Manley 16x2 Tube Mixer

Manley Labs is on a roll with its line of successful high-end professional products, including the introduction of what I feel is a much-needed, no-frills high-quality mixer that even sports a stereo vacuum tube output stage. Craig "Hutch" Hutchison, who is primarily responsible for giving birth to the 16x2, has a solid grasp on both vacuum tube and solid state design.
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Manley Labs is on a roll with its line of successful high-end professional products, including the introduction of what I feel is a much-needed, no-frills high-quality mixer that even sports a stereo vacuum tube output stage. Craig "Hutch" Hutchison, who is primarily responsible for giving birth to the 16x2, has a solid grasp on both vacuum tube and solid state design.
Product PointsApplications: Studio, remote recording

Key Features: 16 input/2 output mixer; available in three input configurations (16 mic, 16 line or 8 of each)

Price: Line version: $9,000 mic version: $9,500; 8+8: $9,900

Contact: Manley Laboratories at 909-627-4256; Web Site

Plus

+ Emphasis is on sound quality, not quantity of knobs

+ Simple and well thought out design

+ Variety of configurations

Minus

- Runs hot

- No aux send on the mic version

The Score: Pristine, high-end mixer with a quality signal path and a nice warm vacuum tube output.
Features

The rackmountable 16x2 is available with 16 line inputs ($9,000), 16 microphone inputs ($9,500) or what Manley calls the 8+8 ($9,900), which, as you may have surmised, is eight mic and eight line inputs. I recently had very pleasant experiences recording two SACD album projects with the 8+8 version.

The microphone version can also be used for line inputs because, when the mixer is set at 0 dB gain, it can handle balanced inputs as hot as +30 dBu, comfortably accommodating almost any input. This version also has switches for insert and phantom power.

Phase reverse is also provided on the microphone version, where it is most useful. I must say that the line input version sounds slightly more transparent, which makes sense since the signal path has fewer active stages and this is a "less is more" product.

The dedicated line input version has a much-needed aux send, which is unfortunately missing on the microphone version. Internal jumpers on the line-input version can set the aux send to pre-fade, post-fade or post-fade and cut.

All inputs have a left/right pan control that is the "proper" 4.5 dB down in the center, like the old British desks, and have lighted mute and solo pushbutton switches just below the mix gain control. Unity gain is at about 2 o'clock, with approximately 10 dB of additional gain when the control is full up. Mute removes the selected channel from the stereo mix but has no effect on the channel output jacks so they are available for balanced direct outputs to a multitrack without sending to the stereo buss.

The master section has a bus master in addition to an aux and a monitor master. Both mix and monitor can be muted with lighted pushbuttons. A monitor switch selects among Aux, Mono, Mix, PB and Ext while main- and mini-monitor speaker switching is handled by separate lighted pushbuttons. These are all useful features not expected in a barebones mixer.

The input jacks are combo XLR-1/4-inch wired to provide a 2.4 k-ohm load for XLR sources and 82 k-ohm load for 1/4-inch plugs either balanced or unbalanced. All channel direct outputs are balanced 1/4-inch. The balanced EXT 1/4-inch input jacks can be used to chain mixers for additional channels or provide a unity gain direct access into the stereo mix bus. Two large VU meters are preset so that 0VU equals +4 dBm or 1.228 volts RMS.

The bottom or right meter light is delayed about 20 seconds during power up while all the supply voltages stabilize. The vacuum tube output stage uses a 12AT7 for a voltage amplifier directly coupled into a line driver, which uses a 6044.

The transformerless unbalanced 1/4-inch output is AC coupled using a 30uF audiophile multicap, while the balanced XLR output is through Manley's proven 9811 output transformer. This circuit is virtually identical to the tube stages used in the Massive Passive equalizer and is capable of producing an output of +37 dBu!

The external power supply connects to the mixer with a heavy-duty AMP connector while the mixer end is hard wired. Physically, the console is 19 inches by 8.75 inches (5U), by 6.25 inches and can be rack or desk mounted. The power supply measures 13 by 13 by 4 inches, weighing in at 16.5 pounds. A good amount of ventilation is recommended, as the tubes put out a fair amount of heat.

The 16x2 mixer is beautifully made with top grade components throughout, such as Grayhill switches, Bournes conductive plastic pots, Burr-Brown INA 103, and OPA 2604 op-amps (no 5534s here).

In use

The best feature of the Manley 16x2 is how it sounds. I was so impressed with it after some initial testing that I brought it to St. Paul, Minn. to record a surround/ stereo SACD.

The recording was made in Studio M at Minnesota Public Radio, which is a nice, large, well-controlled room - not too dead. The project was the Pilhofer Jazz Quartet, consisting of piano, bass, drums and vibes. I used the Earthworks 1024 mic preamp (PAR, 5/01, p. 62) on the quartet feeding the Manley balanced-line inputs along with a pair of room microphones plugged directly into the mixer's microphone inputs. Each of the direct channel outputs fed an A-to-D input of an EMM Labs ADC8 converter, with its glass fiber output feeding a Sony Sonoma eight-channel DSD recorder.

I made a live stereo mix and fed it directly to the remaining two channels of the Sonoma. Wow, did this work great. Each individual microphone had about as pure a signal path I could imagine, while the stereo bus had just the right kind and amount of color added, with the mixer's vacuum tube output warming things up just a bit. The direct outputs are pristine without being sterile passing through minimal well-designed electronics. This is what I call having your cake and eating it too.

Summary

Although the Manley 16x2 is basic in its design, it has many well-thought-out features that make it easy to get the job done with sonic integrity. Because the 16x2 is basically hand-built, Manley offers a selected range of options designed to customize the mixer into applications where sound quality is paramount.

In the world of recording, where many production folks are wooed by the bells and whistles found on the majority of mixers and consoles, it is refreshing to see a manufacturer have the guts to step out and make a quality statement such as the Manley 16x2 mixer, at a good value to boot.