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Tuesday, September 10, 2019

EAN Home Cinema Review!
Audio Control’s Dynamic Duo!
Maestro M9 Dolby Atmos/DTS-X
Surround Processor/Preamp,
Plus Savoy G3 200W x 7 Amplifier


Brevis...
Price: $8,900, M9; $3,000, Savoy;
Likes: the best for surround
Dislikes: no DSD decoding (M9)
Wow Factor: multichannel nirvana!
More info: Maestro M9, Savoy G3.

by John Gatski
  As an audiophile who loves surround movies and Hi-Res music in surround, I am always searching for the perfect surround processor that relays that last bit of air, detail and accuracy that can be transmitted via today’s advanced source components.
  As a multichannel gear is often a comprise in design due to its complexity of merging the A and the V, I am often disappointed in the ultimate outcome from feature rich (so many apps), but compromised audio path design receivers and pre/pros that do not reveal the utmost detail and dynamic of separates.
  However, AudioControl’s Maestro Maestro M9 pre/pro is such a processor. This, nearly perfect, multichannel processor relays an audiophile level of quality that rivals two channel separates, but gives you up to 12 channels. I am talking about separate preamps and D/As that cost big money.

  The Maestro M9 and the Savoy G3 are just two of the latest examples of AC's A/V dedication. You can spend more for a premium AV pre-pro and multichannel amp, but you will not beat the Maestro M9/Savoy combo performance.

  As with the M3 that I have owned for eight years, Maestro M9’s digital decoding of Blu-ray soundtracks: DTS Master, Dolby TrueHD, or uncompressed PCM mutitracks is so revealing that I do not use any audiophile separates in my home cinema room; every source is run through the Maestro M9. It is that good.

Features
  The $8,900 Maestro Maestro M9 is designed and assembled by AudioControl at their facility just outside of Seattle, WA. The 7.1.4 preamp is ready for Dolby Atmos®, DTS:XTM and features Dirac Live® room correction technology.
  The Maestro Maestro M9 supports today’s latest high resolution formats, including 4K Ultra HD (HDMI 2.0a/ HDCP 2.2) with Dolby Vision and HDR playback support. A/V quality gets a boost from discrete PCM796 Burr Brown DACs and the very best in video processing and upscaling processing. Supports High Dynamic Range (HDR) formats, with BT.2020 support
  The Maestro M9 contains the performance features and apps that complement the audio and video; no unnecessary Internet streaming apps or superfluous bloatware that ultimately undermine the performance of A/V products.
  For audio decoding, the Maestro M9 supports Dolby Atmos, Dolby Surround, DTS:X, DTS-HD Master Audio, DTS-ES 6.1 Discrete, DTS-ES 6.1 Matrix, DTS 5.1, DTS Neural:X, DTS Virtual:X, and IMAX Enhanced.

Connection panel is straightforward and undaunting

  For accurate room compensation, the Maestro M9 enables Dirac Live® Room Correction, a loudspeaker setup function from Dirac Research. Via a PC/MAC based application, Dirac Live® determines the essential speaker settings for all the speakers in your system. It also calculates room equalization (Room EQ) filter values to remove some of the worst effects of resonant frequencies in the listening room.
  The sonic result is said to be improved staging, better clarity and intelligibility in music and vocals and deeper, tighter bass without resonance. (In my testing, it performed well in that it did not overly EQ the mid bass as do other auto room setup apps. My room is very neutral in the bass and needs no extra mid bass EQ to achieve flat bass. The DIRAC excels in this regard.
  You might think that such a pricey, capable pre/pro would be complicated in its connection and setup. But it really is straight forward — with numerous balanced, unbalanced analog outputs, HDMI 2.0b, plus digital inputs. The Maestro M9 also contains USB input for connection to iPad, iPhone, iPod and other portable music players and mass storage devices. It does not contain a software player.

Supported audio formats
  The pre/pro supports MP3, WMA (Windows Media Audio), WAV, FLAC (Free Lossless Audio CODEC) and MPEG-4 AAC (i-Tunes) playback. My only criticism of the Maestro M9 is the lack of DSD decoding. You gotta select the DSD to PCM option on your SACD/BD player to get the M9 play DSD through its excellent converters.

  I can honestly say that from these speakers, which are over $40,000. I have never heard better audio from movies while auditioning the Maestro M9 and Savoy. The steering cues, sense of space center channel focus, smoothness, dynamics, low-end projection were immensely satisfying.

