Translation: Krzysztof Kalinkowski

Manley Wave. Preamplifier / DAC, or DAC / processor? Against appearances, this is not a pointless question, and naming and classification is not only barren stuff for stiff scientists. Whether we like it or not, our perception of the outside world is shaped by our language. One of the most important merit of Derrida (maybe even the only one, at least for me, but this remains open for discussion) was the noticing that the meanings “dissociated” from their descriptions. Such dissociation brings misspecification or even anarchy into the language. Anarchy not perceived as lack of boundaries, but as disorder. I know, that language requires some amount of freedom, without which all that “modernizes” gets lost, but one has to keep at least a minimum of common understanding plane, that will allow the reader understand what I am writing just like I understand it, to the extent possible. To achieve this, naming and classification, at least preliminary, and disputed, is necessary. And that is the reason, that in times I led the “Little Audioshows” for Audio (that were put off-line, among others, due to the total lack of support from distributors) I put so much weight to arranging the basic concepts. At least I tried to. So the question about the “ID” of the Manley product is really not pointless. And as we will see shortly, it leads to quite an apt answer.

The Manley Labs device named Wave – name taken from the similarity of the blue LEDs shining on it's front panel – is actually two devices in one enclosure: a DAC and a line preamplifier. And although the Wave is made from two boxes, a separate housing is there for the power supply, it is all about the fact that both devices are equally important, meaning that the DAC has all attributes of a self standing converter, and the preamplifier has all the inputs and outputs needed, as it it would have no relation to the digital part. From the signal point of view the situation is simple – the signal gets to the DAC first and later to the preamplifier. It is different if we use only the analog part. But in that case the purchase has no sense, and it is better to get a “clean” preamplifier. So it seems, that the Wave is more a DAC with an integrated preamplifier. And in fact, this is the most visible change in the perception of the “splitting” in hi-end devices. Classically the system is divided into a power amplifier(s), a preamplifier, DAC and transport. Equally common is a set of power amplifier, preamplifier and CD player. Lately we encounter different combinations: we have a CD player with an integrated preamplifier and a power amplifier, or a drive, DAC with integrated pre and a power amp. The first category encompasses the inexpensive Quad CD-P, Wadia 861 (and all new SACD players of this make), also the Lektor Prime Ancient Audio. The second category is much richer – we have here the Wadia 27 ix, Wadia Model 9, and players from dCS (all of them), EMM Labs (all), and the Lektor Grand Ancient Audio, and many, many others. From the newest for example the Nagra CDP and Cyrus DAC XP. And although often we speak about a player with variable output, like the Wadia, but from the functional side it is a player/DAC with an integrated preamplifier. The same for dCS. So the Wave, looking quite strange at first sight, is a product typical for our times. But in this case, differently to all other mentioned cases, all functions were not “crippled” in any way.

The Wave consists of a D/A converter with four digital inputs, a digital output, and a balanced analog preamplifier with four inputs and three outputs. The digital sections is rooted in a DAC based on 20-bit UltraAnalog converters, AES-21 jitter reducer and a HDCD decoder. In the beginning of 2002 there were changes made to it, as the main PCB was redesigned – by Fred Forsell. And that is how it remained.


The test of Manley Wave came to life in time of a “congestion” of good digital sources in my system. That allowed me to test it with many different transports and compare it with many converters. From the very beginning I have to confirm an issue that surprised me during testing of the Jadis JD1 MkII/JS1 MkIII system, namely the superiority of a good AES/EBU cable and interface over the ST optical link. Because although the theoretical superiority of the latter is undisputed, it came out, that when there is no separate ST link for the clock data, like in the Wadia 27ix, then a balanced 110Ω cable, like for example the splendid Furutech Reference III Series, sounds better. The same case was with the Manley – connected to the Jadis drive, Nagra or Ancient Audio (it turns out, that Harry – Andrew Harrison, deputy editor in chief of the Hi-Fi News - uses AA as his reference drive), Wave sounded best when connected by the AES/EBU. And only when the Arcam FMJ DV29 was used, as a transport for the DVD 24/96 discs, the S/PDIF cable had to be used, as the device has no other digital output. In this case probably the Furutech would also be best, but the Oyaide DR-510 proved itself very well.

