Review: LinnenberG Maestro – Insane

Disclaimer: the Maestro sample was supplied by Linnenberg Audio, Germany. Maestro goes for about 1550$ USD. You can find all about it here: LinnenberG Maestro.

Update: I’ve fixed a few links, edited a few grammatical mistakes, and removed a number of tautologous adjectives.

The Linnenberg Vivace DAC opened my eyes to white fascias, fiddly knobs, and warehouse aesthetics. It was, and is, a fantastic DAC, whose singular gotcha is that it’s missing optical input. Otherwise brilliant, it set the stage for my enthusiasm for Linnenberg engineering.

And Maestro, while not what I call pretty, is a stunning example of how well Linnenberg know their market.

The build

Firstly, let me point out the family resemblance. Maestro utilizes the same chassis, and rear and front panels as Vivace. It uses the same gumdrop feet, the same bolts. It uses the same mains switches, wall warts, thimble attenuators, input switches, etc. It is so similar, in fact, that I bet you could sneak one into the house without your partner noticing.

I don’t think it is as pretty as Vivace. It sure matches it, and it’s got this face thing going on, which is cute. But it keeps staring at me. Still, its white front is stunning in its own way. Usually, HiFi is either grey or black. Maestro tosses any light in the room back at you. At night, and as part of LED-beeping HiFi system, the glow of your receiver should reflect enough from Maestro’s white face for you to suss which way to insert the Astell&Kern AK380’s micro USB cable. Especially at the top of a system, Maestro, or the combo if it and Vivace, have a tiara thing going on.

White may just have its place in HiFi.

Maestro’s chassis creaks a bit when pressed in the middle, but it neither flexes, nor shifts. Its feet clear 10mm, so you don’t have to worry about it gouging your table or other HiFi stuff. What doesn’t sit well with me is its RCA jacks, which while square in their niches, wobble when pushed from the top. But then again, after the Lynx HILO, I may be expecting too much.

What I never could have expected as the Apple remote. Evidently it and Maestro get along. Alas, the battery on mine has gone and I’m too lazy to hit up the battery shop.

The Box

Like Vivace, Mestro comes in a cardboard pull-out box, around which snuggle the literature and box containing the wall wart. The transportation box is snug, protective, and responsibly free of dyes, paints, and excess packaging. It seems a small thing, but for the same reasons I praised Campfire Audio’s Lyra, I praise Linnenberg’s attention in reduce waste. Bravo.

The knob

My wife marvels at how often I fiddle with the focus ring of my Elmarit 28, or complain that my lovely Summicron 50’s aperture ring is gunked up, and not smooth. I could spend hours twisting, then untwisting the massive knob on JDS Labs’s The Element. It is smooth, and while a bit lop-sided, it feels good. Neither Vivace’s nor Maestro’s knob is even close. They’re thin, pointy, and impossible to wrap in a knuckle-and-thumb grip. Maestro’s knob gets crowded out by the 4-pin XLR port on its left and the combo 3-pin XLR/6,3 TRS jack on its right. It’s all snug up in there, even fastened onto its fulcrum by two bolts. It’s even machined well, and twists nearly perfectly straight in its axis.

But nested between headphones, it isn’t easy to reach. My rule of knob is: the bigger and more space, the better. And for a dedicated headphone amp, Maestro’s is small. Sure, it works. I mean, I don’t spend a lot of time changing volume whilst listening to music. But when I do, I change it a lot. And when I’m penning something awesome (like this paragraph), I remove my headphones and start twiddling. In fact, I’ve touched Maestro’s knob eight times since typing the first ‘But’ in this section. I touched it fifteen up till then. 

I’m a knob guy. And this knob- no, this amp, really deserves something easier to twist.

The great news about this knob is that it is the front for the most accurate analogue volume amplification system I’ve used. I just got off the telephone with Ivo, Maestro’s designer. He reiterated that its R2R circuit, while not running a traditional pentameter, is all analogue. I’ll get into this more later. Suffice it to say that this thing is accurate.

