Review: LinnenberG Maestro – Insane

The Sound

In case you think I was a little too harsh on Astell & Kern’s AK380, and maybe induced high IMD/THD because of overdriving the Earsonics SM2, at the exact same volume, Maestro keeps distortion levels to about 5% of a similarly loaded AK380. At max.

Let’s praise Maestro’s versatility.

It runs excellent signal to a super-duper wide variety of headphones, where apart from stereo crosstalk, signal quality decays by less than 5% in contrast-based metrics. And that whilst running the Ultrasone IQ, Earsonics SM2, Beyerdynamic DT880, and Audio Technica ES7.

Maestro’s masterful grip, channel balance, and blessedly low noise signature are boons to earphone users. Yes, earphone users. Despite Maestro kicking out desktop speaker-level volume levels like it was digital. Balance is perfect from the lowest volume settings, even through sensitive levels through headphones such as the 600Ω DT880, it tracks perfectly from its base volume through sensitive earphones such as the Ultrasone IQ. This is pretty-much unheard of in a desktop amp. BTW, when I say base volume level, I mean the lowest setting out of which volume spews from the likes of the IQ. Naturally, iTunes or Audirvana is set to maximum. So is the Vivace. Left/right channels track perfect enough for the insanely sensitive Shure SE846.

That said, through sensitive earphones, you will notice Maestro’s base volume suddenly jump from nothing to about 50dB. Quickly from there it hits 80dB, so while track balance is impeccable, there’s not a lot of headroom for quiet listening or the deadly combination of sensitive earphones and ears.

This leads me to Maestro’s singular no-no. Its volume jumps too quickly from low to high volumes, and because the pot is so damn slim, it’s hard to fine tune. If you’re a camera dude or dudet, read it like this: Maestro’s rangefinder baseline is like 28mm rather than 58. Sure, you can nail a desired volume level (focus plane), but it takes a lot of fiddling. Still, Maestro spits a comfortable signal to FitEar’s MH335DW from 8 o’clock till about 9:30 on the pot, which is a rotational travel of about 20 degrees. For an amp as powerful as Maestro is, that is good.

The background noise it foists on sensitive earphones is about even with an original AK100. If you really don’t like hiss, and you’re primarily an earphone user, Maestro may spit too much noise for you. But if you primarily are an earphone user, you’re probably not interested in Maestro in the first place.

Fed from Vivace’s XLR fixed (max volume), Maestro supplies the ample current to the 600Ω DT880 to keep all but THD to a minimum- and that while shirking enough IMD sizzle that the DT880 is cleanly doing a desktop speaker thing. Even at that insane volume, Maestro kicks out over 114dB of dynamic range and keeps IMD below 0,005%. Insane, right?


Naturally, I won’t listen to it at that volume. And neither should you. Whilst enjoying Alpha Dog, or ZMF headphones, I keep the single-ended volume set to about 12 o’clock. Balanced, I keep it to about 10:45.

Maestro and Vivace are a great match. In fact, it’s great to have reviewed the AK380 this week as it is an audio contemporary to Vivace. Vivace doesn’t supply quite as good stereo crosstalk performance, nor as good detail along its sound stage. It is slightly too contrasty for that. But both interpret music through a similar semi-liquid, warmish signature.

Maestro is more is neutrally voiced than Vivace, and it scales well with good sources. While both have perfectly flat signals from top to bottom, Vivace is a bit warmer. Maestro’s bass is super grippy, but it spits even definition in each frequency band across the entire stereo spectrum. No mids here, bass there, highs over there. Yep, it’s got that wall-of-sound thing going on that is delightfully big-sounding trance, EMD, live rock, classical, and more. But it doesn’t give up high-frequency stereo detail to mids or lows. Its sound stage is wide, totally flat out and up, and drilled through by evenly weighted lows, mids, and highs.

Its single-ended output is, with the exception of a merely good stereo crosstalk performance, nearly flawless. Its balanced outputs quite a bit more power, perhaps to the tune of 8-10 dB through most HiFi headphones, and a bit more through the DT880/600. Through it crosstalk and stereo detail improve, albeit in toddler steps.

Headphone pairing

It is my personal l opinion that both warm and cool-sounding headphones fit Maestro to a T. Well, its wall-of-sound soundstage is perhaps too much of a good thing when paired with a 700-series AKG. Even the DT990 may be a bit too punchy for it.

Conversely, the Maestro/Alpha Dog combo took me a while to get used to. At first I thought it a bit too warm, preferring ZMF’s brightest Vibros to it. But, because Maestro is absolutely neutral in stereo detail, mids don’t jump out at you, no matter the headphone; and for that reason, Alpha Dog’s sometimes heavy-handed mids-bass thickness doesn’t get too damp, but sparklier, more open high-frequency stereo detail would wake that headphone up.

Maestro works wonders with the DT880/600.

As to earphones, I find the Ultrasone IQ-Maestro combination bitier than the FitEar MH335DW-Maestro, and therefore, more to my liking. Your mileage will vary.

End Words

Maestro is ready for prime-time. It is extremely powerful. Ugly as it is, its wall-wart shirks ground hum and most other noise. Its hiss signature is stable, and very low in volume. While its RCA input doesn’t excite, its XLR inputs are incredible. Come to think of it, Maestro’s RCAs: in our out, sound or feel, stink of an afterthought.

Its volume pot is Lovecraftian. But it is tied to a brilliant tracking attenuator that nails L/R channel balance from the SE846 on up. Insane.

Part of me wishes that Linnenberg had a harsh editor behind him, to clean up his few mistakes. (I could do with one, too.) Because, that pot bigger, and in a better place, and those RCA jacks sturdier, and maybe with a better website behind it, Maestro would be the Jack of all trades headphone amp. It is a brilliant amp that performs great. I only wish its knob was easier to twist.

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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