Audio Analouge Maestro CD Player Reviewed

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Audio-Analouge-Maestro-CD-Player-Reviewed.gifNo conceit here: Audio Analogue calls the Maestro a 'Digital Audio Processor' 

because they feel that it's more than a mere CD player. This machine falls under the 'no-compromise' heading, and lifting the lid shows you why; you'll think you were peering into a power amp. Occupying the front third of the unit, to the left of the transport, are two massive toroidal transformers, one each for the analogue and digital sections, with nine regulators '(to) guarantee a perfect supply to every part of the Digital Audio Processor's complex circuits.'

These toroids plus metalwork you'd expect of, say, PS Audio mains filters, contribute to a confidence-inspiring weight of 44lbs. The chassis is made from 3mm-thick sheet steel, for isolation from both mechanical and electromagnetic interference, and the aluminium fascia is 20mm thick. The very instant you lift this chunky 445x360x135mm (WDH) monster out of the carton, you know you're playing with something VERY serious. Actually, not instant - you'll struggle with it.

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Despite jam-packed innards, the Maestro is a clutter-free zone, with the remote handling all of the minor functions. The fascia contains only a display and tray flanked by vertical rows of four buttons for the basic transport commands, plus standby and 'mode'. The display, in addition to track and time data, indicates if the Maestro is being used with as a one-box CD player, with an external digital source selected via the aforementioned mode button, or if its transport is feeding an external DAC.

Maestro's 'loop' circuit allows the signal from the CD transport to be digitally processed before being sent to the D/A converter, so digital equalizers, delay units or proprietary devices used for digital correction of the loudspeakers can be inserted into the Maestro. The transport and control board have been optimised with the use of an extremely rigid support structure to improve the mechanical performance, while adding shielding from RF.

Minimalism marks the back panel, too: main on/off button, IEC mains socket, a choice of unbalanced (gold plated RCA) or balanced (XLR) analogue outputs and a coaxial digital input and digital output - no TOSlink, no AT&T. I used the Maestro in balanced mode into the McIntosh C2200 pre-amp and in single-ended mode into the Musical Fidelity Tri-Vista 300, with Sonus Faber Cremona Auditors.

Read more about the Maestro on Page 2.

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With a noise floor of -140dB, THD of <0.001% @ 1kHz, and jitter rejection stated as 0.00005%, you expect something quiet and precise, but that's not the whole story: I've said above this CD player is physically reminiscent of an amp. It behaves like one, too, imparting to the sound sensations I normally associate with wattage- or current-related matters. Music through the Audio Analogue Maestro has a robustness, a sense of force, a feeling of, well, power which I cannot ascribe to other players.

While it's smooth and open, possessing silky treble and plenty of air, down below it's a bruiser, delivering potent, tight, extended bass and VAST dynamic scope. It wasn't speaker-breaker like the low-end transients of Macca's 'Live & Let Die' which impressed: the lead vocal 58 seconds into the Persuasions' 'Don't Let Me Down ' - sheer voice power ON ITS OWN - told me that the Maestro is one of the most confident, coherent, controlled, and, yes, powerful-sounding CD-players I've been lucky to enjoy.

Maestro constructs a vast soundstage with cavernous 3D characteristics; I was dazzled by the way it exploited the magnificent dispersion of the Amators. Image height was enough to pass the Chesky test, and the Maestro throughout attributed to the music a sense of weight which you MUST hear. One burst of Kodo through it is all it takes.

But there's a sting: I tried Maestro with superior transports and found that, yet again, a Philips transport proved less than worthy of the rest of the unit. Which leads me to the most bizarre suggestion I've made in ages: buy a Maestro and use it as a DAC with a decent transport from, say, Sony. Even at 1600, it's a D/A converter to reckon with, to savour, to pull more from your CDs than just about anything else below Theta or dCS levels. Just think of the transport section as an unnecessary, non-terminal extra. Like a wart.

Il Cuore
Maestro provides 'true' 96kHz/24-bit D/A conversion via two Analog Devices AD1855 DACs used in parallel. According to AA, 'This means that even the normal CD signal is effectively converted at high resolution. Responsible for this great improvement in D/A conversion is the Crystal Semiconductors CS8420 high performance sample rate converter, so far seen only in professional studio equipment.' The CS 8420 turns the digital signal into a high resolution digital signal for the D/A converters, with lowered jitter thanks to the high-precision crystal oscillator used as a reference.

AA explains, 'This conversion process implies the creation of true 24-bit samples for this reason: two DACs receiving the high resolution signal will always work at their best, providing the analogue stage with the best possible signal. The benefits of the sample rate converter will be heard in the improvement to other performance parameters, such as jitter and distortion.'

The analogue stage, too, is special, using polypropylene and Os-Con capacitors, high precision (0.1%) low noise resistors and high linearity FETs. It was designed for wide open-loop bandwidth and low overall feedback, 'to give perfect behaviour with transients as well as crystal-clear detail resolution.' KK

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