. The signal goes from input sockets with short, unshielded cables to a nice mechanical switch. It was placed close to the back panel, and its axis extended to reach the front. Similar thing happened to the blue Alps potentiometer – where the signal goes from the chosen input. And then we reach the grid of the first tube, the double triode 6N1P-EB from the Russian Sovteka. This is the first stage of the amplification (or buffer – I am not sure). In the driver stage for the output tubes is another Sovtek tube, the double triode 6H30P-EB, which is also used in my CD player Ancient Audio Air. Behind it, with reversed phase for one of the tubes, we go to the working in push-pull and class A directly heated 300B triodes. As it turns out, for the American market there is a version with 2A3 tubes.
Point-to-point montage means also a lot of connecting cables – it is not different here. The passive elements are of high quality – the coupling capacitors are the RS polypropylenes. At the output tubes, in their power supply, there are splendid electrolytic capacitors from BHC. In other places there are Rubycon capacitors. There are two transformers – one is very big, and one only big. Both are classic EI constructions. Those are supported by a choke. Rectification of the voltages is done in solid state rectifying bridges. The output transformers are also very big, they are resembling those I have seen in the Ancient Audio amplifier – those are of the “double C” type.

Viva Audio
tel.: +39 348 5852581
fax: +39 0 444 593456

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  • Cartridges: Air Tight Supreme, tested HERE, Miyajima Laboratory Waza, tested HERE.
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  • Power amplifier: Tenor Audio 175S, tested HERE and Soulution 710
  • Integrated amplifier/headphone amplifier: Leben CS300 XS Custom version (reviewed HERE)
  • Loudspeakers: Harpia Acoustics Dobermann (tested HERE)
  • Headphones: Sennheiser HD800, AKG K701, Ultrasone PROLine 2500, Beyerdynamic DT-990 Pro, 600 Ω version (reviewed HERE, HERE, and HERE)
  • Interconnect: CD-preamp: Acrolink Mexcel 7N-DA6300, article HERE), preamp-power amp: Wireworld Platinum Eclipse
  • Speaker cable: Tara Labs Omega Onyx, tested HERE
  • Power cables AC (all equipment): Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC9300
  • Power conditioning: Gigawatt PF-2 Filtering Power Strip (reviewed HERE)
  • Audio stand Base – under all components
  • Resonance control: Finite Elemente Ceraball under the CD (article HERE)
  • Pro Audio Bono platform under CD