Maverick Audio TubeMagic A1 integrated amp

22.02.2012..

The name Maverick refers to many characters, from the poker players of an American cowboy series to the Marvel superheroes. From its part, Maverick Audio is a new and hardened company based in Hong Kong that declares to introduce a bit of the “old school” in the world of the digital music. The first product is a hybrid amplifier with a tube preamp stage and a power stage that recalls the minimalist philosophy started by the Japanese 47 Lab with the Gaincards, and led off afterwards to the Gain-clones strand. The second product is a USB/DAC with a headphone amp and a preamp output with volume control. Also this last one can be with tube or transistors. Both products are not very expensive with a free upgrading of the tubes on demand. In this first episode I will review the Maverick Audio TubeMagic A1, whereas in a second episode the DAC D1 converter. Troniteck, a company that offers an efficient internet order selling and exhaustive technical info, distributes both devices. The official local distributors of the Maverick Audio are available here.

 

Aesthetics and functionality

The cabinet of the Maverick is quite small and hosts internal components of good quality. Among them, an R-core transformer, which, according to the manufacturer, sounds cleaner than the sound coming from a toroidal transformer. There are also metallic film resistances and tantalum capacitors. The TubeMagic has a rear IEC mains socket for the power cables: an appreciable solution if you want to use cables of quality for upgrading and to avoid external power supply units. Below the unit are four rubber feet. The A1 can also work as a tube preamp thanks to a RCA output and a headphone jack output with volume control. There are two inputs: the first is placed on the front fascia and consists of a 6,3 mm jack suitable for MP3 players or computers (a mini jack adapter is provided). The second input is on the rear and has the standard RCAs apt to connect a CD player or a tuner or a turntable with a pre phono stage. On the rear, there is also a pair of loudspeakers terminals for banana pins, a pair of light gold-plated RCAs for the pre output and a voltage switch (220-240V/110V). The front fascia hosts the on/off switch, the ubiquitous light blue LED, a bigger knob for the volume, a smaller on/off input selector. On the right, there are the input jack and the headphone jack output. Externally everything is simple, no-frills, and of budget quality. No remote control. Thus, an essential look dedicated to function, without any particular flick but also without any unpleasant aspect and with a blue LED, once in a while, absolutely relaxing.

 

Use and listening impressions

The sound performances are the most important part of a listening test and I must premise that I have had some pleasant and unexpected surprises. I made the test with my home system: ProAc Studio 125 loudspeakers, Marantz CD63 KIS CD Player used as a transport, and Stat Audio S501 DAC converter. At the beginning, the amp was in its basic configuration that is with its “standard” tubes: not the Tung-Sol tubes pictured on the website but some Chinese 6J1. I have found the sound appropriate for the price level of the amp and with an adequate power to drive quite tough loudspeakers. Appreciable the soundstage reproduction with not many musical instruments. The soft tone with a pleasant mid range and a smooth reproduction of the voices has shown that something was lacking in the bass range, which was not well defined and controlled. The extreme high range was not very extended. Altogether, a good sound for the amp range.

The scene has completely changed with the NOS tubes supplied by the manufacturer: two factory-matched Raytheon military grade 6AK5. More dynamics, a deep image, more bass control, more high extension, better sense of the rhythm. You start on your chair from the first moment without running in the 6AK5. Only after twenty hours of listening session, the sound adjusts on optimal levels. In the first configuration, the TubeMagic A1 seemed to me a fair product without any exceptionality. Now it can compete, from a sonic point of view, with the best products of the same category of price and probably it outdoes. Bear always in mind some limits in the possible matches: the claimed output power is 20 watt into 8 Ohms. That implies avoiding low efficiency loudspeakers or those ones with problematic impedance. With the Studio 125, the sound levels were enjoyable and I would say “complete”. It could be easy for me to cope with the A1 provided with the Raytheon, except for the limit, in my opinion, of only two inputs. Then I have tested the A1 with my garage system. I have made some plug-unplug tests and I have connected the A1 to the Mission M32i loudspeakers with a silver power cable: the QED Silver 25th Anniversary S.E. A very synergic interface.

