Posted on

MANLEY ABSOLUTE HEADPHONE AMPLIFIER – THE MAKINGS OF A LEGEND

MANLEY ABSOLUTE HEADPHONE AMPLIFIER – THE MAKINGS OF A LEGEND

Back in the late nineteen eighties I ran a small boutique by appointment only high end HiFi shop, and at that time our preamplifier of choice was the MANLEY (their first and only product at the time if my memory serves correctly), which we considered to be the finest audio product in the world. Not long after that, MANLEY moved into pro audio which they quickly took by storm and has remained their primary focus ever since. When I met Zia Faruqi at T.H.E. Show Newport 2016 demonstrating the original samples of the MANLEY Absolute Headphone Amplifier I knew this was a product I had to review. Not only was it aesthetically distinctive and beautiful, it offered unique features not seen before in Personal Audio, and exceptional performance that was apparent even at a crowded HiFi show.

If I have this correctly, Zia Faruqi was David Manley’s first employee at the first Vacuum Tube Logic company in England in the 1980’s. The Absolute Headphone Amplifier was Zia’s brain child and he is responsible for the Design Concept, Industrial Design and acted as Project Manager throughout the entire development process going so far as to personally accompany the product to a plethora of Personal Audio Expos.

MANLEY Absolute Headphone Amplifier

The MANLEY Absolute Headphone Amplifier:

The MANLEY Absolute Headphone Amplifier boasts of fifteen independent operational controls “each of which was exhaustively developed for convenient adjustability and aural variety.” Two selectable stereo RCA jack pairs of their own design, Teflon® insulated and gold plated, receive the input signals. The volume is controlled on the facia by a front thumb wheel or by the included RF remote control employing a precision stepped relay ladder matrix attenuator in half dB steps, with the Mute switch situated next to the volume control wheel. Vertically mounted just in front of the tubes you will find Baxandall Bass and Treble equalizers that can be completely bypassed via a separate button, and a Balance Control which has a signal swing of up to 144 dB (In the center detent position the balance control is completely removed from the circuit).

In addition to the EQ bypass switch there is a button for mono, source, output (¼” TRS Headphone Jack, a 4-pin XLR Balanced Stereo Output for your high-end balanced headphones, and a set of stereo RCA outputs to use the Absolute Headphone Amplifier as a line-level preamplifier in an existing hifi system) and a button that cycles the transformers through three ranges of output loads (Low 12-50 Ohm, Mid 50-200 Ohm, High 200-600 Ohms).

There is also a selectable Bypass Thru Mode that sends RCA Input 1 directly to the RCA Outputs, when in STANDBY mode, as well as a user adjustable Headphone Overload Protection System which allows you to preset a maximum output level.

Which brings me to the two most interesting and unique features; the first being the ability to switch on-the-fly between all-triode Push-Pull to Single-Ended topology. Essentially, in Push-Pull mode the Harmonic Distortion is significantly lower, power output is greater and noise floor should be lower, whereas Single-Ended completely alters the harmonic structure from odd-order to even-order which is more musical.

The other is my favorite feature the Variable Feedback control which allows you to control the amount of overall negative feedback applied to the amplifier from 0dB, or no Global Negative Feedback, to 10dB of Negative Feedback.

“Negative Feedback in electronics is when a small portion of the output signal is re-introduced back to the input signal to provide a more stable and beneficial corrective result. This control is very useful when determining how “tight” you want your amplifier to sound. For example, a simple female vocal with minimal percussion can sound more intimate with very little feedback, but a complicated symphony orchestra passage may sound better positioned with more feedback. Applying different amounts of negative feedback can also affect the slew rate and apparent “speed” of the sonic character. Other aspects for which to listen include placement, forward or relaxed, darker vs shimmering, or punchy vs mellow.”

On to technical features; the Absolute Headphone Amplifier features custom hand-wound air-gapped dual-mode MANLEY IRON® output transformers, designed and manufactured at the Manley Labs factory in California. It also incorporates their own innovative purpose-designed-for-audio High Voltage switched-mode power supply. “All super-low impedance DC rails are fully regulated and worlds quieter than any linear supply we have ever encountered.”

The review sample I received was fitted with Ruby 12AX7WBC input tubes and RCA 6AQ5A vacuum tubes in the output

The solid billet chassis for the Manley Absolute Headphone Amplifier is available in three color options: Black, Copper, and Silver, and feature hand-rubbed walnut-burl veneer accents for the headphone head-band and ear pad rest areas.