  For the HD Surround modes, the Maestro M9 includes Dolby Atmos, Dolby True HD, Dolby Digital Plus, DTS:X, DTS-HD Master Audio. The Maestro M9, of course, supports Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Digital Stereo Downmix, Dolby Digital 5.1+ Dolby Surround, DTS 5.1, DTS 5.1 Stereo Downmix, DTS-ES 6.1 Matrix, and DTS-ES 6.1 Discrete, DTS96/24.
  The MP is custom-install control ready with IP, RS232, 12-volt trigger and IR control options for Internet radio. A nice, medium size programmable remote control is provided for most important Maestro M9 functions.

Well controlled
  The Maestro M9 features fully integrated remote control via your video screen or TV, or you can control the basics via front panel controls. The buttons and knobs include Menu, Input, Info Screen, Mute, mode, Direct, Display and Zone. There are two front panel inputs: an 1/8th inch for headphone and an 1/8th-inch Aux. The right side volume control cranks up the level and the knob is quite robust feeling. The unit power ons when you hit Menu, as long as the standby switch is switched to on
 As mentioned, there are lots of connections to allow the Maestro M9 to accommodate any A/V scenario: four pairs of RCA stereo inputs for analog, seven HDMI inputs, three HDMI 2.0b outputs, four coaxial digital inputs/two optical digital inputs, eight balanced and unbalanced preamp outputs (L, C, R, SL, SR, Rear SL, Rear SR, and Subwoofer 1), Dolby Atmos preamp out (Height1, Height 2 and Subwoofer 2). There are also zone connection options via HDMI and analog. Other connections include Ethernet, RS32 and USB 3.0
  
The Savoy G3 7-Channel Amp:
Big Power, Clean and Efficient
  The AudioControl Savoy G3 7-channel amp, priced at $3,000, is a MOSFET output, multiboard amp module amp with a massive toroidal power supply, The energy-efficient, Class H amplifier puts out 200 wpc across seven channels into 8 ohms — with all channels driven, and even more into 4 ohms.


 The Savoy G3 offers balanced and unbalanced line input with five-way binding posts output. The Class H output circuit across the seven channels, enables on-demand current and power, but with a low-energy idle efficiency found on switching power supply amps. You get the massive power when you need it, but not the wasted heat burning power of Class A/AB
  I have used the original AudioControl Pantages since the mid 2000s, and it never has let me down,. The Savoy G3 adds channels, offering 200 wpc with an audiophile transparency, virtually no noise and the dynamic transmission of big time power — for even large, fancy-smancy home cinema setups.
  The seven channel Savoy G3 here allows for 7-channel configuration, or more if used in conjunction with another amplifier. It is the perfect base for Atmos, when adding a second multichannel amp, or separate monoblocks for those extra height channels.

AudioControlSavoy G3 Specs
Inputs: 7 RCA Unbalanced, 7 XLR Balanced
Input Sensitivity: 1.42 VRMS for full output
Input Impedance: 22kΩ
Outputs:
Amplifier Channels: 7
Power Output (8Ω): 203W per channel
Minimum Speaker Load: 4Ω
Performance:
Damping Factor: >450
Total Harmonic Distortion: 0.08% (203 watts @ 8 ohms 20-20K),
all channels driven;
Signal to Noise: >110dB, A-WTD ref Full Output;
Frequency Response: 10Hz-20kHz ±3dB
Dimensions: Dimensions: 17”W x 16.5”D x 7”H (4U)
Weight: 55 lbs (24.9kg)

The set up
  Having reviewed numerous AudioControl home AV products and an owner of the M3 pre/pro from 2007, the AVR-6 (my favorite receiver of all time) receiver and the original five channel Pantages amp, the install of the M3 and new Savoy was a piece of cake.
  I popped out a Yamaha receiver that had been used in a previous review, then installed the Maestro M9 in the mid shelf of the main rack; the new Savoy was placed on the bottom shelf of the AV rack. The Maestro M9 setup menus include connection/source parameters, speaker options, distance (delay), level settings, video settings, or pass-through video.

