Dominic Marsh and Ian Ringstead take the very well specced £699 Pro-Ject MaiA DS integrated amplifier for a ride and rather enjoy it. OUTSTANDING PRODUCTboxred

How do you make a great amplifier even better?   That was the task facing Pro-Ject when updating their excellent little MaiA amplifier that Hifi Pig gave an Outstanding Product Award to back in March 2015’s issue.

The next logical step we can presume then would be to increase the power output, in this case from 25 watts per channel from the original MaiA, up to 50 watts per channel for the DS variant and it doesn’t stop there either, with an extra cost option of the Power Box MaiA DS taking it up to no less than 80 watts per channel. Pro-Ject say the amplifier will cope with speaker loads down to 2 Ohms.  Impressive!

We don’t hand out Outstanding Product Awards lightly and the original MaiA amplifier won that by having no less than 9 inputs packed into a diminutive package and the DS version has that same number still, but some important changes have been made with those it seems in the DS variant.  The phono section has been enhanced for better cartridge matching with the addition of a moving coil input, the DAC section can now also handle DSD data input, plus a new facility included whereby remote controls can be handled via a downloadable app to a phone, tablet or PC.Pro-ject_maia-ds

Construction

I make no apologies for repeating what I wrote to describe the original MaiA’s layout as they are essentially the same, which saves me a lot of typing but worth reading anyway as there are notable differences between the MaiA and the MaiA DS version.

The DS variant is still a diminutive amplifier by anyone’s standards and I can easily see it fitting unobtrusively into countless domestic situations.  Measuring some 206mm(W) x 72mm(H) x 220mm (230mm including speaker sockets) deep and has a slightly larger footprint in depth than the MaiA.  Incidentally, these measurements were taken by me which seems to be at variance with the dimensions given on the Pro-ject website. The separate power supply provides 24 volts of DC at 5 amps and is fitted with a dual pole plug that connects it with the power inlet socket on the rear of the amplifier, with the power input to the power supply unit is via a standard figure of eight IEC socket (Suitable mains lead supplied). Other plugs and voltage matching power supplies are available for non-UK consumers.  The casework is of steel construction with the choice of either a black or silver finish faceplate. Fit and finish of the casework is exemplary and the sample supplied for review was in a silver finish.

When it comes to source inputs, there is an absolute plethora available, with an impressive NINE separate digital and analogue inputs to choose from.  Rarely seen these days although we are seeing a huge revival of vinyl playback, is an RCA phono input that caters for both moving magnet or moving coil cartridges, followed by 3 line level analogue inputs labeled 1, 2 and 3 accordingly, then on to the digital inputs which comprises 2x TOSLINK sockets, an RCA co-axial digital input, a USB input and a Bluetooth connection to APT-X standard, with a supplied external aerial which screws on to a dedicated socket on the rear panel.

There is only provision for a single pair of speakers to be connected.  The group of four 4mm connectors are grouped tightly together at the far right of the rear panel (although not as tightly grouped as the original MaiA) and not insulated from each other either, plus the holes to insert bare wired cables are aligned vertically so extreme care is needed so the wire isn’t pushed right through the connector body to touch the adjacent terminal above or beneath.  A good tip would be to measure exactly how much bare wire is exposed on the cable to be inserted that is less than the connector’s diameter, so none of the bare wire is exposed external to the connector to negate the risk of shorting.  I would not advocate or even contemplate using spade connectors for the speaker connections because of the close proximity of the naked terminals.

On the front panel reading from left to right, we have a power button with a tiny blue LED above.  A real surprise was to see the amplifier perform a soft start operation with the LED blinking while it is being carried out, so no switch on or power down thumps through the speakers from this amplifier, which is rather refreshing to see.  Next we have the remote control window which is a small unobtrusive plastic dome, followed by a 6.3mm headphone socket, which mutes the speaker output when a headphone jack plug is inserted.  We then have a rotary volume control knob to adjust the volume by hand, although the control itself is also motorized for adjustment via the remote control handset.  The control itself is quite stiff to turn by hand, although in all probability this stiffness will ease over time with usage.  The remote control handset provides the basic functions of source selection, volume adjustment, muting and power on/off.   Next on the front panel of the amp we find a source selector button which changes the source in upwards increments, with a bank of blue LEDs to indicate which source has been selected and screen printed in black lettering beneath those LEDs is the source names themselves, then finally another source selector button to change the source in downwards increments.  Incidentally, the front panel LEDs are very small yet still bright, but don’t actually provide much glare as blue LEDs are prone to do.  You can tell the power is applied and which source has been selected without constantly drawing your attention to them – a nice touch.

