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.
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.
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.
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: