Country of Origin
Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Financial interests: click here
Sources: Retina 5K 27" iMac (4GHz quad-core with Turbo boost, 32GB RAM, 3TB FusionDrive, OSX Yosemite. iTunes 14.4), PureMusic 3.02, Audirvana 3, Qobuz Hifi, Tidal Hifi, COS Engineering D1, Denafrips Terminator, Soundaware D300Ref as USB bridge/SD transport, Soundaware D100Pro and 280A, Questyle CAS192, Kinki Studio DAC-1
Headphone amplifiers: Vinnie Rossi L2 Signature with Elrog ER50, Bakoon AMP-13R, Nagra Classic, COS Engineering H1, Kinki Studio THR-1
Headphones: HifiMan Susvara, Final D8000 & Sonorous X, Audeze LCD-XC, Raal Requisite SR1a, Meze Neo Classic, Raal Requisite SR1a
Power delivery: Vibex Granada/Alhambra, Puritan Audio Labs PSM156 and PS106-DC
Review component retail: $4'500
Womanly? It's the rare hifi company that's fronted by a woman, here EveAnna. Yet their new Absolute headphone amp—which is just the first in a coming Absolute range of refreshed hifi models, with ex David Manley protegee Zia Faruqi now part of their engineering team—remains a Manley. Best we just call it unisex to avoid any complications. Most fitting, too. This machine which first teased at CES 2016 is above all such complications. Parallel single-ended triode or push/pull triode? On-the-fly switching makes it so. RF remote or disc-edge volume? Your choice. It's 0.5dB-step surface-mount relay-switched metal-film resistors either way. Stereo or mono, for those records which could sound weird in stereo? Your call. ±3dB Baxandall tone controls in our out? They subtract from the signal path in bypass or make for tonal-balance trim that should be more predictable and convenient than rolling cables.
Global negative feedback goes from 0-10dB. Balance can shift by up to 72dB right or left. 3-stage loading covers lo/med/hi (12-50Ω, 500-200Ω, 200-600Ω). For headphones, you can exit ¼" or true balanced transformer-coupled XLR4. For speakers, you can exit RCA into an amp with two RCA sources. The many ways our Absolute swings should exceed even the most gender-fluid adventurers. There's even a threshold limiter on the back. This can freeze max output, particularly useful to protect the hearing of young kids in the crib.
Like a Nagra or ultra-exclusive Lejonklou phono stage in solid copper chassis above, this machine also gets a switching power supply with fully regulated ultra-low impedance lines. It's designed by none other than Bruno Putzeys of Hypex, Ncore, Kii and now Purifi fame. It's quieter than any linear supply Manley's engineers could dream up. In a controlled A/B performed in a Los Angeles recording studio, a version of this supply was installed in their Chinook phonostage to have the switcher's sonics beat their previous linear power supply 10 out of 10. The Absolute's quad of RCA or GE output tubes do a +6 by not being typical EL84 but EL90. The inputs are two familiar 12AX7 which can be rolled for 12AT7, 12AU7 or 5751 should lower gain be acceptable or desired. By pressing the power button for two seconds, the volume control for input 1 is bypassed to become a through-put. As crowning glory to so much SoCal yogic flexibility, the Manley Absolute can be had in three different always striking finishes. Dimensions are 11.5×5.5×8.2" DxWxH, weight is 12lbs and power consumption is 80 watts, 0.5W in standby.
Given the lot, it was little wonder that our Scottish lads working as EveAnna's UK distributors above were over the moons with excitement over their new line and first shipment which included multiple Absolutes. And there you thought that being absolute meant you could only be one.
Did I want black or silver? Checking with my internal decorator, silver it was. My non-alcoholic vodka would ship out shortly I was told in August. I'd retain a clear head even after mode shifting from 2nd-order dominant to 3rd-order harmonic distortion and back all night long. It's the very rare output transformer which can morph from single-ended drive into push/pull and back, never mind on the fly (the Absolute temporarily mutes itself during the few-seconds gear change). Of course Manley had done it before with their NeoClassic 300B preamplifier. To them it was second nature by now. A radio-frequency remote that works through walls isn't something one gets every day either. For headfi, Manley previously had their 300B preamp with two headphone outputs; and a headphone port on their Stingray II amplifier. As dedicated headfi kit, the Absolute is their first though it's double trouble again by multi-tasking as a line stage.
For cosmetics and knobbery, the Absolute arguably goes where none have before. Cap'n Nemo on his Jules Verne submarine should have had one. Check out the styling remote.
Just reading specs then perusing published photos, the Absolute which triples as headphone stand seems a cool cat of different stripes. Anyone bored with the old same old should spark up just thinking about this retro-futuristic deck. We of course must do more than just think. We have to hit that power button mounted high at the crown's back, jack in, check out and go off. For transporters I had HifiMan Susvara and HE-1000, Final Sonorous X and D8000, Audeze LCD-XC and Meze Neo Classic. I could also rope in our Raal Requisite SR1a with the Absolute as line stage. Fun and games ahead? August became September, then October, November and mid December. Finally Elite's Grant Alexander with his head for marketing checked in. "Our one sample has been in super-hot demand with customers and appears to be picking up awards all over the place." I'd stayed clear of any Manley press but could fully appreciate that their store unit had been on heavy rotation. That's the purpose of any demonstrator – to make hay with prospective punters, not just sit there in a remote Scottish farmhouse looking pretty. I'd take my sneak spin over the holidays and consider myself lucky.
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