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Manley Neo-Classic 300B Preamplifier Review Print E-mail
Monday, 28 September 2009
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Manley Neo-Classic 300B Preamplifier Review
Listening Tests


From the get go, let it be known that the Neo Classic 300B was something special. The first thing that I noticed was how wide the soundstage became. Compared to my reference Audio Research SP16, ($2995, when available), musical images were more lifelike and seemed to extend several feet around the speakers.  Secondly, there was neutrality and purity in the midrange that one would expect from preamplifiers costing several times as much.  To lay it on the line, after a bit of extended listening, I actually asked myself “Where is the preamp?”. The sound seemed so open, transparent, and wide. The Neo Classic did a disappearing act, the good kind.  The type that allows the source to get your amplifier and speakers with everything intact, but without any hint of edge. I have heard CD players with volume controls going directly to power amps, bypassing the need for a preamp. Suffice to say, I would never allow for that kind of set up in my system.

As my listening sessions progressed, one of the only hints that put the Manley in the signal path was the wonderful, round, warm (but not overly warm!) and authoritative bass.  The Manley’s bass presentation was human; exactly the way I like it. Bass notes are not just notes as they are played by musicians on a variety of instruments.  Can bass have soul? I don’t know, but the 300B sure came the closest to making me think so. For all practical purposes, I have never heard such clean, extended, and articulate bass from my Harbeth Compact 7’s; in the most organic sense.

I listened to a variety of music during this review period.  First up was the Deluxe Edition remaster of REM’s “Murmer” (CD, Universal, 2009). This release, in various formats, has been in my collection since the early 80’s.  I can honestly say I had never quite heard it like this. All was laid out as it appears on the master tape: the studio reverbs, the dated snare drum sound, the thick, melodic bass lines, and lead vocals; upfront, throaty, and lyrics still obscured!

The 300B is certainly a marriage made in heaven for older analog rock recordings. Disc after disc that I spun from this genre simply allowed me to melt away in my chair. Another particular title that had me reliving my past was the brand new reissue of the Stone Roses classic, first album.  The lush, percussion heavy, psychedelic mix sounded stunning through the 300B.  The Deluxe Edition of Jeff Buckley’s classic “Grace” (CD, Columbia, 2004) is a tough recording for even good systems to unravel, due to the sheer force of Buckley’s five octave voice, the unique way in which he plays his Fender Telecaster, alternating between a delicacy that few can muster and a punk like attack, and the thunder of the band in full flight in conjunction with Andy Wallace’s brilliant production.  On other systems, I have heard this album sound like a “recording of a genius at work”. Through the Manley, it was a performance.  What a HUGE distinction that is!

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!

Manely 300b top

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.


Manely 300B Specs

  • Inputs: 5 stereo pair unbalanced RCA jacks
  • Outputs: 2 stereo pairs MAIN out same as SUB out unbalanced RCA jacks
  • RECORD output: 1 stereo pair pre-volume control unbalanced RCA jacks
  • HEADPHONE Outs: 2 front panel 1/4" headphone jacks
  • Optimized headphone impedance switching: 30-400 ohms to 300-4000 ohms
  • Output Vacuum Tubes: 2 x 300B Electro-Harmonix
  • Input Tubes: 2 x 6SL7GT Electro-Harmonix
  • Rectifier Tubes: 2 x 5U4GBEH Electro-Harmonix
  • Regulator Tubes:  2 x OD3 NOS JAN USA
  • Gain: factory set at 12 dB at max Volume
  • S/N Ratio: typically 105 dB (A WGT, 20 Hz - 20 KHz)
  • Frequency Response: 5 Hz to 50 KHz ±1dB
  • Input Sensitivity: 250mV (-9.8dBu) yields 1V out
  • Input Impedance: 100 Kohm Noble volume control
  • Output Impedance (LINE STAGE): 100 ohms
  • Maximum Output Level: 17.2dBu or 5.636 Vrms @ 1KHz, volume control at maximum
  • Output Power (100 ohm Headphones): 1W (10 V RMS) (28 V P-P)
  • Output Power (600 ohm Headphones): 1W( 25 V RMS) (70 V P-P)
  • Power Consumption: 170 Watts (1.4 A @ 120VAC)  
  • Mains Voltage Frequency: 50~ 60Hz
  • Dimensions: W=19". L=13". H=3 1/2"
  • Shipping Weight: 28 Ibs.

Reviewer's Gear

  • CD Player: Naim CD5x with Flatcap 2X
  • Preamp: Audio Research SP16
  • Amplifier: Audio Research VS55
  • Speaker: Harbeth Compact 7ES
  • Cables:NuForce/ Kimber/QED/Acoustic Zen (AC)/Transparent (AC)

Company Info

Manley Laboratories, Inc.
13880 Magnolia Ave.
Chino, CA 91710 USA

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