The following is my experience with the ACI Maestro:
It’s been a very long and bumpy road that has led me to the Maestro. So I’d thought I’d share some of my “subwoofer history” so you can see where I’ve been. Since I seriously started this hobby about six years ago (to a lesser level I’ve been in it for about 20 years), I’ve had more trouble finding a subwoofer that I’m completely
happy with then any other single component in my audio/HT system. No doubt much of this was due to my trying to find that perfect subwoofer that was both small and inexpensive, yet still did it all. Throw in the fact that I have never had an ideal room and my initial ignorance of how to properly setup a subwoofer, and it’s no wonder I had so much trouble.
Going on memory, here is a list of the subs I’ve owned in the past six years (you’ll probably think I’m nuts, my wife sure does
My first sub ever was an Audio Source (10” can’t remember the model # bought from Costco), Yamaha YST (two models one 8” and one 10”), Infinity 12” (model # ?), Velodyne CT100, Velodyne CT120, Def. Tech. ProSub100, Hsu VTF-2, Earthquake MKIV12, Def. Tech. SuperCube II, Paradigm PW-2200, SVS PB12-ISD (I think it actually was a different model # back then), Pinnacle BabyBoomer (2 of them), Pinnacle Sub-Sonic, Built-in subs in Phase Technology Teatro 10.5’s, ACI Force, Mini-Thunder (with Stryke AV12 driver), Mini-Thunder (with Rythmik Direct-Servo amp/driver), AND now……..the Maestro! I think that’s it. So the Maestro is my 20th subwoofer in about 6 years. Oh my…., I really don’t want to think about the time and $ I’ve invested here. Obviously, none of these subs are quite in the class of the Maestro (though cost wise the Earthquake was fairly close).
So now that you see how crazy I am, let’s get on with my impressions on the Maestro!
I was almost
completely happy with the Rythmik DirectServo Mini-Thunder sub I had, but for music it left me wanting just a little more, and I didn’t think I needed anything more for movies. With music being my main interest now, I wanted to try a sub that I thought was near the top of the line in this area. After 19 subwoofers in 6 years I was tired of “nickel and diming” around, it was time to step up to the plate and stop the subwoofer “merry-go-round I was on! Even though I knew the Maestro had the potential to stop this madness, I would have never imagined how much it was going to surprise me and how much of an extremely
enlightening experience it would be setting up and testing it!
Real quick I’ll list my equipment and room dimensions:
L/C/R speakers = Phase Technology PC 3.1II’s
Rear surrounds = Phase Technology V-Surrounds
Processor (and amp for rear channels) = Pioneer 56TXi
Amp for front channels = Odyssey HT-3
DVD/SACD/CD = Pioneer 47Ai (i.Link connection used with 56TXi)
I’ll leave out the video side as it does not pertain to the sub evaluation.
Now for the room……... Right off the bat you should know it SUCKS! The listening area is in a 12’ x 15’ corner of a “Great room” that is about 25’ x 30’ x 13’ (vaulted ceilings). There are only 2 solid walls in the listening area, in back and to the right. The wall in front (where the L/C/R and TV are is a short 7’ false wall, to the left opens into Kitchen, Dining, etc. There is actually a 2’ x 8’ “nook” at the back wall where the subwoofer sits behind the couch and primary listening spot. That’s not all. The majority of that right wall is three bay windows that stretch from a foot off the ground, to the ceiling. I’ve treated it as best as I could with drapes, carpet, and some absorption and diffusion material. Believe it or not with the Phase Tech. Speakers and using the Advanced MCACC on the 56TXi, it sounds pretty sweet I must say. The lower freq. Are all over the place though! Nothing many hours of tweaking won’t solve though!
Anyway on to the Maestro! When I first received it, I just wanted to plug it in and see how it sounded placed in my usual spot (and only option in my room) in the “nook” behind my couch. With the same EQ settings I used for the Mini-Thunder, I fired it up to see what she would do, adjusting the level by ear. Funny, after doing this so many times I’m usually spot-on with the level when adjusting by ear, and this time was no exception. I was immediately struck at how “perfect” it sounded integrated with my mains for music, I thought wow this is going to be easy. More on the music testing later! I then figured it would be best to use a SPL meter to officially set the level and optimize the phase and delay, which I did. Note:
that I did not try different positions or run a sweep test and adjust the PEQ yet (which turned out to be a huge oversight on my part). Afterwards, I figured I’d see how the Maestro faired with some LFE pumping through it. So I popped in a couple of my old favorites for room shaking bass, the beginning scenes of Armageddon and ID4. My first thought was “my 12 Mini-Thunder shook my room much more than this, what’s up?” OK, so I bypassed my PEQ to see if that would help. It did, but it seemed like I had to pump up the sub output level of my 56Txi much more than I’m used to. So I moved the Maestro around to see if I could find a better spot for it, thinking that with it’s sealed design that the optimum placement might be different than my past Ported/PR designed subs. That didn’t cut it either. I was puzzled at this point, so I contacted Craig C. (craigsub) and asked for some advice (knowing he’s owned and tested the Maestro a lot). He suggested taking the bottom plate off and facing it toward the listening position. Well that was better for movies but IMHO not so good for music in my room. Then I contacted Mike Dzurko hoping he knew what was going on. After talking with Mike we both thought the only logical explanation was something might be wrong with the amp. But, while I was waiting for the replacement amp (backordered), I thought I should start from absolute scratch and see if I could figure out if it was a setup problem. This is where the “Enlightening” part of this experience really started.
