Manley Neo-Classic SE/PP 300B Monoblock Amplifier Review 
Home Theater Power Amplifiers Mono Amplifiers
Written by Andre Marc   
Wednesday, 27 October 2010

In the past year I have become a big fan of gear produced by Manley Labs, out of Chino, CA. I have reviewed the Neo-Classic 300B Preamplifier, the MAHI® EL84-based monoblocks, and the Snapper® 6CA7-based monoblock amplifiers. Each component was off the charts impressive in sound quality, build detail, value, and overall user experience. Prior to first hand experience, I had only heard about Manley's reputation of building great components, excellent customer service and support, and overall buyer satisfaction. It all turned out to be true. I also have become a big believer in Manley's no-nonsense, light hearted attitude, evident in their manuals and on their website.

I now have the opportunity to evaluate the Neo-Classic SE/PP 300B tubed monoblock amplifiers, rated at 11W per channel in Single Ended mode and 24W per channel in Push-Pull mode. It has been a very long time since I have heard a 300B based amplifier, and I have not yet had one in my home. The amps arrived packed in Manley's typical bulletproof packaging, with their usual fun but comprehensive user manual. The 300B's retail for $7,200 per pair.

Manley first began using the 300B tube in some of their monoblocks in 1995, but the 300B tube has a long history. It looks like a large light bulb and has a sweet orange glow when in use. The 300B was first introduced in 1937; initial use was to help amplify telephone signals. The 300B found its way into audiophile amplifiers and was known for low noise and high reliability. They have also been known to last many thousands of hours with proper use.

Manley front plate

The 300B enjoyed a renaissance in the late 90's, after a rough patch in the 80's, with the popularity of Single Ended Triode (SET) amplifiers. SET amps were known for their low power, transparency, and immediacy. 300B SET amplifiers became especially popular in Japan and Europe, where listening rooms tend to be smaller and power less of an issue.

The Manley Neo-Classic SE/PP 300B comes with a tube compliment consisting of 2 Russian sourced Electro Harmonix 300B's, one 6SL7 input, one 6SN7 driver, and two 5U4 rectifier tubes. There is one set of RCA inputs on each amp, and nice German made WBT speaker binding posts. These 300B amps look very cool when all the tubes are installed - an added bonus.

Set Up and Listening:

Setting up the Neo-Classic 300B's was a snap. They weigh around 41 lbs each and are quite deep, almost two feet, so you will need either a rack with fairly sizable shelves, or some floor space. I chose the carpeted floor. The 300B's, like the other Manley amps I reviewed, are outfitted with spiked columns for support, and they are finished in the famous Manley purple-grey finish. I used a variety of partnering equipment, including a solid state McIntosh integrated (preamp section), my Audio Research tubed SP16 preamp, Transparent and Audience speaker cables, and the Audience 2 + 2 monitors I reviewed. At the tail end of the review period I also used my Harbeth C73ES.

Manely Front dials

Manley designed the 300B's to be very user-friendly and also to be as versatile as possible. There is a speaker impedance matching toggle switch on the back of the chassis. One setting allows for speakers with impedance ratings of 4 Ohms to 12 Ohms and the other setting is for speakers with impedance ratings of 12 Ohms to 20 Ohms.  Manley also allows for selecting Single Ended or Push-Pull settings "on the fly". In Single Ended mode both 300B tubes are used in parallel, resulting in a minimal amount of circuitry in the signal path, but the result is a lower power output. In Push-Pull mode, according to Manley, "each tube works in opposite phase to the other and relies on the output transformer to make the polarities work together. This has advantages in efficiency and in the distortion and noise cancellation properties of a balanced circuit. "

There is also a selector knob that lets you dial in the desired amount of feedback in 1 dB steps, from 1 to 10. Manley says increasing the feedback reduces distortion and provides a flatter frequency response, but also results in less gain. Manley suggest experimenting, as much depends on your room, your speaker, and your personal tastes. More on that later.

Biasing the tubes was the last step and that was very simple. There are easy to access bias points on the chassis and Manley even supplies a voltage meter.  I biased each 300B to the specified values in the manual, and was off and running. It was that easy. I should mention I used the supplied stock power cords for about a week then swapped them out. Special mention must go to the Audience powerChord e, which I really felt had a great synergy with the Manleys. It clearly lowered the noise floor and improved dynamics.

