Rob Tavaglione Not unlike its Core, Manley’s four-channel Force relies on the company’s usual Class A topologies, tubes and transformers for tone. Design highlights include an all-new power supply, 300 VDC rails, dual-triode 12AX7 tubes, the exact same DI utilized in the Core and Manley custom-wound transformers.
Upon powering up, the Force goes into 30 seconds of slow warm-up. The HPF, phantom power and gain range switches are relay-switched and nicely illuminated.
As a fond user of the Manley TNT mic amp, I can say that the Force has its own signature sound rather similar to my TNT’s tube side, yet is actually closer to the Core in overall tone. Its tube and transformers do not impart so much color or grit as they do smoothness, grace and euphony.
For best results, I found that using the low-gain range cranked up sounded cleaner and most desirable; if users need more than 50 dB of gain, there are internal jumpers to reach 60 dB. I ran the Force wide-open at +50 dB for some mandolin and guitar overdubs and it sounded nice.
Long story short, results were very similar with all the sources I amped via the Force: always clean, pretty and never the slightest bit veiled, slow or murky.
Compared to the Core, the DI sounds identical but the Core has an overall more plump, velvety and “cushion-y” sound that I believe to be color from the optical compressor.
With drums—kick, snare and stereo overheads—I found that tube overdrive really wasn’t a possibility, but who cares? The Force’s excellent imaging, silky smooth sparkle, open dynamics and ability to grab some low frequency kick drum decay (even from an ittybitty 16-inch diameter kick) earned praise from both guest drummer Stacy Huggins and myself. Please check out this webclip: www.soundcloud.com/pro-audio-review-magazine.
$2,500 does not represent a compromised Manley product, but rather the efficiencies of smart, modern production. Hand-built in California with notable local sourcing, the Force is a guilt-free purchase for the consumer with a conscience. Manley brags that this high-operating voltage design offers performance that’s simply not possible in 500 Series designs. I agree. At only approximately $625 per channel, the cost is comparable to not only 500 Series preamps but “budget gear” in general.
Rob Tavaglione operates Charlotte’s Catalyst Recording and has been a long-time Contributor to Pro Audio Review.twitter.com/robtavaglione