Warbler Prelude ($1100)
More than anything, the Prelude versus the Maestro is a battle for tone, with each of them having their own specific strengths. While both provide an above average accurate timbre, the Prelude’s warmer tuning sounds more natural, while the Maestro sounds more neutral. In addition, its resolution is greater, as is its transparency. But it in turn can’t compete with the Maestro’s fantastic stage.
For starters, the Maestro’s stage is wider and deeper. In addition, it’s also airier. As a result, its stage feels more open and vast, creating more room for instruments to breathe. In both cases their imaging is precise, though not analytically so, and their layering ability is good. But when all other factors are held constant, the Maestro has a natural advantage in separation, due to the size and airiness of its stage. Accordingly, there’s a certain effortlessness in the Maestro’s stage, beyond that of the Prelude.
Both the bass of the Maestro and Prelude reveals certain audiophile tendencies, such as a tuning for tone. The Maestro’s mid-bass has quite a nice tone, but the Prelude’s is top notch. It’s warmer, and truer. Similarly, its mid-bass resolution is greater. The Maestro on the other hand betters the Prelude in sub-bass extension, albeit by a small margin. In terms of quantity and impact, both hover around neutral, although the Maestro’s might be considered a bit more engaging.
Similarly, both monitors share a full-bodied, accurate-sounding midrange. Where the Maestro’s instruments have slightly more body, the Prelude’s are even more accurate in timbre. Generally, the Prelude’s midrange is warmer, and more natural-sounding, where the Maestro sounds clearer, and airier. But where the Maestro’s instruments might have more body, the Prelude’s vocals have greater density. They might be similar in overall forwardness and size, but the Prelude conveys pure vocal power, while being warmer in tone.
Again, the differences in treble come close. Maestro’s treble is realistic, and a top performer in this shootout – only to be trumped by the Prelude. The Prelude’s treble sounds just a touch warmer, and even more accurate in tone. In addition, it’s quicker, and slightly more articulate. The Maestro’s treble on the other hand has the greater extension.
64 Audio A18 Tzar ($2999)
64 Audio’s 18 driver makes for an impressive listen, combining a top-tier technical performance with an exciting sound. The Maestro can’t match the A18 when it comes to resolution and transparency, but has a few cards of its own. Tuned for tone, its instrument timbre is more accurate. And while its stage certainly isn’t as wide, its dimensions and structure are impressive in its own right.
The A18’s stage is exceptionally wide, and together with the W900, has stretched the predefined limits for iems. Even though the Maestro can’t match its width, its stage is deeper, with more even proportions between width and depth. Accordingly, the Maestro constructs an even, three-dimensional presentation, where the A18 primarily relies on its width for separation. In both cases, it’s an airy stage, and the image is well-defined. While the A18’s imaging is more precise, the Maestro betters it in terms of depth and layering ability. Accordingly, there isn’t a large difference in separation. But due to the A18’s improved resolution, its portrayal of detail is significantly better.
The A18’s bass has better low-end extension, as well as greater quantity. It’s a lower-reaching, more impactful bass – and especially so with the M20 module. A satisfying bass for enthusiasts. In addition, the A18’s bass is quicker. With the M15 module their quantity is similar, with the A18’s bass now sounding a bit drier.The Maestro’s tone however is slightly more accurate. The definition of the mid-bass is roughly similar, although the A18 gets the edge.
The A18’s midrange is vastly different, providing a quick and exciting sound, as well as a high level of detail. The A18’s modules determine the tone, with the M20 sounding smoother, warmer, and more natural, while the M15 sounds a bit cleaner by comparison. In both cases, the A18 bests the Maestro in transparency, while the Maestro’s midrange sounds more accurate – its specialty. In addition, Maestro’s vocals have slightly greater size and forwardness, while the A18’s sound denser, especially in the higher regions. In addition, Maestro’s instruments have slightly more body, while the A18’s sound more resolved.
The A18’s upper treble region is not only greatly superior in extension, it’s also generally more pronounced. As a result, the A18’s treble sounds more clear, and its detail retrieval is superior. In addition, it’s decay is quicker. However, its timbre is brighter by comparison, especially with the M15 module. The Maestro might not be able to match its extension and detail, its timbre is more accurate, while being slightly smoother.
The Maestro V2 isn’t necessarily a monitor that wows upon first listening – I’ll admit there was an adjustment period preceding appreciation. For instance, its resolution and transparency aren’t particularly high, especially when compared to the new elite. But for listeners that put on an iem to just listen to the sound, rather than its analyzing its performance, the Maestro will be doing a lot of things right. It’s clear, versatile, and full-bodied. People on occasion ask for a monitor that ‘disappears’ when you listen to it. I’m not going to say that Maestro does exactly that, because when I put on an iem, I’m listening to that iem. But in this case, the general lack of coloration is impressive. The beauty comes from letting the music just be what it is, and appreciating the Maestro for doing just that.
Only when you start to pay closer attention at exactly why that happens, it becomes clear that it required a delicate thought-out tuning to get it to sound that way. Maestro sounds authoritative, but smooth. Clear, but accurate. It shines, without sounding bright. And it doesn’t just impress with its tone, but its fantastic stage and presentation. Nicely bodied instruments reside in an airy, three-dimensional stage. There might be more resolved monitors on the market, but you won’t feel like you’re missing a detail due the effortless of its separation, and the clarity of its sound.
Unique Melody Maestro V2
+Timbre and presentation
+Stage and separation
-Resolution and transparency