Manley Labs 440 monoblock power amplifier

My reviews always begin in bizarre ways. Take David Manley...please! (Just kidding.) On the last day of Winter CES 1995, I found myself towing a tuckered-out JA to a few final rooms. (This was just after the January '95 David Manley/Dick Olsher tube-rolling brouhaha, footnote 1, regarding who should do what to whom, and with which particular tube.) So as we passed Manley's room, John Atkinson thought to stick his head in (the noose) and say hello.

Of course, David Manley had plenty to say, but as we spoke I didn't realize I was standing in one of his ManleyClan® Audio Traps. You know the kind: with a single swaaak of a machete, the hunter releases the bowed sapling, bringing with it the net below as it snaps upright.

To wit: "John!" David railed, arms akimbo. "You've gotta give permission for Jonathan to review one of my new amps—the 440s with the new MAGIC Transformers!" (David, like Shun Mook's Dr. Tan, always seems to speak in exclamation points.) I looked at David. He was smiling innocently. I looked at JA. He was just smiling. Uh-oh... I thought I detected a brief odor of the veldt at high noon. [SPROING!] "Well, Jonathan...go for it!"

Of course, having sprung his masterful trap, Manley Bwana didn't send the amps for months on end.

"Hey, David. It's Jonathan."

"Yeah, Jonathan, I actually had a dream about you last night." Need I say more? The Manley 440s arrived shortly thereafter.

A curious beginning
They're heavy enough brutes at 82 lbs each (shipping weight). I removed the boxes, then rapped suspiciously on the top plates, and immediately removed them. Resonant—off with their heads! I opened them up to make sure the tightly packed forest of tubes were seated properly. Then I rolled them over and pulled off the rather crude-looking, heavy-gauge steel mesh bottoms and had a look around. Hmmm, solder flux all over the none-too-tidy boards. Upon further examination I was concerned to see that the cover plates over the bias-adjustment screws on both amps were cross-threaded!

I wasn't able to start listening right away, but I wired them up with the Synergistic Research cables I was using with the Symphonic Line Kraft 400s (see my review last month) and gave 'em a whirl. I chose the RCA input with a toggle-switch on the rear—an alternate flip of the switch engages the XLR input (pin two hot). Before I lit them up, I glanced at the manual regarding turn-on procedure. On the right there's a red paddle switch for choosing between Operate and Standby modes, backed by a master On/Off rocker switch on the lower-right front panel.

The blinking Standby light turned out to be green (uhhhh...huh?), and one amp's light blinked while the other only dimmed. The Power On light (David, can we talk?) Another old-fashioned chrome toggle-switch at left provided a choice between Triode and Tetrode modes. (Or, Beauty and the Beast modes...but we'll come to that.)

Soft-start is accomplished by ensuring that the amp is in Standby, clacking on the master switch, and curbing your patience for a minute or two before powering up. You're advised to mute the preamp and drop the 440s into energy-saving Standby "Ever-Warm" mode between listening sessions. (David is so...retro.)

Manual: "The standby blinking LED will remind you that the amplifier is in Standby mode—where the amplifier draws only 400mA (30W at 120V AC) from the mains outlet." At night, with the green lights blinking (and dimming) away like mad, I felt like Manley was in the room. "Hey, Jonathan [wink, nudge], is she a goer, aye?" It's those Monty Python reruns...

Among my first impressions were a chunky bass and a lush midrange—along with warm but grainy highs, which I was certain would disappear with break-in, and which mostly did. Kathleen noticed right away that the Manleys were absolutely mephitic (or malodorous, as Jeeves would say). In fact, they stank to high heaven—a curing smell—for a good two weeks after we rotated them into the system. The closely packed tubes ran hot in the compact alloy-faced furnaces. I'm sure the chimney effect could've kept a glider aloft for the afternoon.

At 19" wide, 13" deep, and 11" high, they are compact compared to the elegant, four-chassis Jadis JA 200s. But the Manleys aren't trying to be refined. They're studio-bred. They seem robust, tank-like, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Their hodgepodge of knobs'n'dials looks funky, but belies their intelligently dissimilar shapes: changing form for function is ergonomically correct.

Thermionics & operating mode
The Manley 440s provide a broad enough selection of operating adjustments to keep the most anal-retentive audiophile hip-deep in shrinker bills for years to come.

Footnote 1: See Stereophile Vol.18 No.1 pp.133 & 241 and Vol.18 No.3, p.23.
Manley Labs
13880 Magnolia Ave.
Chino, CA 91710
(909) 627-4256