Where am I? -- Pro Studio Gear -> Equalizers -> Massive Passive EQ -> Review: Brad Watts @ Audio Technology Go Back
Manley Massive Passive Stereo Tube EQ
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!


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 devices.

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”.

Lighten Up

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.

Passive acceptance

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

Word on the Street
PDF Downloads
TECH Pages
Memorable Remarks
Five ultimate statements from Charlie Watts:

1. The Manley Massive Passive EQ is the one piece of gear I own that I simply cannot do without. On any project, Analogue or Digital. Period.

2. The Manley Passive EQ is an ABSOLUTE MUST if you are cutting Vinyl Masters or Dub Plates. With this EQ, I can get the music at least 5 db louder than without it. If you're serious about the best sounding Vinyl, you MUST have one of these.

3. There is no other way to get that "air" into the mix than to use the Manley Massive Passive. An absolute MUST for anything I Master. From the Gap Band, thru Lalo Schifrin, to 4 on the floor house, and pumpin' Drum and Bass, it's Da Bomb. Word.

4. I thought the Massive Passive was great at Mastering, but you should hear it in the recording studio. A MUST for the Kick and Bass, and I wouldn't cut a keyboard, guitar or vocal track without one ever again.

5. This IS the EQ I have wanted for twenty-five years. It's finally here. One listen and turn of the knobs, you'll understand, and have to own one.

Wow! I didn't think it was possible to get something that sounds better than a Pultec... It is the ultimate companion to my Manley Variable Mu. What great gear you make!!!

David Horrocks,
Infinite Wave Mastering

EveAnna, you and Hutch have totally outdone yourself this time. If it's possible, give yourselves a pat on the back for a job well done. My order is in and I can't wait for it to arrive.

Mark A. Rodriguez
Sony Pictures Entertainment, ADSG
Mastering Engineer, Vision Mastering

Manley & Langevin Dynamic Controllers