MANLEY Absolute Headphone Amplifier

The Listening:

For sources I began with the Schiit Modi 3 (review upcoming), later switching in the Questyle Audio CMA400i, the Questyle Audio CAS192D eventually settling into the Questyle Audio SHB2 Super Sourceand finished off with my Audible Illusions phono stage and a turntable. As to headphones I used the MrSpeakers ETHER2, the MrSpeakers ETHER C Flows and the Audeze LCD3 headphones.

I will start with, you get out of the Manley Absolute Headphone Amplifier exactly what you put into it, which is high praise for an amplifier, and unusual for headphone amplifiers, especially tube headphone amplifiers because many Personal Audio designers seem to be under the delusion that the amplifier should somehow “improve” the sound of the signal fed into it, this usually means rolling off the highs or adding bass or midrange, or adding delay to create more “air”, or messing with the phase to create a more three dimensional image and soundstage, or dynamic range expansion, or a myriad of other tricks to fool people into believing an amplifier sounds better, not to mention basics like TIMD which makes the amplifier sound crisper, and gives the impression of added detail (well there is added detail, the Transient InterModulation Distortion itself, but that’s not music), when in fact any change in the signal is simply degradation and distortion.

After a bit of experimentation, I found that running single ended with the Negative Feedback set to its fully on position (the default position) most fit my tastes and produced the greatest musicality. Listening to Artur Pizarro & Vita Panomariovaite piano duo performance of Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade Op 35Andantino quasi allegretto” (Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov Piano Duos – 24/48 kHz) through the ETHER C Flows was a magical experience with the piano reproduced full and natural in a large recital hall with excellent dynamics, timbre, speed and soundstage.

Dusty Springfield’s voice was palpable and intimate through the ETHER2s for “The Look of Love” (Casino Royale – 24/192 kHz) bracketed on a Jazz Club stage by the upright bass, drums, piano and guitar. The saxophone, brass and strings were warm and inviting without any of the usual harshness associated with those instruments.

The LCD3s let me explore the Absolute Headphone Amplifier’s ability to handle higher impedance loads, and the on the fly impedance switch made it quick and easy work to change headphones. “Sister Seagull” from BeBop Deluxe’s Live in the Air Age (16/44.1) was reproduced lifelike and lively with a 10th row at the Forum soundstage.

Anytime I have a Class A Triode amplifier to audition, I am almost compelled to run vinyl, and the MANLEY did not disappoint. Nicky Hopkins’ No More Changes was a true pleasure to play though the Absolute Headphone Amplifier regardless which headphones I used. The higher resolution of the ETHER2was put on display for “The Lady Sleeps” bringing out the multiple piano tracks and the sweetness of the guitar leads.

MANLEY Absolute Headphone Amplifier

The Come Away:

The MANLEY Absolute Headphone Amplifier is everything I expected when I first saw it and when I asked for a review sample, it is everything you would expect from a world class rare air well respected audiophile tube amp manufacturer. It does what an audiophile amplifier is supposed to do, which is amplify the sound and nothing else, while introducing as little noise and distortion as possible. To say it is musical is to barely scratch the surface, and possibly beside the point, the dynamics, sound stage, timbre and phase coherency are all top notch.

As expected from a true audiophile piece, it demands a top end source and is able to reproduce every nuance fed into it, and likewise it will pull out the pinnacle of what your headphone can achieve, but it will not change the basic character of those headphones.

The switchable single-ended or push-pull topology and the variable negative feedback control give real insight into those technologies and why they exist (it should be pointed out that negative feedback in a tube amp, and negative feedback in a solid state amp are completely different animals, negative feedback in a solid state amp can produce high levels of TIMD which is not a factor in tube amps).

I found the MANLEY Absolute Headphone Amplifier to be beautiful, versatile (you would be hard pressed to find a headphone that it does not work well with) and fantastic sounding. To put it simply, the MANLEY Absolute Headphone Amplifier is evidence of why those who dabble in the extreme high end of the audiophile world lean towards tube amps.

https://www.manley.com/hifi/mabhpa/

Price: $4,500 USD

SPECIFICATIONS:

Amplifier Topology:
Triode Vacuum Tube Output Stage, Switchable Topology Single-Ended or Push-Pull

Vacuum Tubes:
2 x 12AX7 (ECC83), 4 x 6AQ5A (EL90)

Inputs:
2 x RCA (Input 1 & Preamp Output = Pass-Thru when amplifier is in Standby or Off)

Input Impedance:
50 kOhms (Pass-Thru= 300 kOhms)

