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AXPONA 2024: Manley Labs Preaches a Vinyl Gospel

04-25-2024 | By John Hughes | Issue 133

Manley Labs has always kept its feet planted in two lands. Known for keeping the tube faith on the Pro side of audio—their mic preamps and processors are legendarily for their natural detail, color, and overall juiciness. They are used at many of the best studios and mastering houses. They also make some of the most loved tube gear in the land of Hi-Fi. EveAnna Manley is as vibrant and colorful as her gear, whenever I run into her, I know we are going to have a riot of a convo. This show she is introducing Manley's new phono preamplifier, the Oasis. 

The Oasis is based on the classic Chinook phono preamp, with a more upmarket chassis, external gain switches, and a significant upgrade to the power supply. Replacing their classic linear power supply is a Manley Power switch mode design by audio guru Bruno Putzeys. This power supply has been used and improved in their pro products for over a decade, and EveAnna declares it ready for the HiFi market. This SMPS reduces the power consumption of the Oasis substantially—high power consumption is one of my pet peeves with tube gear, so this makes me happy. EveAnna also claims that it lowers the noise floor, and just sounds better! It will launch shortly with a price of $3995 USD.

Fronting the system was an SME Model 6 turntable with a Shelter 501 cartridge and backing it all up was the Manley Absolute headphone amplifier (which also has the Manley Power SMPS in residence).  I know one mastering engineer that uses the Absolute and declares that there is nothing better for hearing what is going on in his final mixes. Wrapping around my ears was a pair of Audeze LCD-4 headphones. I have an original pair of Audeze LCD-2 headphones, so I am familiar with the sound signature. The Absolute amplifier has so many controls and options it can take a while to find the sweet spot for each headphone, but I was able to dial it in pretty quickly to get some deeply satisfying sounds. I put on a record I've had since high school: Boz Scaggs' Silk Degrees. Did this take me back? Right back to a sock hop on the gymnasium floor! Sonics were spacious, rhythmic, and propulsive and I wanted to boogie out of my chair when the track Georgia came up. Boz's voice was mellow and was clearly delineated from the mix, which is a trick to do with this track which is a typically flat mid 70s mix. All this brought back old memories clearly. Georgia was my girlfriend in high school who I sock hopped with on a gym floor not 30 miles from AXPONA and this was my song for her.

"Georgia, I swear I've never seen such a smile
Gorgeous enough to make an angel's heart run wild"

This gorgeous sound and experience are why I come back again and again to vinyl. I will definitely circle back to the Oasis for some more serious listening when I get my vinyl rig up and running again. Thanks for the memories EveAnna!