Reviewing Manley's Massive Passive Stereo Tube Equalizer
Reprinted from the June 1999 issue of the Australian magazine: Audio Technology, by Brad Watts.
Read accompanying interview with EveAnna Manley by Greg Simmons!
AUDIO TECHNOLOGY AUSTRALIA JUNE 1999 REVIEW
Manley Lab’s Massive Passive EQ
One time goldsmith, Brad Watts, unleashes Manley’s stereo passive EQ in his
studio with 24 carat results.
The last time I played with a piece of Manley gear I was absolutely blown
away by the superlative nature of the design. When you first look over a
Manley product, it doesn’t take long to realise you’re observing the result
of a resolutely wholesome and down to earth design philosophy. Manley gear
isn't just hand-made, it’s hand-crafted. EveAnna Manley and her crew
definitely see themselves as craftsmen [craftspeople?], and so they should!
Both the VoxBox (a review of which served as my introduction to Manley gear
back in issue three) and the Massive Passive are beautifully crafted
Having worked as a jeweller for some eight years before getting too involved
with audio production, I'm reminded of fine tolerances and the intricate
working of metals whenever I inspect a Manley device. The sound of these
devices also reflects that image for me precise, wholesome and earthly
audio it’s the stuff that makes you feel good without knowing why, which
is how music is meant to be. These days I work in technical support and post
production, and I continually find myself reminding people to use their
ears. If it sounds right, it is right! You can talk bit rates, latency, and
phase coherency until the cows come home, but ultimately the end result is
what you hear, and fortunately that is what the Manley team work towards a
genuine and ethereal sound that actually caresses the audio senses, rather
than trying to fool them with a barely believable DSP impression.
Finding a Pulse
From this preamble you’d surmise that I’m somewhat fond of Manley equipment,
and rightly so. The Massive Passive was in no way a disappointment. To give
you some idea as to what to expect when you see and hear one, we should
embark on the guided tour.
The Massive Passive is essentially two individual channels of four band
passive EQ with high and low pass filters and tube make-up gain. It’s the
sort of tool that studios and mastering houses like to own (and tell
everybody they own), because the EQ design is based on the highly desirable
vintage Pultec EQs manufactured by Pulse Technologies. Before using the
machine, it’s worth checking out the layout and the switching it’s by no
means complicated, but it's worth familiarising yourself with the mood of
the design first.
You’ll notice from the picture that there are four black elliptical sections
to each channel path, each representing a single EQ band and each headed by
a large boost/cut knob marked from 0dB to 20dB (a separate switch
determines whether this knob is boosting or cutting). Beneath each of these
knobs are the bandwidth/slope controls, and beneath these are the rotary
switches for selecting the frequency point for each band (11 frequency
selections per band). Each EQ band covers a specific frequency range (low,
low-mid, high-mid, high), but they overlap a great deal. It would be silly
to try and mention all the EQ points but it’s worth pointing out the ranges,
and mentioning that they’re based on what has become known as ‘British’ EQ
settings, after a certain famous British EQ and console designer: 22Hz to
1kHz for lows; 82Hz to 3.9kHz for low-mids; 220Hz to 10kHz for high-mids;
and for the highs, 560Hz to 27kHz! Now I can already hear some of you 20-20k
types chuckling and muttering “no-one hears above 20kHz.” Well, you can hear
this, and it sounds brilliant. I’m a firm believer in things we don’t know
much about (!) and upper harmonics is one of them. Extreme high-end adds
lustre not merely 12k-16kHz “air” it adds “light”.
Above the knobs for each EQ band are two switches. The first is a three
position switch which toggles between cut, boost, or bypass, and the second
switches between bell-shaped and shelving EQ responses (low frequency
shelving for the low and low-mid sections, high frequency shelving for the
high-mid and high sections). One of the more interesting aspects of the
Massive Passive is the function of the bandwidth control when the EQ is
switched to shelving response. As the bandwidth control is turned clockwise,
the slope of the shelf steepens and brings in the Pultec “notch”. (To get
the complete lowdown on what I’m talking about here be sure to read Greg
Simmons’ interview with EveAnna Manley, which follows this review.) That
notch becomes an incredibly useful tool, and having never used a real Pultec
I can now see what all the fuss is about. Once you understand the behaviour
of the notch, it becomes quite an equalising weapon. Considering this along
with the other EQ options offered by the Massive Passive, I find myself
thinking “hmmm, I could do an awful lot with this box”.
The boost/cut switches have backlit signs for when they’re switched in
green for boost and red for cut. Cool! The green and red looks especially
neat with the two blue bypass switches (which illuminate when their
respective channels are active). Even cooler! Oddly though, if everything is
bypassed and the unit is powered up, there’s no light to indicate that it’s
switched on. Possibly not such a good idea with a piece of tube electronics.
Between the left and right EQ sections are the high and low pass filters,
again set at “musically pleasing” points instead of standard ISO third
octave frequencies. Above the filters are gain make-up controls, a power
switch and the good ol’ blue bypass buttons for left and right channels. As
for the box that all this stuff is housed in, the words “Sherman” and “tank”
spring to mind.
Incoming signals may utilise either balanced XLR or 6.5mm jacks. Input to
the jacks may also be an unbalanced source. All output signals are balanced
and set to +4dBu, although, according to the backplate legending, the jack
outputs can be set to -10dBv once you’ve consulted the manual.
As for the sound of the Massive Passive, I can’t recommend it highly enough.
It would have to be the best EQ device I’ve used in my life. The versatility
of the unit is astounding (especially considering the few controls you have
to watch over), and the overlaps make it indispensable for extreme sonic
sculpturing. Piling on a good deal of top end never starts to hurt or sound
shrill. The bottom end is warm and precise, and there’s plenty of it. The
whole feel and sound of the Massive Passive is superb, and, as a “no
compromise” piece of equipment, is certainly a fitting testament to the
Manley team’s commitment and expertise. My hat comes off to what will
undoubtedly become a modern classic.
Distributed in Australia by
Syntec International Pty Ltd
Phone: +61 (0)2 9417 4700
Fax: +61 (0)2 9417 6136
Syntec on WWW: www.syntec.com.au
Manley on WWW: www.manleylabs.com
Contact Sound Devices in NSW, or Manny’s Music in Victoria