Manley Steelhead® RC Phono Stage Close Window  


I'm on vacation until the 4th of July. I went into work to pick up the Steelhead which arrived today! I took it home. I was so excited.

I got to spend a few hours with Mr. Steelhead. EveAnna, my [prior reference] preamp has beaten every phono stage I have put up against it so far, but after the Steelhead warmed up it had so much slam it made the [other preamp] sound closed down in comparison. I couldn't believe some of the sounds coming of grooves I cut myself! I put on a Hall & Oates "Big Bam Boom" LP I did in the 80's and it sounded like it was a different MIX on the Steelhead. The slam of the snare drum simply burst out of the grooves. (I miss those old analog-only compressed snare sounds...these digital crunchers really take the bite out of the attack for the sake of level...ah well. Check out the new Tool CD I did, it's got it!)

So, I'll be listening some more in the coming days. My friend has 2 ultimate phono preamps, a [something] and something else, I forget. I'm going to shoot it out with those and see what happens.

I'm still shaking my head over what I heard tonight. Congratulations to you and your whole team. I'll give you more feedback as I keep listening and comparing.

BTW, my Grado cartridge, after all those possible tweaks, seems to sound best at the normal old settings!!

Thanks for making another musical sounding piece of gear!



Note: Bob Ludwig is one of the world's most revered Mastering Engineers, and the owner of Gateway Mastering Studios in beautiful Portland, Maine. Bob probably cut many of your vinyl records in your collection.

Extensive customer review up on Audio Asylum


This thing is even more of a monster that I imagined. Overall dynamcs - both macro and micro - simply demolish anything I have ever heard (and that includes the $24K FM Acoustics, and the Aesthetix Io); bass (and I mean BASS, wild girl, down to the Centre of the Earth with Jules Verne and Rick Wakeman) totally outclasses everything but the big Plinius phono stage; its wall-to-wall and treetop-tall soundstaging is equalled by NOTHING I have previously heard. This thing has the same scary combination of speed, power and finesse as a Formula One car.

I played a few familiar sides, one being Frankie Goes To Hollywood's 12" 45 of "Two Tribes" (one of the many British-pressed variants), which is the single most demanding eight minutes of music I know, at least in terms of what it simultaneously requires from every component in the chain. The bass (Bass!! BASS!!!) was like getting punched in the solar plexus by Mike Tyson - sheer WHAMMABILITY and complete iron-handed control. A mile-wide and mile-deep soundstage so holistically coherent and finely nuanced as to say "Real Space, dude!" Images with laser focus but no etch or hi-fi-ness whatsoever. Analogue virtual reality! Tonight I'll try some jazz and classical, though I can't wait to hear Led Zep through this thing.

The Steelhead is a World-Beater, and that it's so easy to use and set up is the cherry on top of the double-hot fudge brownie sundae. And I haven't even started tweaking all the adjustments yet - I just plunked it down on three Ultra-Dynafeet, plugged it in with a CPCC Model 10 power cord, and dialed in 55 dB gain and 150 picofarads of capacitance!

The Steelhead is to other phono stages what Godzilla was to Tokyo!

You and Mitch ROCK!! (from a magazine reviewer who wishes to remain anonymous)

I don't think I ever let you know how good the Steelhead really is. Not only does it sound very real and alive but it allows you to get the most out of any cartridge (I have about 20). Great job, I love it.



Dear EveAnna

Can I just say how wonderful I find the Steelhead, it is a work of bloody genius. My two totally different turntables and cartridges sound amazing and i just grin ear to ear every time I use it. You can hear as you adjust when the cartridge is in the zone, any other adjustment is obvious.


The Steelhead is indeed a great piece of phono section. I can't stop listening. Now my lp collection is worth the money. Everything I read on the magazines and at Manley website is true. Listening to my beloved LP is truly amazing. By the way the best sound, at least in my system, is trough the MM input and variable output driving directly the power amps.

Using the Lyra Helicon on the MM input and the gain at 60 db the volume control is at 12.00 o' clock and the level is perfect. My Sonus Faber EXTREMA loves that low frequencies and tight bass coming out from the Steelhead. A great job indeed. Please extend my admirations and congratulations to all the Manley team.

