Louis at the Audiohub gave me four German Maestro headphones to write a review on (thanks, Louis!). I did the GMP 8.35D first and separate from this trio, as the sound signature is fundamentally different from the trio. The GMP 8.35D was quite a fun headphone, but this trio seem to represent what the German Maestro sound is all about. The generally uniform look among the trio gives a strong hint that the three shares a very similar sound signature.
- GMP 400
The description from German Maestro website seems to indicate that the GMP 400 is the flagship German Maestro model.
“The GMP 400 represents the top range in headphone technology: Uncompromising sound reproduction with crystal clear trebles, rich details in the mid-range and precise dynamic response in the bass reproduction.” (http://bit.ly/mtLo9j)
- GMP 450 PRO
In addition to the 400, there is also the GMP 450 PRO, which is a closed back flagship model, sharing the same 300 Ohm impedance as the GMP 400 model.
“Like its counterpart, the GMP 400, the GMP 450 Pro represents top-of-the line headphone technology, But following specific needs of professional users in special environments, all the characteristics of the GMP 400 have been packed into an acoustically closed version.” (http://bit.ly/j7agt6)
- GMP 435 S
Then there is the GMP 435S, a low impedance (35 Ohms), open-back version designed to be run from portable devices.
“This high performance headphone is based on the GMP 400 but equipped with low-impedance and highly sensitive drivers for a very well balanced sound reproduction and impressive bass performance with highest efficiency, especially on portable devices like MP3-players.” (http://bit.ly/iAw2Fn)
The build quality is generally good, though the use of the ABS-grade plastic looks a bit outdated and reminds me of the interior panel from an 1989 Audi my friend used to own back in college. The frame feels very light, though the overall structure is quite sturdy. All three models have a very light clamp on the head, lighter than similar headphones from Sennheiser, Beyerdynamic, AKG, or Ultrasone. Instead, the clamping force is more similar like the Audio Technica AD-series line up, though these German Maestros clamp even less. They sit quite well on the head, but they feel like they just sit there, as the lack of clamping force really doesn’t feel like wearing a conventional headphone.
The driver housing is suspended by an elastic band to the frame, hence the cups are free to follow the contours of your head. They come with two types of pads: a verlour pads similar to the Beyer pads (though with softer foams) for the GMP 400, and a synthetic leather pads for the GMP 450 PRO and GMP 435 S models. The cable is quite unique as they have a short ~1″ coiled section right in between the straight sections. From the website I also learned about the supposedly high technology used in the construction of the drivers: “Sandwich-diaphragm, and copper plated aluminium voice coils”. Does anybody know what Beyer and Sennheiser use for their voice coil material?
GENERAL SOUND IMPRESSIONS
The Trio German Maestros sound like nothing I’ve ever heard before, and quite a radical shift from the GMP 8.35D. The basic signature is mostly neutral. No low end boost and laid back sound like on the Senns. No crisp and dry voicing like the Beyers. No forward sound like the Grados. The sound is uniquely German Maestro. The GMP 400 perhaps qualifies as the most straight-line ruler neutral of the bunch, with the GMP 450 being slightly v-shaped and the GMP 435S being warmer and slightly darker.
A concept that is going to be hard to grasp with the Trio Maestros is that their sound have sort of a floating, weightless tone to it. What I mean is this: they are not that big in the bass, although if you play a punchy rock recording (Linkin Park, Muse, or Incubus, for instance) you can hear the bass punch coming out from the driver. But somehow the bass doesn’t seem planted, nor is the impact factor there. I am not even comparing them to bass-heavy cans here, as I find relatively light headphones like the Superlux HD668B or the Audio Technica AD-series to still have more thump than the Maestros. So again, the bass notes are there and you can hear them, but the punch and the impact level seem to be set at a level that lets you evaluate, rather than feel the bass notes. You know how I love the word PRaT? Well, the Trio Maestros here may be the first set of headphones that would qualify for the phrase “negative PRaT”. I know this may be a difficult concept to grasp, as again I have never encountered other headphones with this sort of a signature, because even the famed thin-sounding Etymotics ER4 and the Stax Lambdas don’t do this.
