Class A Magazine, 1997

The following is an interview with EveAnna Manley given to Class A magazine in Moscow, Russia. This interview has been translated from the Russian article from the June 1997 issue of Class A magazine. 

As we promised in march issue of our magazine, here is the interview with a well known person appeared at "Moscow Hi-Fi Show 97": EveAnna Manley (Manley Labs, USA).

So, EveAnna, with her special charm, permanent smile on her face, quick graceful movements and open, bright look in her eyes, sparkling with curiosity for everything surrounding her.

Let me talk with Eve Anna first: even audiophile people sometimes have to be a gentlemen!

C.A.: Tell me shortly Your company's history, please.

E.M.: Manley Labs was born inside VTL which David Manley has founded in Britain after very first amplifiers designed by him were manufactured in South Africa. A tubed equipment with VTL logo on appeared on the market at the beginning of eighties and was made on the small British factory. Later on David has got interested in American home audio market and started thinking of setting business in California, the place attracted him the most. Thus, VTL moved to Chino, California. By that time vacuum tube boom started, helping the company to grow. Besides home audio VTL started to make professional equipment for recording studios. I joined the company in 1989 after college. I was looking for the job in the music field. A friend of mine which used to work at my father's company named Ampeg (famous in 60-s for tubed guitar amplifiers) told me about young company in Chino owned by David and his son Luke. I started working for VTL building amplifiers: soldering parts onto printed circuit boards and mounting them on the chassis. We were manufacturing our production under both VTL and Manley brand names by that time. And approximately four years ago we made decision to split the company into two separate ones: Luke kept VTL, and Manley moved to another building we bought in Chino. Today we have everything we need for our business: transformer winding shop, mechanical shop, where the boxes and chassis are made, soldering shop, PC board shop and laboratory for equipment tests. We also have terrific personnel - people working for us, all of them high class specialists with long experience. And many other things we couldn't even dream about in the beginning.

C.A.: So, Your company can boast of impressive past. And what about future?

E.M.: As to me, I look into the future optimistically. Manley production, both High End and professional, nowadays is well known worldwide, we have our own way to build it and our vision in sound quality, which makes our equipment attractive for many audiophiles. There are so many things yet to be done, but that doesn't frighten me at all. On the contrary, it gives me a charge from the energy.

C.A.: In a couple of words, what is the most specific attribute of Manley Labs, secret, if You like, which makes Your company different from others?

E.M.: We always intend to do something special which nobody else ever done before. We implement in our designs rare uncommon tubes, sometimes quite exotic, if they helped us to achieve good sound. We thoroughly inspect other components and choose only the best. For professionals we are try hard to give them as high quality equipment as we can, so records made by them one could proudly play on our home equipment. Our schematics are not at all so complicated, they are in most of the cases classic designs, simple and short signal paths. We make wide range of studio equipment: microphones, microphone preamplifiers, equalizers, limiters and so on and so forth. And all these things are of great demand in many recording studios. Finally, recording engineers came to understanding of utter importance of real sound quality in their competition.

C.A.: What kind of duties You have working at Manley Labs?

E.M.: My duties are so great in number: coordination of all our departments and facilities, financial, hiring staff, sales, component supply, negotiations and contracts with our suppliers and dealers. Right now our company is growing, I have to find more specialists to hire, which is not that easy. Honestly, I'm also looking for good deputy I could trust to pass him a part of my duties. Not because I'm lazy or tired, but for the company is growing bigger and I have been running it single-handedly since April 1996.

C.A.: So, You are one who decides which components to use in Manley amplifiers. What kind of criteria define your choice?

E.M.: There are two general ones: good sound and reliability. We've been keeping records on many different components for years and I personally have been the one ordering all the parts, so now I know what I want. Meanwhile, some component manufacturers know us as a permanent customers, they are happy to be our partners, because we evaluate their production highly. Such a good partnership we have established with MULTICAP capacitor manufacturer, RELCAP, and overseas company making polypropylene caps by our special order.

C.A.: You mean those yellow caps with VTL logo on, often found in your amplifiers? By the way, I was told that they are metalized polypropylene type caps. Is it true?

E.M: It's not: they are real film and foil construction and are sounding very good - one of our favorite component, proved in years. The reason You can see them in Manley amps is that back in VTL times we have bought quite large stock of them and still use them now.