The review samples were burned in at the factory for over a hundred hours and they were ready to shine right out of the box. My initial impression was one of sheer amazement at the immediacy and the beauty of the sound. It was easy to see why the SET amp has had such a long and loyal following, despite some practical shortcomings. I then spent quite a bit of time switching between Single Ended mode and Push-Pull. With both the Audience and Harbeth speakers I generally preferred Single Ended. I just felt the sound was a bit more open and immediate - and in my small listening room, power was never an issue. Not once did I find myself feeling deprived of volume or dynamics. The fact that both the Harbeth and Audience speakers are pretty easy to drive also made a difference.

I decided to put the 300B’s through their paces with a variety of music, both small and large in scale. First up was Seal’s 2007 electro pop flavored System. It is a big sounding record, with heavy bass lines, techno flavored beats, and Seal’s husky voice riding on top. What makes the album even more interesting is the use of acoustic guitar, and other natural touches on an album with an overall electronic feel. But Seal’s vocals are beautifully recorded and the whole thing is not a victim of the compression wars. Quite the contrary. Through the Manley amps, the album sounded as big and as intimate as I have ever heard it, even on way bigger amps. I was hooked.

Legendary British guitarist Bert Jansch’s 2000 “comeback” album, Crimson Moon, is filled with very nicely recorded, intricate guitar work and Jansch’s trademark slurry vocals.  Acoustic guitars were woody in tone, and the overall ambiance was stunningly lifelike. Clearly there was some serious tube magic at work here.

I have some final notes on settings and overall preferences With the Audience 2 + 2 monitors I preferred Single Ended mode with zero feedback. It just clicked. With the Harbeth’s I preferred Single Ended 80% of the time, with between 5 dB and 7 dB of feedback, and Push-Pull with zero feedback 20% of time. As Manley said, your preferred settings will strongly depend on your room and speaker set up.

Manley Tubes

Conclusion:

Manley is one of the American champions of tubed hifi components. They make excellent sounding, ruggedly built, and fairly priced gear. I have had the distinct pleasure of reviewing four of their products and I can, without reservation, recommend you put them at the top of your list if you are a tube aficionado.

The Neo-Classic SE/PP 300B is so far my favorite amplifier that I have heard from Manley. I like it as much as the 300B preamp I reviewed. Both offer wide, natural soundstaging and a beautiful and natural presentation. While not cheap at $7,200, they offer a level of refinement that I believe is commensurate with the price. They will probably offer a lifetime of enjoyment. You can also count on top notch support. Manley does not cycle products in and out like other companies, so you will not feel compelled to “upgrade”.

Of course, to consider the Manley 300B, you need appropriate circumstances such as a smaller room, reasonably efficient speakers, and an ear for superb tonal quality, deep soundstaging, and a glorious midrange. If the above applies to you, head to your dealer for a demo. But you may want to bring your check book.  You can find very nice 300B based SET amps from boutique suppliers in Europe and Japan, but you will pay a heavy premium. Why would you want to do that, unless you think the grass is always greener on other shores. I can only offer these parting thoughts...the day after I packed up the Manley amps, I missed them already.



AVRev: Can you tell us what role you play at Manley and how you got started in a career in high end audio?

Chris Dauray: What role do I play? Well, we all wear many hats over here. I started out at Manley in the summer of 2003 while on summer break from college on the east coast. I was studying music - performance, composition, theory, and recording - and this was a family business already, so it was the logical choice for me. My grandfather (EveAnna's dad) used to own Ampeg back in the late '60s, so the behind-the-scenes of the music biz was already firmly implanted in me. That summer was the beginning of it all. I spent the following summers in Chino learning to solder, wind transformers, test tubes, and fix gear, and I moved to LA permanently in 2006 after I graduated from college.

So what do I do now...for the last few years I've been hand-building our microphones, and working with EveAnna extensively on our marketing and sales projects for both Hi-fi and Pro gear. Trade shows are a big part of it as well, and I'm moving towards doing the marketing and advertising thing full-time. This is partially because I really, really love fonts.

AVRev: Why do you think tube amps are still around and as considering solid state technology has advanced tremendously from its beginnings?

Chris Dauray: I think part of it is science, and part of it is culture. Science-wise: A vacuum tube is a more inherently linear device for voltage amplification than a transistor in a similar circuit. Transient content is better-preserved, because less global feedback is needed to correct for non-linearity. Also, the gigantic potential energy storage in the power supply of a tube amp gives these transients room to breathe. This transient content is where so much of the music is; overtones are what make up the texture and nuance of an instrument, and that texture is vital to accurate and musical sound reproduction. That's the short answer.

