Manley Labs The Wave DAC & Preamplifier
Like A Stradivarius...
Review By Ron Nagle
here to e-mail reviewer.
remember the very first Manley I met I guess it must have been nearly 20
years ago at a Hi-Fi show in New York. It was the senior David Manley the
main brain at a company then called Vacuum Tube Logic of America more
commonly just referred too as VTL. Back than he was running a demo system
using a pro reel-to-reel tape recorder as the source. Now I don't remember
all the details of that meeting but I do remember asking him for some
information about a 6922 variant of a 6DJ8 vacuum tube. His reply was
strongly phrased; he told me that particular type of tube should never be
used for any application in an audio system. I left that meeting with the
distinct impression that he would never entertain any dissenting opinions
on the subject. Oops! Sorry that I mentioned it. From that original VTL
Company the present Manley Laboratories was spun off as a separate entity
in 1993. From its inception professional audio has played a very strong
part at Manley Labs. The respected Langevin brand of solid-state studio
equipment comprised of mixers, limiters, and microphone preamps are in
fact also manufactured by Manley Labs. David Manley left his wife, the
company, and the country in 1996. EveAnna Manley then took over the
leadership of the company, and during the course their divorce she bought
David out. If you were to spend some time (hours) reading her company's
web site as I did you might get a glimmer of this multifaceted woman's
personality. She has infused this company with her own particular form of
open and honest energy and vitality. Over the course of many years and
many Audio shows I finally got to get my hot little hands on a Manley Labs
To Its Name?
The Manley Wave derives its name from
the pattern formed by the 17 blue Light
push button switches on the faceplate. As I unpacked
the Wave and its separate power supply I was reminded what American
quality looks like. The two sections were packed in a heavy cardboard box
surrounded by thick slabs of gray foam cut to fit the contours of the
Esthetically speaking the Manley Wave DAC/Preamplifier
has a rugged masculine no-nonsense highly
functional appearance. It reminds me of something from a Batman movie set.
This is not at all what your interior decorator would choose as a chotchkies.
It has a strange effect on me I can feel a warm wave of audiophile lust
just looking at the damn thing. Pretty blue LED's staring back at me and a
protruding big black knob mounted in the middle, beckoning me to reach out
and touch. The very reason I added these four words the day I was married,
"Love, Honor, Obey and Don't Touch My
Stereo" is now a highly visible part of my audio system.
Regaining my composure I need to point out at this juncture that the WAVE
is also included on a list of professional playback mastering and
monitoring equipment offered by this company. There are many
features that set it apart from the usual lineup of consumer audio
So keep reading bunky!
Placing the Wave on equipment shelves
necessitated that I shuffle some of my stuff onto the floor. Fortunately
the 6-foot umbilical cord connecting the Wave and the power supply was
long enough to allow me some options. The functions of the Wave are
controlled via the lighted push buttons on the front panel and the hand
held remote. In various combinations they mix and match inputs and outputs
and in some respects they are not strictly intuitive. The LED push buttons
have two levels of illumination full on and much dimmer. When they are not
selected they are about half brightness. The front panel Standby button
turns both the Wave and its remote power supply on and off but keeps the
volatile memory active. The last selected inputs are stored in the
volatile memory. Normally when you first turn on the Wave most of the push
button LED's are dimly lit except for the last inputs and outputs that
were selected these are fully illuminated. It seems I did something to
complicate the picture. I plugged the Wave into my Richard Gray Sub
Station Isolation Transformer. I then shut down my whole system by turning
the Sub Station power off. Powering down the whole unit instead of using
the Standby button erases the last settings stored in the memory. I found
that when I turned the power back on the Wave activated some selections
randomly, again my bad.
Note: The last digital selection will remain active even
though you may switch to another analog or another digital input. Also
when powered is applied to the Wave the Mute button is fully illuminated
and then after a turn on delay it dims and is not as bright. The Wave will
go into a muted state if it does not achieve a digital lock after
selecting a digital input.
Subtitle: Forced To Do My
we were to just concentrate on build quality then let us start with that
separate power supply.
The Wave chassis and the housing for the separate power
supply are formed from cold rolled steel painted with a black crinkle
finish powder coating. The Wave presents an unmistakable Manley Labs look
with a distinctive 3/8" thick by 19" wide anodized graphite blue aluminum
faceplate. The faceplate has 14 blue illuminated pushbuttons 11 of these
correspond to the input and output jacks on the rear chassis. The
remaining three select phase, mute, and standby. Near the upper
right side are 4 small blue LED's. Three indicate the digital input
sampling rate when they are lit. The fourth LED is labeled command and
blinks on/off when a function is selected by the remote control or by a
push button. Nearby on the left side is a round opening for the remote IR
The rear panel has six pairs of unbalanced RCA jacks and
three pairs of balanced XLR style plugs. The right side of the rear panel
has four digital inputs they are AES, SPDIF, Toslink, and ST Glass
formats. The middle of the rear panel are the analog inputs normally
configured as two pairs of unbalanced jacks and two pairs of balanced XLR
inputs. Next you will find two pairs of analog RCA connectors labeled
Insert Send and Insert Return, which comprise the processor/tape loop.
