Manley Laboratories 250 Neo-Classic monoblock power amplifier Page 3

Soundstaging was another of the Neo-Classics' strengths. The vast spaces created by Future Sound of London's Brian Dougans and Garry Cobain on the stunning Papua New Guinea Translations (UK CD, Jumpin' and Pumpin' CD TOT52) were deep, rich, and densely filled with sonic exotica. FSoL creates an alternate sonic universe, and the Manleys threw me straight onto the holodeck. Papua New Guinea's highly complex mixes have layer upon layer arranged in multiplicities of interlocking patterns. The Neo-Classics managed to effortlessly sort it all out, and brought out the organic, holistic nature of this ultrahip, postmodern trip through the cosmic tropics (or is it the tropical cosmos?).

The 250s were flat-out great at giving me not only the sound but the feel of all the music I played through them. King Crimson's The ConstruKction of Light (CD, Virgin 49261-2) is an assault—a jarringly industrial, dark, dense, and claustrophobic sonic world that is, if you can take it, compelling and exciting music. The Manleys made it as physically punishing as three rounds with Lennox Lewis, just as Crimson intended it to be, but never lost track of the musical content.

Nothing could be more different from ConstruKction than The Band's eponymous second album (CD, Capitol 25389-2-8). The Band is steeped in the feel of the post-Civil War era—homespun, rural, and earthy—and the plaintive harmonies, resonant guitars, and gloriously woody thud of Levon Helm's kick drum were simply sublime through the 250s. Through the 250s, Helm's keening vocal on "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" took me to a time and place far from my listening room in suburban Minneapolis in a display of pure musical alchemy.

Triodes, Tasty and Touchable
The ability to switch between tetrode and triode modes makes the 250 an audio neurotic's dream. While power output is reduced in triode mode, it has its own rewards. Not that 100Wpc of triode power is anything to sneeze at—that was enough to drive my Apogees without clipping on anything but the largest-scaled music. In triode mode, the Manleys handled the 93dB/W Silverline Sonatas as effortlessly as tetrode mode dealt with the Apogees. Which is to say that they could bounce the speakers around the room like racquetballs if I cared to listen at such crazy levels.

The 250's character was not all that different in triode and tetrode modes, but some of the differences were worth exploring. Triode mode gave a wonderfully intimate sound, more rich and luscious than tetrode mode, but exacted a slight tradeoff, with slightly reduced back-of-the-stage resolution. With big orchestral music, tetrode gave a slightly clearer look to the farthest reaches of the stage with the Apogees and the Silverlines, but triode really shone with smaller ensembles.

Listening to Jesse Cook's Free Fall (CD, Narada 49290-0-8), bass definition and extension remained topnotch, and while a wee bit of tetrode's sense of space and air was sacrificed, there was no loss of focus to Cook's lightning-fast guitar work. Even the rasgueado flamenco technique, in which the fingers are flicked downward in rapid succession over the strings, was snappily defined. Cook's guitar was lively and present, imbued with a nicely resonant and woody quality. The Manley's way with acoustic guitars was also to the fore on a superb LP by Anthony Phillips and Enrique Berro Garcia, Antiques (PVC 8968). In triode mode, the Manley showed that, far from being a mere muscle amp, it was capable of great delicacy and refinement.

Triode mode did not impair the amp's dynamic wallop. Dannie Richmond's drum solo on Charles Mingus' "Boogie Stop Shuffle" (LP, Mingus Ah Um, Columbia/Classic CS 8171) burst into the room through the Apogees, and Chris Maitland's forceful but subtle drumming on Porcupine Tree's live Coma Divine (UK CD, Delerium DELEC CD 067) lost none of its expressiveness. Big brass choruses, like that on the Barbirolli-Hallé performance of Sibelius' Finlandia (LP, EMI ASD 2272), were rich and round: trombones and horns had great body and weight. The music of Berlioz is about nothing if not orchestral sumptuousness, and the Manley-Silverline combination delivered in fine style. Hearing the Roman Carnival Overture (LP, EMI ASD 3080), I noted the capacious soundstage, the amps' accuracy in rendering the wide variety of orchestral colors, and the way the tambourine and cymbals made themselves clearly heard above the ensemble.

The reflective melancholy of Mingus' "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" and the urban night song of the sax solo in "Open Letter to Duke" were simply beautiful things—music that penetrated to the core of meaning and feeling. The Manleys captured the highly personal expression and plain old soul that were the core of Mingus' music in either mode, but triode added an extra frisson of emotional connection. With big rock and orchestral recordings, there was a bit more transient snap and immediacy in tetrode, but with jazz, folk, and small ensembles recorded in less imposing spaces, the triode glow was the way to go.

Like a big ol' Harley-Davidson, only better...
The 250 Neo-Classic had that hard-to-define quality that is instantly apparent when heard: a fundamental fidelity to the music. Its character was a bit forgiving, particularly in triode mode, but it did justice to the timbral and spatial microdetails found on the best recordings. In tetrode mode, it should handily drive any speaker I've ever heard to Stupid-Approved loudness levels in anything short of an airplane hangar.

Like its ebullient author, the 250 Neo-Classic utterly lacked anything resembling pretentiousness. In a sense, the big Manley was anti-"hi-fi." Its sonic personality was honest to the core and completely unfussy, treating music as a thing to be loved and cherished, not as a collection of sounds to be picked apart and analyzed to death.

The Manley Laboratories 250 Neo-Classic is the Harley-Davidson of amps: big, whompingly powerful, with cool retro style to burn, and a burly, broad-shouldered presence that inspires great confidence. And no Manley owner will ever need to worry about oil drips.

Take a pair of 250s out for a spin. You'll definitely enjoy the ride.

Manley Laboratories
13880 Magnolia Ave.
Chino, CA 91719
(909) 627-4256