So I setup my RS SPL meter on a tripod (mic facing up) in my seated position and ran a freq. Sweep with my PEQ bypassed to plot my FR. To my surprise FR was down 13-15dB from 60-80Hz. With my Mini-Thunder PR sub it was 5-8dB placed in the same position. Long story a little shorter, I had to move the Maestro inch by inch in all my possible positions (behind the couch) to get the best output 20-80Hz with PEQ bypassed. Once I found that location (about 2 feet away from the previous spot), I optimized the FR curve with the PEQ, AND
the two crossovers on the Maestro amp. The latter adjustment totally took me off guard. Since the amp does not have a bypass and I like to use the internal crossover of my 56Txi (set at 80Hz), I usually just turn the crossover on the subwoofers I use all the way up in attempt to essentially bypass them. But something that Mike D. said just kept creeping back into my mind, and that was a lot of ACI customers found that they attained the best results by setting the amp crossovers at 80Hz. I just figured that was for people that only used the ACI x-over and not the one in their pre/pros. Anyway, I thought what the hell, I’ll try it. By setting the first x-over at about 145Hz and the second at about 155Hz, the FR was much smoother from 40Hz-80Hz, compared to turning the x-over to max. By the time I finished that particular night (or should I say the next day) at about 2AM, I was able to attain a very slight “house curve”. The FR varies only 5dB between 30-80Hz (I have one very narrow dip at 28Hz of about 7dB after EQ) and an overall rise of another 5dB from 25Hz to 18Hz. OK, so what did all this do for my movie testing……? Night and Day! Here is a graph of the FR before (pink) and after (blue) EQ. With the pre-EQ I did not turn the x-overs on the Maestro all the way up again or move the sub back to where my old sub placement was:
Now onto the real impressions after a complete and proper setup!
First up was ID4 with the “Spaceship flyover” at the very beginning. When the footprints on the moon started to shake, let’s put it this way, I “felt” like I was standing there on the moon as the Maestro shook my concrete foundation, hitting peaks of about 105dB at my seated position! (it easily would have gone louder, but that was enough for my ears). I will tell you this, it did not sound/feel the same as the other subs I’ve had in my room/system. All the other subs that I’ve had with pretty good SPL in my room (Earthquake, PW2200, PB12-ISD, Mini-Thunder, and to some extent the Supercube and VTF-2) would cause the pictures on nearby walls to rattle like crazy, yet none of them came close to pressurizing my room full of bass like the Maestro did. With the Maestro I “felt” it much more all around me and under me, but it did not make the pictures hardly rattle at all…..very weird! I don’t know a lot about it, but it seems the ported/PR subs I’ve owned must have interacted with my room in such a way that they aided in resonating the walls at just the right freq. so that pictures and other things would rattle. It’s really weird too, with the Maestro I can hear and feel the walls surrounding me shaking like I’ve never experienced before, yet hardly any picture rattles on the walls in the adjacent room that I have become so accustom to. When I hear/feel some Thunderous LFE tracks with the Maestro, that's basically all I'm hearing/feeling now! Very little of the distracting rattling noises……. Sweeeet!!
Anyway on to the next movie demo, next up was Apollo 13! With the Lift-off scene, I felt it hit hard and sustained through my chest and body with the couch rocking and a rolling (again picture rattling was practically non-existent). No sub I’ve ever owned pressurized my room with chest pounding visceral bass like this (without sounding “boomy”), not even close. When they cut back briefly to the command center, the bass stops on a dime! No rumbling overhang.
