December 30, 2009

All I Need? Manley Stingray iTube Integrated Amplifier.

Manley Stingray iTube, note all the top plate electrolytic capacitors are customed for Manley.

Just looking at the product, I knew the company is run by someone special. I ran a check thru and found out the following. The company is run by a lady boss called, EveAnna Manley who also happens to be a Harley riding and classic Hippie style air cooled VW driving chick. Oh yeah! the lady boss is also a pretty sharp shooter of the photo graphic type, do view her gallery on the above www link. She lives a full rounded lifestyle.I also found the product manual(download able from www site) to be an excellent source of tube info and a very entertaining read. This chick's got humour too!

Upon opening the shipping box, the first thing that greeted me was a quality digital multimeter supplied, then upon complete removal of the amp from the packaging, I also found one of the most comprehensive accessories pack supplied. Only thing missing is a pair of white cotton gloves, like those which Sonic Frontiers(remember them?) used to supply. This indicates practical hands on manual tube biasing required. The full procedure instruction with picture guides is on the product manual. I did not try it though.

Note the iPod docking area, just on top of front face plate.

The Manley Stingray iTube is an integrated amplifier using 8 x EL84 output tubes, 2 x 6414 driver tubes and 2 x 12AT7EH input tubes for it's circuitry. For all that, the amp pumps out 32Watts in Ultra Linear mode, or 18Watts in Triode mode, switchable, your choice of course. As it's name would suggest, the amp is also design to dock an Apple iPod as music source, if you so wish. The amp will then sync up with the iPod and allow the user to control the i source from the supplied hand held remote, which is pretty cool, but wait, the best part is the chunky, back lighted remote supplied by Manley is RF/IR control switchable, again your choice! I did not have an iPod at hand to try out the iPod dock operations, but I did operate the remote entirely by RF, which is more flexible as you can point from any where, or even operate the Manley Stingray iTube from another part of the house, because RF means radio frequency, and using RF mode control means line if sight is not required, unlike IR(Infra Red). There is no XLR input, so it's back to RCA connections for me which is a pain.

The chunky, back lighted, full function RF/IR remote! Note the iPod controls at the bottom?

There's two infinite rotary knobs on the front panel, blue LED lighted for effect, the left unit knob is a source selector and the right knob doubles as volume and balance control. There's a small standby switch in between the two knobs. I must confess to find that the Manley has one of the most transparent sounding pre amp section using the Cirrus 3310 volume chip application. Many other high end brands also use the same volume chip.

The left chanel back panel, note the "ON/Off" switch next to IEC power input. The right chanel is on the other side, refer to plan view below.

The rather heavy amp(has to be with 3 trannies inside, 1 for power supply and 2 for output) is left sitting on the ground in between and connecting to my Audio Physic speakers via Siltech Classic Anniversary 330L speaker cables and I brought Odiosleuth's Copland CDA-822 CD player closer to fit my 1.5m Belden RCA interconnects(I'd like to use something better, but that's all I have for now). Power cables to both the CD player and amp are my big, fat, and red JPS Inwall, powered via my Torus Power RM8A PLC. Then the listening starts, which from the moment the play button pressed, I knew I was in for something special, just like the Manley Labs lady boss.

See the Stingray? Plan view. For some reason, Manley like to name their product after under water creatures, like the Shrimp pre amp!(discontinued model)

I first switched between the Ultra Linear and Triode modes to sample the differences. Using a live acoustic concert recording, Nils Lofgren's Acoustic Live, using the UL mode gives a more forward and immediate presentation, like as if I am sitting in the front row seats of the concert. I could feel Nils energetic plucking of the Takamine acoustic guitar's steel strings and hear the following fainting re verb of the body and the stage acoustics. So far, so good. I then switched to Triode mode, this time the presentation is more laid back, like as if I am seating in row F seats now, not too far away from the stage, but far enough to lose that immediacy and energy of Nils guitar playing performance some what. Since we're on the subject of sound staging, the Manley is merely average in this respect. The sound stage does not expand beyond room boundaries, nor separate layers within the stage depth very well. In this regards the Krell S-300i, tested last month out performs the Manley. However, the Manley fights back with very convincingly solid and filled in imaging, especially voices.

Switching between modes doesn't change the slightly warmish, golden tonality of the amp, which I think is good as it gives a certain consistency to the hifi performance perimeters. I ended preferring the raw and energetic presentation of the UL mode, and from here onwards, all further sonic description is based on that, as is. The highs have nice bite, and giving cymbals and high hats that attack, sustain and decay quality. There's also a certain alluring shine to the highs, not brightness, I must remind you. Mids are solid and vocals are given bodies to make them more convincing, other than the mouth. Bass, always a weak point in tube amps is surprisingly nimble, with little mid bass bloom and never seems to be out of step with the rest of the music, if does not extend particularly deep.

The two front infinite rotary knobs are surrounded by striking blue, blinking(when rotating knobs) LEDs.

Micro dynamics of acoustic guitars like the Nils Lofgren CD is very well reproduced, but macro dynamics of an orchestra playing at full crescendo tends to harden the sound some what. I was playing Eiji Oue conducting Minnesota Orchestra's Symphonic Dances, by Rachmaninoff, a Reference Recording CD of excellent quality. To be fair, I was playing very loudly, and only by easing the volume a bit the sonic hardness disappeared. When not playing the same CD too loudly, I also noticed that truth of timbre and harmonic texture of wood winds and flute instrument were amongst the most faithfully reproduced, by the way, ditto for string instruments like violin and piano.

The Stingray iTube is highly resolving, even with the lowest musical details. I find that PRAT is also the amp's strong suite, always musical and rhythmically on tune. It's slight tubey warmness adds just right amount of pleasant bloom to music. Whilst the Manley was adequately driving my 89db @ 4 ohms rated Audio Physic Spark to realistically loud volumes, I still found it's head room limits as mentioned above. Unlike other tube amplifier designs which allow a choice of 4, 8, or 16 ohm speaker binding post tab, the Manley only has one fixed tab of 5 ohms, which means driving 4 ohms rated speaker designs like my Audio Physics is likely to give the best results. However, as in anything audio, nothing is quite certain, and specs are just that. I doubt using the Manley Stingray to drive less sensitive speaker designs in a big room is a good idea, so do take note and try partnering it with your own speakers when considering it's purchase.

Manley tube porn.

If you find warmish, golden tube sound allure, don't normally play your music too loudly like I do and want to dock you iPod with your hifi rig, I've not tried anything that comes sounding this good at RM15k. If I had not yet committed to bigger sonic aspirations, the Manley Stingray iTube may just be, all I need.

Manley products is sold by Hi-Way Laser, contact Kenny, tel:019-2813399

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