Manley Labs Snapper Monoblock Amplifiers Review 
Home Theater Power Amplifiers Mono Amplifiers
Written by Andre Marc   
Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Manley Labs, out of Chino, CA, is one of my favorite high-end audio companies. I had the pleasure of reviewing the wonderful 300B Preamplifier, and the very cool MAHI® monoblock power amplifiers. To say I greatly enjoyed my time with both those products would be an understatement. Manley's world view is that hifi should be fun at all costs, not some super-serious hobby where hours can be spent debating the choice of AC power cords. The Manley world view also declares that Tubes Rule. I agree with that, and I will add that tubes are one way to make hifi fun. It is clearly more interactive to fiddle with valves, as they are called in Europe.

Needless to say I was very excited at the prospect of reviewing additional Manley products. Well, imagine my joy at being assigned the mighty SNAPPER® 100W monoblock amplifiers. The Snappers use four 6CA7 tubes per side along with a 7044 driver tube, and a 12AX7 input tube. The amps are finished in Manley's classic purple grey finish. The workmanship is exceptional, with remarkable attention to detail.  They are quite hefty, weighing in at at over 30 lbs each. The Snapper monoblocks retail for $4,250 per pair.

Front View
The Snappers come with both XLR and RCA inputs, selectable via a toggle switch. The amps, like the Mahis I reviewed last year are optimized for a 5 ohm speaker load. They also feature four spiked columns for support, easy to access tube biasing points, and very good quality WBT binding posts. Everything about these amplifiers exudes classic Americana, with superb workmanship, and rugged coolness.

Set Up:

Set up was as straightforward as can be. I installed the power, driver, and input tubes, and biased up the power tubes to 300 mV. By the way, Manley supplies a very cool multi meter and bias tool with the unit, certainly a nice touch, and is fitting with Manley's customer oriented approach. I used the Snappers in several rooms with Harbeth Compact 7ES and Thiel CS24 speakers, Belles solid state and Audio Research tube preamps, and the Bryston BCD-1 CD player.  I used Shunyata Venom power cords, along with QED speaker cables and Transparent interconnects.

The first thing I noted was how quiet the Snappers were; amazingly so. The Mahis I had in house last year exhibited a bit more tube noise, but you literally had to put your ears to the speakers to hear it; but boy, did I love the sound of those amps. The Snappers straight away were huge sounding, evenly balanced, and possessed some of the most liquid mids I had ever heard. Manley's very knowledgeable sales rep suggested an 80 hour burn in before critical listening, and I did take his advice. After 80 hours the amps sounded even better, with sweeter highs, excellent mid band resolution, and the best, most articulate bass I have heard from a tube amplifier, bar none.

As this is the third Manley component I have evaluated, I do see some consistencies that one could call the Manley house sound. First, everything sounds so life like and large. Not large as in an artificially bloated image, but large as in fleshed out and breathing. Like the real thing. The Manley 300B preamp was my first experience with this wide screen, properly scaled perspective. It made me realize that my reference equipment miniaturized images to some extent, although this dawned on me only by comparison.
Side Tubes

The second aspect of the Manley sound, which is somewhat tied into scale, is the width of soundstage. All the Manley components I have had in house spread the soundstage as wide as the room will go - and again, in a natural and unforced way. One component that comes to mind that performed similarly is the Lamm LL2.1 Deluxe preamp I reviewed last year. The Manley gear has so much flesh and blood on its bones, it can be addicting. At least I found it to be.

The third aspect of the Manley "thing", so to speak, is texture and shape. What I mean by this is that I was able to visualize and instrument based on its attack and decay through the Snappers. I could imagine the shape and size of a ride cymbal and where it was being struck, I could imagine acoustic guitar strings resonating when strummed furiously, and I could imagine a singer emoting in front me as if in a live performance.  I say take it if you can find it. Much hifi gear, even pricey stuff, renders playback like an autopsy of a recording.  Count me out.  The Snappers could lean more in the opposite direction. Plenty of soul, but they also are a clear window in the recording details, just not in boring way. Not on your life. This is soul and brains.

Before rocking out, during the several weeks I spent with the Snappers, I was in the mood to exploit the textural side of the Manley sound. I played a bunch of Tim Buckley discs. Blue Afternoon features vibes, acoustic guitar, jazzy Les Paul fills, and of course Buckley's god like voice on such devastating cuts as "Blue Melody", "I Must Have Been Blind", and "The River". I literally felt surrounded by the musicians. I often lean towards 1960's minimalist recordings that emphasize performances rather than studio trickery or cut and paste approaches. The Snappers bring you there with these types of albums. More examples include some exotic pop from guitarist Gabor Szabo, recorded in the late sixties, where I could have sworn the guitar amplifier was in one corner of the room, and the drummer in the door. Spooky,.

I recently caught Sting on PBS performing with trumpeter Chris Botti. He did several songs from his Ten Summoner’s Tales album, and this prompted me to pull it out of the cabinet and give it a spin. It is definitely one of his strongest collections. And with the Snappers, time seem to fly, as before I knew it the disc was on the last track. Sting's clever arrangements, distinctive vocals, and clean production really shined through. There was a natural snap to the snare drum, solid weight to the bass lines, and lots of overall ambiance, although mostly studio-created.

