McGary Audio

Essential Sound

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

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.

  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
Amplifier Channels: 7
Power Output (8Ω): 203W per channel
Minimum Speaker Load: 4Ω
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:

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