The discontinued Oppo 205: an ideal mate for the Maestro.
  For my review setup, nothing but the best to match the pedigree of the AudioControl amp/preamp tandem: Westlake Tower 5’s for L and R, Westlake LC2.65 for center, and a pair of Westlake Lc8.1 two ways for the rear channels, mounted at 6 ft. 2 inches high on wall brackets and angled toward the listening position.
  I have used these Westlake professional speakers for 20 years, and find the them incredibly well made and accurate. The LC2.65 is one of the most accurate dialog speakers I have ever heard!
  For subwoofer duties, I employed the Paradigm Pro 15, with flat response down to 17 Hz and plenty of level in my midsized room. MIT speaker cables and Alpha Core solid-conductor silver RCA interconnects completed the speaker-to-amp amp connection to the Maestro M9.
  AC cables for the review were from Essential Sound Products (Essence II) as was the Essence II power strip. For consistent high-power amps performance and ultra-quiet AC cord shielding, the Essential Sound Products power cables are a go-to for my cinema auditions of home cinema. The Essence II ain’t cheap, but they are the most quiet AC cords around.

Configuring the Maestro M9
  Since I have reviewed several AudioControl and own an AVR-6, the M3 and now the Maestro M9, I am quite familiar with the setup menus. But if even if you have only a basic knowledge of AV setup, this unit is easy to configure.
  The base, on-screen menus: are Input Configuration, General Setup, Speaker Types (establishes crossover), Speaker Distance (delay), Speaker Level, Video Inputs, HDMI Settings, Audio Mode, Zone Settings and Network.

  In the opening scene of Live Free and Die Hard, the soundtrack slams you with maximum dynamics in bass and percussive sound effects from the shoot outt; it gets the adrenaline pumping, and one marvesl at the complex detail of the subtle and not so subtle audio cues: Gun shells ejecting, breaking glass, footsteps, etc. You hear so much sonic info via the AudioControl duo.

  For my use, the speaker settings, input configuration and HDMI were the main setup ingredients. You can also use DIRAC via an external PC to measure and  auto EQ, if necessary, to match the speakers to the room. I performed a DIRAC auto setup/EQ via a Dell Windows laptop, and a manual setup with an old school AudioControl 3050 real time analyzer. The DIRAC matched the levels as close as the manual setup and EQ’d very sparingly since my tile-over-concrete floors, foam tile ceilings and pinewood side walls allow for a fairly neutral sounding room. The DIRAC did not add that extra 80-120 Hz of midbass that most other auto EQ setup programs do in my room. Thank goodness for that
   I configured the inputs and named them BD1, BD2 and BD3 for use of my various Blu-ray players I assigned an HDMI input to each player, initially with the Pass-Through setting and then later through the Maestro M9’s scaler. The players included a BDP-09FD, Oppo BD-205 and Marantz UD-207. All HDMI cables were  from Essence Electrostatic dealer in Florida, which sells an amazing fiber optic cable that is very light and easy to route. These cables offer pristine video, 1080 or 4k. The 2011 Sony Bravia L929 1080P LED (still used for the evaluation is still as good (often better) as any LED made today, thanks to full-array active zone backlighting.


  In the speaker setup modes, I ran the three front Westlake speakers full size with full bass. The two rear Westlakes were set to small which enabled the 80-Hz crossover. The Paradigm subwoofer/LFE was set to 80 Hz low pass crossover as well. I adjusted the delay through the Distance menu, and set the level via the RTA. Levels were matched to within .25 dB. I repeated the audio setup with DIRAC, and it was close to my manual setup, so I left it.
  I also made some general adjustments in the other menus, (such as set up of the network for firmware upgrades etc.). I found any necessary setup adjustment to be easy on the Maestro M9. All in all, it took me 20 minutes to do the basic setup, in the early days of the M3, there were a few software bugs, but the current OS version was perfect. Not one glitch during the long evaluation. Good job, AudioControl.
  The Savoy G3 amplifier needs no special setup. I connected the MIT speaker cables and the Alpha Core Goertz solid silver line level cables, and turned it on. BTW, it had nil idle hiss. That is the way I like it my amps, nice and quiet.
  I burned in the Maestro M9/Savoy combo for a couple of days with some DTS surround demo discs. I did not do an Atmos Setup; the room is simply too small for effective Atmos, and extra speakers are unnecessary. My surrounds are well placed to transmit height ambience cues, and my many demo  videophile guests do not have any complaints that my system is lacking. Atmos works better in much bigger rooms, which I am now setting up for future reviews at another location.

The audition
  Based on my experience with the AudioControl M3 and the original Pantages multichannel amp, as well as the AVR-4 and 6 receivers, I had high expectations for the Maestro M9/Savoy combo. Guess what? They exceeded my satisfaction quotient by a lot. I played numerous BDs and found the sound flavors to be audiophile accurate — with an impressive sense of dimension, space and air emitted by the five speakers.
  On the Adele - Live At The Royal Albert Hall, the stunning mix is carried out in grand fashion via the Maestro M9 preamp/Savoy amp duo. Rich vocals, focused percussion, guitar and keyboards and a huge sense of space conveyed from the prestigious performance hall. I doubt the being at the concert sounded any better than what the BD and the Maestro M9 and Savoy system could do.

