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Manley Reference Cardioid Microphone
Reviewing Manley Reference Cardioid Microphone - by Ty Ford
Kindly reprinted with permission from Pro Audio Review Magazine and Ty Ford.

The Manley Reference Cardioid Microphone ($3K) is a tube mic using a 6072A GE triode. The price includes a metal flight case, suspension mount and external power supply. The external power supply comes with a 30-foot cable that carries B+ and filament voltages to the microphone and retrieves the balanced mic level signal, which is made available from an XLR at the power supply. No external phantom power is necessary.

The Manley Reference Cardioid capsule is a 1" diaphragm coated with a 6 micron gold film. The Gold version has a 3 micron film. The solid brass backplate is mounted on Teflon rings and the capsule is mounted on a flexible post. The 7227 nickel-laminated output transformer uses "hum-bucking" bi-filar windings. The mic has a -10dB pad with no bass roll-off.

The Manley Reference Cardioid looks like a serious microphone. To find out how serious it is, I first put it up against a Neumann U87 (not an ai) with API mic preamps at Flite 3 in Baltimore. When adjusted for equivalent loudness, the Manley showed slightly more proximity, slightly more HF "zip" and more self- noise. The self noise was lower in frequency than some I've heard; less hiss and more like a constant sea shore.

At a working distance of 2 inches, both the U87 and Manley exhibited very similar LF proximity. The Manly was slightly more pop sensitive, perhaps due to its more open grille. At six inches, without as much proximity, the slightly more open top end of the Manley was more apparent. The cardioid patterns of both mics are very similar; the Manley being slightly wider than the U87. The U87 showed more LF rejection to the rear.

Back at my studio against a Neumann U89 and Gefell UM 70, I had to set the GML to 25dB gain for the Manley and 45dB gain for equivalent loudness with the U 89. The U89 was thicker in the low mids and darker than the Manley. The Manley had slightly more self-noise. At a distance of three inches, the U 89's darker thicker sound provided more chest tones, whereas the Manley yielded more head tones.

I then patched directly into the inputs of an Orban Audicy workstation. At 44.1KHz sampling, the noise added by the system masked most of the differences in self noise. The system also took off some of the Manley's top end. The combined effect was that the U 89 and Manley sounded a lot more alike.

I compared the Manley and Gefell UM 70 through an Allen & Heath MixWizard 20:8:2 to find the Manley had thicker mids and bottom with a glassey top. The Gefell sounded more meaty and less open on top. Both mic exhibited about the same amount of self noise.

I set up the Manley 12 inches out from the sound hole of a Martin D28S and angled the capsule about ten degrees toward the bridge to dodge the guitar's LF. The Manley open top end caught lots of overtones. My strings were halfway dead, so it worked to my advantage. You'd really get a VERY bright guitar with new strings. Even though the D28S has a much more subdued low end than the D28, there was still a bit of "boom" from the fifth and sixth strings. Moving the mic out another two inches with a very slight twist on the capsule got rid of the twangy top end and pretty much got rid of the boomy bottom. The Manley really hears the pick if you're flatpicking.

During the dreaded "key jangle" test, I expected the Manley tube mic to, "round off" the transients and not clip them as every FET mic I've heard so far has. I was surprised that both mics sounded clipped about the same amount, although with slightly different sounding artifacts. Both the U 89 and Manley Reference cardioid clipped during the Key test, even though no clip lights were showing on the GML. When I reduced the gain by 5dB on the GML that was attached to the Manley, the clipping became less apparent. That prompted a call to GML in which I was told that the clip light circuit on the preamp may not be sensitive or quick enough to read the overages caused by the key jangles.

I ran into an anomaly at Mark Davison's Cubic Studio. While trying to compare the Manley with U 67 and U 49 Neumanns, using a Demeter VTMP2b tube mic preamp, the Manley sounded thin, screechy and with way too much tube noise. Was it something weird in the Canare cables, or something about the interface to the Demeter? I have no idea.

The overall sound of the Manley is VERY open and, perhaps over-accentuated on the top. It's openness reminds me of the bare nakedness of Neumann's M149. Plug it into a Neve V72, 1272 preamp, or any dark sounding mic pre and you'll probably get a nicer match than if you use a harder, brighter preamp like a Mackie 1604.


Three grand is a lot to cough up for a cardioid-only tube mic. In a marketplace where the Neumann TLM 103 FET cardioid is $995, quieter and has about the same output, you really have to WANT a tube mic to spend the extra money. The merit of the Manley Reference Cardioid is its extreme openness and high-end response. If you normally reach for the "air band" when EQing tracks, you probably won't have to with this mic. If you're shooting for a more open sound and 24-bit, 96KHz audio, the Manley should capture that well, and, provided the sound source is of a reasonable level, tube noise won't be a problem.

This review is reprinted with permission by Ty Ford.
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Memorable Remarks

Good lord this mic makes me sound better than I am. What do you guys do, sprinkle some kind of secret "Vocal Mojo" on these things before they leave the factory? I have over a dozen mics in our cabinet...good ones from Neumann, BLUE, Audio Technica..this thing is unreal!


--Eric Smith

The Manley Reference Cardioid Mic,
the SOUND of pop music!
Here is Savannah Sanchez having some fun posing for a few pictures with her Manley Labs Reference Cardioid mic between takes at Gospel Light Studios.
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