Regards. Imer Azzani from Thailand


I have been listening to the Steelhead steadily now for the past week. and I cannot even begin to tell you how unbelievable this piece is. It is by far the most significant piece of audio equipment that I have ever listened to, and you know that I have listened to a lot of equipment and mostly the best stuff out there for many years. I am in complete awe over this piece.

I just wanted to thank you with all my being for making this music lover a very very happy guy.

All my love as always.


Dear EveAnna,

I'm enjoying immensely your intoxicating new phono preamp.

Simply put, the Steelhead is a beautifully thought out and uniquely versatile phono stage.

I found it to be extremely stable, to possess extraordinary dynamics, and to be fast (quick) and detailed. The bottom end is tight and impactful (explosive). This component has clearly undergone significant improvements since I first heard its prototype at the CES in January 2001. Gone is the slight harmonic leanness and edginess in the upper midrange (possibly caused by the FETs?) that I had noticed in mass strings and complex orchestral works. This phono preamp is blessed with the virtues of the best solid-state models plus the harmonic completeness of tubes.

I connected the Steelhead directly to the power amps. In order to maximize transparency, openness, and detail, I tried connecting to the Moving Magnet inputs (raising the Load Cap to 100 pF), even though I was using a Moving Coil cartridge, thus bypassing the transformers (if you go through the transformers it does sound a little warm, it seems to roll off both frequency extremes and slightly round the transients). Via the MM circuitry I was not quite able to attain sufficient gain, even at the 65 dB setting, due to the relative inefficiency of my system (the sensitivity of my Sound Lab U-1 speakers is around 88 dB and my reference amplifiers are slightly underpowered) but this did allow for a glimpse of what the Steelhead can achieved in an efficient system. It's more transparent, the frequency extremes are better, and the transients have an exact precise sharpness to them. With the transformers the Steelhead is not quite as immediate and detailed. The unit is dead quiet and very well shielded. All in all a remarkable feat.


Tony de Almeida
Stereovox, Inc.

Dear Eveanna,

Received the Steelhead yesterday afternoon. Loved the packing. Very well done. Hook up to my system was simple. Everything, inputs, outputs are smartly laid out and is conducive to keeping interconnects short. All worked upon turn on. No glitches, noises, etc.

I do not know if this unit is brand spanking new or has had some play, so I gave it about an hour with light background music before getting down to business. All comments are based on using the Steelhead straight into the power amps.

I started with MC- 65 db gain - 50pf - 100 Ohms. With my Total Eclipses, (94 db sensitivity) amps ranging in input sensitivity from .75 V to 1 V and the cartridge output of .35 mv, loud listening was achieved with the volume control at about 11 o'clock.

I was first struck by how quiet the unit was. At listening volumes ,only the faintest tube hiss was audible with no hum at all. The functions provided (buffered output volume control to bypass a line stage, alternatively, fixed outputs so that the user can bypass the volume pot and use his own line stage, MC and MM inputs, mono switch, mute, gain choices, capacitive and resistive loading in fine increments easily accessible on the front panel to optimize cartridge performance are all a godsend.)

Now onto the listening.

Right from the first drop of the stylus into the record groove, I knew I was listening to something special. Very familiar discs simply sounded superb in every way. Compared to any currently produced phono preamp, the Steelhead was overall superior. There were individual parameters that a competing unit would better the performance of the Steelhead, but in totality, the Steelhead was the finest I have had the pleasure of auditioning. However, compared to my reference unit, there were sonic flaws that were nonetheless, noticeable. In the highest gain MC setting, the signal goes through a couple of stepup transformers ( one for each channel). I had the nagging suspicion that these transformers were responsible for the roll off and softening I heard at both frequency extremes, as well as slightly rounding off transients and imparting a light haze over the midrange frequencies. All these imperfections were subtle and yes even pleasant, but represented a deviation from accuracy.

I then decided to bypass the transformers by switching to the MM input with its 55db of gain. I kept all the other settings the same. This is a really nice feature of the Steelhead in that the listener can, in the MM stage, still keep the resistive loading at the previous 100 Ohm setting instead of the norm of other units that default to 47K. The sonic result of bypassing the transformers were nothing short of STUNNING. Banished was the midrange veil. The high frequencies were now fully extended, airy and deliciously detailed. The bass seemed like it extended a further 10Hz but with tremendous weight and impact. Transients were now sharply delineated devoid of any sense of slurring. The sound in MM was enhanced in every manner with no sonic downside. Gain in my system was no problem at all. The volume control was set at between 1 - 2 o'clock for the loudest listening levels and noise was not an issue. As a matter of fact, the low noise floor of the Steelhead is one of its many strengths.

