Manley MAHI Amplifier

by | Nov 1, 2021 | Component Reviews | 0 comments

Manley MAHI 

Mono Block Amplifiers

Timeless Classic Tube EL 84 Design

 

Manley Tube Amplifier

Three Amps in one, with the ability to tune to your Speakers

Brief History

The Manley brand had been established by David and Luke Manley at the VTL manufacturing facility in the late 1980’s as the premium audiophile brand within Vacuum Tube Logic of America, Inc. The Manley brand then expanded into professional gear made for the recording industry, tube processors, microphones, and the like.  EveAnna Dauray came to the company soon afterwards as an apprentice and cross training in every phase of building the electronics.

EveAnna comes from a pedigree of tube amplifier fame.  In the 1960’s, her father owned Ampeg, leading maker of tube based amplifiers for the bass guitar.  That company is now owned by Yamaha.

Manley Labs manufactures a wide array of professional and consumer products.  A slogan at Manley Labs is, Tubes Rule! There is a sticker with that phrase that comes packed with the amplifiers.  Goes right along with my Keep Portland Weird bumper sticker.  

Made in America

Manley Labs continues to manufacture to the highest standards of craftmanship and quality.  I liken the analogy to the Checker Cab work horse automobiles. They were built to last and were comfortable, dependable and mechanically right!  Manley  HiFi gear is built to what the Pro market would expect from Manley, tools for sound professionals with durability in mind. Well, these little Mono-Blocks are designed for a lifetime of service and enjoyment. 

Manley Checker Cab

Checker Cab

Evolution

I first had listened to the predecessors of the MAHI amps called the Tiny Triodes designed by the late David Manley. EveAnna had sent me them back in the mid 90’s to audition. While working with SPICA I had a pair of then the new TC-60’s on hand.  Those little triodes were quite amazing performers and lovable little gnomes.  By that time, I had become a Rep for some of the VAC products, so I had to send the Tiny Triodes back.  Wish I had kept them.  However, as time went by and the calendar pages were peeling off, new gear was evolving at Manley and a whole line of marine life began name plating themselves on the components. We are talking about, Mahi, Shrimp, Skipjack, Chinook, Jumbo Shrimp, Stingray, Steelhead and Snapper.  More inventive than just model numbers like 325i? when you have an organic creature breathing fire into a tube, it gets real! 

Manley Fiery Tubes

Refinement

Manley Labs MAHI amplifiers have been reviewed over the years without any major changes to their fundamental design. Maybe some tube choices and connectors? So, I’m not going to get into the miasma and minutia of parts and explanations of circuit topology, it’s all been done in numerous articles written about the MAHI’s over the years.  My perspective is all about, What do they sound like, and how are they more than relevant in today’s world of high-end tube amps?

I tell you this, those transformers are hand wound one by one at the factory by highly skilled people. They are tapped at exactly 5 ohms. 

Tubes and Controls

Tube complement: EL 84/6BQ5 tubes driven by a 6414 dual triode driver and a 12AT7EH input dual triode. The magician’s wand that delivers the magic are the transformers, power supply and switching ability between and triode and ultra-linear output modes. There are also three choices for feedback amounts via the toggle switch. You can tailor the sound of the amps to match your heart’s desire playing the amps with various loudspeakers. It is recommended that you power down the amps when selecting new positions for feedback and output modes.

The amp pair comes with a nice VOM meter to adjust the bias for the tubes.  I believe manual bias is better than auto bias circuits, in that you can adjust bias lower or higher based on your sound preferences. If you want fuel injection, then go for auto bias. I found the bias seldomly needs to be adjusted. As tubes age, then perform a bias correction. The amps ran moderately warm during operation. Not Coleman stove hot at the camp site like many other tube amps.  

Power ratings are 40 watts in ultra-linear mode and 20 watts in triode.  Of course, power output will change with various speaker impedances. These are push-pull amps.  This design has been the gold standard of tube design for decades.  Similar to solid state class AB operation.

Hand Made

And, what do they sound like?

Marketing and Sales departments are always are touting, New & Improved, Best Yet, Break Through Product and Limited Edition! Consumers are enticed with new claims of performance continuously. Must have the brightest and shiny new thing.    

When it comes to designating classic models of any product, it must be something that will stand the test of time.  Also, must deliver remarkable performance over the long haul. Remember the Maytag repair man? He did not get any calls!  Maytag washers never broke, or at least not for a long time. Must admit, I have a Maytag dishwasher today.  

Well, not saying the MAHI’s will clean your clothes, but they will deliver a fresh scent of a of clear and musical sound to your system.  Keep in mind that selecting the proper speakers to match up to the MAHI’s is important.  Efficiency is part of the equation of a good pairing.  You might be surprised with this evaluation with the new Falcon LS3/5A’s at 15 ohms and 82 dB efficiency rating with 14 watts of triode power! So, its not only about efficiency, but compatibility. Yes, a conundrum of sorts. 