Maximum Input Level:
7.7 VAC RMS (+20 dBu)
(Conditions: XLR output, PP mode, 16 ohm load, VOLUME max, EQ out, 1kHz sine wave)

Gain:
Load 16 ohm: 12 dB (Min FB), 3 dB (Max FB)
Load 62 ohm: 17 dB (Min FB), 8 dB (Max FB)
Load 200 ohm: 22 dB (Min FB), 13 dB (Max FB)
(Conditions: XLR output, PP mode, VOLUME Max, EQ out, 1kHz sine wave)

Input Sensitivity:
600 mV AC RMS for an output of 100 mW
1.9 VAC RMS for an output of 1W
(Conditions: XLR output, PP mode, FB 12:00 o’clock, 16 ohm load, 1kHz sine wave, VOLUME max, EQ out)

Volume Control:
– Precision Stepped Relay Attenuator 0.5dB per step
– 63dB total attenuation – Volume setting to minimum = MUTE

Outputs (transformer coupled):
1 pair RCA- Unbalanced (Preamp Output)
1 x TRS ¼” JACK – Unbalanced
1 x 4 PIN XLR- Balanced

XLR-pin outs – (Left Channel Pin 1= Signal (+), Pin 2= Signal (-), Right Channel Pin 3= Signal (+), Pin 4= Signal (-))

Output Impedance:
Switchable: Low 12-50 Ohm, Mid 50-200 Ohm, High 200-600 Ohms

Maximum Output Power = 1W into 12 Ohms BW 22Hz-22kHz

Variable Feedback Control (FB):
MIN 0dB
MAX 10dB
(Conditions: BAL output, PP mode, 16 ohm load, VOLUME max, EQ out)

Signal to Noise Ratio:
83 dB (1kHz sine wave, 100mW output, BW 22Hz-22kHz)
(Conditions: BAL output, PP mode, FB 12:00 o’clock, 16 ohm load, VOLUME max, EQ out)

Noise Floor:
-80 dBu BW 22Hz-22kHz
-85 dBu  A-Weighted
(Conditions: BAL output, PP mode, FB 12:00 o’clock, 16 ohm load, VOLUME MAX, EQ out)

Channel Crosstalk:
-71 dB (1kHz sine wave, 100mW output, BW 22Hz-22kHz) Left Channel
-72 dB (1kHz sine wave, 100mW output, BW 22Hz-22kHz) Right Channel
(Conditions: BAL output, PP mode, FB 12:00 o’clock, 16 ohm load, EQ out)

Balance Control Channel attenuation:
Left Channel= 72dB (1kHz sine wave, 100mW output, BW 22Hz-22kHz)
Right Channel= 72dB (1kHz tone, 100mW output, BW 22Hz-22kHz)
(Conditions: BAL output, PP mode, FB Min, 16 ohm load, EQ out)

Frequency Response:
Push-Pull= Flat 10Hz – 20 kHz (-1dB @ 40 kHz)
Single-Ended= 20Hz – 20 kHz (-0.5dB @ 10Hz, -1dB @ 50 kHz)
(Conditions: BAL output, 100mW output, FB @ 12:00 o’clock, 16 ohm load, EQ out)

Distortion:
Push-Pull= 0.16% THD+N (BW 20Hz-22kHz)
Single-Ended= 1.0% THD+N (BW 20Hz-22kHz)
(Conditions: BAL output, PP mode, 1 kHz sine, 100mW output, FB @ 12:00 o’clock, 16 ohm load, EQ out)

Supplied with Remora RF remote control

Soft Start, 30 second mute-controlled power-up sequence

Operating Mains Voltage: 90-250 VAC, 50-60Hz, universal works worldwide

Unit Dimensions: 11.5 x 5.5 x 8.2” (LxWxH)

Unit Weight: 12 lbs

Shipping Weight = 13.5 lbs

Packing Carton Dimensions: 17 x 11 x 15”

Power consumption STANDBY mode = 0.5W, Max Power = 80W

Heat Rise above ambient temperature at rear panel: 25ºC or 44ºF

Heat Rise above ambient temperature at side panels: 15ºC or 26ºF

Posted on

Focal Trio11 Be, the loudspeaker dedicated to creating music

Focal Trio11 Be, the loudspeaker dedicated to creating music

THE LOUDSPEAKER DEDICATED TO NEARFIELD AND MIDFIELD

As well as new speaker drivers (a 5” midrange and a 10” subwoofer) with high efficiency and power handling, the Trio11 Be monitor enjoys all of Focal’s very latest technologies when it comes to acoustics and electronics: TMD and NIC technologies; optimised vents that promote dynamic control and perfect bass definition; high excursion, enabling even more linearity of the subwoofer…

Thanks to its class G amplification, Trio11 Be delivers a high SPL (118dB at 1m) and offers a great versatibility of use and installation configurations in nearfield AND midfield applications. A key asset, always coming along with an extremely precise sound reproduction and stereo image.