Last are the three analog outputs for left and right channels seen as two
pairs of unbalanced RCA and one pair of balanced analog XLR outputs.
Internally the Wave is what a first rate audio component
should be. The internal wiring is shielded silver core wire sourced from
Synergistic Research. All relays are sealed and have gold plated contacts;
even the power supply umbilical cord connector has gold plated contacts.
The motorized volume control is a custom made ALPS four-deck precision
conductive plastic 50K attenuator. The Wave DAC uses Burr-Brown PCM1704
D-A converters operating at 24-bit/96kHz at all times. All inputs are
upsampled to 96KHz before conversion. This output is clocked out via a low
phase/noise low jitter precision crystal oscillator to eliminate any
interface jitter. Notably the 24-bit/96kHz digital board used in this
second version of the wave is a design by audio luminaries Bascom King and
Fred Forsell. This redesign improves digital resolution but it is no
longer SACD compatible.
The first stage of the balanced line amplifier acts to
cancel distortion and noise by common mode rejection. The input to the
line amplifier is configured to accept both balanced and unbalanced
signals. The first stage line amplifier is an analog tube stage using two
hand selected 12AX7 tubes at the input and two 7044 or 5687 tubes at the
Output #1 receives its signal directly from the White
Follower output junction via an expensive Multi-Cap manufactured by Rel-Cap.
Output #3 the signal passes through a custom impedance
matching 9811 isolation transformer fabricated at Manley Labs. The 9811
transformer has a tertiary feedback winding that goes back to the input
side of the tube line stage.
I could go on and tell you about the Alps volume control
attenuator and the overkill voltage regulation and filtering applied to
those systems as well as some other design features. But by now I think
you get the idea. To summarize, I could find no shortcuts and no corners
cut and nothing spared. At this point you should understand that your
$7500 cost wasn't just frivolously pissed away.
Important in my opinion is the professional flexibility
brought to a home/consumer system. The Wave is able to work with many
combinations of balanced and unbalanced, digital and analog input and
output formats. You could add a surround sound processor into the signal
path and expand to a multi channel system. Additionally there are internal
adjustments utilizing dipswitches jumpers and trimmers that can be used to
fine tune the line stage gain and customize some switching functions.
Remember you have the option to go online to www.manleylabs.com
where you can read or download all the information including the
wonderfully written 22-page owner's manual for the Wave and other Manley
Labs products. Since the Wave includes some pro functions not normally
found in-home systems, I found it necessary to study the owner's manual
from cover to cover and keep it handy as a reference. Oh! Did I mention
that the Wave was designed developed and is handmade in the good ole U.S.
Music. A Magic beyond all we do here.
Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone, 1997
just put down a certain large circulation conglomerate audio magazine and
in it some of the descriptions that I read border on the mystical. How
does "vivid aural blackness" and "supernatural quiet" followed by "sound
my ears could touch" strike you? I have to admit it's tempting to
stretch the outer limits of our language and try to define the indefinable
by giving it mystic power. For example take " vivid aural blackness". But
then what is black? Or rather how black is your idea of black? Is it
blacker than the bottom of a well, or blacker than your head in a sack?
Yes I do listen for
a clearly defined sound free of extraneous artifacts. But all this has
gone too far; anyone should be able to read an audio equipment evaluation
and say, "That's the kind of performance that I would like". My question
is: does this type of rhetoric really serve to popularize the cause of
Hi-End Audio for the average person?
My ethics, avoid it like the plague.
To The Chase
The sound of this second generation Manley Wave is 88 percent
totally neutral with just a welcome touch of tubular warmth. We are
talking here about the latest improved 24bit up-sampling 24-bit/96kHz
digital DAC in combination with a vacuum tube line stage. This
implementation by Manley Labs makes perfect sense to me. It has long been
my contentions that if you filter a digital bit stream through a tube
stage it can smooth out some of the unpleasant digital nasties. My tube
hybrid Audio Research SP9 MK3 and my Pro ART D/IO Upsampling DAC with a
variable tube warmth control has been doing exactly that for many years.
At this point I should remind you that my primary reference is the sound
of a human voice. For me it is the voice that best conveys the emotional
meaning of music. Somewhere at one of the shows someone gave me a demo
disc it is a compilation of 14 different female vocalists. I just found, Best
Audiophile Voices Selection on
the Premium Records label (PR27905). It is perfect for this story. There
are three tracks on this disc that can tell us more about the Manley Wave.
is titled "When You Say Nothing At All" from the album Alison
Krause & Union Station. Alison Krause is what I call a "Head
Singer". By that I mean she has crystal clear pitch but no warming chest
resonance. Like the majority of female vocalists who sing in her range
emotional inflection is lessoned because she sings mostly off the bridge
of her nose. If she could project her voice more from the diaphragm and
chest it would convey a broader warmer range of emotions. I think another
way to say it is she still could hit all the notes with more meaning.
Having said that I still really enjoyed this performance. The dual vocal
segments and the crisp steel transients of the lead guitar are a testament
to the seemingly unlimited speed and pitch delineation of the Wave.
