Review: Audio Analogue Paganini CD Player

Category: Digital

Audio Analogue is a manufacturer of home audio equipment originally based in Pisa, Italy that subsequently moved to Monsummano Terme, PT, Italy after the original founders, Federico Paoletti and Santo Prattico, left the company in 2000. Established in 1995, they produced a wide range of products to rival the upper end of components from other manufacturers and at a price point that was in reach of most audiophiles.

The Audio Analogue product line is in three ranges. The "Primo", which is their entry level line up,The "Compositori" that is the mid level and top of the range "Maestro" components. All are designed and handcrafted in Italy, steeped in the finest tradition of Italian craftsmanship and it shows admirably to say the least.

The subject of this review is the original version of the Paganini CD Player, which is part of their original Compositori series.

The Paganini is a rather heavy CD player at 23 pounds, solidly built and superbly finished. The cabinet is made out of thick wall steel while up front you find a solid aluminium panel, with rather unusual looks. Take the buttons/switches, for example: the circular placement is a radical departure from the standard sequence of horizontal buttons. The display is circular, with orange LCD numerals.

The on/off switch is located in the rear panel, close to the IEC power socket. A digital coaxial output is available plus a switch that allows to turn it off when the CD player is working as a stand-alone unit. The remote is the typical plastic variety with blue face and fits the hand nicely.

Technically the Paganini consists of a modified Sony transport coupled with a 24 bit Crystal D/A converter.Inside the cabinent you find the quality of the craftsmanship is simply a work of art, not often found today.

Technical Specifications:

Analogue Output Level: 2 Vrms

Analogue Output Impedance: 221.5 ohms

Digital Output Level: 0.5 Vpp @ 75W (S/PDIF standard)

Digital Processing: 24 bit dual differential with 128X delta - sigma modulator

Frequency Response: 20-20.000 Hz

Channel Separation: R®L 100 dB; L®R 100 dB

Total Harmonic Distortion: 0.001% @ 1kHz/-10dB

Analog Filter: 2nd order Butterworth type

Nominal voltage supply: 115VAC / 230VAC 50/60Hz

Max. power consumption: 20VA

Overall dimensions: 17.52" (W); 13" (D); 3.5" (H)

Weight: 22.5 lbs.

Operation Of The Paganini:

A: Turn the power on by pressing the button on the rear panel near the IEC mains socket. The red LED on the front panel will light up, indicating that the player is in standby state. Pressing the STBY key (it will respond only after about 6-7 seconds from power-up) will enter normal operation mode. At this point, the player will start searching for a disc (00 on display). If there is already a disc in the tray, the total time and number of tracks will be displayed;if not "DISC" will be displayed.

B: To load a disc, press the OPEN key to expel the CD tray (OPEN on display). Place a compact disc label side up on the tray and press the OPEN key again to dose the tray. The player will then read the disc's table of contents (TOC) and display the total time and number of tracks. Pressing the PLAY/PAUSE button can also close the tray; in this case, after reading the disc's TOC, the player will automatically start playback from the first track.

C: To play the disc, press the PLAY/PAUSE button; playback will start from the first track. If you wish to start playback from another track, this can be done by either selecting sequentially using the FWD and REV buttons on the \ front panel (note - these buttons are dual-function: in this case, press for less than 0.5 seconds) or directly from the remote control using the numerical keypad. The playback symbol >,the current track number and the elapsed track time will appear on the display.

D: If, during playback, the PLAY/PAUSE button is pressed, the current track will be paused (II on display), and maintained at the moment of interruption. Pressing the PLAY/PAUSE button again will resume normal playback.

E: Pressing the FWD and REV buttons on the front panel for less than 0.5 seconds (or the corresponding TRACK NEXT / PREVIOUS buttons on the remote control), allows you to advance or regress one track at a time through all the tracks on the CD. The display shows the current track selected. If done during playback, once the desired track has been reached, after a brief pause, playback resumes from the beginning of that track; if, on the other hand, it is done during pause or stop modes, the PLAY / PAUSE button must be pressed again to resume normal playback. Note: to go back a track during playback, the button must be pressed twice because the first time will only take the current track to its beginning.