Digital source: an always valid DVD/USB Trevi 3520 player leant on three “UPIM feet” (rubber door protectors of about 3 cm of height) with analog or optical digital outputs. I have tested a Gain-clone power amp with an Ucchino motherboard provided with a National LM1875 chip – a close device to the LM1876 of the A1 – and I have employed the Maverick pre tube stage. Notwithstanding the previous good performances, the Gain-clone - maybe without a correct warm-up – has lost remarkably in comparison with the power amp stage of the A1. The sound of this last one was more detailed and rich, with more harmonics and space references. Then I have tried the Trends Audio 10.1 in a power amp configuration. In comparison with the Maverick the Trends has performed in a pleasant way, refined and detailed, but with a loss in the capacity of driving, in dynamics and in accuracy of the mid-bass range. A last thing about the headphone output, tested with the faithful Sennheiser HD600: agreeable, satisfactory usable for the night listening sessions.

 

Suggestions and warnings

This object is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Already decent in the straight version, it has shined in the improved version (with more performing tubes), that I strongly recommend. Together with the Chinese tube amps with four EL84 type FV34C, this upgraded version is on top of a price category around 300,00 EUR. Of course, you have to choose not very tiff loudspeakers and consider two inputs as sufficient, with the advantages of the pre output and of the headphone one. Furthermore, if paired with his little brother, the D1 DAC, the connectivity of this couple will broaden enormously. The manufacture can be improved mostly in the rear RCA connectors, but, all in all, it is compatible with the price range. I have to signal that towards the end of the test the switching on LED went off.  I suggest dynamic and neutral cables to be chosen in synergy with the other components. As it is rather sensitive to supports, try various feet – always great the Polipods – or, in the case of spikes, the cheap and practical blind nuts. Speaking of sources, the target of the design is principally the streaming music, of good level I would say, so 320kb MP3 files, better uncompressed and with a good DAC to avoid debasing the great potentialities of the TubeMagic A1.

Good news if you want to purchase a budget hybrid amplifier without giving up to a great sound quality and to a bit of “tube magic”: typical features of more expensive components.

 

Selection of listened music

Vivaldi, Harmonic inspiration, Fabio Biondi, EURpa galante, 2CD Virgin

Bobby Watson, Love remains, CD Red Records

Rosario Giuliani and Franco D’Andrea, Duets for Trane, CD Philology, in MP3 320kb

The Eagles, Hell Freezes Over, CD Geffen Records, in WAV

Brahms, Violin concert e Double concert, Szerying and Starker, Haitink, Royal Concertgebouw Amsterdam, CD Philips Classic

 

Official technical specifications:

Audio inputs:

Analog audio input x 1 (Analog)

Line-in audio input x 1 (Analog)

Analog connector: RCA, 1000k ohms

Audio output:

All RCA connectors are gold-plated

Volume control is provided for all outputs

Power outputs: 20 watts per channel (into 8 ohms), 40 watts per channel (into 4 ohms)

Frequency Response: 20Hz – 25KHz

Input Impedance: 100K ohms

Analog RCA outputs signal-to-noise ratio: >90dB

Tube pre-out outputs signal-to-noise ratio: >90dB

Total harmonic distortion: less than 0.1% (Tube pre-out outputs and analog outputs)

Headphone maximum output power: 1000mW x 2 (32 ohms), 500mW x 2 (300 ohms), 300mW x 2 (600 ohms)

Headphone outputs:

Standard 1/4″ jack

Minimum headphone impedance: 16 ohms

Maximum headphone impedance: 600 ohms

Headphone output power: 300mW ~ 1000mW

Power:

R-core Linear 110/220 manual switch

Physical:

Dimensions: 10″W x 2.1″H x 6.5″D (260mm x 55mm x 167mm)

Finish: brushed aluminium in black colour

HARDWARE - What’s included:

User’s quick start guide

Line-in cord for most iPod and other MP3 players with standard 3.5 mm jack

1/8″ (3.5mm) to 1/4″ (6.5mm) gold plated headphone jack converter

AC Power Cord

Official Italian dealer: to Troniteck Distribuzione website

Official current price in Italy:

TubeMagic A1 259.00 EUR

TubeMagic A1 Upgrade Raytheon 6AK5 289.00 EUR

Two tubes 6AK5 70.00 EUR

Associated equipment: to Fabio "Puzzled" Barbato system

 
by Fabio Barbato
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