  On the Adele - Live At The Royal Albert Hall, the stunning mix is carried out in grand fashion via the Maestro M9 preamp/Savoy amp duo. Rich vocals, focused percussion, guitar and keyboards and a huge sense of space conveyed from the prestigious performance hall.

  Ditto, on the Celine Dion — A New Day Live From Las Vegas. The 5.1 mix of the Titanic ballad “My Heart Will Go On” was stunning. Ms. Dion’s power range and emotive conveyance could not be better presented through an audio system than the way AudioControl Maestro M9 and Savoy transmitted it. The PCM soundtrack via DTS Master HD was super smooth, too with just enough of the raw, liveness to make it real.

Amping it up
  Speaking of the Savoy, in comparing it to the older Pantages, I believe it is a touch smoother than the original Pantages. Maybe mine is getting long in the tooth. But the new Savoy seems a smidgen more dynamic and easier to listen to on treble-tinged soundtracks. The Savoy is capable of delivering audiophile-class accuracy, dynamics and low-noise power with multiple speakers. With this power, you would have to have a really, really, really big room to run this amp out of gas
  I played one of my favorite multichannel jazz SACDs, So RealWarren Bernhardt (DMP) and was quite tickled that the nuance of high-register piano notes, drum cymbals and snare rim rolls gets the audiophile treatment from the Savoy amp. Bass is really fast.
  Just in case you were wondering how I played a DSD through the non-DSD decoding Maestro M9, the recording had to be converted from DSD to PCM via the Oppo BD player so that the Maestro M9 could decode the multichannel. It was not native DSD, but it was Hi-Res PCM.
  Back to the Blu-rays, I played several reference BDs including Avatar, The Fifth Element (uncompressed PCM version), U571, Behind Enemy Lines, Star Wars Rogue One, and Live Free and Die Hard. The list also included X-Men - First Class movies, Jack The Giant Slayer and many more — all with excellent soundtracks.


The M9's speaker type setup menu

  I can honestly say that from these speakers, which are over $40,000. I have never heard better audio from movies while auditioning the Maestro M9 and Savoy. The steering cues, sense of space center channel focus, smoothness, dynamics, low-end projection were impressively satisfying through the AudioControl Maestro M9 and Savoy amplifier. Yes, the tandem is almost $12,000, but you are not going to find much improvement over the AudioControl tandem by spending more.
  For example, the bomb explosion and subsequent gun battle that takes place in an apartment during the opening scene of Live Free and Die Hard slams you with maximum dynamics in bass, and percussive sound effects from the firefight; it gets the adrenaline pumping, but you marvel at the complex detail of the subtle and not so subtle sound effects. Gun shells ejecting, breaking glass, etc. You can hear so much sonic info via the AudioControl setup. And there is such width and depth in the mix.
  Ditto with Avatar, the scene, when the big tree is knocked down by the paramilitary attack, showcases a complex cascade of tree destruction sounds (roots and branches breaking) as it slowly tumbles to the ground, which kicks in a huge bass wallop as the tree hits the ground. Cheap receivers ain’t even close in revealing what this combo can do with good speakers.
  Like any top-notch audio system, the better the components, the better it sounds. In comparison to a several year old Onkyo receiver that was almost $4000 in its day and considered the best, there was no comparison. The receiver’s amp section was very good, but the internal decoding was much courser than the AudioControl Maestro M9‘s neutral audio hue. And the sweeping width and depth of steered surround cues relayed  by the AC combo put the Onkyo in its place. In this case, the extra cash for USA-based product nets you the better sound. One can easily hear it

 The Maestro M9 is now my pre-pro reference, and the Savoy is the workhorse, multi-channel amp to judge all others by. Both products get our 2019 Everything Audio Network Product of The Year Awards and the Stellar Sound designation.