The Manley device sounds very pleasant – muscular, a bit warm, with saturated planes, without even a trace of technicality. When comparing to it, it can be heard that the Wadia 27ix probably went a little too far in “purifying” the sound. Despite a recognizable “tubey” tarnish (I call upon this stereotype with some embarrassment, but this is some means of common understanding) it’s midrange, also the upper midrange, precise and strong, and you do not guess a tube device from the beginning. The treble is more delicate than in the Prime, Wadia or even Jadis. It is also not as resolving. And even though, it still can kick, mainly because the brass has the proper “weight” and have filling, the do not just click somewhere in the background. The wave creates a strong first plane, with very well noted acoustic surroundings. Even if the reverb is artificial, like on the disc Soft Rock - Justine Electra (City Slang/Sonic Records SLANG1037982-2, CD), Wave shows is just precise, nice and in a full, saturated way. This is not an echo like in a large toilet, excuse me of course, but a serious reverb like from a Lexington 480L. Once heard – it remains for always in memory as the splendid emulation of reverb.

Best sound came from 24/96 material. This is not a coincidence, as I know, that “dense” PCM is just better, but the common DVD-Audio players do not shoe all the advantages of this format. The treble is even more benign than from the CD, but the resolution, natural “softness”, understood as the ability to seamlessly transition between the planes, instruments and surrounding, was on a very high level. Outstanding was also the stage depth – the instruments from the John Coltrane disc Blue Train (Blue Note/Classic Records, HDAD 2010, DVD-A 24/192 + 24/96) were shown deeper, truly three dimensional, and in a smoother, more realistic way than from the Arcam DV29 and its successor – Arcam FMJ DV139. From what I remember, the only players that handled the material equally well were the Theta Compli (my test in Audio) and the LINN Unidisk 1.1 to some extent (test in Audio coming soon).

The low frequency range of the Manley is fleshy and good, goes down lower than the Wadia, although it ends sooner than when reproduced from the Lektor Prime. The first bars from “World in my Eyes” from the disc Violator of Depeche Mode (Mute/EMI, DMCD7, Collectors Edition, SACD/CD + DVD-A 24/48) and everything was clear – beautiful, low, tight synthetic bass, rhythmic and accurate. A certain problem could be the hardening of the upper bass and a part of the lower midrange. This makes the rhythm and edge density so outstanding, but the Wave emphasizes this element a little. With the DM disc this was especially well recognizable, because the recording itself has that character, but can also be noticed with reference recordings. Fortunately this is not a big problem. And – I probably know now why the distributor of Manley in Poland, the company Moje Audio, puts the power amplifiers Neo-Classic 250 and Neo-Classic 500 in triode mode: Wave composes very well with those, and though we lose some of the precision and resolution, the wave does not allow the bass to be too long-winded. The same happened when the Manley was paired with power amplifiers of another US company, namely the Rogue Audio M-150, that played in triode mode in this combination.

Compared to the best players from the 40 000zł price range, like Gryphon Mikado or Pathos Endorphin (a really beautiful player!) Manley presents itself at least very good. It has a very good timbre, resembles the Pathos in that aspect, and a wonderful bass, letting it look like Gryphon in that aspect. In absolute categories the resolution is not as good as with the Prime or the Mikado, but it is sufficient enough, that the outstanding timbre should compensate for this in many cases. The stage is not very deep, with the exception of 24/96 discs, where it reaches very far. With CDs the first plane is the strongest, with clearly articulated reverb. The vividness of the transmission is set on a high level, but we should not expect the very detailed instrument factures. The studio back wall, where it can be heard of course, is quite close, but inside the area between it and us, everything is clear and even fleshy. Very helpful was the button labeled “phase” that changed the absolute phase of the signal, as with most well recorded discs one of the settings gave a noticeably better sound. However this provoked endless experiments, that draw away from the music… The preamplifier itself behaves very well, especially in the balanced mode. It is giving the “flesh” and the rhythm. Its resolution is only good, but this “good” is still of hi-end breed. And the only thing I lacked was a… headphone amplifier. If that could be included, then we would deal with a very good, multifunctional device – with an inherent character, no doubts there, but with a nice character, and one that we can make friends with, easily.