Next test, “Atlantis Lost Empire” the scene where the “Leviathan moves”. The couch, the back left wall, and me shook violently. But again, no picture rattle! The wave a bass just swept right through me! The “Space Truckin” scene from “Contact” was next. Let’s put it this way, I’ve seen this particular scene over 30 times, and I’ve never been transported to that movie like this before. Kind of corny, but it was like I was Jody Foster traveling through time! For my last LFE test (at least for these purposes) I used the infamous “Sock detonation” from “Monsters Inc.” It literally bounced me in my seat as the short DEEP vibration shot through my body. The visceral impact was instantaneous, then the Maestro again, stopped on a dime. I really could not believe what I experienced, one moment the bass was there filling my room with a huge shot of bass, and the next instant......... gone, and with more power than I’ve ever felt with this particular scene. Very cool……
As I’ve gotten older (notice I didn’t say matured
), I have found that my audio tastes have changed dramatically. When I first got into HT, in my early 20’s, all I wanted to listen to was loud action and Sci-Fi movies. And music, well…. I wanted LOUD Rock and Roll and that was about it. Jazz and classical I could do without. Fast-forward 15 + years, and Jazz is what I primarily listen to, though some classical, pop, and classic rock slip in there every once in awhile. I only convey this as a prelude as to how important music is to me now with regards to my system. Currently, if I’m lucky I’ll watch one movie a week, while I listen to Jazz almost every night in a dark room with eyes closed.
Enter the Maestro and my listening tests with some of my favorite bass tracks! First disc was the Telarc SACD Ray Brown, Monty Alexander, Russell Malone. I have never heard Ray Brown’s Bass sound so real. On the “Blues for Junior” track it was like I could see Ray plucking away right there in my room. The Maestro was so articulate and defined, no bloated overhang, just Ray doing his thing! What really amazed me in all my music tests is how well the Maestro blended with my mains and just plain disappeared.
Quite an amazing accomplishment if you ask me, considering it’s placed right behind me, while my mains are 9.5’ in front of me. With it crossed at 80Hz, the bass seemed to float effortlessly out in front with the rest of the music. Simply amazing! Anyway, I thought I’d see how the Maestro would fair with the opening to Hotel California on their DTS concert DVD. This song is one of my all time favorites, and with this versions rhythmic drum at the beginning, it just begs to be played LOUD! I just had to oblige!
The bass on those drum hits struck with authority, but again without even a hint of overhang, yep I have to say it….. just “stopping on a dime” (by now I’m sure you are seeing a pattern here
). The Maestro is simply the tightest, most articulate sub I’ve owned or heard, period. On to one of my favorite disks, just chalk full of “kick drum” bass! FourPlay’s “Between the Sheets”. Track one “Chant”, can easily make a lot of subwoofers sound “muddy” (as some notes last longer than normal), you guessed it the Maestro handled it easily. When the bass was supposed to be there it was, without any “boom” or overhang. When the note was over the Maestro was dead quiet! Back to some classic rock (ok, maybe more like pop-rock) for the next disk with the Elton John SACD “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”. Track two: Candle in the Wind”, track three: “Bennie and the Jets”, and track four: “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”, all have excellent Kick drums. The Maestro was again powerful yet tight. It really took all this music to another level! I had to put in the Blue Man Group DVD just for kicks, all I can say is I “felt” every hard hitting note, and the Maestro sailed through the disk effortlessly! Lastly, but certainly not least was Stanley Clarke’s “1,2, to The Bass” disk. I just bought this disk and my jaw just dropped when I heard Mr. Clarke through the Maestro! You’ve got to hear track #9 on a quality sub like the Maestro. I have never heard someone play bass sooooo fast! And I just could not believe how easily the Maestro kept up, at no time were the notes ever “blurred together”, each note was clear, defined, and articulate. This was especially cool because some of the notes went way above 80Hz and were being played mostly by my mains, and the Maestro integrated seamlessly with my PC3.1II’s all the way through, it’s ability to keep rhythm and pace is nothing short of amazing! Through it all, the Maestro never
called attention to itself, but when the bass needed to be there, it was there, and better then I could have ever imagined! Why, why…….. did I wait so long to get a quality sub?????? :confused:
One note I have to say that really is not that important, but should be said anyway. When we watch some standard sitcom that has some decent bass in it, with my other subs either I didn’t hear it or it seamed unnatural (like “boomy” for instance). With the Maestro, when some good upbeat hip-hop tune comes in the background of one of these shows it sounds incredible, totally disappearing in integration with my mains. I shouldn’t be surprised though, that’s exactly what I experience with everything I throw at the Maestro!
I learned a lot this time around! Not all sub designs sound the same, they interact with rooms differently (at least with mine), and ALWAYS re-calibrate from scratch when putting a new (especially a different designed) subwoofer in your system!!! Also something that should be noted and I cannot emphasize enough, Mike Dzurko, Brenda, and the whole ACI Company is an absolute class act! I have never been so pleased with customer service and support than I have with ACI. When the owner sends you his own personal amp because others are backordered, what else can you say?
My subwoofer journey is finally
over! Time to just enjoy!