  The AudioControlM3/Pantages duo from the mid 2000s was close to the Maestro M9 and Savoy, in terms of detail, but when I mated the Savoy amp with the M3 or Maestro M9, I could hear a smoother tonality — without being soft. The fresher amp is the difference, me thinks.
  I know I heap the praise on the M9‘s audio, but the video is top notch as well. I did run it through the scaler to see how it compared to the pass-through BD player outputs. The Maestro M9 scaler routed video was just as detailed as the Oppo. I did not have a 4K set on hand, but I trust that the upscaler and native 4K processing will be just as good. The video-adjust menus are straight forward as well.
  As mentioned, I had only one negative regarding the Maestro M9: the lack of DSD surround decoding via its internal DACs. There is still lots of SACDs with multichannel sound out there that can be played through HDMI. I have 400 SACDs, but can’t play them natively through the Maestro M9’s converters; I have to enable DSD-to-PCM conversion in the BD player to get the audio to the HDMI.
  On the M3, you could play the multichannel out via the BD player’s multichannel output analog jacks into the pre’s analog multiple channel input. The Maestro M9 does not have that multichannel analog input feature. Thus, you have to HDMI it. Stereo DSD from a SACD player’s analog output is no problem.

The verdict
  I have been working with AudioControl on reviews since 1989, and I know their dedication to making the better-sounding audio product. The Maestro M9 and the Savoy G3 are just two of the latest examples of that dedication. You can spend more for a premium AV pre-pro and multichannel amp, but you will not beat the AudioControl Maestro M9/Savoy combo’s performance.


  I am sure newer AudioControl versions are in the works for the future, but right now a serious home cinema fan cannot buy a better-performing preamplifier or amplifier for multichannel use. Period. All the features, connections and the easy to use software are just extra gravy. For me and my fellow surround Hi-Res movie and music fanatics, it is the sound that counts when determining which preamp/processor to buy.
  The Maestro M9 is now my pre-pro reference, and the Savoy is the workhorse, multi-channel amp to judge all others by. Both products get our 2019 Everything Audio Network Product of The Year Awards and the Stellar Sound designation.
***

   John Gatski has been evaluating consumer, audiophile, home cinema and professional audio gear since 1988. In 1995, he created Pro Audio Review, and he has written for SoundOnSound, Audio, Laserviews, Enjoy The Music, The Audiophile Voice, High Performance Review, Radio World and TV Technology. Everything Audio Network is based in Kensington, Md. Articles on this site are the copyright of the ©Everything Audio Network. Any unauthorized use, via print or Internet, without written permission is prohibited. John Gatski can be reached via email: everything.audio@verizon.net

Friday, June 14, 2019

Home Recording Studio Review!
The Mojave Audio MA-50
Transformerless Microphone:
“Entry Level Condenser Is Quite
A Transparency Over Achiever!"


Brevis...
Price: $495
Likes: price, accuracy
Dislikes: zilch, nada, zip
Wow Factor: 10 out of 10
More info: Mojave MA-50

by John Gatski
  I have been a fan of every Mojave microphone ever produced. The MA-300, MA-101 fet, etc., all designed by David Royer. They are as good, or better than any Japanese, USA or European mic in their respective classes.
  The $495 retail/street MA-50 is no exception. Such a bargain, in terms of its sonic performance. Clarity and realism are descriptors used by the Mojave marketing team to describe the audio character of the MA-50, and I whole heartedly concur. If you are buying, get two.
  Microphone Designer David Royer, who designs for both Royer Labs, home of the classic ribbon microphones and Mojave, has created a thoroughly modern microphone that rises to that challenge making an affordable, yet thoroughly high-end sounding microphone.

  The MA-50 is a serious recording tool that is significantly above the plethora of $200-$300 microphones flooding the market. Whether a home recording fanatic or a seasoned, big studio pro, the Mojave MA-50 is worth a little extra coin to get this caliber of sound.

   The $495 MA-50 transformerless design is a cardioid, large-diaphragm microphone designed to for recording and live sound use with numerous musical instrument types. Royer said that the MA-50 transfomerless design was a way to get great performance out of a large diaphragm mic at a much lower cost, well under $1,000. Big name condenser mics often are well north of $2,000, and there are a lot of cheaper mics down to just a few hundred bucks. The MA-50, though, hits the sweet spot.
MA-50 with shock mount and case

“When we decided to produce the MA 50, the microphone was intended to be a relatively low-cost microphone,” David Royer explained. “Due to the intended price point, the choice with the design was to either use a low-cost output transformer or dispense with the output transformer entirely.”
  Royer said that cheap transformer designs compromise microphone performance. “I have long been dissatisfied with the performance of inexpensive audio transformers (noise, distortion, etc.),” he said. “So I quickly ruled out that option.”
  Royer noted that he ultimately designed the transformerless circuit, based on the transistorized output buffer stage used in the Royer R-122 and SF-24 ribbon microphones. The capsule is straight out of the MA-200 tube and MA-201fet condensers.

