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October / November 2009
Superior Audio Equipment Review

World Premiere
Acoustic Preference Maestoso 2.0
Amazing imaging, top down coherence and stunning cabinetry come together.
Review By Jeff Rabin
Click here to e-mail reviewer.

 

Acoustic Preference Maestoso 2.0  A few months back, I had the very distinct displeasure of uncrating Acoustic Preferences flagship Maestoso 2.0 new speakers, the best sounding and the most current hungry speakers (much more on this later) that I have ever had the pleasure of lugging, and I choose my the word lug carefully into my lounge. 'Maestoso’ is an Italian musical term and is much like Marcato, but is used as a directive to play a certain passage of music in a stately, dignified and majestic fashion.’ Thank you Wikipedia

I ought also to tell you something of Slovenia, a country I have had the pleasure of visiting on a number of occasions. Wikipedia again. Slovenia, officially the Republic of Slovenia is a country in Central Europe bordering Italy to the west, the Adriatic Sea to the southwest, Croatia to the south and east, Hungary to the northeast, and Austria to the north. The capital of Slovenia is Ljubljana.

MapSlovenia has been part of the Roman Empire; partly the Republic of Venice; the principality Carantania (only modern Slovenia's northern part); the Holy Roman Empire; the Habsburg Monarchy; the Austrian Empire (later known as Austria-Hungary); the State of Slovenes, Croats, and Serbs; the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (renamed to Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1929); partly Kingdom of Italy; between the two World Wars occupied by Germany, Italy, Hungary, and Independent State of Croatia (1941–1945); and the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia from 1945 until independence in 1991. Slovenia is a member of the European Union, the Eurozone, the Schengen area, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the Council of Europe, NATO, UNESCO, WTO, and UN. While this is all true, it really does not capture the flavor of the country. Much better a recent feature in The Toronto Star, a paper Hemmingway used to write for.

 


According to The Toronto Star, They say the dragons on the Dragon Bridge wag their tails when a virgin walks by. August 7, 2009

I can’t recommend a visit to Slovenia highly enough. It is, quite simply, my favorite European nation but I digress. This is after all a speaker review. With the help of an well-charged electric screw driver, a chisel, a pair of scissors and mild damage to a vertebra I care about I was soon able to eviscerate these gorgeous speakers from their immense and immensely sturdy, reinforced plywood crates. Never, ever, have I seen anything better packed.

Still, somehow, I managed to depress the 28mm Morel soft domed tweeter, making a small, ugly depression in its inky blackness. Gratefully, judicious use of the prized Dyson vacuum cleaner returned the tweeter to its proper shape, but I will say I have never held a vacuum cleaner with such care or fear.

Once unpacked, I dragged – the crates weighed a ton too – and placed them on my drive on the way to be stored in the garage. I ought to have placed them in the garage for safe storage but they were heavy and I was very keen to hear what 16,900 Euro of speaker sounded like. I returned to the house in a sweat and hooked the Maestosos with a single pair of banana cables to my basically stock, and reference, 1960 era Leak Stereo 20.

At this point, I ought to mention the speakers not only can be bi-wired, they sport some of the best binding posts I have ever seen, period. While I imagine the speakers would benefit from bi-amping, perhaps with a sweet Audio Note Kit 1 and aNadSilverline on the bottom, I didn’t try. The Audio Note is at a friend’s and I had to return the Silverline to NAD — two errors of judgment that I am not ashamed to admit to.

Then the phone rang.

It was Don, our very good next door neighbor asking if he could have the packing crates. No way José, I said, but by all means come over in about 15 minutes with some of those original Carnegie Hall LPs you showed me last week and one of those nice bottles of wine I know you have laid down for an occasion such as this and we can give these Slovenian grandfather clocks a spin. While Don has a superb record collection, his cellar is even more impressive.

Ten minutes later he was back with an obscure Amarone and a stack of Carnegie Hall LPs with the original cellophane wrappers turned yellow and hard. For those Torontonians of a certain age, you’ll remember the great store they came from, 'Sam the Record Man.’ All that is left of this great institution is the façade.

Small mercies, I suppose.

Then my lovely wife came in and examined the speakers from head to toe going so far as to caress their top surface. Never, ever, have I heard from her what she was about to say. "They’re beautiful.  Can we keep them?" Louise has never, ever had anything positive to say about the appearance of hi-fi though she has a very good ear but will only play the piano when I am out. Indeed, she bought for me a cabinet to hide all my hi fi that cost more than my hi-fi at the time. Little did she know, the shelves were the perfect size to store my favorite vinyl and the Garrard 301 had to be placed on top as the plinth was just a little too big. So good looking, and so well finished are the Maestosos that my resident and reference Tannoy D700s now looked like a pair of weird German horns veneered in over lacquered cherry. The Slovenian grandfather clocks, by comparison, would not have looked out of place on Baker Street if Holmes had needed a stereo for those times he felt the need to groove with Watson.

