The president of Manley Labs EveAnna Manley is a sharp individual. Her manufacturing operation is based out of Chino, California and is capable of producing metric tons of both pro-side and audiophile goods – all hand assembled in the US. I briefly ran into EveAnna at the musician’s convention NAMM this year, and she graciously invited me to stop by the offices for a tour. It is an interesting and enlightening experience and one that I had previously seen before, so it was easy to say yes for a more formal, image-intensive go ’round.
The large warehouse on the eastern outskirts of Los Angeles houses a plethora of Manley duties, including operations, manufacturing and even some design work. EveAnna conducts most of the tour herself, laying down intriguing facts, stories and insights into what its like producing tube based-amplifiers and microphones for world consumption. Manley does ship a significant percentage of their wares outside the border of the United States. Harnessing a global presence since the late 90’s, Manley broke away from its originating company Vacuum Tube Logic (VTL) and formally settled in its Chino location in 1993. Now sales cater to the world stage (and studios) as well as a good chunk of tube tech oriented at the analog-loving audiophile market.
EveAnna is quick to point out that so much of the company’s output is handled under one roof. Mechanical engraving, assembly and especially transformer winding all happen under the watchful supervision of the in-house staff. Multiple offices are even equipped with treadmill desks for those who prefer the proper stature of an upright workday.
Several material cutting machines craft, saw and pummel metal into the appropriate shapes and designs on the far side of the building. EveAnna has attempted to streamline the entire process for maximum efficiencies with systems for ordering, inventory and shipping in constant churn.
A now-ancient Apple computer mans the helm at a mechanical engraving station (as an alternative to laser engraving). The interface has to be manually programmed with line-level syntax and backed up on giant 5 1/4″ floppy disks, but provides an interesting look for some of Manley’s faceplates.
The corporate copy herald’s the words “Tube’s Rule”, and it certainly becomes vastly apparent that the classic technology is not for the faint of heart. Large quantities on tubes are purchased, tested, tiered and matched before they ever make it into an amplifier or microphone. The quietest tubes are usually reserved for the 3-tiered microphone line, with the lesser performers appropriated into systems that don’t require an extremely low noise floor.
The Manley microphone line started with the large diaphragm multi-pattern Reference Gold ($4,950) and Reference Cardioid Tube ($2,700), which claims use by musician and VO talent across the board including the supervoice of movie trailers, Don LaFontaine. The line has since expanded to include the Silver ($3,780) which includes a hand made capsule based on the vintage Sony C-37A.
One of Manley’s most popular audiophile options is the Stingray II integrated ($5.9k) with an EL84 output stage and switching between 20 watts of triode power or 40 watts of push-pull. The image above is just wiring copy unit, and EveAnna assured me the actual production units are actually “much much much more beautifully loomed”. Surprisingly, the full size amplifier has also caught on with personal audio enthusiasts as a capable headphone amplifier via its right side, front facing 1/4″ jack rerouted from the speaker binding posts. Manley also produces several pres, a 300B power amp called the Neo-Classic and four sets of monos called the Mahi, Snapper and Neo-Classic 250/500.
Perhaps on a cue from the Stingray, the design team has taken to creating a dedicated, all-tube headphone amplifier due out this summer. The new amp should retail for around $3k (final price TBD) and is intended to double as a place to lay your favorite pair of cans out for easy access. It might be an necessary evolution of the times, as both the culture and demand for hifi continues to shift around. Interestingly, Manley has seen an uptick in phono preamp sales even as power amps have seen a slight decline over the same time period.
A full interview with EveAnna Manley is available from PartTimeAudiophile’s The Occasional Podcast where she dives into even more details of the company’s history and her personal journey with audio. You can check it all out on PTA, iTunes, Android, or the Google Play store.