Adherents to tube sound are an unconventional crowd, prepared to contend with high maintenance equipment that runs hot, is inefficient and, in modern terms, underpowered -all for the notional reward of sound with exceptional warmth and richness. To those of the faith, these characteristics can’t be matched by equipment relying on integrated circuits; gear that, less controversially but just as subjectively, also falls short on visual appeal.
Most valve amplifier equipment is certifiable eye candy, you see; the tubes all sparkle and filament, with an overarching charm that mixes the quaintly-relic with the edgily retro. The Stingray from US-based Manley Laboratories throws a radical, 10-plus kilogram hexagonal chassis into the blend, and unlike the marine denizen for which it is named, the Stingray ain’t one to let get away.
Its shape, for starters, is not just a gimmick. Although there is a fishy naming theme to Manley products – more on that below – the design of the Stingray stereo integrated amp supports a well-considered and unique topology. In summary, the arrangement of capacitors, resistors, transformers, power supply, wire, tubes, input and output stages – is such that it ensures the shortest, most direct path for any audio signal. In theoretical performance terms, this inflicts the least amount of variation – aka distortion – to the audio signal, and allows for pure and transparent reproduction of the original music.
This design approach is the lovechild of Manley Labs boss, the rock’n’roll-loving, mountain-climbing EveAnna Manley, who started working for the company in the late 1980s as a 20-year-old. She conceived the Stingray in 1998 and then continued to innovate with other quirkily-named products such as the VoxBox and Massive Passive, adding to the company’s core business of tube-based professional products – microphone preamps, monobloc amps, equalizers, mixers – a consumer hi-fi marque with real personality.
Because Manley Labs’ gear is fun. It’s not po-faced and precious and Wagnerian, like the valve gear locked behind glass in the backroom of your dealer’s show rooom. It’s for ‘everyman’ music, every day – and there’s a fair amount of bait in the Manley tackle box if you fancy throwing a line in. A 100 watt Snapper monobloc amp, for instance, a Steelhead phono stage and Shrimp preamplifier, plus the Mahi 40 watt monobloc amplifier. You need two for stereo, of course, which is how we arrive at the catch of the day, the Mahi Mahi (and the final nautical pun, we promise).
Back to the Stingray, and power output is a rated 40 watts, so and you’ll do best mating it with sensitive bookshelf speakers and audio sources that are its quality equal. Be aware, though, that it bears the warm blooded signature of all valve equipment, consuming 200 watts when idle and 370 watts in full voice – which is as much as most 42 inch plasma televisions.
The Stingray costs $3,599, and for injecting a warm analog glow to your digital playlist, look out for the forthcoming Manley Stingray iTube, with iPod dock.