F: As said previously, the FWD and REV buttons have two functions: track skip forward / backward and track scan forward / backward. The first function has already been explained; the scan forward / backward function is activated by holding down the specific button on the front panel for more than 0.5 seconds (or using the corresponding key on the remote control: SEARCH BACK / FWD) and allows a particular passage in a track to be located. If the buttons are held down long enough, the following or previous tracks will also be scanned.

G: The REPEAT button (both on the front panel and on the remote control) allows either the current track or the whole disc to be replayed. If pressed once, the REPEAT and I symbol appear on the display and the current track will be repeated continuously; if pressed a second time, the I symbol goes out and the ALL symbol appears, indicating that the entire disc will be replayed continuously; a third pressure on the button will clear the function.

H: The STOP button stops operation both in playback and pause modes; it also cancels the repeat mode, if selected.

Functions specific to the Remote Control

A: Time display selection. Normally display shows the time elapsed during the current track. If the TIME button is pressed once, the TIME LEFT symbol appears and the time remaining on the current track (preceded by a minus sign) is shown. Note: if the current track is beyond the 32nd, 00:00 will be displayed instead of the time.
If the button is pressed again, the time remaining on the entire disc will be displayed. If the button is pressed for a third time, the normal display is restored and the TIME LEFT symbol goes out.

B: Numeric Keypad. From 1 to 10, tracks can be accessed directly using the corresponding button. Over track 10, press + 10 and press a button from 1 to 10 within a few seconds. Example: for track 15, press 10 +, then 5.
To access tracks with 0 as the second digit such as 20, 30,40, etc., press 10+ until the number desired minus ten is reached, then press 10. Example: for track 30, press" 10+ twice, then press 10. If the total number of tracks on the disc is ten or less, the 10+ button will not work.

Notes on the use of the Standby Function

A: After pressing the STBY button, it cannot be pressed again for at least approximately 5 seconds. This is to avoid possible damage to the delicate circuitry deriving from misuse of this function.

B: Even though the standby facility is designed to allow the player to be left powered-up continuously and therefore already "warmed up" and ready to give its best, we advise you to disconnect the player from mains if unattended for a long time. This is to avoid the risk of damage arising from mains power surges such as lightning.

Discs Used For Evaluation:

Ben Webster At The Renaissance (Contemporary Records OJCCD-390-2)
The Royal Ballet Gala Performances (Classic Compact Discs CDSCD 6065)
Jurassic Park Motion Picture Soundtrack (MCAD 10859)
We Get Requests - The Oscar Peterson Trio (Verve 810047-2)
You Won't Forget Me - Shirley Horn (Verve 847482-2)
On Every Street - Dire Straits (Warner Brothers 26680-2)
Trio Jeepy - Branford Marsalis (Columbia CK44199)
Paris Jazz Concert - Louis Armstrong (RTE 1001-2)
Braveheart Motion Picture Soundtrack - London Symphony Orchestra (London LC0171)
Patriot Games Motion Picture Soundtrack (RCA 07863 66051-2)
Highlights From The Plugged Nickel - Miles Davis (Columbia CK 67377)
Private Investigations Best Of Dire Straits (HDCD) - Dire Straits (Warner Bros 49891-2)
Straight Up - Bob James Trio (Warner Bros 945956-2)
Land Of Giants - McCoy Tyner (Telarc 83576)
New York Reunion - McCoy Tyner (Chesky 5173324)
Gladiator Motion Picture Soundtrack(Decca 2894670942)
Copland - Appalachian Spring (Telarc CD 80078)
F. Fennell - Holst Suites (Telarc 80038)
Tchaikovsky - 1812 Overture (Telarc 80041)
John Williams - American Journey (Sony 89364)
Bizet - Carmen (Telarc 80048)

The overall construction and build quality of the Paganini far exceeds anything else I have seen in this range of single chassis CD Players. The fit and feel is strictly first class. From that stand point alone would put the Paganini in rare company indeed.