  “It (the ribbon output buffer stage) has been renowned for more than a decade, and it seemed that the design could be adapted to a simple, no-frills condenser microphone design," Royer explained. "I figured that the measured noise, frequency response and distortion would be well within professional standards (they were), and that the cost would be reasonable.”
  Reasonable indeed. Initially manufactured in China and then moved to USA for quality control, the MA-50 became an instant hit in the recording mic world — with quite satisfying results reported by seasoned audio pros and home musician recording buffs. The bundled, stereo-packaged MA-50 deals, at under $1,000 from dealers, made the decision that much easier.

Features
  The MA-50 is a large-diaphragm, cardioid patterned, 3-micron capsule. As mentioned, the transformerless circuitry gives it a very low self-noise, less than 18 dB!. Its ability to handle fast transients makes it ideal for most any kind of recording tasks; drums, vocal, acoustic guitar, mandolin, piano, movie/TV foley and ADR, angels singing from heaven, etc. All right, the last one, I made up, but you get the point. This mic is quite versatile with most musical instruments.

Such a bargain, in terms of its sonic performance. Clarity and realism are descriptors used by the Mojave marketing team to describe the audio character of the MA-50, and I whole heartedly concur. If you are buying, get two.

  The response is an excellent 20 Hz to 20 kHz, plus or minus 3 dB with just a bit of rise on both ends of the spectrum. The cardioid patterns, high-frequency linearity to 15 kHz is impressive.
  Other technical data: externally polarized pressure gradient capacitor capsule, 1-inch diameter, gold-sputtered diaphragm (3-microns), -40 dB re. 1V/pa, 125 dB sensitivity. Comes in a nice carrying case and shock mount: Mic case dimensions are listed at 10” x 9” x 4.5”, 4 lbs; mic dimensions only: 7 5/8” X 2” (194mm x 51mm), 1 lb. (0.45Kg).`194mm.

The set up
  I mounted the Mojave MA-50 pair onto a stereo bar via a telescoping mic stand and recorded numerous instruments, including two Martin acoustic guitars, a Manuel Rodriguez solid cedar top classical guitar, a Fender Mark Knopfler custom Strat with original vintage alnico 3 single coil pickups, a Fender American Series Telecaster, a modded electronics Les Paul Studio, Yamaha SA2200 335-style semi-acoustic electric, a custom double pickup  Gibson L5CES hollow body, a 25-year old Yamaha U1 upright professional piano, Nord Electro 5 keyboard via speakers, and a Zum Steel Stage One Encore, single 10 pedal steel guitar.

  Coupled with the transparency of the Wireworld Equinox cables and the True P2 preamp, I consistently tracked, top-notch quality sample hi-res tracks with the MA-50‘s; 24 bit or DSD, the audible pleasure was all mine!

  All guitars were run through either an original 1965 Fender Deluxe Reverb or a ‘74 Princeton Reverb. I utilized the latest Wireworld Pro Equinox XLR mic cable, which are incredibly transparent and robust in their construction. Highly recommended. I powered the MA-50s with a 2002 vintage True Engineering P2, solid state mic preamp, a very transparent and low-noise solid state preamp with a phase scope.
  For vocals on spoken voice and singing, I used one microphone. On all the guitars, I recorded mono and stereo. The piano was only stereo. The recording set up was through a TASCAM DA3000 SSD recorder/player, which lays down stereo PCM (24-bit-192 kHz) and DSD at 2.8 MHz and 5.6MHz sampling. I connected a Benchmark ADC1  (unfortunately no longer made) via AES/EBU to the DA3000, to get a bit more smoothness into the ADC link, but I used the TASCAM’s onboard DSD for takes that I wanted to do in 1 bit.
  I made edits via Audacity, Reaper or SoundIt 8 using Macbook Pro or a Dell Windows laptop. Playback system included Benchmark HPA4 HP amp/line stage, with its custom analog attenuator, Benchmark ABH1 power amp and Amphion nearfield speakers.

