Trio German Maestros: GMP 400, 435S, 450PRO

gmp_400_435_450_01

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The build quality is generally good, though the use of the ABS-grade plastic looks a bit outdated and reminds me of the interior panel from an 1989 Audi my friend used to own back in college.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.

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

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.

The different pads. The GMP 435 S and 450 PRO come with the synthetic leather pads on the left. The GMP 400 comes with the verlour pads on the right.

The suspension system makes for a good comfortable fit. Elastic bands are not the most durable material, but given the limited range of movement and suspension force they bear, I think a few years is very probable.

The driver assembly for the Trio.


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

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  • Donunus

     LOL I don’t think I’ve ever read a negative review such as this one from you. This is Great! :) I’ve been told by the way that the GMP 8.300D are even better than the 8.35 and someone actually said that it was better than his hd650s

    • Anonymous

      Thanks, Donunus.

      It was really hard for me to do, but I did try playing those headphones
      with just about any music out there, but I can’t get what the sound is
      all about.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sgostelow Shaun Gostelow

    We’ve had the German Maestro headphones in for evaluation at HiFi Headphones and I personally think they are perfect for anyone who is looking for a headphone with a very accurate, flat response.  I think it’s fair to say the Maestros are very balanced in their delivery.  This is exactly what recording engineers are looking for and what they appear to have been designed for.

    Overall I’m very very impressed with the German Maestro range.  The GMP 8.35D is a particular highlight, but I think the GMP 400 and GMP 450 PRO are also up there with the likes of Beyerdyanamic and Sennheiser.  Like Beyer they are hand built in Germany.

    • Anonymous

      They’re definitely monitoring headphones.

      The part that I don’t get is that the detail level and the flat
      soundstage is inferior compared to the DT880-250/600. In fact I can’t
      see the advantage these German Maestros have over the DT880s, which
      brings me to the question: “why not just get the beyers?”

  • Mampus

    Hmm, seems we have some kind of ‘opposite’  feel about this Maestro’s :D

    • Anonymous

      You should try listening to them longer, compared to other headphones,
      and with a wider range of music.

      I remember your playlist was mostly fairly relaxed, laid back songs that
      didn’t demand a good PRaT. What bands were those?

      • Mampus

         Yeah, one week seems not long enough :(

        My music, yeah i admit that not wide enough for reviewing audio gear :(

        Bands? Somewhere in 70’s of course :D

        • Anonymous

          Yes, and your 70s music, if I remember correctly, are mostly relaxed and
          not too demanding in bass impact.

  • Earfonia

    Listening to the GMPs now,  GMP 8.35D, GMP 400, GMP 435 S, & GMP 450 PRO.  For my musical preference, I vote for GMP 435, best tonal balance for me :)

    • Anonymous

      Yes, it is the warmest and smoothest of the bunch. But not as resolving
      as the GMP 400. Try the GMP 400 with the pleather pads, it becomes
      warmer, closer to the 435 tonal balance, but better resolution. :)

  • Albie

    Looks like these could have the same little wrinkle as the Sennheiser series.  The HD555 and HD595 models shared the same driver but the cheaper 555 was simply strangled with a foam moulding inside which restricted the sound.  It seems marketing is all it seems! If you doubt this look here :- http://mikebeauchamp.com/misc/sennheiser-hd-555-to-hd-595-mod/

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Thanks Albie,
      Actually on the 555-595 it’s not quite that simple. The popular 555-595 mod doesn’t actually turn a 555 into a 595.

      Housing design alters the sound a big deal and the different models are actually fitted with different housing/grill design that alter the sound considerably. Similarly the 555-558 and 595-598 which are all based on one same design.

      Imagine listening to a pair of speakers on a room with plain concrete walls around, then the same speakers on a room with concrete walls and some windows. The sound would change despite the speakers being the same. On headphones, the housing is what forms the acoustic chamber and it affects the final sound a great deal.

      The newer 558-598 have a much improved soundstage performance despite being based on the same driver as the 555-595.

      You can read more about it here:
      http://www.headfonia.com/old-and-new-hd555-hd558-hd598/

  • TYL

    I just got a GMP 435 S and paired it up with a Graham Slee Solo UL. Really like how involved and musical the resultant sound is. Highly recommended for multi-purpose listening – i did audition the GMP 400 as well and thought it was a tad more detailed, but really felt more moved by the 435 sound.

  • Russian Bro

    Hi, i’ve recently bought my pair of GMP 450, and as much as i enjoyed them at the store with the hi fi system, i’m pretty much confused whith them at home. I use pc with foobar + nuforce udac 2 + gmp 450. And the sound is too damn bright on the middle and hights, also bass is weaker and not that rubby and kinky. Scene is misoriented with instruments not realy coming into mixture and sinergy with one another. I consider udac amplifier as a budget “toy” and want to upgrade my sound tract up to the 1200$ budget.

    Which DACs and amplidiers you would recomend to make this pair of german babes more lovely, musical and less exausting at mids to hights.

  • dalethorn

    I’ve used only the 8.35D, which is similar in many ways to the Philips L1, if the 8.35D is played flat and the L1 with bass reduction. In that comparison, the L1 still wins in the bass dept. with stronger, better bass and extension all the way down. (With bass reduction). How about them apples, huh? The rest of the range from mids on up are comparable to me, even if different, nothing stands out. Comfort is about the same, not as good as the top 3 Shures. Each offers good value and high fidelity sound** for the money.
    **High fidelity sound requires bass reduction with the L1.

  • Ryan Yang

    Maybe they’re good for movies? Also curious which one of them is more comfortable?

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  • http://gorboman.wordpress.com/ Gorboman

    I demoed the 435s and the 450 pro yesterday. I prefer the 450 pro. It did remind me of the DT880 sound.