I’ve never forgotten the sonic appeal of the Clearaudio Maestro Wood cartridge, which I reviewed back in 2008 (Issue 185). It appeared at a moment when I was still mourning the collapse of my final Shure V15 VxMR moving magnet and the announcement that its production run was over. The Maestro Wood stepped in and filled the void left by the iconic V15 and in many ways bettered that venerable cartridge’s performance. Although it was a step up in price, I concluded that the Wood was a sweet-talking, addictively balanced performer that “kept its eye on the big picture.”
But time marches on, and recently the aging Maestro was upgraded to V2 Ebony status, joining Clearaudio’s completely rebooted series of moving-magnet cartridges—the entry-level Performer V2 Ebony ($400 output, 3.6mV), the Artist V2 Ebony ($600, 3.8mV), and the Virtuoso V2 Ebony ($900, 4.0mV). These three models are outfitted with aluminum cantilevers and elliptical styli. Nothing so prosaic for the Maestro V2 Ebony, however. Clearaudio has served up something special for its top-tier moving magnet.
The V2 Ebony swaps the earlier Trygon P2 stylus of the Maestro Wood with Clearaudio’s Micro HD stylus. Mounted to a solid boron cantilever, the Micro HD is ultra-low-mass, while the overall assembly is identical to the one used on all of the upper-crust Clearaudio moving-coil cartridges, including the Goldfinger Statement. In comparison to the older Maestro Wood, the Maestro V2 Ebony has a higher 4.2mV output (versus 3.6mV) and offers improved channel separation over the less expensive new models—up from >30dB to >32dB. All of this is courtesy of the improved and more powerful generator, as well as the tighter-tolerance magnets. The Maestro V2 utilizes a tonewood (i.e., ebony) chassis in an enlarged design, where the earlier Maestro used a lower-density Fernambuk wood body. Ebony, well regarded in the musical-instrument world for its extremely high density, also delivers resonance characteristics in keeping with Clearaudio’s best. Like the Wood before it, the Maestro Ebony's wood body fully encloses the motor assembly, but the cantilever assembly is forward of the cartridge body and precariously exposed.
In the interests of full disclosure, my own LP playback system hasn’t remained untouched since I reviewed the Maestro Wood five years ago. The Sota Cosmos vacuum turntable went back to the factory for a much-needed tune-up and upgrade to series IV status. Also I’m currently using the superb John Curl-designed Parasound JC 3 phonostage as my reference and Audience Au24e impedance-matched phono cabling. The totality of these changes has made significant differences in overall neutrality and resolution.
Even so, the Maestro has also made considerable strides over its forbear particularly in the area of responsiveness. There’s a light- ness and speed in the way it resolves transients. Not that its predecessor was sluggish, but the Maestro Ebony has shed some of that cartridge’s extra warmth, resulting in a more faithful and quicker sound. Like its predecessor it retains a fluidity of character that makes it sound as if the grooves of every record were pre-oiled. Throughout my listening sessions the Maestro tracked very cleanly.
Tonally it travels straight down the rich and wide middle of the sonic spectrum. Its inherent midrange energy and overall balance bring symphonic recordings to life, unifying each section of the orchestra into the greater whole of the ensemble. It never favors a particular tonal range that might, for example, embellish strings or gild the brass section or add string section glitter to Vaughan- Williams’ Wasps Overture. At times it conveys a hint of shadowing on top, yet (and this is personal) it’s a forgiving characteristic that’s far easier on the ears than the false buoyancy created by cartridges that add detail by juicing up the treble. We’ve all heard this for ourselves when we hear a female vocalist that we’re familiar with (I like using Jennifer Warnes or early Joni Mitchell) and suddenly, with the latest and improved “it” cartridge, the vocal image appears with a sonic halo encircling the sung note, as if the mastering engineer has twisted a 5–10kHz knob a couple dB.