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, Jay's Audio CDT2 MkII & DAC2-SE
Headphone amplifiers: Bakoon AMP-13R, Nagra Classic, COS Engineering H1 & D1, Kinki Studio THR-1, SPEC RSA-777 EX [on review]
Headphones: HifiMan Susvara, Final D8000 & Sonorous X, Audeze LCD-XC, Raal Requisite SR1a, Meze Neo Classic
Power delivery: Vibex Granada/Alhambra, Puritan Audio Labs PSM156
Review component retail: $4'500
Womanly? It's the rare hifi company run by a woman, 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 is above them all – complications that is. Parallel single-ended triode or push/pull triode mode? On-the-fly switching makes it so. RF remote or vertical wheel volume? Your choice. It's 0.5dB-step surface-mount relay-switched metal-film resistors either way. Stereo or mono, for those mono 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 surgical tonal-balance trim that's far 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 this 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, this machine also gets a switching power supply with fully regulated ultra-low impedance lines, this one designed on commission from EveAnna 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 EL84/6BQ5 but EL90/6AQ5A. The inputs are two familiar 12AX/ECC83 which can be rolled for 5751 should lower gain be acceptable. 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 x 5.5 x 8.2" (DxWxH), weight is 12lbs and in operation, 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 were over the moons with genuine excitement over their new line and first shipment. That included two Absolute.
Did I want black or silver? Checking with my internal decorator, the latter it was. My non-alcoholic Absolute vodka would be en route shortly. Why not get tipsy on hot music, retain a clear head and suffer no hangover even after mode shifting from 2nd dominant into 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. 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 linestage.
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 on that remote control.
Just reading up on specs then perusing published photos, the Absolute which triples as headphone stand marks turf as a very cool cat of different stripes. Anyone bored with the very old same old should revitalize just thinking about this retro-futuristic Manley. We'd of course have to do a bit more than just think. We'd have to hit that power button mounted high at the crown's back, then jack in and check in on sonix. For fodder I had HifiMan Susvara and HE-1000, Final Sonorous X and D8000, Audeze LCD-XC and Meze Neo Classic. I could even rope in our Raal Requisite SR1a with the Absolute as now linestage into a Goldmund/Job 225 amplifier driving the ribbons through their impedance interface box. Fun and games ahead.
… to be continued…
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