Audio Analogue Maestro Anniversary Amplifier Review & Test

Full review and laboratory test of the Audio Analogue Maestro Anniversary Integrated Amplifier by Australian Hi-Fi Magazine. Free download.

The following equipment review consists of a full subjective evaluation of the Audio Analogue Maestro Anniverary Integrated Amplifier written by Jutta Dziwnik, but omits the technical analysis.

If you would like to read the complete review, together with a complete set of independent laboratory tests and graphs conducted by Newport Test Labs and a test report written by Steve Holding, click on the graphic at the right, which is a downloadable pdf that is an exact replica of the original pages on which the review appeared in the Esoterica section of Australian Hi-Fi Magazine, November/December 2016 issue (Volume 47 Number 6).

Audio Analogue Maestro Anniversary Amplifier Review 

It’s an amplifier of lights, but not a light amplifier. A cryptic clue? No, just a prosaic introduction to this review of the Audio Analogue Maestro Anniversary, reflecting the fact that all its operating functions are indicated by lights and light patterns glittering on the front panel and that the amplifier is exceedingly heavy, weighing in at 31kg. As for the name, the ‘Anniversary’ celebrates both Audio Analogue’s twentieth anniversary as a company and the 15th anniversary of the first Maestro amplifier.

The Equipment
Its weight alone should indicate that the Maestro Anniversary is a ‘classic’ Class-AB design, using a linear power supply equipped with transformers and large storage capacitance… to be precise, two 600VA transformers and a total capacitance of 67,200μF, plus rectification managed by discrete ultra-fast diode bridges with 50-amp ratings.
Although it’s a stereo amplifier, the two channels are totally electrically separate from each another. The only circuit they share is the volume control circuit, and this is optically isolated from both of them. In other words, a true ‘dual mono’ integrated amplifier. 
Air Tech, which designs and manufactures Audio Analogue equipment entirely in Italy, near Pisa (the one of the famous leaning tower), says the Maestro Anniversary is ‘based on the Puccini Anniversary amplifier’s circuitry’, except that internally it uses fully balanced circuitry from the input to the power stage, after which an unbalanced signal is used to drive the loudspeakers. According to Air Tech, the power stages use four pairs of transistors per channel in an inverted cascode arrangement that eschews global feedback and is held stable by d.c. servo circuitry.

The Maestro has five line-level inputs. Inputs numbered 1, 2 and 3 are unbalanced and accessed via gold-plated RCA sockets. Inputs 5 and 6 are balanced and accessed via XLR inputs. Input selection is accomplished via the huge rotary controller/volume control on the front panel, or by using the supplied remote control. If using the front panel control, you push and hold for three seconds, after which it can be rotated to choose input. Push for too long (five seconds) though, and you’ll turn the amplifier off, after which a short push will be required to turn it back on. If you rotate it to increase volume, the line of LEDs to the right will switch on, and form a line whose length is indicative of the volume level. The scaling of the length of the LED ‘string’ can be switched through four different options, one that will suit most speakers, another specially for high-efficiency speakers, yet another one that gives more control over volume at the midpoint of operation and one that switches volume linearly in dB. (There is a ‘fifth’ option, but it’s direct mode, and operates at maximum output continually, so really not an option at all.)

The same LEDs also show other functions, including balance and LED brightness setting (three levels available). But the most interesting LED function is that if the amplifier goes into self-protect mode, the particular LED that illuminates will show the specific reason the protection circuit operated. If the first and/or second LEDs glow, for example, the problem was over-temperature. The third and fourth LEDs glowing mean the problem was direct current at the output, the fifth LED indicates an issue with the positive power supply on the right channel, the sixth suggests an issue with the negative power supply… and so on.
The five LEDs to the left of the volume control show the selected input, while the sixth LED, at the extreme left, shows power status (standby/on) by glowing red (standby) or extinguishing (operational).

The remote is very, very classy, being carved from a block of solid aluminium and nice and chunky, yet small enough (45×140×23mm) to nestle in the palm of your hand. It takes two AAAs, and Air Tech fits good-quality alkalines as standard. The remote has buttons for input switching and volume control, plus a ‘Mute’ button, a ‘Standby’ button and a ‘Set-up’ button. This last is used to set the volume scaling, LED brightness, and channel balance.
Our photograph does not really give a sense of the size and scale of the Maestro Anniversary. It’s huge! To hang some numbers on that, it measures 168×450×550mm (HWD) and weighs 31kg. This not-inconsiderable weight, combined with the very sharp heat-sink fins running down either side of the amplifier mean it’s very much a ‘two-person’ job to lift and position, whether on a floor or on a rack, not least because Air Tech provides no handles of any kind.

