Manley Labs Stingray iTube integrated amplifier Page 3

I most enjoyed the Stingray iTube when I paired it with speakers whose output doesn't go down much below 45Hz—it was in the low bass where the Stingray lost some control. But if the speakers themselves couldn't reproduce that lowest octave, I found the problem of fat bass mostly nonexistent. I also found that, in terms of dynamics, the iTube ran out of steam sooner through full-range speakers. Mated with high-quality monitor speakers such as the Revel Gem and Klipsch Palladium P-17B, the Manley's bass was full and tuneful, and it better controlled large dynamic swings. If you need more bass and dynamics, by all means, hook up a subwoofer to the Stingray's sub output. (I didn't have a sub on hand.)

iPod People
So far, I'd listened to only CDs through the Stingray iTube. That is so eight years ago—after all, Manley had put an iPod dock on the iTube. So I loaded a number of songs onto my iPod Nano (which, pianist Robert Silverman has informed me, is a girl's iPod) in the highest-quality WAV format. I felt I needed to be very careful when docking the iPod in the iTube: The Stingray iTube wasn't supplied with any of the white plastic shells that adapt the dock for the various species of iPod, meaning that the Nano was supported solely by the iTube's 32-pin connector (footnote 2). But once connected, the iPod lit up, letting me know it was getting juice from the iTube. I scrolled through my playlists, again gingerly, so as not to put undue pressure on the delicate-feeling 32-pin connector. I hit Play. It was nice to have the iPod shuffling from song to song as I organized my CDs and cleaned the kitchen.

When the kitchen was sparkling and all of my CDs had been returned to their home shelves, I sat down to do some more critical listening. Simultaneously playing "Folkefrelsar, til oss kom," the final track of Trio Mediaeval's Folk Songs, from the CD and from my iPod Nano, I flipped back and forth between them. There was no contest in sound quality. Though the WAV file didn't sound bad, it had less body in the midrange, retrieved less ambience, and had a grainier treble and a flatter soundstage than the CD. Note that, unlike Wadia Digital's 170iTransport, the iTube's iPod dock does not pull a digital datastream off the iPod for outboard D/A conversion—I was listening to the sound of my iPod's own D/A.

In short, the Stingray iTube's iPod dock fits the vibe of most things at Manley Labs: it's there for fun. I don't recommend it for serious listening, but would warmly welcome it at my next dinner party. I don't think Manley has done a bad job of making an iPod dock. I just feel that when we audiophiles try to get an iPod to sound as good as the rest of our high-end gear, we're trying to draw blood from a stone. For now, audiophiles should enjoy the convenience of an iPod and leave it at that.

Simon Says
Under a tough Manley Labs exterior lies the gentle, sensitive soul of the Stingray iTube. Yep, this tough-looking kid is a bit of a creampuff. The iTube excels at bringing life and nuance to music. Though not the most full-bodied or colorful amp I've ever heard, nor the loudest, it has a certain quality that makes listening engaging and relaxing. The iPod dock is fun, and I think the whole amp is a terrific value in terms of sound and build quality. But to get the most out of the iTube, care should be taken to pair it with speakers that will complement its performance at the frequency extremes.

Recently, when Stereophile's Stephen Mejias commented on his blog that he'd been jonesin' for a tube integrated amplifier, someone immediately suggested that he try the Stingray iTube. Based only on the Stingray's strong visual appearance, Stephen wasn't sure this amp was for him: "Something about it reminds me of Simon, the electronic game. Simon is a computer, Simon has a brain, do what Simon says, or you go down the drain." I suppose I can understand this. However, I think Stephen—and every other audiophile looking for a great-sounding tube integrated that stands out from the crowd—ought to at least spend some time with the Manley Stingray iTube. It undermined my expectations and then exceeded them. I was stung by its performance. It might sting you, too.

Footnote 2: The shell that came with my iPod Touch fitted into the recess on the Stingray's top panel, allowing it to be supported correctly.—John Atkinson.