From a cultural standpoint, there's a certain allure to tubes that has not gone away - nor do I believe it will in the foreseeable future. Guitar players have always loved tubes because it's simply more FUN and engaging to play a guitar through a responsive tube amp. They clip gracefully (unlike solid-state circuits), and have a magic to them that may sometimes be intangible, but is almost always recognized. Plus, think of it this way - it takes no small amount of effort and money to build a good tube amp (quality parts are expensive!), so *generally* one can assume these manufacturers care about their product, and not just about how much money it's making them. I think people appreciate companies that really BELIEVE in what they do and have a REASON for why they do it.

AVRev: Manley has a reputation of making very fairly priced, superbly built gear. What is the secret?

Chris Dauray:  It's funny you should say that, because we (as a company) inhabit two very different worlds. In the realm of professional audio, we build some of the highest-quality, priciest gear available. In the hi-fi world, our equipment is FAR from the most expensive, though our quality standards remain the same.

It comes down to a philosophy: End users deserve honest, realistic pricing, and we try very hard to give them that. Our pricing structure is the same in both the hi-fi and pro markets - the pricing is fair for everyone. We make a little money, our distributors make a little money, and our dealers make a little money. We don't believe in monstrous markups and ridiculous margins. Our pro audio customers (who use our equipment to make a living) wouldn't tolerate it, so why should our hi-fi customers?

AVRev: Lastly, vinyl or digital? And What does your dream system look like?

Chris Dauray:  Definitely 50/50. I stream music and TV and movies at my house. I'm in the car for 2-3 hours a day (turns out LA has traffic?), and my iPhone is vital to my well-being. Carrying hundreds of albums in my pocket in lossless formats to enjoy in my car, at my desk, on a plane....it's priceless. Can't beat the convenience factor.

WITH THAT SAID: When I get home after a long day, the only thing I want to do is listen to my vinyl through my tube amp and my Tannoys and have a glass of wine. That is unwinding at its finest, bar none.

Dream system, eh? Well, I've currently got a Manley Stingray and some little Tannoys...honestly, I'm really quite content. I like simplicity. I suppose some day I'd like to upgrade to larger tube monoblocks and a pair of more powerful speakers. I do love those big Tannoy Churchills...but I need a bigger room first. :)


Specifications

  • Price: $7200 per pair
  • Vacuum Tubes: 2 x 300B (Output), 1 x 6SN7 (Driver), 1 x 6SL7 (Input), 2 x 5U4 (Rectifier)
  • Dimensions: W= 8.5, D= 23, H= 9 inches, Including projecting controls and parts
  • Minimum Mounting Surface Dimensions:  Feet Footprint = W= 7.5" D= 18"
  • Shipping Weight: 41 lbs.  Each.

Contact Info

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


Playlist

  • Seal-System:Warner Bros, 2007
  • Bert Jansch-Crimson Moon:Sanctuary, 2000
  • Robin Trower & Jack Bruce: BLT/Truce, BGO-1998
  • Johnny Mathis-The Ultimate Hits Collection: Columbia, 1998
  • Elvis Costello-when is was cruel:Island, 2002


Reviewer's Equipment

System 1:

  • CD Player: Naim CD5 XS with Flatcap 2X,
  • Preamp: Audio Research SP16, McIntosh MA6600 (Preamp secton)
  • Amplifier: Audio Research VS55,
  • Speaker: Harbeth Compact 7ES3, Audience 2 + 2
  • Cables: DH Labs, RS Cables, Kimber/QED/Acoustic Zen (AC)/Transparent (AC)/Element Cable, Shunyata, Pangea, Audience
  • Accessories: Symposium Rollerblocks, Shakti Stone, Sound Anchors stands, Timbernation platform, CablePro Noisetrapper


System 2:

  • CD Player: Marantz 5003
  • Music Server: Squeezebox 3
  • DAC: CIA VDA-2 with VAC-1 Power Supply
  • Tape Deck: Revox A77, Edirol 96/24 WAV recorder
  • Preamp: Belles Soloist 3
  • Amplifier: Belles Soloist 5
  • Speaker: Spendor S3/5R
  • Cables: Kimber/QED/Transparant/Shunyata(AC)/PS Audio(AC), Pangea Audio, RS Cables, Element Cables.





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