 

The Hookup
After the swap, checking things twice, and waiting for the Ear834p to warm and the Stereo 20 to settle in, I carefully placed one of Don’s Carnegies on my Garrard 301. Don had let himself in, armed. I dropped the needle (well, placed it delicately on the LP) and, well, um, erm... nothing really that special at all.

 


'The Horror.’ 'The Horror.’ Joseph Conrad.
Or 'RTFM’ as some know-it-at-all on a hi fi chat board would.

My heart sank. This was embarrassing. Arm setup wrong? How do you get a Rega RB350 wrong? Had a tube given up the ghost? They were good yesterday. Had I wired the speakers out of phase? I was pretty careful they weren’t but it wouldn’t be the first time. Was my cartridge shot? That would be expensive. Could speakers really require that much breaking in? Live and learn I suppose. Were original Carnegie Hall recordings nowhere near what they were cracked up to be? Unlikely if my SACD re-masters were anything to go by. Horrible thought, were the speakers damaged in transport? Possible I suppose. Were the speaker jumpers not jumping? A quick check showed the beautiful WBT terminals finger tight with the gold plated jumpers.

Don and I were waiting for big things and they weren’t forthcoming. It was as if Godot had returned in the form of Pee Wee Herman. Fortunately, the lovely wine dulled the pain and the evening was not completely wasted. Not knowing the recordings, not knowing how much breaking in the speakers required, not knowing if they were in fact any good, I really did not know much at all. Indeed, I felt embarrassed in front of my 70 year old neighbor with his early solid state MacIntosh console, big honking Klipsch speakers built into a one piece cabinet that stretched the length of the room and a turntable that was probably on its 7th Shure.

And while the midrange was nice, the top was all right, there was none of that famous Carnegie acoustic, and no bass to speak of at all. In one word, these speakers were Dullsville. 16,900 Euro of Dullsville in fact. However, as it turned out, the speakers were not to blame. It was the amp. And it only took me to weeks to figure it out. What do other reviewers say, or so I have been told? Synergy, synergy, synergy. In any event, we ended up having a nice evening, but my audiophile pride was a little hurt, and I was, wrongly as it turned out, none too impressed by the speakers.

Now it is a very rare thing to receive bad gear for review and that is one of the reasons that reviews often seem abnormally generous. No. Us fat cat reviewers are not all in the pay of the craven and unethical manufacturers.  But we are not Consumer Reports magazine either and we don’t test everything, especially dishwashers. What we test is what the manufacturer offers us and it would be a very foolhardy thing for a manufacturer to offer us something that was not up to snuff. Usually if something sounds bad, something is wrong. Either a  manufacturing defect, damage suffered in transport or ancillaries playing silly buggers and that is what happened here.

A little about Acoustic Preference, a name that you might not know.  Established in 2001 by music enthusiasts and engineers DavorinŽnuderl and MarjanTancer, they have been in the business of hi fi design for near on two decades and in business only a little less. You may, however, know of their well regarded Bravura amplifiers. It was always their plan to add transducers to their line of amplification with the Maestoso 2.0s being the culmination of that plan.

It came to me in a dream, a coupe de foudre no less of which Benjamin Franklin would be proud. These speakers wanted current, lots of it, an arc welder’s worth in fact, and my all time favorite amplifier my beloved Leak Stereo 20 simply wasn’t up to the task. This was not particularly surprising when you think of it actually.  These speakers were built with the best design and materials that 2009 has to offer, while my dear old 10 watt a side amplifier was perhaps the best that the early sixties had to offer and of course speaker design was quite a bit different then too. In any event, I exaggerate. These speakers merely needed more current than I presently had and sound just fine with any 50 watt or so solid state amplifier with a stiff power supply. I tried. The amp, as I found, was always the limiting factor with these speakers.

 

Amplifier Swap
Fortunately, I just happened to have a Chinese built Krell-alike five-channel home theatre integrated amplifier in the basement that might do the trick. It did. Rated at a 100 watts a channel with the heat-sinks to prove it, I hurt another vertebra dragging it up the stairs and placing it on the aforementioned hi fi cabinet which thrilled Louise to no end. Like the old Nads of old, the designers had separated the pre-amp side from the power amp side so I pulled the jumpers and fed the truly wonderful Benchmark DAC directly into the power amp side. I used a Sim Audio passive switchbox for analog, switching between a Revox Tuner, a Garrard 301 'table, and an SACD player. For digital, I used my new Squeezebox Duet.

Swapping amplifiers was all there was to it. The speakers came, quite literally, alive. The sound stage widened to fill the room, stretching well beyond the outside of the speakers and reaching far behind their lovely faces. Rarely heard detail integrated into the mix without drawing attention to itself or being lost in the shuffle. The Maestoso 2.0s no longer sounded like a collection of drivers but rather a sum of parts greater than the whole. Somehow that old hi fi cliché 'the difference was not subtle’ was accurate.