In Use and Listening Sessions
Installation is straightforward, not least because the Maestro has excellent speaker terminals that make wiring very easy. (Don’t take the colour-coded wing-nuts off though, because these are the only way of identifying the ‘+’ and ‘–’ terminals. Air Tech should look at engraving this important information into the rear panel.)
Using the front panel volume control is very tricky, because it has a super-smooth highly-polished surface that slopes away from your fingers, so there’s nothing to help you turn it… and if you apply pressure to help turn it, you can potentially inadvertently turn the amplifier off, or switch the control to its ‘input selection’ mode. I found it so tricky to use that I ended up using the remote control exclusively… but you may have a more delicate touch than me, or ‘stickier’ fingers.

However, using the remote was also occasionally frustrating. The ‘mute’ button does exactly what it says, muting the volume (by 75dB, so not a complete mute, but close enough) but while the amplifier is muted, you can’t switch inputs, adjust volume or go into set-up mode. You can go into standby mode while the amplifier is muted, but coming out of standby restores ‘normal’ operation (i.e., it disables the muting). Another frustration is that there’s no front-panel indication that muting is enabled. Surely one of those 21 LEDs could have been assigned this task? (The volume LEDS do extinguish when the amplifier is muted, but this doesn’t help if the volume is set to zero when you mute, because there’d be no LEDs showing in the first place). A final minor frustration I had is that when using the remote, it took around one second to switch from one input to another, because you have to wait for relays to settle before the microprocessor accepts a second push of the Input ‘+’ or Input ‘–’ buttons. 

But I accept this tiny delay frustration is more of a ‘reviewer’ issue than an ‘owner’ issue, because only reviewers want to switch rapidly from input to input.

I kicked off my sessions with the Maestro by continuing my listening affair with Amarillo’s debut album ‘Eyes Still Fixed’, all of whose nine tracks deliver gorgeous soundscapes, some of which are decidedly Ry Cooder-ish (some reviewers describe the band’s style as ‘Americana’). Underpinning everything are Nick O’Mara’s guitar-playing (I just love the sound of his lap steel) and the voice of Jac Tonks, but not forgetting Alex Rogowski (percussion) and Trent McKenzie (bass). Tonks’ wordless vocals on the title track are perfectly pitched and the way the layers build, both of her voice and the accompanying instruments, is mesmerising… and all delivered perfectly transparently by the Audio Analogue Maestro Anniversary.

Jumping into to an even-more complex soundscape, the Maestro absolutely excelled itself re-creating the music of the late Murray McNabb, whose life has been recently celebrated on a double LP (plus digital download) titled ‘The Way In is The Way Out’. New Zealander McNabb was across all genres and you get a great cross-section of his work on this album: solo, with his trio and in other settings. The Maestro absolutely revelled in delivering the music so that it was always paced ‘just right’ and tonally immaculate. Turning the volume up just increased the feeling of emotional involvement with the music to live performance levels and the Maestro was never found wanting, no matter how dynamic the music became… and there’s a lot of enthusiastic percussion here, from Frank Gibson Jnr and others… including Adam Nussbaum, no less!

Italians are famous for their idiosyncratic designs, and they certainly make Italian products unique. And yes, some of the design choices on the Audio Analogue Maestro Anniversary are definitely idiosyncratic—not least that ‘hard-to-turn’ volume control, but they’re all idiosyncrasies you could learn to love, because the Maestro is a magnificent amplifier in every sense of the word.  # Jutta Dziwnik

Audio Analogue Maestro Anniversary Integrated Amplifier
RRP: $12,300
Warranty: Two Years
Distributor: Absolute HiEnd

Gorgeous sound
Splendid appearance
Superb build quality

Volume control
Speaker terminal ID
Muting indication

A full technical appraisal of the performance of the Audio Analogue Maestro Anniversary Integrated Amplifier with test results, graphs and an analysis of the technical performance is contained in  the LABORATORY REPORT which is in the pdf version of this review. (Click the RED box above).