FEEDBACK ONLINE - ISSUE 41
as reviewed by Robert H. Levi
I first heard these rather small, but mighty loudspeakers at the 2008 RMAF Show and felt compelled to review them. I just could not wait to power them with my E.A.R. 890 monoblocks and see if my hunch was correct: that AudioMachina and Dr. Karl Schuemann, their designer, has achieved the magical absolute sound.
With two cutting edge midranges and tweeter from Morel and two large superb self powered woofers from Scanspeak, the Maestro comes fully loaded. I first heard Morel midrange drivers on the Eggleston Andra and was mightily impressed. Their newest version has the definition of ceramic drivers and the dynamics of those cool cones used by Focal and others. The tweeter is extended, dynamic, and delicate with truly perfect blending with its midrange cousins. The tweeter is very close to a diamond tweeter in overall definition and airiness and correctly placed right at ear level when seated.
The woofers are mounted in an acoustic suspension cabinet of small proportions, but yield dynamic, quick, solid, super detailed definition to the lowest frequencies I've heard in my listening room. The crossovers are passive and quite minimal. The cabinet is solid slab aluminum and more robust than a Pass Amplifier. You can rap your knuckles on any side of this beauty and get zero retort. Very cool.
From AudioMachina's Website:
Other than the Tara One AC cords to each speaker, I simply disconnected my Avalons and inserted the Maestros. All cabling was with my top reference Kubala-Sosna Emotions from source to speaker. New to the system is the Disc Master turntable by Tim de Paravicini in for evaluation and review, replacing my VPI setup. All else remained as normal in my number one reference system. The Maestros sell for $49,500 the pair.
I was most impressed by their ease of setup and adjustment to my 13 x 25 foot listening room. I placed them about 7 feet apart with about two inches of toe-in. They require one speaker cable, no bi-wire, and a power cord. They come with spikes and cones. That's it. The speakers were already run-in in advance. They come in three pieces per side and they assemble very elegantly and solidly. Beautiful grill cloths are provided, but were not used. They have controls for increasing and decreasing the mid/tweeter module and the bass module. I set them to the 12 o'clock position for the first few days then adjusted the upper drivers to plus one and the bass to plus two. Tweeters set flat and bass at plus one was also very natural. I used the 4 ohm taps on the amps for this review, but the 8 ohm taps work just as well. The E.A.R. 890 monoblocks, at about 150 watts per channel, never clipped during the audition so this amplifier's power range appears more than adequate. I did not have a suitable solid state amp in house to try. It won't be easy to find one that will maximize the Maestros similar to great tube designs. I wish you good hunting if you are not a tube-o-phile like me.
The High Band
Extended to the moon and detailed to the max, the highs were absolutely divine. Air, ambience retrieval, and definition were state of the art. Maybe, just maybe the diamond tweeter is a bit less colored and extended, but the Morel tweeter is altogether amazing and refreshing to hear. It produces glorious music and it is fast as lightning. Imaging is great, no, imaging is state of the art. I have never ever heard better imaging with any speaker at any price that eclipses the Maestros. The highs are both delicate and vivid; they change with the style of music played. I was constantly impressed!
I certainly don't want the tweeter to make itself heard or be of such narrow dispersion as to require one sit only in the sweet spot to get maximum benefit. The Morel tweeter is tied with the diamond tweeter as the best drivers yet at wide dispersion and blend that I've encountered on a cost is no object speaker system. I sit 15 feet from the speakers on a large three seat sofa. Generally my Avalons cover the three seats well, but the center seat is the best. The Maestros cover all three seats superbly. The Morel is one great tweeter and its blend with the mids is entirely seamless!
Once again, the lifelike and precise imaging of the Maestro is breathtaking. You are in Carnegie Hall, fifth row, and the cello and piano are right in front of you. With utter clarity and expression, the mids are harmonious and extraordinary. Tambours are gorgeous and precisely colored. Choral groups and solo voices are layered and defined perfectly. The intensity of the presentation is just perfect. The speakers are neutral in the best definition of the word. They just disappear as the performance takes command. The Maestros are the imaging champ! I have never heard anything like this level of perfection in instrumental or vocal imaging, ever. What extraordinary purity of tone and tambour!
