Reviewing Manley Neo-Classic 300B Preamplifier RC
by the late Dr. Harvey "Gizmo" Rosenberg, Guildmeister, The Triode Guild - Thermionic Techno-Shaman
WHAT IS THE SOUND OF ONE 300B CLAPPING?
THE MANLEY 300B LINE AMP: A SPIRITUAL WOODY
While cruising around the 1997 AES convention my nose started to water and my tail started to wag. This old thermionic hound dog was picking up a powerful thermionic scent and I didn't know what it was...it was strong and very different. Let me explain the skill that this old thermionic hound dog has. Every year there is more and more professional tube gear, because only tubes can mollify digital's inherent harmonic discombobularity, so I could have been picking up the scent of a pride of tube microphones, a covey of tube lines stages, a gaggle of tube compressors, or a pack of tube limiters or microphone preamps...I didn't know, but I trusted my nose, and followed the powerful scent.
I knew I was getting closer because I started to howl, which cleared the aisles and there I was, pointing at the David Manley's line stage that uses 300Bs as the output driver. EveAnna rushed over to me because she was obviously embarrassed by my behavior and was upset that I was salivating all over her display, but I couldn't help myself. She patted me on the head, gave me a 12AX7 "yummy" and in a very soothing tone said, "Down boy, down".
THE MEANING OF THE SPIRITUAL WOODY
Those of you who have studied American Indian art and culture are aware of the magnificence of their totemic art, especially the art of the northwestern tribes. These wooden totems ascending into the sky stimulates a powerful physical response, and that is their intention. Unlike much of western art, native art is not intended to be an intellectual "head trip" but is intended to induce powerful physical feelings, and those physical feelings are all about being connected to something very large, powerful, beautiful and mystical, i.e Mother Nature.
So this is the meaning of the spiritual woody; when experiencing a totemic work of art you are physically captured by it; you are caught in its embrace and physically uplifted by it. Again, not your Ivy League History of Art experience, but the physical trembling of beholding beauty that flows from the tremendum of creation.
So let me assure you all that this Manley 300B line stage is a spiritual woody, and one of the most beautiful piece of thermionic art...in the spirit of .. Nobu Shishido's WAVAC amplifiers which I loved for six months. Even if you never intend to buy this work of thermionic art, insist that EveAnna Manley send you a color picture so that you can put it above your bed, or paste on your refrigerator.
THERMIONIC SHAME NOT
When my triode bro' Steve Sullivan first gazed on the Manley line stage he thought he was looking at a stereo 300B amplifier because the audacious pair of totally totemic woodifying 300Bs that are right next to the power transformer. No thermionic shame here. This is a bold statement about thermionic beauty and is righteous and everyone else (other than Dennis Had's SL 94 preamp which is also gorgeous) is wrong. Have pride in your tube gentlemen. Show them off brazenly. Celebrate their enduring beauty. Our advice (EveAnna Manley, Gizmo and John Mellencamp) is Dance Naked, and show off your tubes.
MR. RED HOT CHILI PEPPER UP YOUR BUTT STRIKES OUT AGAINST NEUTRALITY
Yesterday I read an interview of Mark Levinson by Michael Fermer, in his magazine Tracking Angle. I am a big fan of Mark Levinson, but anyone who claims that they have a "totally neutral" audio device; one that adds no harmonic coloration to the signal needs a tube hearing aid. If Mark can't hear the coloration his audio gizmo's create than he needs a better monitoring system; one without inductors and capacitors in the signal path. Everything in the signal path adds coloration. As you know I have raging against "copper cable glare" and will only listen to silver cables. It is obvious to me and many others that resistors, which are about as neutral you can get after wire also have unique sonic signatures. Did you know that many Japanese audiomaniacs prefer the sound of old fashion carbon types, and will only listen to wire with pure cotton insulation? What we do know is that all passive and active devices have a unique sonic signature and depending on your gourmet blending of these devices you will either have a gourmet harmonic feast or a chicken fried turd.
Am I being hard on all of you? Well let me rub the chili in just a minute longer...take the same topology and change the power supply design and you have a completely different sound because the power supply is in the signal path!
Which is why I have suggesting to those who have an IQ over 100 should look at the audio arts as a masterful blending of harmonic flavors and not the pursuit of the intellectually bogus "neutrality" or "accuracy". The art of gourmet blending determines ultimate sound quality, and this art is not easy to master. And this is why I am so impressed by the unique recipe for this 300B line stage.
This preamp combines classic thermionic modalities in a completely unique gourmet blend The combination of 5AR4 rectifier, and OD3 mercury vapor regulator tubes, 6LS7 voltage amplifier with a 300B directly heated triode output tube as a output stage is revolutionary reconfiguration of classicism. I must pause for rumination on the OD3 regulatory tube. This tube was once, in the good old days, a commonly used regulator tube. I remember it well because my swell RCA theater amps used this tube. This tube is now also a rave fave among Japanese audiomaniacs which appreciate the unique harmonic aroma of this tube.
And let me pause about the use of the 6SL7 in phono preamps and line stages, which is also very "non-normal" in America. After my first trip to Japan in 1982 to accept accolades for the Futterman breakthrough we immediately began to work on a phono preamp using eight pin octal tubes of the 6SL7/6SN7 variety because Japanese audiomaniacs were using these large dual triodes in phono preamps. To put this in perspective; in early the 1980s it was revolutionary to use 6DJ8s in phono preamps because everyone was using the mediocre 12AX7s. Today 6DJ8s are as common as Mc Donald hamburgers. The eight pin octal tubes have a different harmonic signature than the seven pin miniature triodes, and an expanding group is segueing to the eight pin octal tonality, especially those who are designing single ended triode amps.
Of course the use of a 300B as a output stage is completely unique and may be the greatest contributor to the hallucinogenic harmonics. Because this preamp emerges from the company that is dominating pro-tube gear, it also has an output transformer, which you can switch in and out, and yes it does add some coloration, but if you are driving very long lines, in effect we have a directly heated single-ended amplifier with regulated power supplies for a driver stage, and that deserve an award for thermionic coolosity. The line stage also has a headphone output of very high quality.
Now let's get down into some very serious synergy, because when you use this preamp with any 300B amplifier...like the Manley 300B SE/PP, you no longer have to travel to New Mexico to partake in the American Indian peyote rituals.
Here again we must wrestle with the paradox of the audio arts...the combination of the Manley 300B line amp and their 300B amplifier proves that one and one can make one hundred in the audio arts. There may be "better" preamps, and there may be "better" amplifiers, but this combination is so right, that right may have to change its name to Manley.
It may make many audiomaniacs uncomfortable, but the reality is that one of the highest grounds in the audio arts is now commanded by a women. EveAnna Manley, who is too young, talented and sexy to be in the high end audio business. I remind you all that in many native cultures women are the heads of tribes. Both in England and in India women have been heads of state, and America would benefit from a women President.
Have I effectively communicated why I love this gear so much. These works of Manley are are an essential path in the way of the triode.