With an extended bandwidth (30 Hz-40 kHz), this loudspeaker is also composed of a 3-way monitor and a 2-way monitor, just like Trio6 Be, which lets you check the mix transfer sound quality thanks to FOCUS mode.

With Trio11 Be, power and versatility are waiting for you!
Feel the difference!

Posted on

Avantone Pro Announces the New CLA-200 Studio Power Amp

Avantone Pro Announces the New CLA-200 Studio Power Amp

The Avantone Pro CLA-200 Studio Reference Amplifier is a classically designed Class A/B amplifier. We took particular care to create an amplifier in the traditional studio style, with generous VU meters, high quality Japanese components and a serious toroidal transformer linear power supply. In a standard 2U rack mount chassis, this amplifier can generate over 200 watts per channel into an 8 ohm load, making it perfect for medium to large speakers in a studio environment. The CLA200 is convection cooled – no fan noise, so it can be used in the same room as the monitors.

The CLA-200 Studio Reference Amplifier is designed to be used in a studio environment requiring high power output with no fan noise. Under testing, it delivers a powerful 208 watts into 8 ohms and can run at one third power without thermal fault.

The CLA-200 was designed to be paired with the CLA-10 studio monitors, but it can be used with just about any demanding speaker load. Very low distortion, steady performance under harsh conditions, and an open and transparent sound make this an obvious choice for discerning studios.

Engineering Objectives

The Avantone Pro CLA-200 Studio Reference Amplifier is a dynamic, high output, high resolution, full-range system built the old school way. We included no-compromise components in a 2U convection cooled chassis to complement our CLA-10 Studio Reference Monitors. Of course, it can be used with any passive studio monitor requiring serious dynamic range.

Check it out at AES in booth #340 

Specifications
Frequency Response: 20Hz-20kHz +/- 0.5dB
Output power:
200W at 8 ohms
300W at 4 ohms
500W bridged into 8 ohms
Distortion: <0.05%
Signal to Noise: >94dB
Input Impedance: (Balanced) 20KΩ (Unbalanced) 10kΩ
Damping Factor (100Hz, 8Ω): 250Signal to Noise Ratio (A Weighted): >103dB
Amplifier: Class AB
Slew rate (at 1KHz): 28V/us
Input Sensitivity (1KHz): 0.775V (0dBU)
Total Harmonic Distortion (1KHz): <0.1%
Intermodulation distortion (at 10% rated power 1KHz): <0.1%
Crosstalk: -70dB
8Ω Stereo Power (1KHz): 200W
4Ω Stereo Power (1KHz): 300W
8Ω Bridge Power (1KHz): 500W
Cabinet Dimensions: 19”w x 18”d x 3.5”h 30.4 lbs
Weight: 20kg (44lb)

Posted on

In The Spotlight – Aspen Pittman’s Designs

In The Spotlight – Aspen Pittman’s Designs

Aspen Pittman’s designs have been coveted by legendary musicians and record producers for nearly 40 years. His best selling Tube Amp Book has sold over 140,000 copies. He has designed dozens of tube guitar amps, stage and studio microphones, and has designed and built over a dozen unique electron vacuum tubes from scratch.

Aspen’s inventions, such as the Speaker Emulator, changed the way we record guitar, and his Center Point Stereo technology will forever change the way we produce live music. Aspen’s audio designs have earned multiple utility patents both in the USA and around the world, and have garnered top awards in multiple fields including the prestigious TEC award for best microphone design.

So it seemed only fitting to brand his new company simply Aspen Pittman Designs.

Posted on

Awave Mix It with FOCAL SM9 Trade In Deal (Limited Time Only)

Awave Mix It with FOCAL SM9 Trade In Deal (Limited Time Only)

Get a pair of amazing Focal SM9 Studio Monitors for $5999.00, when you trade ANY eligible model from brands including  ADAM, DYN-AUDIO, KRK, EVENT, GENELEC, EVE, BAREFOOT, QUESTED, FOCAL, MACKIE, PMC, UNITY AUDIO, YAMAHA.*

These professional studio monitors normally retail for $12,398 A PAIR!

Call Awave on 03 9813 1833 or email sales@awave.com.au to organise you trade in deal today, before stock runs out.

