|Manley Neo-Classic 300B Preamplifier Review|
|Home Theater Preamplifiers Stereo Preamps|
|Written by Andre Marc|
|Monday, 28 September 2009|
Page 2 of 2
The mother of ALL classic analog recordings is the 2009 re-mastered box set of every single Beatles original studio album, plus the non album singles collected on “Past Masters”. Suffice it to say, much is expected of this project that was four years in the making. I’m happy to report it does not disappoint. The Manley allowed me to hear this music that I am intimately familiar with as if for the first time. I have had each of the titles available in the box set on LPs, discs, and reel to reel tapes. For me to hear a sound stage as precise as this is stunning. It revealed aspects of the Beatles recordings that were impossible to detect in prior releases. The Beatles and tubes in the Manley are beyond a heavenly match. Through the 300B, there were percussion, harmony, tape effect, guitar, keyboard, and bass parts that seemed to appear out of nowhere. The timing of the review period and the arrival of my box set from Amazon could not have been better!
The modern rock recordings I listened were never, ever edgy, bright, or over-cooked. Titles from the Raconteurs, MuteMath, U2, Duffy, The Dead Weather, John Legend, and scores more sounded as organic as they are going to in a Pro Tools world, I suspect. As a matter of fact, many newer recordings were just as engaging and musically satisfying as older “classic” tracks, despite the unbridled use of compression, limiting, and digital recording that is the vogue.
Moving on to classical recordings, I was absolutely knocked out by what the Manley did with large scale orchestral works from Lalo, Saint-Saens, and Mahler. I have several versions of Mahler’s No.2, including the classic RCA Living Stereo SACD hybrid. Talk about hearing the recording space! That is generally an area I don’t focus on too much, but soundstage width and depth that the Manley brings to the table makes it impossible to ignore.( Just going back to classic rock for a moment, I really did hear the “sound of the room” on the 2009 Neil Young re-masters, something I had just filed under “audiophile” craziness). I also put on one of my favorite show stopping discs, the now, very unfortunately defunct Telarc two disc 25th Anniversary Collection, (CD, Telarc, 2002). With forty excerpts from classic Telarc recordings, it’s a stunner with the Manley in the chain. It was breathing life into every recording I listened too. It was providing the flesh and blood.
Acoustic music convinced me that the Neo Classic produces sweet, crystalline, and seductive highs. The natural tone of instruments and voices shone through. To me, this is paramount. It does not matter what component, speaker, or cable I’m auditioning. If the natural timbres and woodiness of un-amplified instruments are not recognizable, all bets are off. Spinning offerings of acoustic music from Bert Jansch, Joan Baez, Cat Stevens, and more exotic fare from Anour Brahim illustrated how right the Manley was getting the performances in spades. From attending live performances and being a music lover, the average audiophile knows when a component is not fatally flawed, and presenting a recording in a natural, and musical way. I’ve heard some mega buck systems and thought to my self, “They have got to be kidding”. But that is just proof that this is a very subjective hobby.
I did try the Neo Classic 300B with a few aftermarket accessories, and with a few different cables. I replaced the stock power cord towards the end of the review process with my Acoustic Zen Tsunami II. There was a subtle improvement in dynamics, not earth shattering but certainly detectable. That only tells me the 300B’s power supply is primo. The 300B was able to distinguish immediately between different brands of interconnects and speaker cables. As far as isolation devices are concerned, that was bit trickier, as the Manley comes with four spiked columns attached to the chassis that act as feet, and I assume, resonance control. My usual Symposium Rollerblocks and Cardas Myrtle Wood blocks were too short to reach the underside of the chassis due to the spiked columns. But, I did not mind a bit, as those columns seemed to be doing a fine job of stabilizing the preamp.
I can safely say that any audiophile shopping for a tubed preamplifier in the $5000 to $6000 range should put the Manley Neo Classic 300B preamplifier near the top, or even AT the top of a short list. Build quality, reliability, ease of use, and sound quality are all outstanding and beyond reproach. Speaking for myself, the next component I plan on upgrading is my preamp, I can tell you the Manley will be the two or three I would consider. The only other ones that I would audition at this price point are offerings from Audio Research, (maybe the LS17), Conrad Johnson, or a Cary. That is exalted company. Sending back this unit to Manley is going to be a sad day indeed, as music was a living, breathing thing with the 300B preamplifier being a conduit for long, enjoyable listening sessions. This preamp is world class, and music came out of the loudspeakers like butter, the organic kind. It’s a universe away from margarine, trust me on that! Not a hint of trouble in operation was to be found in the time I had the unit in my system. I highly recommend an audition. If it makes things any more attractive, Manley is a very consumer friendly company that makes their components by hand, to order.