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Audio Analogue Maestro - CD player

Magister Musicae

[Italian version]

Product: Audio Analogue Maestro CD player
Manufacturer: Audio Analogue - Italy
Approx. price (in Italy): 1,700 US $ / Euro
Reviewer: Lucio Cadeddu

[Maestro and Paganini]
Audio Analogue Maestro (below) & Paganini (top)

The Maestro is the new top of the line CD player by Audio Analogue and it belongs to the new Maestro series which also includes a big integrated amp you may have seen on our recent Top Audio & Video reportage from Milan.
Also, you may have seen the Maestro CD player on our Audio Analogue factory tour this Summer. So, if you need details about the player, please refer to that factory tour or browse the Audio Analogue offical site.
Now, let me briefly summarize some historical background.

The Maestro CD player has been released after the Paganini and, in some sense, it is its natural upgrade. The Paganini has been designed by the previous Audio Analogue engineers Paoletti & Pratticò (see our interview here on TNT-Audio) when they were still working at Audio Analogue. So there's a lot of their work and design inside the new Maestro too. Indeed, the newer player differs from the Paganini because of a redesigned D/A converter, which now makes use of an Analog Devices AD 1855 24 bit/96 kHz DAC, a beefier power stage and a new output stage.
Plus, the Maestro can even work as a separate 24/96 DAC converter (a digital input is available) and the connection between the transport and the DAC has been redesigned so to minimize jitter.
This work is due to the new duo sweating on the Audio Analogue design desk: Rampino & Manunta (see our recent interview here at TNT-Audio).

As you may guess from the picture below the layout is very sano and so is the design and the craftsmanship. The overall quality of this player is the same of the Paganini, hence very good. I won't repeat what I wrote about the Paganini here, the same ideas and comments apply.

So the aim of this test is two-fold: first of all I'd like to tell you how the Maestro performs, independently from the fact it is the Paganini's bigger brother. Secondly I'd like to compare the two players head to head, so to shed some light on the sonic differences between them.
Like I did with the Paganini, even the Maestro has been tested into different HiFi systems, both as an "integrated" CD player and a 24/96 separate DAC.

Magister Musicae

[Audio Analogue Maestro]
Maestro innards

Turn on the Maestro and let it play the very first CD on your fave playlist: it will be suddenly clear you're listening to a hi-class CD player with an open, clear high range, plenty with detail and with NO roll-off at the upper end. Triangles, cymbals and bells are reproduced with that typical "metallic" note which makes them sound so natural and realistic with no trace of "electricity", if you know what I mean. A very good high range, indeed, that can sound extremely realistic without being fatiguing.
Then you have the mid range, certainly the best aspect of the Maestro performance: a very good sense of presence and clarity, matched to a grainless presentation is a welcomed gift for voices in general: singles male/female voices or large choirs, it doesn't really matter, the Maestro knows the bel canto pretty well.

Again, as the Paganini, the Maestro sometimes appears a tad shy and the mid range sounds rather "light", especially in its lower portion. What you get is, once again, the Audio Analogue "family feeling", a mixture of grace, velvet touch and lightness that makes Music sound always sweet and kind.
And finally let's talk about the bass. Though the bass of the Paganini appeared to be divided into two portions (above and below 80 Hz) with a different behaviour, the Maestro bass response is linear and extremely coherent, though it lacks some weight and body.
For example, the kick drum, on certain drum records, appears a bit "shifted" towards the highs, like it was smaller and lighter. Hey, since the Maestro isn't exactly an inexpensive player at 1,700 $, I'm talking about subtle differences here so I'm sure you'll forgive me if I emphasize some aspect.
So, briefly and roughly summarizing, the overall bass performance of the Maestro is pretty good with respect to extension, linearity and coherence though it lacks some weight to realistically reproduce some instrument.

Overall precision and coherence being very good, I can honestly conclude this section admitting the Maestro is a pretty fine player.

Dynamics (micro & macro)

Being punchier than the Paganini, the Maestro does have a real fast pace which reminds me the performance of the Northstar Model 3 24/96 DAC, incidentally designed by the same duo Rampino & Manunta.
The Maestro can easily follow any dynamic variation of the musical program, though it never gives the sensation it wants to shout or explode, a classy yet lively aplomb is the keyword for its performance.
So it lacks a bit of extra punch in the bass and in the mids, a punch which is needed with rock recordings that sometimes sound too "kind" to my ears. Put some nasty (read: aggressive) recording into the CD drawer and you get a somehow smoothened performance which is very good even with large symphonic works but definitely unwelcomed when playing Prodigy, Massive Attack, Chemical Bros and stuff like that :-)
Its natural sense of "pace" makes the piano legato's just a bit too "fast", even if rather precise and detailed. You can easily concentrate on the attacks, instead of the decays.
So, as you can easily guess by yourself, the Maestro is pretty good at microdynamics, hence subtle variations of energy don't get lost in the big picture.