SPECIFICATIONS

Power output 2x 40 W / 60W at 8 / 4 ohms
Signal-to-noise ratio Line/MM/MC > -90dB / -90dB / -75dB (IEC A-weighted)
Channel separation > -65dB
THD +N < 0,07%@ 15W
Frequency response 20Hz – 20kHz (+0,2dB, -2,5dB)
Analogue inputs 3 pair RCA/Cinch sockets line
  1 pair phono MM/MC input (RCA)
Input impedance Line: 50Kohms, Phono: MM 47kohms / MC 100 ohms
Digital inputs USB, RCA coax, 2 Toslink, Bluetooth (aptX)
D/A converter TI PCM1796 Delta-Sigma
Speaker connectors 4mm Ø banana plugs, spades connectors or naked wire
Headphone output 6,3mm jack
Headphone impedance 16 – 600ohms recommended
Line outputs fixed, variable (subwoofer, power amp)
Power supply 24V/5A DC; 100 – 240V, 50/60Hz
Standby Power consumption < 0,5W
Dimensions W x H x D 206 x 72 x 220 (230mm with sockets)
Weight 1550g without power supply

 

The original MaiA was priced at circa £399.00 and naturally the DS has a price premium of around £300.00 more at £699.00, so let’s see what that extra cash outlay gives you.

Sound Quality

Unlike a standard run-of-the-mill integrated amplifier review, I had my work cut out with this one as it wasn’t just a case of bunging a CD player into it and any old pair of speakers and cables for the output either. If the inputs were there, they all had to be tested which proved to be quite a lengthy and protracted process. Not only that, I had to fit the amplifier into various systems ranging from high end to budget, including ancillaries so hopefully you the reader can get a handle on it’s performance envelope.

Firstly, I paired the MaiA DS with my HTC mobile phone using the Bluetooth facility and this was straightforward and easy to do when following the instructions given in the user manual.  Select the “BT” source on the front panel, and then set the phone to detect any nearby devices and when the BT LED on the MaiA flashes, momentarily press the power button on the MaiA and job done with no need for passwords.  I only have a small selection of MP3 tracks on my phone, but the sound quality was perfectly acceptable nonetheless given the limitations of the MP3 format.  I have Spotify on my tablet PC and the sound was again perfectly acceptable from that source.

With a more accurate signal being fed into the amplifier from my resident CD player, I was stunned at just how good this little amplifier sounded.   Delicious treble performance which was clean and vibrant, the sound of struck cymbals were as realistic as anyone could wish for, with a defined metallic “ting” and the following decay all clearly rendered.  Mid tones were slightly on the lean side giving a slightly cool balance to the sound.   When it came to the bottom octaves, the extra power of DS version certainly added weight and body in the bass regions, which is where the MaiA’s weakness lay, although the MaiA and the DS variant obviously share the same DNA, the DS version sounds like it has a lot more headroom with power in reserve to cope with heavy bass and fast transients.

I found it a very entertaining listen and happy to say that I was never affronted by what I was hearing, or never once thinking to myself “Wish there was more bass, better mids, clearer treble, etc” because it simply wasn’t the case.  Fink’s “Sort of Revolution” CD sounded palpable and full of detail, the propulsive bass line being recreated very well indeed  and the treble especially so, that “ting” from the Ride cymbals in all the tracks never being overwhelmed by the rest of the music so it stood as an individual clear entity.  This album is threaded throughout with close mic’d acoustic guitar recorded so the body of the instrument needs to be captured and the squealing of the finger work on the frets is integral to the performance, adding not detracting from the charm of the album.

As I did with the original MaiA amplifier, I installed the DS into the wife’s TEAC component system and it outclassed the TEAC amplifier in every respect.  No surprise there to be honest.

Time now to really put the MaiA DS through it’s paces with my resident system CD player, speakers and cabling. Now I found that the amplifier wasn’t seriously outclassed at all with every component costing many times more than it did.  The sound moved on into yet another dimension that was snapping at the heels of my resident amplifier which cost some 10 times more than the MaiA DS and the MaiA.  Yes it didn’t have the raw grunt and outright power at higher volumes, but even so it says more about these amplifier’s capabilities and what can be achieved with good design that enabled that.Pro-ject_maia_ds_rear

Back into the CD drawer went Fink’s “Sort of Revolution” and here we are talking about differences between the two amplifiers in the finite range, they were that small.  Bass was 90% of what my resident amplifier gave me, treble was even closer and it was much easier now to pick up the ambience cues in the recording , but it was the mid band was where I heard the greatest difference and the MaiA provided a slightly “leaner” sound, but even that I could probably have lived with on a daily basis without real criticism in the long term, because that is a better compromise than a flabby or chesty sounding midrange which wreaks havoc with the music’s undertones.

Imaging and soundstage were certainly well up to standard with good height and depth, the sound extending well out beyond the speaker boundaries.