C.A.: Let's talk about tubes now. So many Russian audiophiles feel jealous for Americans have got excellent choice on tubes of best world manufacturers...

E.M: You, Russians, making terrific tubes and feeling jealous?!

C.A.: Even not just jealous, but extremely jealous. Many of them read Stereophile, Glass Audio and other magazines and see advertisements of New Old Stock tubes, made by famous tube companies few decades ago, but never used before. I'd like to hear about Your personal preferences on tubes, say, power output ones.

E.M.: My sympathy is on Russian tubes side. I agree, that if You dig New Old Stock, You can find some tubes of even higher quality than Russian tubes, but I as a manufacturer can not rely on New Old Stock because of limited quantities of those tubes left: what's the good of 20 pieces KT77 or original 300B W.E. bought by chance? I need permanent and reliable supply to produce serious quantity production. Russian tubes sound good and have high reliability. A friend of mine, tube fanatic and KT77 convinced admirer, has bought the whole stock of old KT77's from us. He never even thought of using any other tube in his amplifier. And one day he tried Russian EL34G+, then called me and confessed that this Russian beast is quite a revelation for him: it sounds extremely close to his beloved New Old Stock KT77! My own experience with Russian tubes started with GU-50, which still we've got in spades in our storage. We have made few amplifiers using this splendid military Russian tube (I heard it was designed for Russian tanks). Unfortunately, our market wouldn't take this tube due to it's uncommon appearance.

C.A.: I wonder what was that tube doing in the tank?

E.M.: You want to check if I am familiar with Russian military secrets? Suspect me of spying? No way! (laughs). All I can say, I suppose that when Soviet warriors were running out of shells, they were shooting this tubes, for they are just as solid and robust as a tank itself!

C.A.: What about 6L6 family?

E.M.: Here as well Saratov 5881's are the champions compared with any others, American made included, with regards to sound quality, reliability and parameter constancy. They are quite reasonably priced, too. I think, the reason Russians like foreign tubes is similar to the passion Americans have for European cars and Italian furniture.

C.A.: And Chinese tubes? Are they really as bad as people believe they are?

E.M.: They just can't stand high plate voltages they are specified for. In many cases having been put in Manley amplifiers they blow up in five minutes from the turn on moment.

C.A.: So, I guess, they are not so reliable. How do they sound then?

E.M.: Frankly, it's damn hard to evaluate their sound in those five minutes before they blow up. However, some of Chinese plants make very good 807's, which are not worse at all than Russian or even New Old Stock ones. Other Chinese types, say 300B, we buy in excess and then burn them in them for two weeks using our special lab equipment, burning out remaining gas (Chinese technology can not provide high vacuum so it seems) and gradually training tubes for high plate voltages. Many tubes die during this procedure, but the rest of them left are very good. I think this is not quite right: all should have been done as a part of technological cycle before tubes leave the Chinese factory. The thing is, Chinese industrial level is quite low to match Western demands. One of my friends luckily obtained a piece of Chinese 6550 with... a cigarette-butt inside it! I was begging to buy this tube as a souvenir offering him astronomical sums, but he refused, saying that, fortunately, still in our corrupted world there are some things money can't by!

C.A.: Perhaps, it was done deliberately: they were trying to use that cigarette-butt as an extra getter in order to increase vacuum...

E.M.: Then I won't be surprised next time seeing dead mouse in the tube!

C.A.: How do You like Russian 300B's made by Saratov plant? My colleagues and I once have tested three different brands of 300B: Russian, Chinese and U.S. Cetron. Russian tubes definitely won. Unfortunately, we couldn't get original Western Electric's to compare with.

E.M.: We used to have a big surplus of W.E. 300B in 1990-91, when building 300B push-pull amplifiers. Today none of them left. (Although now I have just received samples of them back in production. We will see!) Back in those years we had an opportunity to by the whole stock of W.E. 300B - 10,000 pieces! Instead, we invested our money in designing the first new power output tube in 25 years, and setting up production of Yugoslavian KT90. So W.E.'s were sold to Japanese Audiophile Association. I still keep very good memories about those tubes: they were sounding real charming. Russian 300B's are good sounding and very well made too, but I didn't have a chance to perform direct comparison between them and W.E.'s as well: in 1991 Russian 300B didn't exist yet, and now we're out of 300B's W.E. As a manufacturer I can't depend on a scarce and extremely expensive tube. But now we have moved over to new production of Russian 300B which are performing very well.