Sound impressions follow the jump:

Review: LinnenberG Maestro – Insane
4.3 (86%) 10 votes

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Back before he became the main photographer for bunches of audio magazines and stuff, Nathan was fiddling with pretty cool audio gear all day long at TouchMyApps. He loves Depeche Mode, trance, colonial hip-hop, and raisins. Sometimes, he gets to listening. Sometimes, he gets to shooting. Usually he's got a smile on his face. Always, he's got a whisky in his prehensile grip.

20 Comments

  • Reply September 4, 2015

    Chris

    Vivace looks pretty nice.

    • Reply September 4, 2015

      ohm image

      You know, it does. The same aesthetics don’t (IMO) work as well on Maestro.

      BTW, good to have you here, Chris. And sorry that we disagree and agree so often at the camera forums.

      • Reply September 4, 2015

        Chris

        Haha, that doesn’t matter. I dumped my A7 and picked up Nikon, couldn’t be happier.

        • Reply September 4, 2015

          ohm image

          Good on you. I went from faux-Leica to real Leica. And that Summicron 50 (the one that took the shots above) is lovely beyond words.

          • Reply September 4, 2015

            Chris

            Leica has always been a dream. How much I envy you.

            • Reply September 4, 2015

              ohm image

              it’s pretty easy: don’t waste money on frivolous Mirrorless cameras. If you can afford an A7 and Nikon, you have the dosh, you just don’t know it.

              Anyway, the Vivace and Maestro (on topic now!) are worth their meagre weight in gold.

            • Reply September 4, 2015

              dalethorn

              I would have bought a Leica S for $30k-plus, but it has the old-fashioned vibrating mirror, so no deal. I have now the full-frame Q with 28 mm fixed lens, the 4/3 Leica D-Lux, and the Canon G3x that Luminous Landscape raved about, and the Nikon Coolpix A (APS-C), so yeah, DSLR’s have been the camera of choice for pros for decades now, but there are better things for people who aren’t shooting sports or weddings.

              • Reply September 16, 2015

                ohm image

                Agreed. Still, I never had trouble with vibrating mirror. Some people have it.

                Maestro’s ‘mirror slap’ is its tiny volume pot. Otherwise: bingo!

            • Reply September 16, 2015

              ohm image

              Don’t envy me. Just don’t waste money on cheap mirrorless cameras. They need upgrading every year or so. Stop that and you have enough for a Leica. Ditto Linnenberg. If you hold off buying something cheap instead you can afford it.

              And it is worth it.

          • Reply September 4, 2015

            Pade

            You have the APO ver? gadam~

            • Reply September 4, 2015

              ohm image

              Sorry, no. I have the 3rd (and most hated) version. I’ve owned the 4th, the 5th, and the 3rd. The 3rd is completely different, rendering soft bokeh and highlight OOF areas whereas the 4th and 5th versions are harsh.

              All are sharp. I’m a bokeh man. And, the 3rd costs about 2/3 what the 4th does.

              The 6th gen (APO) is interesting, but not enough to part with 8.000$. Not that I have that for a lens I’d use only for events.

              I am off topic.

  • Reply September 4, 2015

    Jeff

    Wow. The volume knob. ‘Nuff said.

    • Reply September 7, 2015

      ohm image

      Nice shape. But not a lot of headroom for adjusting volume levels in minute increments

  • Reply January 30, 2016

    Tibor

    Hi! This amp is so lovely. And the pics you’ve made are insane! 😉 Could I get them in a higher resolution please?
    Thank you

    • Reply February 20, 2016

      ohm image

      Thanks for the compliments. I’m sorry, I don’t give my pictures away.

      • Reply April 4, 2016

        Coll. IEm

        you should ,by selling them for 1 $

        • Reply April 4, 2016

          ohm image

          Actually, I will be doing that, or something similar very soon.

          • Reply April 4, 2016

            Coll. IEm

            yes pretty good idea

  • Reply December 19, 2016

    Bjarni

    Leica lover and headphones enthusiast?

    Well, until now i thought i was the only living person with those two hobbys.

    Cheers

    • Reply December 19, 2016

      ohm image

      My friend, I think you will find that we are legion.

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