The Paganini is, without question, a smooth,detailed and solid performer, zero digital harshness detected.While being analytical, the Paganini never sounded harsh or aggressive, remaining smooth and enjoyable at listening levels one would consider far above normal. I found that listening fatique was totally absent for me, just one marvelous performance after another.

Of all the CD Players that have passed through here since the dawn of the digital medium.The Audio Analogue Paganini ranks in the top five of those I have heard. I would easily put this up against the likes of Krell,Muse,Levinson,Theta,Classe and Sim Audio. For all those players have indeed come through here. That is lofty company indeed and the Paganini is more than in that league and at a price that is easy to live with.

It becomes clearly evident, after the first few tracks, that the Paganini is a high end CD player, the same kind of difference you experience when upgrading to better components. Not a lateral leap mind you, but a quantum one, that puts that silly grin on your face.

The Paganini possess's a large and deep soundstage and, thanks to the marvelous mid range, the instruments and singers appear precisely focused inside the almost holographic presentation,if you will. A performance so realistic you can find it only in players costing twice the price of the Audio Analogue Paganini. The Paganini, due to its soundstage,and depth of field can rival far more expensive CD players and Transport, DAC combos.

If there is one caveat it is the rather small circular display about an inch and three quarters with orange lighting. For me it is a little difficult to read from six feet. The brightness is fixed and for me a dim level,but still readable. I would have preferred a slightly brighter display and have ability to adjust brightness. With that being said, that is my only quibble with this otherwise over the top CD Player from the gifted minds at Audio Analogue.

The folks at Audio Analog have strived to produce a CD Player that rivals the analog presentation and to that end, I believe that they have more than met the goals and design parameters for Paganini.

Since the original release of the Paganini, of which this review is about. Two additional variants of the player have emerged from Audio Analogue. Have not heard those. The second version has the controls in the center with tray to left and display to right. The current version has the tray in the middle with display under tray with the controls flanking each side of the tray. Specifications show that the on board DAC has had minor improvements over the original Paganini.

If upgrading your digital front end is on your short list, then the Audio Analogue Paganini should be at the top of list. A glorious performer that will mesmerize your senses day in day out. Discover your CD library all over again for the first time. You will be amazed at the outright musical performance and sonic signature of the Paganini. This is CD done right for a change, now here is your chance to embrace it. A total five star performer in my book, and has become my reference single chassis CD Player.

Products such as the Paganini come along all to infrequently in the world of high end audio. The Paganini delivers the promise of a high end CD Player and is more than worthy of your consideration. The original Paganini CD Player is somewhat hard to come by and usually sells in the preowned market in the $600.00 TO $800.00 range depending on condition and if the box and manual come with it.

Few products can be called a tour de force. The Paganini deservedly falls into that category, based upon the sonics,build quality,craftsmanship and the overall fit and finish of the unit. At its opening price of $1,395.00 USD in 1999, served notice on the audiophile community, that this was a serious contender in the digital playback medium. The competition would be hard pressed to surpass this gem from the land of Ferrari.

The Paganini excels at Jazz piano,chamber,trio and quartet music as well as Classical music. Vocals are handled with complete authority. To hear the Bob James Trio or McCoy Tyners Jazz Roots on the Paganini is a major league treat. I am continualy amazed how soon I get lost in the music and forget I am listening to a digital playback. And this is coming from a dyed in the wool turntable maven. The uncanny way the Paganini has of layering in the musical presentation, couple with its near holographic presentation is a joy to behold. The Paganini deserves a desert island status, it is that good. I believe after all these 25 years in digital I have found a CD Player, that is with me for the long term. Yes, there is probably better, but at what cost and to whom? For me I have found the Paganini,at long last the hunt is over.

To name a company Audio Analogue is a mighty and lofty ambition indeed, however in this case the aspirations are fully met.Federico Paoletti and Santo Prattico founders of Audio Analogue had a vision of what a CD Player performance should be and that vision has been fully met.

BRAVO!!!!Federico Paoletti and Santo Prattico

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