The audition
  First up was my trusty, small body, Martin 00-28 custom, a very warm, yet percussive finger picker with true 1930s 1/4-inch bracing.  After recording several cuts at 24/192, I did five cuts in stereo. The playback system consisted of the Macbook Pro connected to the Benchmark monitoring system and listening to the Amphion speakers and a pair of AKG K702 anniversary headphones. I also checked the recording playback quality on my home audiophile  system with MartinLogan electrostatic speakers, Benchmark DAC and Pass Labs amplifier.
Steel guitar recordings via 2x MA-50 are amazing
  The Martin 00-28 custom playback was impressive. The MA-50 mics have a knack for relaying the transient response and warm, midbass of the little Martin with a spacious spread of string tone that is so natural. I really did not hear much rise on the top end. Just a clean and wide soundstage with that accuracy I like in hi-res  recordings of stringed instruments. The warmth of Indian rosewood and red spruce wood from the OO shone through, but it never was too bloomy. These Mojave microphones nailed the Martin perfectly.

Jumbo guitar sound
  Next up was my larger Martin J40 jumbo, a guitar with much more bass and more defined midrange/low treble projection. Not bright sounding like a Taylor, but less vintage than the 00-28. I find that numerous mics that I have used for recording that guitar accentuated the treble response — too much sheen on the J40 that is not there; some mics also boost the midbass, which means a careful placement and some EQ at times.
  However, the MA-50 did a great job keeping this big guitar in sonic balance, whether finger picked or flat picked.  Through the MA-50s, the recorded stereo image of this big guitar was incredible in its power as played through the medium gauge strings. The sound is so much better than a plugged-in acoustic with that thin, under-body mic sound. Give me external mics any day on any acoustic guitar. Indeed.

The classic cardioid polar pattern

  So far, so good. I moved on to my 2002 custom shop Gibson L5CES. My wifey bought this for our tenth anniversary, and this one is among the best modern versions that I have played. The acoustic tone consists of a deep, warmth-filled voicing that is transmitted by the Gibson Classic 57 alnico II magnet pickups. The two pick up position is to die for when playing through .11-.050 flat-wound strings. 
  I then switched amps —  my Fender Twin Reverb Reissue 1998 edition. My newer Twin is as good as any vintage black face. And is open, loud, but revealingly smooth via the tube circuit and USA-made Eminence speakers. Playing the L5CES with a large celluloid Fender pick, on some jazz runs, I placed one mic each in front of each speaker about 8-inches away to capture the sound. Wes Montgomery, I am not, but my little rhythm runs were so vintage and warm toned that I wanted to play the guitar the rest of the week. Lucky, I captured it all in DSD.
  And as I expected, The MA-50 capture of the L5 was incredibly vintage in it tone, but with a lot of dynamic headroom; the sound  reflects a percussive warmth without edgy side tones or bloated bass that would need onboard EQ tweaking. The top end sounded as natural as it could be without undue emphasis. The Mojave mic is definitely a friend to the humbucker tone. And of course, the stereo image from two speakers is much broader and contains more depth than using just one mic. I give it an A++ on the L5!

  Uncanny accuracy without weighted bloom in the bass — and a clean, articulate midrange and treble without the edge. Yamaha pianos are bright, but the Mojave captured realism and essential bite without pushing it to shrill.

  I confirmed the MA-50‘s humbucker guitar friendliness through a tube amp via tracking my Yamaha SA2200 and my Les Paul Studio guitars. Both guitars’ elemental, warm impactful tone shone through the Twin, as well as my ‘74 Princeton Reverb and original ‘65 Deluxe reverb.
  On single coil guitars like my Knopfler Fender Strat with ‘54 alnico 3 vintage pickups (think the Buddy Holly Sound) and my 2001 Telecaster, the MA-50s transmitted the ‘65 Deluxe Reverb’s amplified tone with a nice open midrange and top end that revealed, upon listening, the Reverb’s upper band harmonics, but not being too strident. That bell-like tone of the Knopfler Strat was really seductive sounding via the playback. My favorite Strat sound captured in stereo by the MA-50’s.
   Almost forgot, the Stage One Encore pedal steel guitar through the Twin. Despite my limited proficiency, the rich midrange/treble harmonics of the steel’s humbucker pick up and the string pedal pitch bends and phrasing sounded like a million bucks. The MA-50 picked up that Buddy Emmons/Lloyd Green-like tone that makes you cry in your beer. And in stereo it is like a chorus: powerful and harmonic. Wish I could play it better, but the MA-50 pair picked up the nuance and, in my opinion, does the steel justice as good as any of the classic vintage condenser mics.


  Heck, in the old days, many engineers threw a cheap dynamic on the steel guitar. But I have always remained firm in my belief that a good steel/amp setup has much more to offer, sonically, than through a cheap mic. Why would you put a SM-57 on something as complex as a steel when you can capture more. Via high-res recording, with an excellent condenser like the Mojave MA-50, this steel was done justice.
  Switching off to classical guitar, a $3,000 Manuel Rodriguez solid wood model, the qualities I hear via steel string acoustic, thrive with the nylon string as well. Quick response and a true relay of the percussive transients. And in stereo, there is such a huge image expansion via the second mic. I always record classical guitar with two mics, and the MA-50 is mucho worthy of the challenge.