Now the amplifier that I began to use while a very fine amp is really intended as a home theatre amp and just does not have the grace, subtlety or musicality of my very lightly fettled Leak. It may just be less colored or perhaps even a little grainy, but what it was able to do was wrestle the Maestos to their knees and get the best out of them that the amp could provide. I now had fulsome, albeit slightly dry for my taste bass, mid-range to die for, and perfectly integrated treble and a wife on board. Had I a better, smoother sounding amp, the speakers would have sounded better and less grainy. What the Maestosos were no longer missing were dynamics, bass and grace.

My wife and I sat on the couch and trawled through our music collection via the squeezebox. We listened to just how weirdly recorded the Alison Krauss/Robert Plant album is recorded – what the hell was T-bone thinking with all that bass – and played everything from the proto-metrosexual Simon and Garfunkel, the quite misnamed AC-DC, Re-masters of The Who, and a lot of classical orchestra and opera which I believe, along with the human voice, to be these speakers forte. Even late Maria Callas with her overstretched voice sounded marvelous and Wagner, well, sounded like Wagner. I doubt I shall ever develop a taste for that retrograde Teutonic. 

The artist of decadence. That is the word. And here I begin to be serious. I could not think of looking on approvingly while this décadent spoils our health—and music into the bargain. Is Wagner a man at all? Is he not rather a disease? Everything he touches he contaminates. He has made music sick.
   --Nietzsche

Flight of the Valkries aside, and Charlie didn’t surf for a reason, whether it was sheer the weight of the cabinets – the heaviest to grace my lounge – but that characteristic boxiness which affects all box speakers was conspicuously absent or much less present than I am accustomed to. I won’t say the Maestosos 2.0 sounded like ESL57s (they had bass, dynamics and could be played loud!) but are certainly the least 'boxy’ box speakers I have heard. But boxes they are, mighty beautiful boxes I ought to add that would not disgrace the Queen’s Private Apartments, though somehow I imagine they’re a Tannoy Westminster sort of family.

A chance encounter by way of the Squeezebox with Andres Segovia revealed just what a fine midrange they possess. From the woodiness of the 1937 Hauser guitar and how Segovia not only played the strings but the whole instrument came through in all its glory. Jacqueline du Pré’s Elgar Cello Concertos recorded when she was only twenty was as sexy, sad and tragic as I ever remember hearing it, with the rasp of the bow a disconcerting compliment to the fulsomeness of the Cello.

I could go on, but in summary, the Maestoso’s are a very balanced speaker with, perhaps, a somewhat dry bass, though the bass on my Tannoys may just be a tad overblown. Never do they sound over-etched, honky, or shrill. They may not rock with JBL horns, but they were never meant to. What they excel at is their midrange without highlighting the mid-range by bringing too much or too little attention to the treble and the bass. Quite simply, they just do things right.

While they are not a rock and roll speaker, I don’t think that was the designer’s purpose. Instead neutrality and a certain way of lessening listener fatigue seem to be the order of the day.

 

Value?
Value is in the eye of the beholder? I suppose that is so, so far as it goes. But it would be a very strange fellow that valued a beat up Fiat Panda over one of Aston Martin’s latest. But there is also truth to the saying, if you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it. The value, not the price, of these speakers lays somewhere in between. Never have I seen better cabinetry. Never have I dragged heavier speakers into my lounge. And never have I been graced with either a speaker as current hungry as these are or better top down coherence, amazingly bettering my Tannoys in their imaging, something that I had believed Tannoy had a lock-hold on. But are they worth what Acoustic Preference asks for them? To quote my other favorite philosopher, but without the benefit of translation, Wovon man nichtsprechenkann, darüber muss man schweigen.

 

Specifications
Type: Marge floorstanding fullrange loudaspeaker
Design: Three-way, dual ported bass reflex floor-stander
Tweeter: 28mm Morel soft dome
Midrange: 75mm Morel
Bass Driver: Two 160mm Morel
Crossover: 12 dB/Oct. LKR crossover at 220/2200 Hz.
   Mundorf Air Foil Coils, 99.999% pure OFC copper with polypropylene insulation.
Suitable for bi-wiring with gold plated jumpers 
Recommended Power: 20 to 250 watts
Nominal Impedance: 8 Ohm
Frequency response: 35 Hz to 22 kHz
Sensitivity: 91dB /W/m
Dimensions: 280 x 296 x 1124 (WxDxH in mm)
Weight: 96 lbs. each
Wiring: Custom braided Silver with Teflon
Binding Posts: Four WBT per speaker
Price: 16,900 Euro (VAT not included)

 

Company Information
Acoustic Preference
Adamiceva 41
2000 Maribor
Slovenija

Voice: ++386 242 971 46
Fax:++386 242 971 47
E-mail: info@acoustic-preference.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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