C.A.: Have You heard of the new tube based on 300B from Vaic Valve which retail $750 for matched pair?

E.M.: Some of my friends tried them in their amplifiers with very good results. It's a pity that their crazy price greatly restricts their market.

C.A.: A few words about GM70, a key part of one of your best amplifiers ever made. As far as I know, there are two modifications of this tube: one with graphite plate and another - with copper. Did You compare them with each other?

E.M.: I never even saw copper plated GM70's, only heard that they do exist, but very hard to get. And it doesn't surprise me: even GM70 sockets are so scarce that we had to machine them in our shop having only 8 pieces of original Russian sockets as a prototypes. By the way, I shudder internally every time when I recall how we created that amplifier: connect three voltmeters in series in order to measure power supply of 1.2 KV! Thanks God, our personnel didn't get reduced in number, for everybody at Manley Labs knows the safety rules pretty well.

C.A.: Tell me, please, how did You manage to issue those "VTL Vital Sound" labeled splendid sounding records? I've got three VTL CD's in my collection. You can precisely hear all the hall acoustics these records were made in: reverberation decay, air around instruments - the musical stage literally breaths like a living creature. To me, those records were very successful. Overall, how good was recording business for Your company?

E.M.: I'm afraid, thinking commercial way, it wasn't business at all, although making records is breathtakingly involving thing. David had put all his knowledge and talent in this project: he built a studio behind our house from the ground up, did all the acoustic design by his own and equipped this studio with his electronics, including tube mikes and consoles. In total we have made 20 records in this studio. But the profit was less than we usually get selling one Manley preamplifier! Not because the records were bad - they were made using acoustical approach with only two microphones and tubed analogue reel-to-reel tape recorder Studer C37 upgraded by David. The thing is, they were not commercial recordings, but true audiophile ones. To find your niche in recording industry You need to invest a lot and spend a great deal of time and efforts to get talented musicians, establish their image and so on. As to popular persons, they as a rule prefer to deal with big recording companies. Being relatively small company we couldn't handle all this without putting away our main occupation - producing High End and studio equipment. All in all, we sold the label to another company, and they let it die.

C.A.: It's a pity it happened that way. So, You discontinued recording business and fully concentrated on hardware. Do You have a plans to produce speakers, thus offering audiophiles the whole audio system, taking in account that signal source components already exist in Your range of goods (for example, Zaratustra turntable and Manley 20 Bit Reference DAC)? I've heard that You use Tannoy speakers as a reference in Your lab.

E.M.: We already have some experience in speaker building. David along with Doug Sax (famous sound and mastering engineer and author of many tube projects) once bought the last production run of the very well known by professionals dynamic transducers Tannoy SGM-10. Doug designed the crossovers, and David worked on cabinets. As a result of this joint venture 350 pairs of speakers were made and sold. Now it's a true collector's item: they are not produced any more, still many people want them for high sound quality. Tannoy SGM-10 production line was shut down, and today it's recreation would be so difficult and expensive. After that we were still making loudspeakers using another type of transducer (also from Tannoy), they were selling pretty good. I still use a pair of Tannoy Westminsters <> at home and enjoy them so.

C.A.: If You don't mind, I'd like to ask You a rather trivial question, though it's not that hard to guess what's the answer will be like. Nevertheless, here is that question: what do You think about competition "Tubes versus transistors"?

E.M.: Well, I've already told that my father used to own a tubed guitar amplifier company. When I was a child, I contacted with many musicians, went to concerts and learned to play clarinet, saxophone and trumpet. In high school and college I was very active in the band programs. It was my life! I know how real instruments should sound both in a concert hall and on the stage, when two trumpets and a big drum are behind You, a tenor-saxophone on the left hand side, a trombone on the other. At home we had Fisher tubed audio system. There is something special in the tube sound, which never let the true audiophile and music lover abandon music. It's a very soul of music. The tubes, unlike transistors, do not kill it. Besides, there are another sound attributes which remain unchanged passing through the tubed circuits: the soundstage depth, the warm breath of acoustic instruments, their delicate sound. When I hear transistor amplifier playing, I always note flatness of soundstage, aggressive manner of the sound and reduced emotions.

C.A.: ...And transistor bass?