"Marisa", by Dave's True Story. On
this selection once again I am pulled in by a clean clear dimensionality
that places the lead voice directly in front of me. There is a clarity
that enables me to hear and hang on to her every intake of breath as she
crafts each phrase. Gently, a deep bass guitar line provides a foundation
of chord changes that echo and support the vocal line riding octaves above
it. At the bridge a tenor saxophone passage fills my room, each note
surrounded by an envelope of echoing air. Wonderful sound.
Track 7, Eva
Cassidy singing "Fields of gold".
Eva Cassidy died of Melanoma November 2, 1996 at 33
years of age. Could anything be more ironic? Her life ended in relative
obscurity. But a few years later her Fields Of Gold recording was played
in the UK on popular music radio BBC-2. It rose too number #1 on the
music carts and eventually reached Platinum status. Not long after this
success the British public fell in love with her version of "Over The
Rainbow" and it went Triple Platinum in the U.K. There are volumes of
information about Eva Cassidy archived in newspaper articles and a British
television retrospective of her life.
To Quote Sting: "I
have rarely heard a voice of such purity, I was almost in tears".
Hard to describe the depth of human emotion she can
weave into her phrases. She is heart-stopping eloquent. Listening to her
breathy plaintive vision, I really can imagine her walking somewhere in a
field of gold. The Wave provides me with a clear
pristine conduit full of meaning you can hear it all in microscopic
detail, the longing, the breathy sadness. I say well-done Manley
One last little test:
The Gotham City Audio Society requested the Wave for one of their monthly
meetings. Their primary interest was an A/B comparison between sound of
the CD players internal DAC and analog output versus the sound of the CD
players digital output driving an out board (Wave) DAC. Due to technical
difficulties it really wasn't a good test some thought the CD players
analog output "Was always louder". I had to promise my fellow audiophiles
I would go back to my reference system and try to repeat that same A/B
I used two separate signals coming out of my two-part
Cambridge Audio Discmagic deck and Cambridge Iso-Magic DAC. Digital output
was AES/EBU on a 1 meter balanced XLR Nordost Heimdall cable and the
Cambridge DAC analog output was connected with a pair of unbalanced
Nordost Red Dawn cables.
I obtained clear results using the remote control to
switch between the two signals. First more gain from the digital AES/EBU
input through the Wave DAC. Even though it was not possible to closely
match gain between these input signals I could tell the performance from
the Wave DAC was clearly more dynamic detailed and extended at the
frequency extremes. Simply put, It seemed far closer to the live
Bottom Line, $$$
Just like most audiophiles at the Gotham City meeting
you could save some money and buy a separate CD player and connect it to a
preamplifier. Or you could go a step farther by digging deeper into your
wallet to get a better outboard DAC for your hi-fi. You would most likely
get much better results. The question every one asked, "Is the wave
expensive?" The answer is yes. However if you did a comparison based on
cost I believe you will find that there is far more quality built into
this handmade device than you could find in separate components. Consider
the meticulous attention to details, consider those hand-wound line
matching transformers and the low output impedance White Follower tube
circuit you will not be able to find these elsewhere. This
purposely-designed holistic combination is without a doubt the one that
makes the most sense.
Like a finely crafted musical instrument made with
intelligence and care consider than the Wave can extract daydreams to fill
the air. Worth the money, if you can afford it. Buy
it. I wish I could.
Type: Vacuum tube preamplifier with DAC
24 bit/96kHz DAC
Totally dual mono design
Vacuum tube output stage (two 12AX7EH and two 7044 JAN NOS USA)
Inputs: Four balanced (XLR) and unbalanced (RCA)
Digital Inputs: Four switchable (AES, SPDIF, ST and Toslink)
Digital Output: SPDIF
Tape/Processor Loop: Unbalanced RCA (Balanced XLR by request)
Analog Outputs: Three balanced (XLR) and unbalanced (RCA)
Volume Control: Motorized ALPS quad-attenuator
Remote Control: Full function
Separate outboard Power Supply Unit
Burr-Brown PCM1704 D-A converters operating at 24-bit/96kHz at all times
The upsampled output is clocked out via a Low Phase Noise/Low Jitter
precision crystal oscillator to eliminate any interface jitter or timing
problems with the incoming datastream
Input Sensitivity 494mV (-3.9dBu) yields 1V out
Maximum Input: 9.75Vrms produces 19.86V on output at 1KHz before clipping
Maximum Gain: 12 dB
Maximum Output: +30 dBu, 25 V rms (70V P-P) (+31dbu @ 1.5% THD)
Frequency Response: 8 Hz to 45 kHz (+/- 3 dB)
THD+N: 0.015% 20Hz - 20KHz bandwidth
Noise Floor: -88 dB (20 Hz - 20 kHz) (-90 A-Weight)
SNR: 120 dB analog (96 dB digital)
Note: Many custom options are available.
Call Manley Labs for details.
Manley Laboratories, Inc.
13880 Magnolia Ave.
Chino, CA 91710
Voice: (909) 627-4256
Fax: (909) 628-2482