Top Tubes

I also played a ton of music off of my Squeezebox, through a CIA VDA-2 DAC. I have gigs of live soundboard concert recordings. I grooved to a lot of live Grateful Dead, U2, Rolling Stones, and much more. I felt like I was at the mixing board. Listening sessions like these, are what allows Manley to proclaim Tubes Rule, because in many instances, they just do. One thing I should note is that the Snappers did not produce nearly as much heat as I expected. They were not doubling as space heaters, like a few other tube, -  and even solid state - amps I have had.

In all of my time with the Snappers, the bias did not drift at all on any of the output tubes. Always a good sign of good engineering and careful tube selection. Also, I really did  not do any audiophile fiddling, with fancy after- market support cones or devices, or expensive power cords.  The reasonably priced Shunyata’s did the trick. I might also note that tube rolling is our prerogative. Manley provides information about this on their website, and they will gladly take your call if you have any questions. I should add the manual is very enjoyable to read, with tons of information, advice, and interesting notes.

Conclusion:

The raging debate  that never seems to end in high performance audio is that of value. That may be because there are so many over priced products in our hobby, and disproportionately so when compared to other specialty hobbies. Manley is one of those companies that generally never enters that conversation. From my experience, they provide extreme value considering they make hand- assembled audio products in Chino, (not China), offer excellent warranties, customer advice, service, and most importantly, their gear sounds terrific.

The Snapper mono block amps, at $4,250 per pair, are an easy recommendation. What you get is real 100 watts per channel, great bass control, superb mids, and great, clean highs, with low noise, in a rugged retro cool chassis. And a word on power, another point of endless debate among audiophiles. Some get hung up in ratings ignore common sense.  I would say that for one not to have more than enough juice using the Snappers, you would have to have either an absolutely huge room, extremely current-hungry speakers, or you are very unrealistic in your listening levels.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. If you are in the market for a tube amp, can accommodate mono blocks, and want hassle- free, great sound, arrange an audition at a local dealer. Why you would pass up this great- sounding amplifier for something far more expensive made in Europe or Japan, is beyond me. You will pay more for less, and then it’s "good luck" with support if you should need it. Yes, I strongly believe that American specialty manufacturing should be supported.  Not simply for the sake of it, but  because they beat the competition. Manley Labs is also a dominant player in  the high- end pro audio market, and has been in a leader in that industry for decades providing excellent value and performance. Their hifi gear offers the same, and then some.

Entire side view

Specifications:

Input Impedance RCA: 475 Kohm
Input Impedance XLR: 15 Kohm
Input Sensitivity RCA: 750mV input = 110W output
Input Sensitivity XLR @ 15Kohms: 1.5 V input = 110W output
Input Sensitivity XLR @ 600ohms: 2.4 V input = 110W output (w/600ohm source)
Maximum Output Power into 5 ohms: 110 Watts (1.5% THD @ 1kHz)
Maximum Output Power into 8 ohms: 100 Watts (1.5% THD @ 1kHz)
Signal to Noise Ratio Ref. 1W: Typically 90 dB A-WGT 20-20K
Dynamic Range: 98dB
Recommended Speaker Load: Optimized for 5 ohms
Actual Output Impedance: 1.5 ohms
Power Consumption (idle): 170 Watts (1.4A @120VAC)
Power Consumption (at Full Power 110W): 336 Watts (2.8A @120VAC)
Input Vacuum Tube: 1 x 12AX7 Russian with 6CA7 output tubes; use 12AT7EH large plate Electro-Harmonix Russian with EL34 types
Driver Vacuum Tube: 1 x 7044 or 5687 GE JAN NOS
Output Vacuum Tubes: 4 x 6CA7 (or EL34 equivalent)
Dimensions: 15" deep x 13" wide x 8.75" tall
Shipping weight each: 45 pounds
Price: $4,250 per pair

Manley Laboratories, Inc.
13880 Magnolia Ave.
Chino, CA 91710 USA
www.manley.com
(909) 627-4256

Reviewers Associated Equipment System 1:
  • CD Player: Naim CD5 XS with Flatcap 2X,
  • Preamp: Audio Research SP16, Marantz SC-11S1
  • Amplifier: Audio Research VS55
  • Speaker: Harbeth Compact 7ES3, THIEL CS2.4
  • Cables: DH Labs, RS Cables, Kimber/QED/Acoustic Zen (AC)/Transparent (AC)/Element Cable, Shunyata, Pangea
  • Accessories: Symposium Rollerblocks, Shakti Stone, Sound Anchors stands, Timbernation platform, CablePro Noisetrapper

Reviewers Associated Equipment 2:

  • CD Player: Marantz 5003, Bryston BCD-1
  • Music Server: Squeezebox 3
  • DAC:CIA VDA-2 with XPS
  • Tape Deck: Revox A77, HHB CD Recorder
  • Preamp: Belles Soloist 3
  • Amplifier: Revox A722, Belles Soloist 5
  • Speaker: Spendor S5e
  • Cables: Kimber/QED/Transparant/Shunyata(AC)/PS Audio(AC), Pangea Audio, RS Cables, Element Cables.





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