E.M.: Pushing, degraded in rightness of color and depth. It's said that transistors can control excursions of woofer better than tubes, but I doubt it. As regards this, I would tell You a funny story about "Electric Lady" studio. They were using transistor amplifiers and Hutch was working there. He called us to complain that they change their monitor TAD woofers every two months from fatigue. We suggested to try tubed amplifiers instead of solid state ones. They followed our advice and ordered a pair of Manley 350 monoblocks. From that moment on the life of the woofers was extended from a few months to several years! The big tube power amplifiers had better control on speaker excursion than underpowered solid state amps. The result was Both their sound engineer and accountant are happy: the former because he doesn't get tired of loud music that soon, the latter &emdash; You know why.

C.A.: Do You believe that tube rectifiers have some advantages compared with solid state ones?

E.M.: Not really. At least, in our schematics, where massive electrolytic caps store large amount of energy necessary for signal peaks at high output power, I don't see any appreciable advantages of tube rectifiers besides they provide delay and gradual increase of plate voltage. At the same time, their shortcomings are obvious. In fact, tube rectifiers are responsible for bad reputation of tubed equipment for being unreliable. The thing is that tube rectifier, working with high plate current to charge the big power supply filter capacitor next to it, is good for pretty short period of time, and when it goes off, it often takes another costly components along with itself. I think that rising popularity of tube rectifiers is sooner taking place due to promotional efforts of some tube manufacturers rather than their outstanding sound quality. It become nowadays a kind of fashion - to use them widely. However, our company put tube rectifiers in some preamplifiers at low plate currents.

C.A.: Finally, my last question, which is more of social character rather than technical. At the same time, it is in a way a personal question, if You don't mind. You probably remember that article in Stereophile magazine named "Women And High End". When this article appeared three years ago or so, it caused a sensation. To me, it's completely impossible to figure out why there is very few audiophile hobbyist among women. Nobody can say that women like music not as much as men do, or female hearing differs from the male one. Add to this the fact that most of women are more emotional and sensitive and more often show romantic sides of their nature than men - it seems to me, audiophile passion should affect women even more than us men, the cold blooded half of human race. But in real life the opposite phenomenon prevails. And on a such background Your personality looks truly unique: it's not only like You love good music and quality audio equipment to play it, but You create that equipment by Your own hands! You don't get scared of hot soldering iron and high voltages, and the look of open metal boxes with all that ugly (in other women's eyes) wires and metal pieces do not hurt Your aesthetic feelings: You know that in those wires and parts the harmony of music lives. Perhaps, many people would say that Your occupation doesn't suite the image of a true lady. On the other hand, in Russia nobody gets surprised seeing women driving buses, fixing railways or guarding warehouses. Many women here and, maybe, all around the world, have got used to the tough jobs and take it in stride. But when it gets to hammer a nail in the wall or solder two pieces of electrical wire together, they usually give up and, if the husband is not around, call the neighbor: wanna make me to do a man's job? No way!

E.M.: In general, I agree with results of Your sociological research in this field. I hardly can explain this phenomenon. Yes, so many our customers couldn't hide their amazement when they call to my office for the first time and asked me to call an engineer, thinking to themselves that they are talking to the secretary, and all in the sudden I announce that I am an engineer myself and just have finished testing Manley equipment they ordered. For some of them it's a real shock! How many times I noticed mistrustful look in their eyes and heard exclamations like "Wow! I'll be damned!" They even gave me a nickname: "Tube Queen". And here is my crown (shows the Russian military hat bought from the "Ismaylovo" souvenir market day before, laughing). Yes, there's not much women involved in High End. Maybe, it's coming from the very childhood, the way girls are brought up. When I was a little girl, my playmates were dressing their dolls, while I was more interested in building tree houses and painting them, listening to the music played by my parents' Fisher tube receiver. From that time I have a kind of disposition towards making things by my own hands. Another factor which might be keeping women away from High End is possibly that arrogant and condescending attitude of dealers women meet in many High End stores. I don't know. In any case, there's a lots of women in computer business, while the car business is run basically by men. But, being a woman, I like cars, and even motorbikes. I don't give a damn if the business I'm in is considered to be male or female occupation, I do what I like, and that makes my life worth to live and interesting.

C.A.: Thank You very much for interesting conversation.


Arthur Frundjian