Out of the box this black and shiny box, from UK company AVA-Media, which you can hold in one-hand, looks very sleek and stylish but compared to what most people would consider for a power amplifier, a very large box, the 500 looks well tiny. This might give an impression of a lack of oomph or quality. The Maestro is rated at 50W into 4 Ohm speakers (20W into 8 Ohm)– certainly loud enough for my Apartment Room. Note the fact this rated into 4 Ohm with 8Ohm speakers it may struggle a little bit at high volumes. This is very impressive for a box of this size. It also runs impressively cool at full volume. To give you an idea of just how small this thing is the picture above shows it alongside an Apple TV. It is truly tiny for a power-amp.
I found a good compromise for my room was to use the 6 ohm Klegg mini eggs attached to it. Attaching speakers is interesting. This is a stereo only unit – although it does have a subwoofer output – the size of the box does not leave much room for binding posts and AVA-Media have taking the interesting approach of having sockets for Banana plugs. My speakers were already terminated with Banana plugs which made life easy but if yours are not then AVA-Media have very helpfully a pair of screw fitting banana plugs in the box. The Sub-woofer output is a phono plug – it should be noted that this has no frequency cut-off and all output is mirrored to the subwoofer.
What makes the magic work in the Maestro is that AVA-Media have gone for full digital amplification. The PCM (Pulse Code Modulator) from the digital source (TOS-Link Optical or Coax) is converted to PWM and amplified purely in the digital domain. This means there is no need for a Digital to Analogue convertor as the source is never converted to Analogue. There should not be any digital jitter introduced by the process either as there is no need for a clock. This should lead to an uncoloured sound – as the artist recorded it.
A slight step away here. A few year’s back Panasonic introduce the SA-XR range of true-digital receivers they drew a very diametric mix of reviews with some people adoring the incredibly clean and transparent sound and others describing them as fatiguing. I was in the former category I’ve always found that with good digital amplification what you put in is what you get out (but obviously louder) any colouration is from the speakers and the environment.
I didn’t find the Maestro 500 fatiguing in any way and in terms of transparency and clarity it was absolutely first class. Detail, detail and more detail this is one very revealing amplifier. It is not going to be good with poor quality sources and may see you ditching those 128kbs encoded tracks for something a bit better.
I did compare it against the godfather of digital amps – the Panasonic SA-XR45 a substantially heavier and larger device (although still small compared to analogue boxes) – and the Maestro did not come away wanting. In fact it compared incredibly well except when pushed to really high volumes.
Talking of volumes the only controls on this mini=beast are a source selection switch on the back, for coax or optical, and a small volume control which pops out from the front of the unit when pushed but then after adjustment can be pushed back in flush with the unit. For the style conscious the acceptance factor is of the scale. Reproduction is so good I never missed any tonal controls although this might be an issue for people with bright speakers.
My only slight concern was the lack of any Sub-Woofer control – fortunately my own subwoofer has its own filtering and volume control but those without will find it hard to get the right balance. Then again you could just use the Maestro with a pair of full range speakers – it handled my Kef Uni-Qs very well.
So do I like this little box – no question. It blows more expensive competitors well out of the water, it can be carried easily in your hand and it stays cold whilst running at full pelt. It is also totally silent in operation except for a small click when a new source is detected. It reproduces incredibly detailed sound and doesn’t appear to introduce any colouration and incredibly minimal harmonic distortion
This is the perfect box for marrying with a digital home media setup be it an Apple TV, A PC, A DLNA Streamer or even a Sonos (indeed AVA-Media do the 500-S to match the Sonos in style – shown below). You do need to have an Optical or Coax digital out from your source and it might have been nice if some form of USB interface had been included (Ava-Media do sell a bundle with a USB to TOS-Link adaptor) but this is small stuff. Remember there is no analogue in of any kind.
This unit is simply brilliant and for a small room perfect. AVA-Media also make a larger cousin the 150p which should go very loud at the expense of a little more size and cost.
Actually cost is the one thing I haven’t mentioned yet – the Maestro 50 retails at only £229.00 – simply amazing.
Without hesitation I give the Maestro 500 a TDL Highly Recommended. I don’t want to give this thing back.
177 (w) x 117 (d) x 42(h) mm.
8 ohm, 0dBFS
Brushed satin black.
4 ohm, 0dBFS
24/96 on both digital inputs.
8 ohm, 1W
4 ohm, 1W
0dBA @ 1M
8 ohm, 10W
4 ohm, 1W
4 ohm, 10W
4 ohm, 20W
– Universal (110-240VAC 50-60Hz) mains power input (IEC connector)
– S/PDIF TOSLINK input
– S/PDIF COAX input
– Subwoofer output (line level) – Phono/RCA
– L & R speaker outputs (50W per channel into typical 4 ohm speakers) – via 4mm banana sockets
(screw terminal banana plugs included)
– Patented 2.1 digital amplifier with accurate and powerful sound processing (50W per channel).
– Automatic power on from sleep mode .
– ProAudio ‘pop out, push in’ volume control.
– Small, low profile understated enclosure with a brushed black finish.
Included – Maestro-50M True Digital Amplifier – Power Cord – 2x Red and 2x black screw on 4mm speaker plugs – User guide.