Box Design integrated amplifier from Pro-Ject Audio

[MaiA integrated amplifier - front view]

Not at all an orthodox audiophile amplifier

Product: MaiA integrated amplifier
Manufacturer: Pro-Ject Audio
Price: AU$ 799 - (Currency conversion)
Reviewer: Richard Varey - TNT New Zealand
Reviewed: December, 2016

Introduction

Right now as I write, something strange is happening in my wind and rain swept listening room here in New Zealand. Before me is a huge and detailed soundstage emanating from a wee box sitting almost lost amid two floorstanding speakers. Let me explain.

In the March review of Pro-Ject Audioís Box Design micro-component home audio system, this amplifier was described as suitable for hifi beginners. It has four notable features that suggest that it could be something rather more special, and when our local distributor Interdyn offered one for in-depth audition, I jumped at the chance. Those features are the Flying Mole OEM dual mono amplifier section, a full nine inputs including moving magnet phono, a 24-bit 192 kHz DAC integrated, and an attractive price. Surely this is more than a beginnerís option?

It is on first sight apparently ridiculously small - looking not at all like an orthodox audiophile amplifier (it isnít orthodox, and thatís the point!). What you donít get for your $799 is a big hot-running box. This unit is only 206 x 36 x 150 mm and weighs just 1.25 Kg! What you do get for your money is a very very competent amplifier, bluetooth connection, remote control, high definition file handling DAC, a solid metal case, and more.

Living with MaiA

My first impression out of the box was - itís very very small, yet perfectly formed, both stylish and post-modernly minimalist, in this case in black. Connected between my Audio Pro Avanti floorstanders, it looks ludicrously tiny, yet it delivers quite a kick, and so controlled and with finesse, not anywhere near aggressive or coarse. This little gem is not troubled by the challenge of driving large floorstanders, in this case my Audio Pro Avanti A100 DC.

My first impression of the sonic character was Ö. wow! The MaiA presents music so clearly and dynamically. The soundstage is big and detailed and very engaging. I am astounded that such a compact amplifier can turn out such enjoyable sound. There is no strain or lack of volume, although I sense that the bass is somewhat subdued, although that is happily compensated by the richness of the presentation.

At the heart of this product is a Flying Mole audiophile digital amplifier module. This diminutive amplifier effortlessly delivers lively, forward, solid, yet detailed stereo image and thus is highly convincing in creating the illusion of real musical performance. As an example, The Fall from Norah Jones is a rich and hugely enjoyable musical tapestry with lots of depth and texture - a quite dreamy musical journey that feels like an intimate house gig with the maestro and her band of musicians.

I connected my PC to the USB input and installed the software driver and set the MaiA as the default audio device. Playing music files and YouTube audio through the onboard DAC worked first time without a hitch. And I also liked the headphone performance.

I couldnít find anything to dislike with the features or performance, and not only feel that it is a serious consideration for a price-conscious buyer, but also that this product is something rather special.

Why is it designated MaiA? This simply stands for “My Audio Integrated Amplifier”, and is presumably pronounced “my A”.

The ethos of the range of hich this is a part is a design that provides great input flexibility and a pure, unprocessed signal path to the audio-lover on a budget. This reflects the Pro-Ject Audio story too. Austrian audio maker Pro-Ject started as a maker of turntables because the team understood that vinyl can be the most cost-effective way to get the best sound possible.

[MaiA integrated amplifier - rear view]

Conclusion

Put simply, I love this little gem. The MaiA may be tiny, but it sure ainít tinny (thanks for the pun go to Bryan Cobley, my hifi buddy from the Audiophile UK Facebook group I joined recently).

Iíve had some real surprises recently with performance-price-size ratios not previously thought possible (if even imagined as potential and desirable) - this one is a true delight. You get a lot for your money - high performance audiophile amplifier and USB DAC with Bluetooth and headphone connectivity - and every time I switched on this unit, I was reminded of my initial feeling of astonishment at how much functionality and enjoyable performance is packed into this little box. Punch above its weight? Oh, yes! Do I recommend it? Yes, I do, and donít be misled by that price tag. This is simply an outstanding performer that breaks the mould for contemporary home audio amplification.

Thanks to Leigh Fischer, Brand Manager at Interdyn New Zealand for arranging the loan of a sample of this excellent product.

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© Copyright 2016 Richard Varey - richard@tnt-audio.com - www.tnt-audio.com