Best integrated ever made ?

I heard the new Audio Analogue Maestro Integrated yesterday morning at a local dealer. I bought it yesterday evening, and i am currently selling all my audio gear...

Im curious to know what others who have heard it think of it and its future. The press here in France is saying its going to eat up the competition and cause a major stir in the industry.

As its been out for about two months and i havent seen anything on the internet about it, i was kinda curious.

Badwisdom: I have not heard about this particular model, and would be interested to know more. Will you add some additional details, such as cost, features, power, type of amplification (SS or tube?), performance spec's, etc., and of course, what particular quality led you to buy it?

There are a number of excellent integrated amps on the market right now, and clearly this sector of equipment is becoming much more popular. From both an engineering and cost standpoint, integrateds make a lot of sense. Some of the high-end manufacturers, such as Mark Levinson, have jumped into the market with some fine offerings, but I am particularly intrigued by the excellent units being offered in the $1500-2000 range, such as the Bryston BP-60 and the Creek 5350.

I'd like to see this discussion thread expand, and learn about the experiences that others are having with the integrateds that they think are of particular merit. I have friends who would like to get into high-end audio, but don't have the budget to go with separates, and top-quality integrateds may be just the ticket.
I am currently using a Pathos Twin Towers, and have to say that it is not only the best integrated I've heard, but is one of the best amplifiers I've heard, period (although the LAMMs I heard did beat it). While some have said that it is not the last word in accuracy (it being a bit on the romantic side), it is incredibly musical , with extended bass, crystal clear highs and a midrange purity that few I've heard can match. I find it utterly amazing. I bought it used for $2700 and would rank it as the best deal I've ever gotten in terms of sound-for-the-money...
badwisdom: the audio bluebook lists the maestro as a cd player. is this a new model? does it replace the puccini's? -kelly
Ok here is my recent experience with the integrated that has lead me to the AA Maestro. This is a bit long, but bear with me.

I needed a second system for my home, and decided to go for an integrated product as i didnt want to spend too much money on cables and seperates.

So i bought all the Audiophile magazines i could find, and went to all the Paris Audiophile dealers i could in a week (part of my holidays) and auditionned the following :

Mark Levinson 383
Krell 300il
Gryphon (cant remember model)
Accuphase 407
Copland (the last hybrid model)
electrocompaniet ECI-3
NAD S300

Wanted to audition, but couldnt :
Plinius 8200
Sim Audio I-5

I thought that they were a good representative bunch of the best models being made today.

When going into the auditions, i really had my mind set in getting a really transparent, precise, analytical system. Yes, i was a member of the "Krell" type of sound fan base.

I auditionned the Krell first as i had heard it a couple of months ago with Martin Logans SL3, and i absolutely loved it. Took it home for a couple of days, and was really impressed. It delivered the exact sound i was looking for : great soundstage, extreme precision, clean and fast sound... i was 99.9% sure that this would be the one i would end up buying.

I wont do a product review for each of the ones i auditionned, lets just say that in the end i preferred the Krell. So here i am in this dealer, ready to take my checkbook out and pay the man for a Krell 300il. When two guys come in from the back with a wooden crate, each holding one end with a big black handle. They were struggling : this thing was heavy. I see the words "Audio Analogue" etched in black on one side of the crate and casually ask the dealer :
"Hey whats that ?"
"Thats the beast"
"The what ?"
"We call it the beast. Its a 54kg Integrated from Audio Analogue. But you won't like it, its pretty close to a tube sound and you were pretty definite in the kind of sound you were looking for...."

I see these two guys reaching inside the box with white gloves, and they take out this absolutely HUGE aluminium faced, black winged, 54kg monster. And i then felt i just had to listen to it.... Part 2 coming up next.
Part 2.

The dealer picks up a black floor-levelled rack (the ones which are 6 cm off the ground and only have one level) and puts it in front of his impressive display of Krells, Sonic frontiers and McIntosh equipment.

The two guys slowly bring the thing to the rack, gently levelling it down on top it. I can see its front now : it has an enormous volume control in the middle of the faceplate, an input and record selector, and a standby mode switch. Clean and brushed alluminium faceplate, with "Audio Analogue MAESTRO" in grey letters.

"I thought the Maestro was a CD player ?" i told the dealer.
"Yeah, but now its the meanest and baddest Integrated we have ever heard" (Im translating from french, so these werent his exact words..its what he meant).

He goes in the other room while i crouch and examine the back of the Integrated : XLR inputs , 5 gold plated RCAs (including phono), preamp out....hmm so far so good.

