Magazine article Gramophone

Pro-Ject MaiA: Ultra-Compact Amplifier with Remarkable Flexibility

Magazine article Gramophone

Pro-Ject MaiA: Ultra-Compact Amplifier with Remarkable Flexibility

Article excerpt

Last month I looked at the striking NAD D 3020 digital amplifier, with its unusual vertical design and volume control vaguely reminiscent of a Dalek. This month it's another compact integrated amp, this time with a more conventional format--only smaller.

Any time I visit a Pro-Ject stand at a hi-fi show I think I know I'm going to see turntables and an array of the tiny Box Design hi-fi components, now encompassing everything from phono stages to CD players and digital-to-analogue converters. However, Pro-Ject also has a knack of surprising visitors, and in this case the surprise was the MaiA amplifier, standing just under 4cm tall and a little over 20cm wide, and yet managing to cram in no fewer than nine inputs. Not only that, but among those inputs are aptX-capable Bluetooth, asynchronous USB for computer connection and a moving magnet phono stage for a turntable.

The name means My Audiophile Integrated Amplifier, but while that, the compact dimensions and the light weight--it only weighs 1.25kg without its offboard power supply--might appear to conspire to give the Pro-Ject the air of a toy, there's substance to this little amplifier, which sells for 399 [pounds sterling]. As well as those inputs already mentioned, it has three stereo analogue line-ins (two on RCA phonos, one on a 3.5mm socket), two optical and one coaxial/ electric digital input, and outputs on speaker terminals and a 'full-size' 6.3mm headphone socket, plus a variable line level output on a 3.5mm socket. The USB and coaxial digital inputs can support content at up to 2 4-bit/192 kHz, while the optical inputs support 24-bit/96kHz, with digital-to-analogue conversion being handled by a Cirrus Logic multibit Delta Sigma DAC.

Meanwhile, the phono stage is derived from the design of Pro-Ject's best-selling Phono Box, meaning it's a major part of the design here and not just a makeweight, while the amplifier modules are sourced from Japanese company Flying Mole, founded back in 2000 by former Yamaha engineers. Here its amplifier modules deliver 25W per channel into an 8 ohm load, and 3 7 W into 4 ohms, and are coupled with Pro-Ject's low-noise preamplifier circuitry, with further noise reduction being achieved by the use of that offboard power supply. Available with silver or black faceplates to match other models in the Pro-Ject Box Design S-Series, the MaiA comes with a remote handset.

PERFORMANCE

Setting up and using the Pro-Ject MaiA is hardly an onerous task. The mains transformer plugs into the rear of the amplifier, and a small Bluetooth antenna provided in the box screws on to a terminal also on the back panel. Speakers are connected using terminal slightly closely spaced--no doubt due to the relatively small amount of space available on the back of this little amp--but able to take either 4mm banana plugs or (with a little care) bare wire ends, which are clamped down with screw inserts.

No drivers are needed when using the MaiA asynchronous USB input with Apple computers, but when using Windows PCs the driver provided on a CD in the box will need to be loaded. Finally, the little remote handset is powered by a single button-type battery: it offers on/standby, volume up/down and input selection (on buttons marked 'CH+/-'), these functions duplicated by the volume knob and tiny buttons on the front of the amplifier, which also carries input indicators.

Suprisingly given its size, the MaiA amplifier will form a highly competent hub for small-scale systems--you can hook it up to large floorstanding speakers. It will drive them reasonably provided you don't have a large room you want to fill with music at very high levels--though there is distinct thickening-up of the sound and a rather brittle treble when you push it hard.

However, use it as you might expect it to be intended, driving speakers of more modest size and reasonable sensitivity, and this little amplifier is very much in its element. …

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