AudioControl Maestro M9 Surround Processor Review Page 2

Eventually I got things running, though. The software walks you through the recommended measurement points based on your selected seating type and ultimately provides you with in-depth graphs that show the measured response for each speaker, a default target response that can be tailored to your liking, and an estimated post-calibration response with the target applied. At the time of my evaluation, the program measured my overhead speakers installed for Atmos and set distances, channel levels, and crossover for them, but didn't provide for any equalization of these channels. That functionality has since been added.

Once done with the calibration process the software allows you to save the results and calibration file. You can do this as many times as you want, allowing you to save multiple setups for different configurations and simply load them to the processor. This is flexibility that is sorely missing from some of the more prominent EQ solutions out there today like Audyssey. It allows you to experiment with different EQ curves, limits and crossovers without having to redo the entire process over and over again.

Test Drive
For my first go around I decided to just use Dirac’s default correction curve and settings with no additional fine tuning. This is what I expect most custom installers would use as well as most customers. Dirac corrects both the measured frequency response and impulse response, so the recommended room correction is also in the time domain. It was a bit disconcerting to find that even after loading the Dirac results into the Maestro and selecting it as the EQ solution, the setup menus didn’t populate completely with the settings that I assumed Dirac should have loaded. While distances for most of the speakers measured were entered, there was no indication of distance for the subwoofer, and all channel levels were set to zero. The default crossover was also untouched. Follow up conversations with AudioControl confirmed that, despite the lack of changes in the menus, Dirac does indeed apply crossovers on a per speaker basis and time alignment is done on the subwoofer channel (the M9 has dual subwoofer outputs but they are mirrored and not independent). While I’m glad that Dirac does deliver more flexibility than the manual setup route, I would have preferred to see all the levels and crossovers in the display in case I wanted to fine tune the results myself. Again, this was one more of the little things that nagged on me during the setup process that I don’t typically run into with processors at or near this price point.

With the corrections done I dove into my initial listening sessions, using my reference Emotiva XPR and XPA amplifiers driving my Legacy Audio Focus SE mains, Marquis center, Phantom surrounds and Golden Ear Technology in-walls for my overhead Atmos channels. Four Seaton Sound Submersive subwoofers are used for LFE and all bass-managed signals.

I always start listening tests with material that I use constantly not only for testing and evaluation but also for demos and fine tuning. I’ve cultivated a large assortment of music and movie clips specifically for this and I’ve become intimately familiar with the content, allowing me to immediately perceive differences between playback hardware. One of the first things that struck me about the Maestro’s sound was the distinct air and detail in music. I love the sound of my reference Marantz processor but there were some subtle improvements here when it came to nuance. Listening to a high resolution recording of Diana Krall’s “Peel Me a Grape” was intoxicating with the Maestro. Fine details in the recording emerged, with a great sense of air around not only Krall’s lush vocals but also around each instrument accompanying her. Imaging inside the soundstage was fantastic and each piece of the performance sounded a bit more tactile in the space than I was used to. But I also started noticing a slight resonance that shouldn't be there in some of the upper frequencies of Krall’s vocals, which I confirmed by putting my ear up to the folded ribbon midrange of my mains. It would only flare up on occasion, but it was something I’d never heard before in my setup.

Another issue was slightly weaker bass output than I'm used to hearing. Bass articulation, especially in plucked bass strings, was fantastic, but the sound lacked my system's usual authority in the absolute bottom end. The track “Find My Way” from the latest album from Nine Inch Nails, Hesitation Marks, is one of my favorites for showing off the bass prowess of my system when it’s dialed in perfectly. The tactile nature of this track delivers a visceral experience with subs as capable as the Seatons. But I wasn’t getting that impact.

After hearing similar issues with multiple tracks I decided to go back into the Dirac setup and see if I could fine tune things a bit. Limiting the Dirac corrections to a much smaller frequency range below 500 Hz immediately took away that slight strain I was hearing from the mains with higher frequencies. This only confirmed for me the theory out there that suggests not trying to EQ the higher frequencies in a room, which are effected more from reflections than the room’s modes and are better served by acoustic treatments. I also spent a lot of time adjusting the default curve for the subwoofer to deliver a bit more of a house curve with a rising slope as frequency decreases. That and fine-tuning the sub levels brought back most of what I was missing on the lower end. Now I was hearing the solid foundation in the more intense bass heavy tracks I enjoy but still had the mesmerizing detail in the fine notes and vocals. This was especially true listening to the cover of U2’s “One” by Damien Rice. I was lucky enough to nab a CD copy of this and it delivers goosebumps with Rice’s moody interpretation. The Maestro was earning a top spot with its music performance now.

Moving onto movies provided a bit more of the same. I’ve been enjoying immersive audio with overhead channels in my room for a while now, and once you’ve experienced it with the best content out there it would be impossible to go back. One of the standouts during my time with the M9 was the Blu-ray release of 10 Cloverfield Lane with its gripping Dolby Atmos soundtrack. This soundtrack is relentless in its building of tension and it unleashes some intense sonic assaults that will have you grabbing your armrest at the most unsuspecting moments. Imaging from the main soundstage to the overhead channels was seamless and truly provided an immersive bubble of sound. But even non-Atmos soundtracks were a treat with the available Dolby Surround upmixing that takes advantage of the height speakers. My daughter had us on a recent Harry Potter binge, and listening to Voldemort warn the students of Hogwarts about their impending doom was unsettling, to say the least. The sinister voice floated around and above me with no clear distinction as to where it was emanating from. The balance of sounds going from one channel to another was so perfect you would never know that different types or even brands of speakers were used, a testament to how the Maestro M9 integrated them.

End of the Line
Ultimately I had very mixed feelings about the Maestro M9. This is a very capable audio processor that delivers a sonic experience representative of its price point. But I also feel that, at its price, we should be seeing a more refined setup routine and options, and the connectivity commensurate with this end of the market. It was hard to ignore that my reference processor is nearly half the cost but offers considerably more customization and connectivity. Still, there is no ignoring how good this processor sounds with Dirac dialed in properly, or how beautiful it looked sitting on my shelf. While its shortcomings and price won’t allow me to give it a top recommendation, my ears are still reminiscing over its sweet sound.