I was recently back at superstar drummer/producer Omar Hakim’s studio, recording his upcoming Trio Of Oz record. In the midst of working, we received a few Manley Labs pieces to try out: the Core reference channel strip, four-channel Force vacuum tube microphone preamplifier and the single channel VoxBox.
At Omar Hakim’s studio, Rich Tozzoli employs a stack of manley gear: the four-channel Force on toms, th Core on bass guitar, and VoxBox on overheads. The first thing we did was put four of his five toms (from the lowest up) into the four-channel Force ($2,500 street). We then put the overhead center mic (we use left/right and center) into the VoxBox and used the Core for Jonathan Toscano’s five-string bass.
Listening back, we all instantly agreed that we had just upped the game. With the Force—by which we had employed beyerdynamic TG D57c and TG D58c clip-on cardioid condenser mics—we noticed how much “thicker” the tone was. This sounds crazy, but even when scratching the mics upon first tests, we were like, “oh boy, we’re onto something.” But the real proof was when Omar played. He hits fluidly but quite hard, and the toms were sounding markedly better than usual when using the Force. There was an undeniable new presence to them. Just as a test, I muted the toms in sections where they weren’t played. The before and after results were striking; the resonating toms through the Force added to the depth of the overall drum sound, even when they weren’t being played. As a result, there would be no gating or cleaning up of toms on this session. It’s almost hard to believe a preamp change could alter the drum sound in this way, but we all agreed that it did.
What we also liked about the Force was how simple it was to use. It has four channels of Class A, 12AX-7 dual-triode vacuum tube preamplification taken from the Core unit. It has gold-plated XLRs running into Manley’s Iron Mic input transformer. Each channel also has a quarter-inch Hi-Z 10 Mohm jack for line or instrument level similar to the SLAM! unit. Also provided is standard 48V phantom, 120 Hz HPF, Polarity Invert and Hi/Low input attenuator buttons. Users get either 40 or 50 dB of gain with an additional 10 dB available via internal jumper. Then there’s a 7-Segment LED peak meter on each channel—and that’s it. The pots feel sturdy, the unit feels super solid and, most importantly, it sounds great.
And that’s a big part of what makes the Force so great: There’s not too much to think about. Plug in, push a few buttons, turn a knob and bam—tight, solid and thick sound. Omar was convinced enough to buy two of them after the session, plus a VoxBox, which ended up on bass. I gladly took the Core to my next session at Clubhouse Studios in Rhinebeck NY; after using it, owner/engineer Paul Antonell wouldn’t let me take it home. As a result, I’ll get to that unit in a future review after more use.