The MaiA DS like it’s smaller sibling didn’t quite have the same “punch in the guts” bass power and dynamics that my resident amplifier has and frankly didn’t expect it to be, but I don’t see that as a weakness on behalf of the MaiA DS as my own amplifier has 150 watts per channel on tap.  Incidentally, the casework didn’t even get the slightest bit warm during these high power runs.  A highly commendable performance.

Last, but by no means least, I turned to the digital input capabilities of the MaiA DS.  Both co-axial and optical inputs routed from my CD player in to the DAC section were more than satisfactory with no noise or mush detected.   It was nigh on impossible to tell if the resulting sound via the DAC was any better or different to the DAC within my resident CD player because they sounded so similar.  Signal lock was instantaneous although there is no indicator to show that it was.  USB connection from my laptop PC was of a similar performance so no quibbles there either.   As my television and satellite receiver are in another room unfortunately, I was unable to test how the MaiA DS interfaced with that equipment although I forsee no issues there either.

Conclusion

Whereas the original MaiA amplifier was fine for smaller rooms like a study or a bedroom, the extra power available from the DS version means it will provide more than sufficient output to fill a medium sized room from a good solid 50 watts per channel of clean sound, three line level analogue inputs, a switchable moving magnet or moving coil phono input, remote control, a headphone output too, no less than three digital inputs, the unique remote control facility and a Bluetooth connection as well, adds up to a versatile and highly flexible heart to any hifi music reproduction, computer, or two channel  A/V system.  With a genuine level of swiss army knife versatility that these Pro-ject MaiA amplifiers possess, the savings from not buying separate DACs and high sensitivity phono stages alone makes them a total steal at their asking prices.

The MaiA DS will happily integrate into budget systems, middle ranking systems and not entirely out of place or embarrassed when rubbing shoulders with the esoteric either, so I will say nothing more other than a wholehearted endorsement from me.

PROS:  The closest I could find to a Swiss Army knife in terms of connectivity and functionality.  Sound is considerably better than you would expect from a diminutive little box.  Price.

CONS:  Beware the spacing on the speaker binding posts.

Dominic Marsh

Dominic rated the MaiA DS so highly it was sent to Hifi Pig reviewer Ian Ringstead for a second opinion. 

Given that Dominic rated the MaiA DS so highly I was asked if I could do a follow up to his review on the and took no persuading being a great fan of Pro-ject. The MaiA DS is basically a MaiA on steroids built to higher standards in a very nicely made case and with a solid aluminium front panel. I have owned a Pro-ject RS phono stage which was excellent, so I knew what to expect build wise; could the sound be as good?

The DS is bigger than the standard MaiA with a larger separate power supply to allow for the greater power output it produces. Like the MaiA, the DS is incredibly versatile and is a veritable Swiss army knife as Dominic said himself  in his review. For such a compact unit it packs one hell of a punch with it numerous analogue and digital inputs. I particularly like the fact the very good phono stage has both moving magnet and moving coil switching. I used both to good effect and as a reviewing tool it would be a handy amp to have. The headphone stage is useful as well, and unless you are a purist does a fine job.

The credit card sized remote is neat but could easily be lost down a cushion so make sure you don’t misplace it! I tried my mobile phone with the DS streaming my music and found it a very straight forward process to achieve. The sound was good even though it was only mp3 and a convenient way of playing background music through your system for a party or meal with friends. Although the power output is only 55 watts, it was plenty with my resident Triangle speakers.

MaiA DS can be upgraded with a separate linear power supply that will almost double the dynamic per-formance power and improves the sound significantly in terms of punch and clarity. Power Box MaiA DS additionally offers convenient power wiring for customers who decide to have multiple Pro-Ject components in a system. Up to five products from the Pro-Ject family, including a turntable (DC-only products) can be connected simultaneously.

Dominic has covered all the facilities and features in his review so I’ll just say I loved it as well. If space is a major issue and let’s face it modern homes are smaller than they used to be or you live in a small flat or bed-sit, then the MaiA DS is a real boon without compromising on the quality front. In my room and system the DS was excellent, so I urge anyone who is interested in trying one out to ask a dealer if they will loan you one on a trial basis. As a second system amp it would be superb if you can justify the extra cost. I used it with my Pro-ject Extension 9 and Ortofon Quintet Black moving coil and had no issues with the built in phono stage and the separate phono stage I am currently trying out costs more than the DS, and although better ,wasn’t vastly superior, so well done to the design team.

Pros 

Fantastic little amp that is very well built and specified 

Remote control 

Great range of inputs and outputs 

Power supply can be upgraded 

Cons 

The speaker terminals are closely packed together, so be careful with your connections, using good 4mm plugs.

Ian Ringstead

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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