Another thing that I hear is how the attack on the notes seem to be made dull, intentionally. You don’t have that snap, even at the peak of the note. The whole sound has a rather rubbery feel to it. It’s like you’re over dampening the sound in an attempt, perhaps, to cut the decay level short to improve articulation on the notes. A good analogy is perhaps in boxing, where a bare fist punch would make the most attack and snap, a boxing glove would damp that attack a little, and yet, what I am talking here is like wearing a boxing glove made from rubber baloons.
In a way, the GMP trios sort of reminds me of the AKG K701 sound. A more open and spacious sounding K701, but with the dull attack on the notes and the weightless sound added to the mix.
BETWEEN THE MODELS
The tonal balance is relatively good with the GMP 400 being the most linear sounding of the three. With the stock verlour pads that come on the GMP 400, the sound is a bit dry and has a little more treble than what I’d consider balanced. Replacing that pads with the synthetic leather pads from the GMP 450 PRO tones down the treble levels, smooths out the dryness, and makes the midrange a little fuller sounding. Although the overall sound is relatively forward, the pace and the dynamics are somehow very slow. It’s all in line with the “negative PRaT” and dull attack I mentioned earlier.
The GMP 450 PRO is only mildly v-shaped, but it’s quite noticeable when compared to the more linear GMP 400 or even the GMP 435S. You get to hear more prominent high trebles and low bass, which somehow helps to make the sound more dynamic and less floating than the other two, but I do prefer the GMP 400 with the pleather pads better due to the fuller mids.
The GMP 435S doesn’t have the transparency of the two bigger brothers, though by itself it is quite good in the tonal balance. It is the warmest of the bunch, and has the least amount of treble among the bunch.
NOTES ON TECHNICALITIES
Despite the relatively open and spacious sound, I don’t find the soundstage performance to be up to par with the $300+ pricetag. The soundstage image is almost non existant, as the left and right sound fields remain disconnected and panned out to the sides. No center image, no depth. I took the lowly Superlux HD660 and the mid-fi Sennheiser HD598 as a basis of comparison and find both headphones to better the Maestros in term of soundstage imaging and three dimensionality.
Detail level wasn’t particularly good either, as again I find both the HD660 and HD598 to have a better low level detail, regardless of the amplifier I’ve paired these headphones with, including the Manley Stingray, the Zana Deux, or the Burson HA-160D among other amps. The same can also be said about the frequency extension of the headphones.
I know that some people have said very good things about these relatively obscure headphone brand. But if I have to recommend a German Maestro, it’s going to be the GMP 8.35D, though I advise you to go through the review first before committing to the purchase. As for these trio, I honestly don’t know whom to recommend them to. The Grado fans have their Grados. The bassheads have the Pro700Mk2. The planar fans have the Staxes, the Hifiman and Audez’e Orthodynamics. The rock fans have the HD25-1. The Sennheiser fans have the HD650. And, if you want clarity and detail, you can always count on the Beyerdynamics. I’ve actually went and played music from just about any genre out there, including stuff that I don’t normally listen to like Dream Theater, Eminem, or Lady Antebellum (though I rediscovered Nirvana, REM, and others in the process), but I can’t seem to find what music they are good for. Perhaps they would make good monitoring headphone, but I don’t know, the Beyerdynamics and the Superlux monitoring headphones seems to be better for that. I’ve listened and reviewed a very wide range of headphones, but I haven’t quite heard anything like these trios.
Gears used for review:
Headphones: German Maestro GMP 400, GMP 435 S, GMP 450 PRO
Amplifiers: Manley Stingray, Eddie Current Zana Deux, Burson HA-160D, Earfonia PBA, Just Audio AHA-120.
Source: CEC TL51XZ, Hifiman HM-602, Ipod Classic 120GB