Tinkling the ivories
   I recorded several home brew cuts of piano runs using the MA-50 and True P2 mic pre and was quite happy. The speed and precision of the transient capture of high register notes and chords on the Yamaha U1 showed how effective a mic the MA-50 is for keyboard duties. Uncanny accuracy without weighted bloom in the bass — and a clean, articulate midrange and treble without the edge. Yamaha pianos are bright, but the Mojave captured realism and essential bite without pushing it over to the shrill side. The stereo placement with the lid open reveals much more nuance than with one mic. I have found the sweet spot on this piano, and the MA-50 brought it all into the recorder.

Wireworld Equinox Pro transparent mic cable

  The MA-50 also impressed me recording the speaker output of my Nord Electro 5 electronic keyboard, using Lipinski L505 loudspeakers and a PSB subwoofer. I recorded the speaker output versus just inserting the line output as a stereo track because  I wanted more of the room sound in the Hammond B3 organ and Wurlitzer electric piano modes. The extra bit of room presence via speakers and the Nord’s sampled organ and electric piano “dirtiness”, as picked up by the MA-50s, gave me exactly what I wanted.

 Through the MA-50s, the recorded stereo image of this big guitar was incredible in its power as played through the medium gauge strings. The sound is so much better than a plugged-in acoustic with that thin, under-body mic sound. Give me external mics on an acoustic.

  On vocals, the MA-50 is said to be a good mic for solo and choral duties. I found it good for vocals, though it does not impart that big character of its older, big brother the MA-300 tube mic, but in its basic signature, the sound is delivered without excessive color, or sibilance, which is a good thing in my book. EQing a little bottom for a bit of low-end authority enables a seamless solo vocal for a typical male singer. I think it is spot on for female vocals
  For drums and percussion I hit some snare and cymbals with brushes and regular sticks, and really liked what I heard. Reminded a bit of a Shure SM-81, which is a really accurate instrument mic for percussion. The brushed cymbal tone had an airy, dimensional signature without hardness — like you hear it in person.  Mic’d in stereo, the high hat really sounds good. All those brush harmonics really popped via the playback system.

Can’t beat em!
  Overall, my experience with the Mojave MA-50s was all positive, its rather neutral, accurate character allowed everything to come through as I wanted. The fast, transient response reminded me of a really good instrument mic, but the larger size gives sound more weight and authority. Coupled with the transparency of the Wireworld Equinox cables and the True P2 preamp, I consistently tracked, top-notch quality sample hi-res tracks with the MA-50‘s; 24 bit or DSD, the audible pleasure was all mine.

The verdict
  The Mojave MA-50 is an incredible bargain ($990 per pair retail) for a high-end, transformerless recording microphone. I was shocked to hear how revealing and how quiet it is. Auditioning a pair of MA-50s through my True Engineering P2 mic preamps and Wireworld Equinox premium mic cables, my 24/192 and DSD recordings of steel string acoustic, Classical and Jazz guitars showcased the mics' ever-present ability to pick up the detail. Ditto on piano and vocal. It is not a big sound, it is "the just right sound" with solid, extended bass, a spot-on midrange and airy high end — without being false. Plus, these babies are less than $1,000 pair on the street. Pretty good price for quality USA mics.

Award winning is understatement for MA-50

  Although the MA-50 is intended as an entry level, full-sized condenser, the results are anything but entry level. The MA-50 is a serious recording tool that is significantly above the plethora of $200-$300 microphones flooding the market. Whether a home recording fanatic or a seasoned, big studio pro, the Mojave MA-50 is worth a little extra coin to get this caliber of sound. A Big Stellar Sound Award  and a nod for mic of the year on EAN.


    John Gatski has been evaluating consumer, audiophile, home cinema and professional audio gear since 1988. In 1995, he created Pro Audio Review, and he has written for SoundOnSound, Audio, Laserviews, Enjoy The Music, The Audiophile Voice, High Performance Review, Radio World and TV Technology. Everything Audio Network is based in Kensington, Md. Articles on this site are the copyright of the ©Everything Audio Network. Any unauthorized use, via print or Internet, without written permission is prohibited. John Gatski can be reached via email: everything.audio@verizon.net