Model Wave of the US company Manley Laboratories Inc., is an extraordinary device, especially looking at the available functions it performs – it is a D/A converter and a full fledged line level preamplifier. Both sections were placed in one enclosure, but the power supply, as usual with Manley, was expedited to a separate solid looking box (the PSU enclosure looks almost exactly like the one from the Steelhead power supply). The main unit is a large and very solid manufactured device. Its front panel, made from a thick, steel-blue anodized aluminum, “carries” a black volume control knob in the middle, and all other functions are selected with large, blue lit buttons. Their point of activation is clear and certain, as Manley is in the professional market with one foot and home audio with another. That is the reason for equipping the Wave with holes allowing rack montage. Anyway there is plenty of functionality available. The left part of the panel is devoted to the digital section – we can use one of the four inputs - AES/EBU, RCA (S/PDIF), TOSLINK and ST (there is also an RCA output with S/PDIF). We can also change the absolute phase of the signal. Next we have 4 LEDs indicating the sampling frequency of the input signal. One of those - 32kHz – is also lit when the rate is doubled, together with the base frequency LED, so for 44.1kHz and 88.2kHz, also 48kHz and 96kHz. In some way this impairs their readability and functionality. There is unfortunately no readout for the word length, what can be regarded as a lack in a studio equipment. And in the end I missed a HDCD decoder. There are also four analog inputs, two of them balanced, with nice gold plated Neutrik sockets, and two unbalanced, with golden RCAs. There is also a loop called “insert”, being a simple loop bypassing the amplifying section. This allows the Manley to be connected to a home cinema system. There are three outputs for power amplifiers – two unbalanced, RCA based, and one balanced XLR. Two of them are activated by a switch, while output nr 1 is always active. However, the outputs 2 and 3 (the second RCA and XLR) cannot be active at the same time. So we have two active outputs at our disposal. An important information is that the Wave can be remotely controlled, and almost all functions are available by remote. The remote controller is not very neat, but solid and functional (it is metal and has large buttons).

As I mentioned, the enclosure is very solid – it is made from thick steel plates, and the top cover is damped with heavy plates of some material. The insides looks very interesting. From the first glance we see that we have here two separate devices operating under one “roof”. On the left hand side we have the digital PCB. The inputs are keyed with relays. Behind the AES/EBU and S/PDIF we have an adjusting and apparently symmetrized the digital signal. From that moment the digital signal is fully symmetric. Just behind the transformer two Crystal CS8420 ICs are visible. This not a very new, but a very good, and often used in expensive devices, stereophonic chip, encompassing a digital receiver and an upsampler converting the signal to 24bit/96kHz. Also the D/A section is not very modern, but these are splendid, however no longer in production, Burr Brown PCM1704 converters. These ICs need an external filter – and this are, common in that surroundings – DF1704 from the same company. In the I/V conversion the equally good Analog Devices AD823 chips were used. Next to them two jumpers are located, that can activate the de-emphasis circuits, if we posses two or three discs from the early 80ties, when this technique was used. All elements on this PCB were mounted in SMD process, so no refined capacitors or resistors can be found. Attention is drawn however, to the outstanding clocking circuit. The converter PCB connects to the larger, more crowded preamplifier PCB by means of a wide computer tape.

The analog part is extremely expanded. The inputs are keyed by splendid Magnecraft relays, and the outputs with classic relays with gold plated contacts. The inputs are connected by long wires, also an even longer wire leads to the fourfold Alps potentiometer in the front panel. A bit shorter wires run to it from the amplification section. Typical for Manley, this section is based on vacuum tubes. In the input large double triodes 7044 from general Electric are employed, in the output beautiful, double triodes ECC810S from Siemens are to be found. The circuit seems to be fully balanced, as can be confirmed by two large symmetrizing transformers of own make at the output. However I honestly don’t know why only two, very large, very nice, but only two, Mundorf capacitors were placed. It is probable, that those are cathode capacitors – this theory could be confirmed by their large capacitance (30μf). The output is coupled with small foil capacitors. The resistors are metalized, some of them are nice Dales. Let us also mention, that on the PCB many rectifiers are to be found, finally rectifying the voltages.

The power supply is placed in a separate enclosure, and connects to the main unit with a long, shielded cable, ending with a military grade screwed plug. While being “only” a PSU, it also received an enclosure with an aluminum, thick front panel with a blue LED in the middle. Inside we find two medium sized (EI) power transformers and six independent power supplies, with nice looking capacitors bearing the Manley logo (for the anode voltage) and Nichicon logo (for the low voltages – glowing and control circuitry). Some of those are rectified locally, by large rectifiers from the company ST in TO-3 enclosures, screwed to the back plate acting as a heat sink.

TECHNICAL DATA (according to manufacturer):
Input sensitivity: 494mV (-3.9dBu)
Maximum output voltage: 9.75Vrms on input gives on output 19.86V (1kHz) before clipping (+22dBu gives +28.18dBu/1kHz)
Maximum amplification: 12dB
Maximum output: +30dBu, 25Vrms (70V P-P) (+31dbu/1.5% THD); +8.25dBu by full output power on digital input (2.0Vrms)
Frequency response: 20Hz - 20kHz +/- 0.5dB; 8Hz - 45kHz +/- 3dB
THD+N: 0.015% (20Hz – 20kHz)
Noise: -88dB (20Hz - 20kHz; -90A-Weighted)
S/N: 120dB analog (96dB digital)
Channel pairing: 0.2dB (from -50dB until max)


Price: 36 000 zł

Distribution: Moje Audio

Moje Audio
Ul. Powstańców Śląskich 118
53-333 Wrocław

Tel.: +48 606 276 001



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