What would you expect from a detailed and precise perfomer? A soundstage with very sharp "contours" and a bright light that helps looking through it. The stage is also spacious, especially with respect to depth, though even width and height are pretty good, perfectly aligned with the class of the player.
More precisely the virtual image appears to be located right behind the loudspeakers' plane, sometimes even too much "behind". On some recording I'd expect a small "piece" of stage to appear even in front of the 'speakers.

Maestro versus Paganini: the Blues Brothers

I couldn't miss this family battle. This is NOT a comparison made by using my "memory", since the two players have been playing into my listening room TOGETHER for more than a month. You can easily guess I've had enough time to try any possible combination: Paganini transport coupled with the Maestro DAC, Paganini alone, Maestro alone, Maestro transport coupled with external DACs, Maestro DAC coupled with external transports. Any comparison I could perform, has been done. So you'd like to know my findings.
Well, the short version is that the Maestro sounds better than the Paganini, period.
But since I know you're curious and always in search of details here they come:
the frequency response of the Maestro is far more linear, with no roll-offs or "peaks": coherent like a straight line. Even the bass, though not particularly powerful, appears to be more linear. Yes, the Paganini can sound beefier in the bass but it is a false impression: if you read the listening test of the Paganini you'll understand what I mean here.
Perhaps the Paganini is "smarter" and even smoother, while the Maestro has a far better "swing".
The dynamic performance of the Maestro is far more convincing, though it isn't exactly explosive, as remarked above. It is even faster than the Paganini, which is a bit "slow".
As for imaging, the two player are pretty close, though the soundstage of the Maestro is slightly brighter and larger.

Re-reading these notes, it seems there's a very large difference between the two players. If you have had this feeling, well, think again. I've just emphasized the differences so that you can understand them better but don't get me wrong here: the Maestro is a finer player than the Paganini, but I'm always talking of subtle differences, dudes. Nothing like day & night, black & white, Ferrari & McLaren :-)
These tiny differences may appear BIG to our ears but it is still very difficult to relate them to the price difference between the two players, the Maestro costing almost twice as much as the Paganini (1,700 $ versus 1,000).
So, summarizing, in the quality/price ratio department, the Paganini is a hands down winner though, because of its peculiar sound, it may be less "universal" than the Maestro.

Some advice

The Maestro, being mechanically very similar to the Paganini, benefits from using damping feets like the Vibrapods, for example. Also, a good AC cord is strongly needed, see the Paganini's review for details.

The Maestro transport is exactly the same as in the Paganini so it has a very fast and good sound. Since the DAC section of the Maestro is as good as the transport I see no reason for upgrading with a better DAC. A new, better transport + DAC combo or integrated CD player would be the most natural upgrade: leave the Maestro as a stand-alone unit.
The digital input allows you to hook up another digital source (DAT, 24/96 DVD-Video or anything else). Unfortunately (???) the DVD-Audio standard seems to go for the 24/192 tag, so those of you who have already bought a 24/96 DAC hoping the new digital format would be compatible...now have something pretty useless at home. We had already told you to WAIT ;-)


The quality of the craftsmanship is the same as in the Paganini so it is a pretty good one, tough I'd rate it has just "good" if related to the price tag of the Maestro.
The same things I disliked (hated, indeed) during the Paganini test (display, switches etc.) remaining unchanged, my previous comments apply here.
The transport, while being the same as in the Paganini, appears a bit reluctant to read some CD's and probably a different set-up of the correction circuits and servo's has forced the Maestro to refuse a couple of discs the Paganini has read without trouble.
Perhaps a simple case of slightly mismatched regulations, a bit annoying, considering the price tag of the player, though.

As for sound quality, let me complain again about the bass, a bit on the "light" side and the punch, a bit too "smooth" for hyper-energetic Music.


Perhaps, listening to the two players during a fast A-B comparison, one wouldn't find the differences I have described in this article. Let me say that just long and accurate tests into your listening room can say something on the sonic differences between two players which have the same transport and the same internal layout, more or less. Whether these differences are worth the extra money required it's up to you to decide: listen and judge by yourself. While money can be easily "measured" by dollars or Euros, listening pleasure can't, sorry. So every audiophile has to have his own "scale".
The bottom line is that, in my humble opinion, the Maestro is a fine performer that can be successfully used with HiFi systems of the hi-end kind up to 5,000 $ or so. Plus, thanks to its "easy" sound it can be matched easily with most systems.

A warm thank you to the Audio Analogue staff for having sent us the Maestro for reviewing.

© Copyright 2000 Lucio Cadeddu - http://www.tnt-audio.com

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