Depth retrieval and soundstage definition is worlds better than anything I've heard in this price category. I kept repeating to myself that I just had no idea my reference LPs and CDs sounded like that. Nuance upon nuance just burst forth as I listened to my prized software. What amazing clarity! I must have played nearly all my old Sheffield LP recordings enjoying them anew.
As you might expect, the unusual bass enclosure and powerful internal amp give you unparalleled speed, power, and blend. I have never heard superior bass except in enclosures the size of refrigerators. This is new technology at work for audiophiles. In fact, the overall design of this tour de force loudspeaker is one very big surprise. My terrific Rel Sub is slow and foggy compared to the Maestro. The very dead cabinet and powerful ICE amps combine to make extraordinary bass. Woofer blending with the mids is perfectly accomplished as far as I can hear.
In the Zone
I just acquired the brand new CD from Yarlung Records titled Inner World, music by David S. Lefkowitz. Recorded in minimalist fashion and using the finest young musicians, this disk comes alive on the Maestros. You are at Zipper Hall in LA and Schoenberg Hall at UCLA. You will hear what Steve Hoffman and Kevin Gray heard.
This is amazingly lifelike musical beauty at its best. Violin, viola, clarinet, cello, flute, piano, and marimba …alive, real, solid…right between and outside the edges of the Maestros. Depth and hall ambience are breathtaking and wondrously defined. If this isn't $50 large worth of performance, I can't imagine what is.
Neutrality is often spoken of as the golden ideal. I've heard many so called neutral loudspeaker designs that were completely uninvolving and lean. Neutrality must be accompanied with flesh and bones reproduction. The speaker may not add anything and embellish, but it also must not take anything away! That's harder than you might think and has proven quite a challenge to speaker designers to date.
The Maestro has achieved this absolute neutrality with a bullet yet managed to provide the spot on musical tambours one craves. It will shock and awe you if you have equally neutral and maximally musical sources and electronics. The Maestros are not for the faint of heart. I heard them less than maximized on two different occasions with very, very expensive high-end electronics. My Avalon Eidolons are equally sensitive though not as revealing as the Maestros. My quest to max out the Avalons results in an equally nice job with the Maestros, actually even better. I knew the E.A.R. 890 amplifier was superb …it's even better than that. In fact, the E.A.R. approach to tube technology is just wonderful, alive, and mellifluous with these superb Maestro speakers. Lucky for me!
I truly enjoyed the lovely evenness of frequency response from top to bottom. Never did the tweeters show off or the woofers overwhelm [though the woofers subjectively go down below 20Hz.] The more you listen the more the Maestros will make a believer out of you. I spent an entire evening listening to just my Marantz 10B during an all Dvorak musical event. Gorgeous! The 10B sounds like I'm playing my best LPs on the Maestros.
My only quibble, and it's a little one, is your system must be fully warmed up before listening to the Maestros. You will actually hear improvements as you listen. If your preamp improves like mine for the first hour before achieving maximum performance, you will live this warm-up like never before. I have never had speakers this revealing of flaws in my system, but it goes with the territory. You want the best; you'll have to work for it. By the way, once you switch on the speakers, leave them on.
The AudioMachina Maestros are clearly and truly the best imaging loudspeakers known to me. Revealing and neutral, they subtract nothing and add nothing. Definition is extraordinary and their level of performance is worth every penny of their five figure price. Will they yield the magical absolute sound? With today's finest amplification and sources, mostly tube I think, you will get fantastically close. With tomorrow's wonderful audiophile gear on the drawing board, the Maestros may hit the bulls-eye. They are a loudspeaker to grow with, to continuously maximize. Hey, that's what this adventure is all about. The AudioMachina Maestro: if you only want to consider the best loudspeakers in the world under $100,000, here's your very first loudspeaker to audition. Robert H. Levi