Manley Steelhead

Hi everyone..I'm thinking of going for a steelhead. Apparently the new version has a line stage, what I want to know does it have balanced inputs or outputs?? Will it be an upgrade from Tom Evans The Groove and ATC SAC2?? All feeding ATC active 20 towers...

Cheers Mooner.
Forgot to mention....or should I just go all out and get an Ayre K-1xe??? I like the prospect of a balanced input on the phono stage!!
How good is the phono stage inside of K-1xe???

Cheers Mooner.
Mooner: Sorry to say there are no XLR's. :( As a dealer for Manley and a former dealer for Tom Evans, I have to say both are excellent, but the Manley is, indeed, in a entirely different class sonically.
First, I own an Ayre K-1XE, just so you know where I am coming from.

The Ayre K-1XE is a great preamp. It has very good phono boards. They are very musical and have great frequency extension. The imaging and soundstaging is also very good. Its strength is the very deep, dark background it presents. (I hate tube rushing, so this is a blessing). As a line stage it is excellent. It is much better than the ARC LS-2 (preamp) and PH-3 (phono preamp) that it replaced. (It also has a volume/mute remote control if that matters to you. It did to me!)

That being said, if you are planning to buy a seperate phono preamp, the Steelhead would probably be a better choice. I have only heard the Steelhead briefly, so am basing this on my research and the reviews I have read. According to the reviews, and people whose opinions I respect, have said it is one of the best available. But then again, it should be better, since it costs almost as much as the Ayre K-1XE, which is a full function preamp.) I do not believe that the Manley will offer balanced inputs, or outputs.

If you have the cash to afford the Manley, that is probably the way to go. As for using it as a preamp, I would recommend going with a dedicated preamp instead, as it will allow you more flexibility, as there would only be one input in the Manley. (Plus this is the first version of the Steelhead, with the preamp function, and they will probably modify it once they have some more time and experience with the unit. Manley is pretty good about updating their equipment once they figure out how to make it better. Something that Ayre is good at too, by the way!)

If on the other hand, you only have just enough money for one unit, and you have more than one input, I highly recommend the Ayre K-1XE, as a full function preamp. The Ayre K-1XE has 6 inputs (3 balanced, and 3 single ended). (I use five of them myself.)

If I were grading it as Stereophile grades, I would give the Ayre line stage an A-, and the phono stage a B+. Stereophile gives the Steelhead an A.
(By the way, unlike Stereophile, I do not believe in giving out A+ grades. I can not believe that Stereophile does that now!)

Perhaps an Ayre K-1XE, without the phono boards, but with a Manley Steelhead. That might make a great combination.

Good Luck in your search!
I use balanced inputs on my phono stage. It helps quite a bit, I heard it with the same cable run with with rca's and then a 2nd cable with xlrs.

However, I think this is very dependent on the phono stage design. My BAT VKp10SE-superpak has a fully balanced input. Others like the steelhead don't. The Aesthetix have a single ended input, then balanced in the other gain stages and output.

So, I wouldn't pick a phono stage just for a balanced input. In my system, it is wonderful though.
Hi...thanks for all your input everyone, I've just purchased the Ayre K-1xe with phono. And just sold my ATC SCA2 on ebay. Wonderful!!
I let you know want she's like when she's run in!!