At this juncture, in my admittedly short evaluation period, I can safely proclaim the Steelhead in its MM stage, the superior to EVERY other currently produced preamp in my realm of experience. Compared to my reference, the differences between them are now sufficiently subtle that I will have to conduct an A-B test to determine which I consider the superior unit, if indeed one is better than the other. To put this in perspective, there has been no other phono preamp that I have auditioned in the last three years that has even been in the same league as my reference (and yes that includes the most highly acclaimed units). What makes the Steelhead and my reference special and unique, is that they are state of the art on BOTH the macro (dynamics, weight, impact) and micro (low level detail, retrieval of ambient information, harmonic completeness, liquidity) levels. No other preamps in my acquaintance can approach this level of performance.

At the risk of sounding trite and corny, the Steelhead is, even at its considerable asking price, a "steel" and at the head of the preamp class.

I will report back as more listening progresses.

Israel Blume

Coincident Speaker Technology
Designed By Science Driven By Passion

51 Miriam Crescent
Richmond Hill,Ontario,L4B 2P8 Canada
Tel.905-886-6728 Fax.905-886-2627

EveAnna (if I may be so bold as to communicate on a first name basis),

I have only one word to describe my emotions that were stirred by your new product: FLABBERGASTED!!!!!!!!!!.......well actually two: FLOORED!!!!!!......I'll try to stop at three: ABSOLUTELY ENLIGHTENED!!!!!!!......and finally: BRAVO! BRAVO! BRAVO!.......

I'm no pro, but it doesn't take one to understand the joyful process that your wonderful "Steelhead" phono stage preamp performs. Call it voodoo and I'm and instant convert! Call it magic and I'll get the "Steelhead" a headliner booking in Vegas with S.R.O. Call it subversive, and you can sign me up as a hifi operative spreading the word right here in Simi Valley.

I've had the unit for 2 days and I can't(and won't) turn it off. I got the unit this last Saturday and was minding my own business and just hooked up a couple of marginal MC cartridges and a MM type and plugged the unit into my Manley tube amps and what eminated from my Tannoys was BRAND NEW MUSIC from my most familiar L.P.s. I kid you not. Even my mono MC rig was able to reproduce stuff I hadn't really heard in such a tangible manner. I remember saying to myself "if I could only hear the highs in the overture from "Carmen" from the very early 50's I'd be a happy camper. Or the tiny triangles ringing in The Tony Bennet/Ralph Sharon Trio's "When Lights Are Low" mono vinyl L.P. which were barely suggested before the "Steelhead", are now alive and kicking into my smiling ears. And as far as newer stereo L.P.s go: Strap yourselves in and get ready for a very happy ride. As Emiril says on his cooking show: "Happy, Happy, Happy!"

There's only one flaw that the "Steelhead" has created in my system: I have no use for my favorite vintage Eico tube preamp as far as vinyl is concerned! Just plug your turntable into the "Steelhead" and drive your amps directly from this wonderful unit and away we go!

I WILL NEVER LET THIS PREAMP GO! And the design is FABULOUS! FABULOUS! FABULOUS! Mitch Margolis should get the Congressional Medal Of Honor! The "Steelhead" is the stuff "audio shrines" are built around. Manley Labs has Never let me down, and now I owe you guys one! Feel free to call upon me for any favor needed to spread the Manley name here in Ventura County. I am an adherant and I've gotta go put some vinyl on my vintage "Weathers" mono turntable. I am now addicted to your unit and I'm starting to get withdrawal symptoms.

EveAnna and Mitch, and the rest of the Manley Labs Family (o.k. Gamma and Humberto I'll mention you guys too!) Thank you for making such a wonderful product. Absolutely stunning!

I am a lucky dude. You folks at Manley are tops! I now have what I feel is an incredible, top notch (remember, I got the mono bloc 100's too!) all Manley/ Tannoy system. I really wish people could hear the vinyl on my gear, they'd immediately torch, stomp, or vaporize their inferior digi-trash "makes-me-soft-ware" and get back into analog. "Eve-Anna-log" should be your moniker.