*All monitors traded must be in pairs. Subject to full working & cosmetic condition – offer is limited while stocks last

 

 

Posted on

Masters of the Craft Featuring the Cold War Kids

Masters of the Craft Featuring the Cold War Kids

Cold War Kids’ Nathan Willett has an instantaneously recognizable sound to millions of indie rock fans all around the world. From his dynamic vocals to his gospel-inspired piano riffs, Nathan’s tone is distinct and mesmerizing.  Having toured for decades and releasing 7 studio albums, he knows the tools he needs to achieve the artistry and production level he demands.  This dedication makes Nathan Willett a master of his craft.

In Nathan Willett’s Own Words

Being a master of your craft just means you know what it is you’re going for and you just go there full steam.

You’re constantly chasing that perfect song, that perfect sound.

Music, as a career, was such a thing I didn’t even know anything that had made a career in music growing up. For me, it came late. I was 25 when we started playing and started touring and realizing that it actually could be a career.

We were lucky from the first record to have a specific kind of sound that was a very Cold War Kids sound. I don’t wanna stray too far from it, so I wanna write the best song that I can within the parameters of that piano and that bass and the voice and how it all works together in forming that certain kind of energy that Cold War Kids has. I wanna write the song that has all those elements that we had from the start.

I think, in a lot of ways, the production is so much more accessible, therefore it’s a lot easier to crank stuff out, but it is important to still have a perspective, to have taste and a voice. For me as a writer and a musician, I’m glad that I have all these tools but I also know what it is that I like and what I wanna do with it.

Because of the way that we make records now, having a great studio monitor where I can be at home and listen to mixes and just to know that what I’m hearing is, in some ways, gonna be the best case scenario that anybody’s gonna hear. You wanna leave it open to knowing that it’s gonna be a different color in a club or in the car on the radio. You just want that clarity. In a a lot of ways, knowing this is the clearest version that anyone’s gonna hear this music through, yeah, it’s important that you have that clarity.

I first learned about Barefoot speakers through our producer, Lars Stalfers. He uses Barefoot. I have those Barefoot MicroMain45s. It’s just so great. As an artist, I’m not gonna be doing the meticulous side of mixing, but it just helps me to know that everything is there and this is the best case scenario of how this music is gonna sound so I can feel confident that what I’m hearing is the full picture.

– Nathan Willett, American Songwriter & Musician

Posted on

Barefoot – Manny Marroquin Masters of the Craft

Barefoot – Manny Marroquin Masters of the Craft

Multi-GRAMMY Winning Mix Engineer, Manny Marroquin has had his hands and ears on nearly 250 million records, 40 #1 hits and 100 Top 10 albums with artists that include; Eminem, John Mayer, Miley Cyrus, Kanye West, Lady Gaga, Rihanna, SIA and The Rolling Stones to name a few. His vision and technical savvy combined with immense creative ability have made Manny a true master of his craft.

In Manny Marroquin’s Own Words

To become a master of your craft, you’ve got to be passionate about what you do. I think there’s a lot of people that get in this business for the wrong reason.

You’re work ethic has to be there to keep perfecting that craft.  You gotta make sure that, when you face adversity, you’re able to adapt to it.

I used to say, I can mix anything from Leon Rhymes to Busta Rhymes. I try to be a chameleon to whatever they are giving me. I’m just a fan of music, really.

I think it’s the best time to be a producer right now, and you can do everything in your basement, in your bedroom. You can have quality equipment that will get you from a) to b) and I think the tools today are better than ever.

In the art form of mixing, I feel it’s not only what comes out of the speakers at the end of the day, as the journey and how to get there, and we’re always looking for inspiration.

I think the key is, the studio monitor. Does that monitor inspire you? Whatever I drive in to it, i gotta be able to get influenced with what comes out.

And you have to be able to push it a certain way that, you know it’s limits, and you know what you can do with it.

Barefoot Sound. The very first time I heard about it, it was at a trade show, and I saw these monitors that looked different from everything else, and then I was at a studio in San Francisco, and this guy had them, and he was raving about them, and he played me a mix through ’em, and I just immediately fell in love with them because they were just powerful. They were punchy. They were musical. They were not too pretty, but yet not too raw. All the things that I look for in a monitor.

I can really, really turn them up, or, I can turn them way down when I’m writing vocals, when I’m doing intricate rides, I can really turn ’em down and hear everything, and that’s pretty special. There’s not a lot of monitors that you can do that with. – Manny Marroquin, Multi-GRAMMY Winning Mix Engineer