Disclosure: We are a full line, five year tenured, Manley Laboratories Retail Dealer.
We carry a considerable number of phono amplifiers ranging in price from $145 to well over $20K and can say that this may be one the nicest values to come along in some time. Our experience, specifically in the competing $2K to $3K range is that this is the best value we offer. Performance is disproportionately close to the Steelhead and exceeds that of many other pieces we carry. If a tubed option with considerable gain and load setting flexibility is of interest in the under $3000 range, the Chinook is a "must audition". I must leave specific brand comparisons to end users, but I do recommend looking up your local dealer for a demo.
Good Luck and Happy Listening!
I was able to take home my local dealer's demo about a week ago; bottom line, I was very impressed with the performance and I am going to purchase the Chinook. I would characterize this phono stage as very dynamic, just slightly on the warm side of neutral with a wide and deep soundstage. You get the richness of tubes while still retaining the speed and dynamics of some of the better SS phono stages. One thing of note that was icing on the cake for me was that it was the least susceptible to hum between 3 other phono stages I have tried in my system. Even in the MC mode with the gain at +60dB, I can turn my pre-amp pot up to the 12 o'clock position and it is very quiet; no hum and just the slightest bit of tube rush. Other phono stages I have had in my system started humming around the 9-10 o'clock position and in one phono stage, I could hear a local radio station coming through. The design/layout of the Chinook seems to have taken susceptibility to hum into account.
I'm going to try to demo the Chinook soon. I read the manual and asked the dealer, but neither have been able to answer my question. Can you adjust the load/capacitance settings during playback?
Both are set via dip switches located on the back of the unit so if you have an easy access while you play your records, then you can probably adjust the values. However, it seems to me unless you have a preamp with a remote or a knob that allows you to adjust settings with one touch, you should not do that. I'm sure such luxury comes at a cost, which would explain why preamps with such functionality cost a few k more than the Chinook. I'd rather the designer focused on what really matters rather than accommodate audiophile OCD.
Just traded in my beloved EAR 834P Deulxe for this phono stage, purchased new, so it hasn't had enough time to really break in yet. I run a Lyra Argo i and have the phono pre set on the MC setting at 100 Ohms, 0 capacatiance. Opening the unit up to make this setting chance was total eye candy, so beautifully it is built from high quality components. From a build quality perspective alone, it greatly exceeds the 834P.
Initial impressions after 10 sides of vinyl playing in a variety of styles indicate:
1) tighter and deeper bass
2) increased low level detail retrieval
3) about the same width and height of soundstage, but there are times when the width becomes "larger" than the room dimensions
4) deeper soundstage, a bit more foraward but also backward into the front wall
5) markedly improved dynamics, possibly due to the White configuration with the 6922 tubes in the driver stage, this one aspect is most noticeable between the 834P and this phono stage
6)my DG pressing of Martha Argerich/Abbado demonstrates how more accurate piano reproduction is, this alone make a compelling reason to move up to this stage if that is important to you
7) Classic Records Dave Brubeck Take Five: wow, the piano has never sounded as defined and natural, the bass moves the room and the brush textures on the drum kit are all there and palpable; I can feel the sounds on my skin so my sense that the reproduction of low level ambient cues and timbre is greater, my wife concurred
8) overall noise floor is substantially lower, this helps with the increased and apparent dynamic range
So far I am quite pleased with this upgrade and I will comment again after a week of break in has occured.
Manley does take it to another level.
I had a Steelhead for a long time. Tube rolling made a dramatic difference in the sound of the unit, and I would assume that to be true of the Chinook too. Not to lead you down the path of darkness....
Ah, the slippery slope...
Any suggestions on the tube rolling front?
Also, just for fun I tried a number of different capacitance settings this morning, best is at 0 pf so this supports the idea that MCs, at least this model, don't benefit from added capacitance in the phono stage.
If you do a search for tube rolling and Steelhead, you'll see a number of
good discussions on various tubes that replace the 6922 and their sonic
attributes. Here's my experience from the Steelhead, which i assume can
be extrapolated to the Chinook, although I'm not sure the circuit is the same
(I had the impression that in some ways it was like a Steelhead, without
the step-ups- which i never used anyway, ran at 47k through the MM input
for low output MC with gain at 55db, and avoided the variable output):
older Mullard gold pin- sweet, but too euphonic
NOS military grade Siemens- very linear, but less dimensionality than the
NOS Telefunken CCa- the best I had, very 3d quality.
Others- Valvo, Amperex pinched waist (unobtanium) I never tried.
Part of the process may also be the sound you like or system synergy.
PS I also never heard any real difference fooling around with the
capacitance settings using low out put moving coils.
Good luck, and enjoy your phono stage. Improving that part of the system
makes a real difference, and Manley's support is as good as it gets.
PPS: a third 6922 is used in the circuit for the chinook, the Steelhead used
4 7044's if I recall. I used NOS Raytheons for those, and replaced them
more frequently than the Teles. The Teles, while expensive, should last a
long time if they are truly low mileage tubes (NOS is a bit of a misnomer, as
you will find out, since the tubes may not be 'new' in the sense that they
have never been used; they may be old stock that tests well.) It pays to buy
from a reliable supplier, because some of
these tubes are now counterfeited. There are several third party vendors
who are reliable. You can probably find some recommendations by
searching the Gon for NOS tubes supplier or something like that.
Hey, Stevechamp, ping me at my email address:
I have an older pair of very good NOS teles I am happy to give you - no
strings attached, for you to play with and you can keep them. There's still
life left in them, I just have no equipment using a 6922 and there is no real
value in trying to sell a used tube that I cannot truthfully represent as
NOS/low mileage (I have a tube tester but I need to calibrate it so i can't tell
what they read at this point). Call it paying it forward. (I assume that the
Gon has no problem with a gift).
Thanks Whart, very generous of you! After watching Eva Anna discuss how they select and burn in tubes for their manufacuring, I think I will let the Chinook simply burn in with, and enjoy, the stock tubes that came with it and see how that plays out efore swapping in alternates. Had a long listening session with audio friends Tuesday night and it keeps sounding better with time.
Now considering a Jumbo Shrimp and Snappers...
Chinook continues to break in on day 10; last night listening and the soundstage is even larger than a week ago. Bass also improved and I still can't believe the detail retrieval and how much I was missing earlier.
Decided to trade in my CJ CAV50 for Jumbo Shrimp and Snappers to complete the tube based upgrade.
What speakers are you using, Stevecham?
I have to say now on day three of this system is revelatory and it's not even broken in.