Pro Sound News, Europe
Interview with EveAnna Manley 8/2002
Reprinted with kind permission.
Manley Laboratories continues the venerable US tradition for obsessively crafted, tube-based audio signal processing. It's also a fun place to be and a fun way to do business.
PSNE: It all sounds very scientific, with "Laboratories" and "Science In Audio" on your calling cards. Do you all wear white coats?
EveAnna: Being located in Southern California, we all wear shorts and T-shirts - usually free corporate swag we have scored at trade shows. We have to be careful that two of us don't wear a Distressor T-shirt on the same day. Two versions of a Tannoy T-shirt showing up on the same day is acceptable. For example, a black Tannoy T-shirt can be worn if someone else wears the green Tannoy polo. It certainly is scientific studying the clothing and laundry habits of 40 people, and making sure to offset one's daily T-shirt choice by a day or two with everyone else. My yearly wardrobe budget runs into positive dollars because one can take a small tax deduction giving away old clothes to charities.
PSNE: Are you cloning classic gear, or 'standing on the shoulder of giants', as Oasis might say?
EveAnna: The first Manley products were loosely based on historic gear. The Manley Enhanced Pultec EQ and the MID EQ have obvious origins. I actually met Eugene Shenk in person, who had owned Pulse Techniques Inc, to ask for his permissions and authorisations and to offer royalties to him, for use of the passive EQ section of the historic Pultec. He told us it was an old Western Electric circuit anyway, it wasn't his to license, and had long fallen out of status. We had no interest in cloning the old Pultec tube circuits or power supply designs, so we left with his blessing knowing we had gone through the correct channels. The Manley Variable Mu and ELOP limiters also traced back to old gear, but neither was a clone of anything exactly. We used different side-chain technologies, and our own line stages and power supply designs to pull off similar - but modern - executions of familiar classics. After 1996, when Hutch took over as chief design engineer, we really started coming up with much more original designs. Our first project was the Voxbox. It took pieces of existing products, but we added new features and original enhancements to each section. While the Massive Passive tipped its hat to older passive Eqs, as well as George Massenburg's archetypal EQ, the Passive Parametric might just be the first new EQ design topology in 30 years. Very clever, Hutch!
PSNE: Can you be global without having to behave like a multinational?
EveAnna: I believe my trademark knitted skull-cap from Papua New Guinea is essential to our worldwide sales plan.
PSNE: What are the main benefits of working with the TransAmerica Audio Group?
EveAnna: Finally getting to work with Brad Lunde. For GML the decision to have TAG take over US sales was brilliant. George Massenburg concentrates on design and technical matters in the Nashville lab, Manley Labs does the manufacturing here in Chino, and Brad handles the sales, marketing and dealer relationships. This way we each focus on what we are best at. Brad, George and I make a great team. Our primary talents complement each other perfectly and we all trust each other explicitly. Talent and honesty are the foundation of any good business.
PSNE: Who are your customers in pro audio?
EveAnna: I decline to answer this question. I believe that any of our customers' names belong to the bearer of that name and not me, and unless I am paying them to use their names in order to sell my gear then I should not steal their names and reputations by throwing them around. The other thing we have is a firm 'no endorsements' policy at Manley Labs. Number one, we have a dealer network through which all sales need to go. Second, if we gave away free gear to any musician or recording engineer who requested an endorsement, then who would be left to sell to? It is easier to issue a blanket NO to everyone. Plus Hutch or I will pose for ad shots for free. Our Artists Relations department gets requests all the time for endorsements. I oblige by telling them, "I think you're great!"
PSNE: A lot of the stuff you're 'retiring' looks like toasters. The new pro stuff is very stylish, very 'boutique'. Is pro becoming more like hi-fi?
EveAnna: Sure, whatever you say. I'll take that comment as a personal compliment. It is interesting walking in both camps, both pro and hi-fi. Sometimes people wonder if we are a hi-fi company making studio gear or a pro company doing audiophile stuff. There seems to be this built-in hostility between the two markets. Pro guys make fun of audiophiles and their tweaky habits and directional cables. Audiophiles think that pro guys don't care about sonic quality as much as they do. Both camps have a lot to learn from each other, but they have to get beyond the extremities and tabloid-esque insanities of some of it. I mean, pro guys laugh at hi-fi guys who remove LEDs out of their gear because they claim they can hear them affecting the sound. I have never personally tried to listen for that effect, but I have spent time listening to different construction types and brands of capacitors, for example. Almost everything in a piece of gear will make some difference in the final sound. The key is learning how to listen critically for differences and then to decide whether something is a good or bad change. I don't think empirical listening is a natural ability one is innately born with. It is something that must be learned - either from reading descriptive hi-fi reviews and trying to listen for those things described or, better, from listening with someone who can point out this or that thing to listen for. Do you hear the separation of the beads on that gourd? Can you hear the separation between the kick and the bass? Do you hear how the triangle is not beating during the decay? My designer Hutch taught me to listen for specific things like that when we are doing parts comparisons or gear evaluations. Or listening to different audiophile cables. Mastering engineers come close to bridging the gap. Maybe that's why we like working with mastering engineers so much.
PSNE: Are you doing plug-ins?
EveAnna: Just this one...
PSNE: Have your manufacturing costs fallen?
EveAnna: What are you smoking? Only the profits have fallen.
PSNE: What are you going to do with another 10,000sqft?
EveAnna: For now, I am renting out my second building to Lucky Bamboo importers. Perhaps one day if we run out of space in the Manley building we can take over the space next door. Until then, we continue to use as much cubic space in our existing premises as we can. Stack 'em high. I snapped up that building next door as much for investment purposes as for planning for the future.
PSNE: Forget sound quality - is analogue more fun than digital?
EveAnna: Spinning any of the vinyl long-playing black discs I grew up with - like the Ultimate Spinach record my older siblings stacked on automatic record changers that is now so noisy it sounds like a bowl of Rice Krispies ("Snap! Crackle! Pop!") - is always more fun than listening to some over-smashed, guitar-heavy modern rock CD with no dynamic range and which is so wearing it makes you feel like taking a nap after listening to it. Yeah, I think analogue is more fun than digital.
PSNE: The SLAM (Stereo Limiter and Mic-pre) is your new product. Are you aware of the Danish translation of "slam"?
EveAnna: "Sludge" or "sewage." But we knew that.