Keep up the unbelievably good work. If the "Steelhead" is any indicator of things to come, then the future is going to be very exciting to say the least.

Frank Portillo,

Simi Valley, Ca.

P.S.: Just a photo of me and my new friend.

Hi EveAnna,

It's Frank Portillo checking in with a still glowing report on my Steelhead preamp. Still going strong, reproducing my RCA Living Stereo LP's with such ease. I tend to forget how sophisticated this machine really is. I just put my vinyl on the TT and let my Manley do the rest........effortlessly.......clean powerful sound. I don't know if it's the Steelhead or just my turntable, but it(the Steelhead) seems to look beyond the surface noise on the disc and I feel that I'm hearing more of the music than before.

I take it for granted that the unit will just do it's job, and hell, that's just what it does....perfectly! This unit really brings out the beauty of recorded muse(ic). I'll say this in confidence........ordinary CD's absolutely pale in comparison. I run the Steel- head directly into my Manley monoblocs and from there into my vintage 10" Tannoys and sometimes it's downright scary. I HAVE NOT BEEN DISAPPOINTED WITH THIS UNIT SINCE THE DAY I GOT IT! I know you're the boss and owner of Manley Labs, and it would be too easy to be impressed by your well deserved credentials and shmooze up to you by telling you what an incredibly great unit the Steelhead is just to make some imaginary points that are redeemable somewhere out in the cosmos........but the fact remains: This damn thing sounds terrific, not to mention drop dead gorgeous!

O.K., enough of my ramblings.....keep up the good work. Hell, I think this is a fan letter......I'm turning into a Manley groupie.......Oh,oh, I think I hear the nurse coming back into the ward with my medication....gotta go......Frank Portillo

And yet still more from Frank.... our most enthusiastic Steelhead owner!

Hi EveAnna,

Frank Portillo here. Concerning the Steelhead Phono Preamp I bought from you about six months ago, the impossible has happened.................It's sounding BETTER!!!!!!!!! I truly believe that the tubes are fully burned in and what emanates from the unit now is positively warmer, sweeter, full bodied and absolutely "crystal clear".

It just occurred to me night before last. I was listening to some Martin Denny "Exotica" when it hit me that my rig had a different sound. The sound stage developed what can only be described as a spherical shape that extended well beyond my listening position. I truly felt for the first time that I was witnessing a live performance, especially where the percussive instruments were concerned. I heard and sensed depth, and all the instruments let you know exactly where they were....not just in a right to left sense, but in an "in front of or behind another instrument" array. A real mental picture was formed by what my ears were hearing.

I would let new buyers of this wonderful unit know that something truly special awaits them even beyond what the unit initially delivers (which is superb). I WILL NEVER, EVER SELL THIS UNIT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES! (Well, to be honest, any circumstances NOT involving Cameron Diaz!)

All kidding aside, I was physically and emotionally moved by the unexpected bonus that was incubating within the metal cabinet that has the Manley name proudly displayed on the front panel (I got the "Gold Edition").

This Steelhead gave birth the other night..............and what was delivered was........ music. Thanks for your time, Frank P.


I was so excited to have my Manley Steelhead waiting for me when I returned last month from leading one of our safaris to East Africa! I bought it Feb. 3 and was on safari from Feb. 17 to March 12. It is usually a big letdown to return home, but now that I have the Manley Steelhead I get the same sense of paradise and beauty at home that I have during our wildlife safaris in Tanzania and Kenya or on our cruises to the Antarctic. My Manley Steelhead keeps me in heaven with the amazing beauty of its sound.

I have my cd player also hooked up through the Manley Steelhead and it's awesome. It started breaking in at 50 hours and seems to be still improving in sound quality at 300 hours. It is an incredible unit and the best preamp unit for vinyl and cds that I have ever heard. I was a big MacIntosh fan before, but now after hearing the Manley Steelhead, I am very happy to have sold my MacIntosh unit. The Manley Steelhead gives me something to look forward to as I journey home from all the natural sounds of the wild to beautiful music in my own home. Thanks so much for your great work and I hope you will join us on safari to wild Tanzania or to beautiful Antarctica!

Doug Cheeseman,
Cheesemans' Ecology Safaris

Organizers and leaders of in-depth nature experiences to Antarctica, E. Africa, Galapagos, Peru, Costa Rica and other beautiful wildlife destinations.