Speaker Pairings

I recently acquired a pair of MoFi Falcon Silver Badge LS3/5A’s and had the Gold Badge versions on hand to evaluate.  I decided to use the MAHI amps exclusively to determine if their power rating at 14 watts at 5 ohms would even be enough to handle a 15 ohm load with 82 dB efficiency rating.  I employed the triode operation and minimal feedback settings on the amps. I used the ultra-linear mode initially. That was very good.  IMO LS3/5A’s are a speaker that seeks out a tube mate for life.  The original speaker design was voiced with tube amplifiers of the day.  

The pairing in triode was magical.  The amp fleshed out the musicality of all the instruments and vocals.  The amp had more than enough power.  Good power supply can do wonders for an amplifier. Spatial cues were outstanding.  The vocalists were rendered naturally and pure. I have owned many tube amps over the years and had great results with my begone Rogers LS3/5A’s. The MAHI amps coupled with the new Falcon speakers are very impressive.  I just did not feel like switching out any gear, it was that good. Lots of listeners say that push-pull tube amps sound tubby or bloated in the bass. Not these amps. They sound musical and naturally true to the music.  Many mistake warmth for wooliness or fat sounding terms attributed to tubes.  There is a fullness and yet proportionately a correctness to the frequency spectrum with the Mahi’s. Horns and acoustic guitar sound like the real thing!

Next, I moved on to the Zu OMEN MKII speakers. Highly efficient at 97 dB. You could say, in your elevator pitch, that they are most like horn speakers and have that type of immediacy. Another chameleon type speaker.  High efficiency design that will work with high or low powered amps. 

Again, I chose the triode and minimal feedback settings for the Zu’s. I listened to classical, jazz, rock and blues music.  The speakers showed the refinement of the MAHI’s superb midrange with HF extension.  EL 84 output tubes possess that sparkle in the upper treble range. No getting around it, tubes do this, where SS amps can’t match that performance.  

The Zu speakers’ strengths are correct tonality and soundstage imaging. I had really good results with the hybrid Rogue Audio amplification in that department.  Tubes in the front end with class D output stage. In this review, I used the Rogue Pharaoh 300 watt integrated amp as the preamp with the MAHI’s. When switching over to the MAHI’s the musical experience became seductively satisfying.  The midrange was about as pure as a sip of water from an artesian well. 

The burnished sound of horns was conveyed convincingly by the MAHI’s.  The bass was full and rich, but not boomy.  The soundstage was wide and deep and natural sounding.  

Fit and Feel

MAHI Manley amps are built with a no nonsense approach. I think that comes from the Pro side of design at Manley Labs.  Ergonomics suit the size and shape of the amps. Similar to a convertible car, you see all the workings from a top down perspective. The connectors are WBT premium grade speaker banana terminals on the rear of the amp and RCA connectors on the top rear of the amp. I would have preferred those to be on the rear as well. I use large interconnects and they looked strained hanging down from the amps.  They feature feet/spikes and one could use coins underneath to prevent scratching and damage to surfaces.  There are attractive back lighted logos of MAHI on the front panels of the amps. The gray metal finish is reminiscent of the classic amps of yesteryear.  All in all, an understated look that says, sound machine.

Manley Mahi Amplifier 03

 

Lifetime Investment?

I had the luxury of having the MAHI Mono-Blocks in my rotation of amplifiers for nearly one year. Dependable and sonically a valuable tool in assessing appropriate speaker pairings and evaluations. One could could use terms like, benchmark and reference component performance.

I had the opportunity over the course of a year, to do an annual road test of the MAHI amps.  A rare circumstance to celebrate a birthday with a component!  Report says, never an issue mechanically or electrically with these amps.  Excellent sonic reproduction and consistent from day one. 

The price of the MAHI amps has significantly increased over the years. Material and labor costs have ridden the waves of tidal economic shifts in the world. Manley Labs components are handmade and made in America. There is pride and a sense of familial connection to a company that really cares about their customers. Manley Labs has maintained close relationships with its audio community with their Pro and Consumer products.

If you are considering a lifetime investment in a premium product and company, then you should consider a purchase of the MAHI mono-block amplifiers.

If you are looking to take the leap, then you understand that Tubes Rule!  I returned the amps to Manley Labs recently. I have already posted the pictures of the MAHI’s on the back of milk cartons, with the caption, Missing. These amps are not one of a kind.  They are two of a kind!  Highly recommended.  

Price for both MAHI Mono-Blocks $5,999.00

Links

Specification at Manley MAHI Amplifier website page – https://www.manley.com/hifi/mahi

 

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