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Manley Labs – CanJam SoCal 2019

Manley Absolute Headphone Amplifier
Manley Labs Absolute Headphone Amplifier at CanJam SoCal 2019.

The still NEW Manley Absolute Headphone Amplifier is finally free for me to listen at this show, and only so because I bullied my way into position by telling EveAnna Manley that I was coming over and to reserve me a spot. As typical with Manley Labs, the Absolute Headphone Amplifier is an all-tube affair which features on-the-fly switching between Push-Pull and Single-Ended modes. Furthermore there are a fun set of EQ controls (defeatable if so needed), which is a pleasant thing to see considering tube-rolling may be a thing for some end-users. Out-back there are a set of RCA line-level outputs so the Absolute Headphone Amplifier can be used as a stunningly overbuilt desktop (or main system) preamplifier. Included is a radio frequency remote, which means no more point-and-shoot arm raising. No line of sight needed to adjust the output levels, and other features. IR remotes are a dinosaur, and I’m still wondering why they exist. Manley Labs has been doing radio remotes since the ‘90s.

The special thing about the Absolute Headphone Amplifier is that there is a lot of built-in sonic variety. The on-board controls let you explore different sonic parameters that are likely unavailable anywhere else in the headphone amplifier marketplace. For instance the push-pull vs single-ended switch modes, that rearranges the output tubes. During my listening the single-ended presented a more even harmonic tones, with a bent for female vocals and jazz. While in push-pull things get more rocking and lend themselves more towards lively productions like rock, metal, r&b, EDM, etc.

Similarly there is a variable-feedback-control feature of the Absolute Headphone Amplifier that alters the amount of corrective signal applied to the amplifier stages. Lower the amount of feedback applied, and you’ll get a more aggressive sounding amplifier. Raise the amount of feedback applied, and you’ll get a more tight and controlled sounding amplifier. Working all of that in conjunction with the supplied bass and treble (EQ) controls, the sonic traits this amplifier can embody are nearly limitless.

EveAnna reminded me, “There are no headphone police out there who are going to bust you for using EQ”.

by Eric Franklin Shook

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