Dealer comes back and shows me two june - july issues of two leading french audio mags :"Look at these. Perfect scores across the board. This hasnt happened in at least 15 years in the audio industry. Never has a product been so praised and loved. Christ even the reviewers are buying these babies by the pound."
"Why ?."
"Because its one of the best integrated they have ever heard, if not the best, and its too cheap. It should cost three times more."

He then goes on to explain that Audio Analogue is struggling to satisfy orders, and that european dealers are fighting to get units.

Im thinking that i now owe it to myself to listen to this "Beast", even if Ive never been sensitive or attracted to the tuby warmer side of audiophilia. Ive heard the Cayin's, the Audio Research, the Jadis etc... Never did a thing for me. I kept going back to the 'Krells and co.'.

The two handymen leave, and the dealer starts unpacking the accessories : a 2.5cm thick 2m long power cord with tight blue plastic cover, an aluminium plated remote control with 6 buttons. He hands it to me. Its heavy, and very well built.

"And this comes as standard...???"
"Yes" he answers with a smile. "Crazy isnt it ?"

I hand him my test CDs and go immediately to the couch. I then ask him for some technical info before we listen to it to get a general idea of what i was getting into.

"150 Watts per channel @ 8ohms, frequency response 1hz ~ 250khz, -3db, 2 x 1500Va transformers.... thats right, not one, but two. Which explains the 54kg".
"I see".

He plugs in his Vertigo speakers, his matching Audio Analogue CD player (a prototype lent to him by AAnalogue, thats another story) and the power cord. He switches it on.

Then all hell starts to break loose.

Part 3 next.
Part 3.

I never understood the expressions "makes you want to tap your feet", "engaging", "musical" etc.... I mean, these were constantly used for tube-like gear, and i just didnt understand what wasn't so musical or engaging with my extreme precision set up.

Now i know. Now i get it. And its changed me forever. Which is why im writing this overlong, overblown c*ap : but, how often does something important in your life do a complete 180° U Turn ????

We did an A/B with the 300il for 3 hours. I knew after the first 15mins that i had been changed. And afer 3 hours, i couldnt stand the Krell sound. It sounded hostile, aggressive. I now understood the expression "makes my ears bleed" because thats what the 300il did. I took out my checkbook, asked them to pack the Maestro and i was on my way home, a changed man, with his new toy.

It took me 1h30mins to reach the third floor of my house : one piece of advice, if you buy this thing, have a friend or relative to help you. They do not move easily.

My speakers are 85db (Infinity Omega's). They are very hard to drive. The Odyssey Stratos Stereo, the 300i krell, the new Rotel, the NAD S300 all failed. Bass was terrible.

The AA Maestro, right out of the box, handled them like a dream. It has now replaced my primary system, which i am selling off as i write this because i cant stand how it sounds.

If i had to define the sound of the Audio Analogue Maestro : creamy without being too thick (like some tube systems are), huge soundstage, extremely musical, natural, spatial precision exemplary with palpable instruments, holographic projection of the performance ( Leonard Cohen was in that room, i swear!!!). I could go on. What absolutely floored me was the pleasure i was experiencing just listening to music : you know when you run 10 miles under a clear blue sky with only one thing on your mind during the last 6 miles " A glass of water, please....". Well, listening to the Maestro gave me the same pleasure as drinking that glass of water after the effort.

And now for the real kicker : the price. The Audio Analogue Maestro retails for 25.250 FRFS. I got it for 22.900 FRFs, which translates approx to $3000. The Krell 300il costs $4600.

Ive written far too much. I guess i just wanted to share my experience which has been an absolute revelation. I hope some of you will have the chance to hear this amazing audiophile work of art.
Amazing description Badwisdom - I'm looking forward to read part 3. Actually, I saw a review of the Maestro in a German audio magazine (Stereoplay or Audio, can't remember anymore) a couple of month ago. Although, they liked it a lot there were still some integrateds with higher rankings than the Maestro (Gryphon Callisto 2200 and ASR Emitter come to mind). Still, it seems to be a pretty nice amp.

