Manley Labs Reference 240 monoblock power amplifier Page 2

The Soft-Start setting also protects the amplifier against brownouts. Unlike most tube amps, whose owners often leave them on permanently to insure optimum performance, the Manley 240 can be left in Soft-Start mode. Then, if your local power company decides to brownout (suddenly dropping the voltage), the subsequent surge should do no damage. In an amplifier with a regular standby mode, such surges may damage components, since all but the B+ rail is still fully powered.

The Manley's Soft-Start setting is not the same as a mute. Not only will music still play through the Reference 240 while it is in Soft-Start mode, but any connecting or disconnecting interconnects will be audible. Be forewarned you should treat a Manley 240 in Soft-Start mode as you would any other amplifier when it's turned on! Don't pull plugs, disconnect speaker wires, or muck around with any connections on the Manley unless you turn it off. Your speakers and amplifier will thank you for your consideration.

As with most other Manley tube amplifiers, you have your choice of triode or tetrode operation. In triode mode, you've got 100 watts to play with, while in tetrode mode there's 240 watts to whack around. It's like having two amps in one. It's great entertainment for tweaks: a switch that changes the sound of the amplifier. Just remember to turn off the amp when switching back and forth between modes, or else your new toy might well go poof.

If your amplifier ever does "let the smoke out," you need only call David or Eveanna Manley on the phone to remedy the situation. You'll never hear those awful words "Have you called your local retailer? We don't deal with consumers!" from the Manley crew. There are no local retailers; Manley products are sold directly only.

The bad news is that if you wish to hear a Manley amplifier in your home, you must either have a friend who's already got one and is willing to lug it over to your place, or you must buy one. Manley does have a satisfaction-guaranteed arrangement: If you buy it and don't like it, you can return it. No, you can't keep it for two years, then return it on a whim—Manley is not a free equipment-rental service—but they will give you a week or two to thoroughly audition the product.

Fit-and-finish on the Manley Reference 240 is generally good, but not exceptional. This amplifier is certainly not as elegant looking as a Rowland Model 6, nor is its internal finish as anal-compulsive as that of a Cello or Mark Levinson product. The Manley has a no-nonsense, workmanlike physical style that says, "Hey man, this is an amplifier, not a piece of bloody audio jewelry." Perhaps the interior finish is not suitable for hours of transfixed Zen meditation, but most owners will probably never have any reason to open up a 240 except out of morbid curiosity, or to clean out cat hair. (My cats find Manley 240s in "soft-start" mode to be the perfect temperature for long naps—flip on full power and yeoooow!)

Triode vs tetrode: how do you want it, rare or well-done?
As anyone with at least 25% of their hearing left can tell you, triode- and tetrode-mode tube amplifiers sound different. Since the Manley Reference 240 allows us to switch back and forth ad nauseam while everything but the operating mode remains constant, it provides a wonderful opportunity to hear the sonic differences between these two modes in a controlled test situation. It is not a simple question of which mode sounds "better," since "better" is a subjective term that reveals little about how each actually sounds. Each mode has particular strengths and weaknesses. With different sources in different situations, each has appropriate applications.

The triode mode excelled at creating a three-dimensional soundstage that breathed life and form into music. On Music in 18th Century France (Nonesuch H-71371, LP), Ann Monoyio's voice had a palpable quality that was both startlingly realistic and devilishly seductive. The harpsichord and viola da gamba continuo also had a dimensional verisimilitude that sounded both right and voluptuous. Rear-wall reflections were quite convincingly rendered. Triode mode was harmonically lush, with a warm, wet midrange that bounded up to you like an overly friendly Great Dane wanting to get all up close and personal without the benefit of a proper introduction.

On intimate and minimalist music, this harmonic approach worked beautifully. Dense, thickly mixed material, however, could get a bit gummed-up in all the schmaltz. In triode mode, the Manley's presentation of low-level detail was excellent during quiet, simple passages, but became obscured when the music got complicated and cacophonous. Triode mode reminded me of my beloved old Quad ESL speakers, which sounded superb as long as the music suited their particular strengths.

Tetrode mode made up in power and control what it lacked in subtlety and dimensional nuance. On dynamic material like Tori Amos's "Pretty Good Year," from her Under the Pink LP (East-West/Warner Bros. 7567-82567), tetrode delivered the goods without losing its cool. True, tetrode did not do the 3D thing as convincingly, but it did produce a wider soundstage, with more precise lateral imaging to compensate for the reduction in dimensionality. Tetrode also had a hair better low-frequency dynamics and control than did triode. When the bass tracks on Joan Osborne's "Spider Web" kicked in, tetrode didn't muddy up or lose dynamic articulation.

The midrange in tetrode mode sounded less seductive, but it did retain the same amount of inner detail regardless of the music's complexity. Tetrode's midrange was not the warm fuzzy puppy of triode, but was more revealing of the true nature and harmonic fabric of the source material.

COMPANY INFO
Manley Labs
13880 Magnolia Ave
Chino, CA 91710
(909) 627-4256
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