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The first word that comes to mind is vivid. The Edge’s ethereal guitar and keyboard lines rang out for what seemed forever, Bono’s vocals were as center stage as I had ever heard them; surprising after owning these records in every conceivable format. Everything took on another dimension. What shocked me, and I don’t use that word lightly, was the bass. It was punchy, articulate, and just plain life size. I honestly did not know my Harbeth Compact 7’s were cable of this type of performance. My reference Audio Research VS55 simply cannot compete. Through the ARC, the bass is softer, less defined, and bit warmer.
Next up was a slew of Bert Jancsh CD's from his glory period in the mid to late 70’s. Along with being a pivotal member of the Pentangle, an iconic British folk rock band from the 60’s, Jancsh had a prolific solo career. His recordings were generally very well done, with acoustic guitars and vocals at the forefront, with a traditional rock rhythm section thrown in on about half the tracks. I found myself really getting off on the woody tones of his guitar, any accompanying percussion, and his very distinct, slurred vocal style.
Moving through a variety of discs from the classic rock era I was stunned at the level of detail and immediacy I was experiencing. I believe the operative word for this review is immediacy. The MAHI's transient speed totally floored me. This is not a “slow” tube amp. It’s as if they want to get the music from the source to your speakers as fast and as dimensionally as possible, so as not to delay your listening pleasure. The highs were liquid, feather light when called for, and extended. The MAHI's do not offer the clichéd thick congested mids, but rather, the mids are supremely natural and transparent, with a pinch of warmth. I believe that this natural presentation deepens the soundstage, allows instruments and voices to retain their natural timbres, and draws the listener into the musical presentation.
Oddly, I tend to get bored with listening to the same genre of music for extended periods, and enjoy mixing it up. But…the Manley’s made it very difficult for me to break away from rock, soul, and R&B. The music had sense of propulsion and sparkle that I’m not quite used to. As much as I love my ARC gear, I equate the VS55 amp, rated at 50WPC, as a fine red wine. Complex, a bit on the mellow side, and not in a hurry, The MAHI's were more like whiskey; straight down the hatch, no sipping here. It came through the door ready to kick ass with pure immediacy. My final session of rocking out was with a few of the new Beatles remasters from the Stereo Box Set. I found it to be astonishing. Sgt Pepper, Magical Mystery Tour, and even A Hard Days Night were incredibly fun to listen to with the MAHI's. This music was alive and as exciting as the day it was recorded.
I tore my self away from the rock section of my cd cabinet and put on loads of John Coltrane, McCoy Tyner, and Bill Evans. The Coltrane tracks, 40 odd year old recordings, were thrilling. The horns were brassy, dimensional, and inside the room. The legendary Coltrane rhythm section of Elvin Jones and Jimmy Garrison breathed fire on the up tempo pieces, and laid back with velvety ease on the ballads. Bill Evan’s elegant, precise arrangements were once again timeless. The organic interactions of the ensembles were rendered sublimely.
As one could expect from mono blocks, channel separation was superb. I don’t have much recent experience with mono blocks, although I grew up listening to my father’s Quad II’s. Every time I do get a chance to hear them, I wonder why I don’t dive in. I usually talk my self out of it because the need for extra power cords, more tubes to worry about, and the requirement of expanded shelf or floor space. I tend to exaggerate the inconveniences though. The MAHI's performed flawlessly in my listening room.
Regarding the power ratings, I listen at reasonably high levels; just enough to feel the music and move some air, but not insane rock concert SPL’s. The MAHI's were vastly more than adequate even in Triode mode, which gives you between 18-25 WPC roughly depending on Feedback setting. I honestly don’t understand when some audiophiles think monster mega watt amps are necessary to provide texture and scale. I have always preferred lower powered amps, as fewer output stages and less circuitry are theoretically simpler devices. I never, not once, hungered for more power, volume, scale, or dynamics in my medium sized listening room.
As mentioned previously, I generally preferred Triode mode with Feedback at the MIN setting. When Feedback was increased to STD and MAX, the music seemed to move back a few feet with each flick of the toggle switch. Ultra Linear was bit more aggressive, and Triode mode was more seductive and musical. This will vary with your system. Different speakers, cables, preamps, and rooms will find you preferring one setting over the other. If you are a fiddler, you have to option to change the Feedback settings on the fly. Toggling between Ultra Linear and Triode modes require the amps to be powered down before switching.
John Barker, of Sonic Culture, a local Southern California dealer initially recommended Triode Mode with MIN Feedback, and he was spot on. I’ve recently taken to getting second opinions on everything, and when I asked John to give me his take on the MAHI's, he replied with the following. “The Manley MAHI mono blocks represent an incredible audio performance value with uncommon flexible utility. Build quality is solid, retro, and tasteful. Performance rivals much bigger fish in the market for a fraction of the price. The MAHI monos are fast, dynamic and punchy. The presentation is open, layered and extended with impressive low frequency articulation, control, weight and slam.
The MAHI's are exciting, engaging and vivid amplifiers that bring the listener closer to the music. Triode and Ultralinear operation and three negative feedback options provide flexibility for component matching or music preference. Triode with minimum feedback is hard to fault. Despite the modest output specifications the amplifiers will drive moderate to high sensitivity speakers with authority. Made in California, with pride, there is little to no competition to match the performance.”
Well, at least I know I’m not the only one that heard what I heard. I could not agree more with this assessment. When ears you trust come to identical conclusions as you do, after weeks of intense listening, it is a nice validation. “Exciting, engaging, and vivid” indeed,