@Mcp1: I was surprised to read your description of the Pathos. With regard to design, I find it the most stunningly beautiful amplifier. Previous reviews and comments, I read about it, however, described it often as a tad too neutral (albeit praising it as a very fine amp). I plan to upgrade my Sim Audio I-5 somtime (because it's a bit too neutral too - I want to give tubes a try) and didn't consider the Pathos as an option because of that.
There is a review of the AA Maestro in the most recent HiFi+. They basically liked it, stating that while powerful, it does not behave like a 'muscle amp', rather "its strengths lie more in the delicacy and natural presentation, normally the domain of much lower powered designs - the difference being that it will achieve this performance at realistic levels into almost any loudspeaker." Their main quibble was the fixed 100 ohm load on the MC stage, which can leave some cartridges sounding lifeless (they noted the Helikon). But, with the right cartridge, they said it sounded great. You should check out the write up.
Below is a link to review of the AA Maestro, I scanned thru it. As with most reviews, they had good things to say about it, but I didn't sense it was going to set the audio world on end. (It's price appears to be a good buy.)
Just read the review of the AA Maestro in HiFi+ mentioned above by Brian -- certainly a mixed review at best, and maybe even lukewarm. HiFi+ had a recent review (Issue 10) of the Lavardin IS integrated amp, a French product, which the reviewer described in nearly ecstatic terms. The Lavardin sells for considerably less than the Audio Analogue Maestro integrated, although it has less power, but the reviewer concluded the review of the Lavardin by saying: "If one day you are fortunate to hear one, the sheer scale, power, and beauty of its performance will impress itself into your memory, and it will remain there for the rest of your life!" Weighing the rave for the Lavardin against the qualified commentary for the AA Maestro leaves me wanting to see a second opinion on the Maestro.

Mark Levinson 383 !!
I'm using a Gryphon Callisto 2200 integrated amplifier. It makes my Dynaudio Confidence 5 fly. You can finde reviews in the Gryphon web place
Well, having read the Hi Fi+ review, i must say im a bit surprised. They seemed to get a defective unit from the beginning, so thats a bit of bad luck.

As for the rest, well, what can i say : reviewers are a strange breed. I would scan the articles i got over here in France, but as they are in French, no one would understand them :)

Bottom line is you can be the only judge : if you see it, have a listen. You might disagree with HiFi +. I know i do.
I stumbled upon the Lagardin IT review over here :
I definitely concur with Mcpl ... the Twin Towers is one of the best pieces of audio gear I have heard. I owned one a few years back and had to sell it for financial reasons. Ever since that day I have been searching for a component that would connect with me as emotionally as the Pathos. I tried Sim's, various SET's, the Gaincard, etc. All were excellent in their own right but did not give me the same experience as the Twin Towers. As my finances again improved I recently re-purchased a Twin Towers. Everything I remembered about this unit was back in spades and (hopefully) I will never have to look back. It is an exceptional piece of gear.
the OTL Tenor 75Wi monoblocks are the best amps i have yet heard, integrated or not. each amp has a passive volume control. they can be used in direct mode, bypassing the volume control or integrated mode.

recently i compared a few different amps including the levinson #33, the halcro dm58, the red rose amp 1, and the atmasphere ma2 mkII.2. all great amps. i was using my levinson #32 preamp. the atmasphere was the best. the OTL design combined the best of ss and tubes. extended at both frequency extremes and pure in the mid-range. the quickest and most resolving amp i had heard.

then i tried the Tenor. WOW!!

a whole new level of clarity and musicality. the proverbial vails were lifted. if there is a better integrated than the Tenor 75Wi i would love to hear it. i compared the Tenor in integrated mode with the Tenor and the atmasphere thru the preamp. i still preferred the Tenor thru the preamp but neither compared with the Tenor in integrated mode.

if you get a chance to try the Tenor i think you will agree.

a link to the glowing French reviews would be nice. some of us DO understnd French.

I have been thinking of going to an integrated amp. Has anybody here and heard the Cary sli80? How does it compare to some of the others mentioned here?
badwisdom -

I'm not disparaging your ears in anyway, but I do think maybe your experience and "sea change" simply MUST represent some of very interesting and important auditory "learning" process. Specifically, until you heard the Maestro (btw, will this name work in the American market, where the name recalls for some that goofy minor-league conductor character on Seinfeld) you said you had LOVED the krell integrated. (I've heard the Krell integrated too. I liked it, and was gonna get it, but then I heard a BAT ss amp.... 'nother story) But then you heard the Maestro, and then you said the Krell made you feel as if your ears were bleeding?

Assuming you weren't just writing a bit hyperbolically (is there such a thing as being a "bit" hyperbolic? hmm), this means that a piece of gear Z that you found to sound wonderful to you at point in time A sounded horrible to you at point in time B, all because of your exposure (for only 3 hours!!!) to piece of gear X.

I wonder if this is how our ears can sometimes work: an experience can actually rearrange, in a quite short period of time, our hearing, or at least our subjective experience of our hearing.

No wonder objectivists get worked up at us: we are experimenters in the plasticity of sense experience!


Sokos, what is your e-mail address, or send me an e-mail I can reply back to.
No one understands French? C'est bien une idee francaise. If there are links to the AA Maestro reviews in French, I too would like to read them. Thanks
Mon dieu, encore un autre fromage le plus superieur?