I did, when I first got the Steelhead (shortly after the introduction of the version with slightly different faceplate and buttons, but no remote--ca 2006-7?)
Keep in mind that my comments are shaded by the system I was using it in- horns, Avantgarde Duos to be specific, Audiopax 88 amps, later replaced by Lamm ML2 SET amps. I was using a Lyra Titan i at the time, which had just been introduced. The bass and top end were spectacular, but overall the system sounded too lean to my ears. (I learned a lot about setting up the Avantgardes along the way).
I eventually made several changes- I did add a line stage--the Lamm L2, which seemed to add more body and dimension to the proceedings; I rolled various tubes in the Steelhead, and preferred the sound of NOS Telefunkens to the other NOS tubes I tried (I also rolled the 7044s, settling on a vintage tube- I think it was a Raytheon). I spoke to Eva Manley at one point- who took more of a purist approach - that adding the line stage was going to reduce the clarity/accuracy of the system, but that's what made me happy.
I then switched cartridges -from the Lyra to the Airtight PC-1, which by comparison, sounded rounder and less splashy, but richer and more textured. I ran "in" through the MM wide open, rather than through the MC autoformer- for some reason, I found that certain frequencies on the MC input were spectacular, but the overall output sounded uneven. I'm not sure if I was hearing ringing from the cartridge or something else- I played around with various loadings, but never got happy.
The Steelhead was a marvel of flexibility and built like a tank. But, there was a certain quality that I was hearing that sounded a little electronic to my ears. This may be the result of a high efficiency horn system-- cabling was (and remains) Kubala-S (Emotion and a piece of Elation now). Currently using an Allnic H3000 with a different line stage--the Veloce--and I think, overall, the combination the sounds "more real." But that's hardly an assessment of the Steelhead- it's more a function of the system, overall, as well as my sonic preferences. One well-seasoned listener who visited recently wanted more high frequencies, so much may depend not only on the combination of gear but your taste. The Steelhead was in all events, a solid component, and I sold it to someone who, as far as I know, was very happy with what it did in his system.
Whart, excellent post as usual. Have you ever tried Acapella horn system? Or Purist Audio cables? Allnic electronics appears to work best with speakers that tend to be somewhat bright - horns, JM Labs and others. But Lamm ML2 is not going anywhere for as long as the speakers have reasonable efficiency, is it?
I have a Steelhead and have also rolled a lot of tubes, trying various NOS tubes in the 6922 position including Siemens CCas and Mullard and Amperex tubes. I finally settled on some Telefunken 6922s I got from Upscale Audio. For the 4 white followers I tried some GE and International 7044s, Raytheon 5687s, and Amperex 7119s, but found a great deal on the unobtanium Bendix/Mu 6900s. The 6900s are very expensive but the way to go.
When my Essence preamp went in for repairs I did try using the Steelhead as both a phono stage and linestage into my Essence monoblocks. As posted above, it was a little lean, harmonically bleached, compressed, and lacking soundstage size as compared to the Essence, which has the power supply of many power amps--it outputs 38 volts at full output. The Steelhead also did not have anywhere the gain and I had to run it pretty close to wide open.
I use single-driver speakers of my own design: 12" Audio Nirvana alnico drivers in homebuilt mdf cabinets laminated in white maple, along with a JL Audio F113 subwoofer. My front end is an SME 20/2 table, Graham Phantom arm and Lyra Titan i cartridge.
I use a Steelhead as both phono stage and preamp (via multiple inputs using a Skipjack) to drive Manley 250 Neo-Classic mono blocks. It is extremely quiet and dynamic and I couldn't ask for more. I still use the stock tubes that came with it.
Inna- nope, never tried the Acapella, the bigger one was way more money than the Duo- the plasma tweeter is fascinating,though. And no. never tried any of the Purist cables either. Not for any good reason other than that once I found the Kubala, which worked great in my system, I figured I was out of the cable morass.
The one blessing re the Allnic is that you are pretty limited on tube rolling- it’s mainly about the rectifier, and those almost seem reasonable compared to the prices some of the vaunted small tubes fetch today. Re the Lamm ML 2, married for life. That doesn’t mean I won’t own other amps, but I can’t see why I would ever get rid of them.
Whart, I see. I was cruising youtube the other day 'auditioning' some systems. The one I liked the most was smaller Lansche speakers with plasma tweeter driven by Ypsilon electronics, Thale turntable, HB cables. Spectacular sound, at least for my taste.
I asked about Purist because I heard that Lamm worked very well with older Purist Dominus fluid cables.
When I owned a Steelhead RC, I would periodically try it as a line stage, figuring that to remove a component from the chain in a system dedicated to vinyl, anyway, could only improve things. But I was always dissatisfied and went back to using it in conjunction with a line stage. As I recall (it’s been a few years now), the sound stage improved, especially in height, and I heard more bloom and drive when using a linestage. This was true with a variety of units, including a Mac C-2300, VAC Phi Beta, and, oddly, even a Bent AVC passive.
Like whart, I rolled a huge variety of tubes through the Steelhead. For the 6922 slot I settled on Hamburg Valvo Red Label E88CC, a really nice tube combining German top-end resolution, a la Telefunken, with the body of a Holland Amperex. Also like whart, I went through way too many 7044/5687/7119 varietals, some pretty pricey. But I was never really happy with any of them, so I went back to the Manley-supplied GEs, which have a good combination of clarity and tone. (Tip: the GEs with green labels sound much better than the ones with blue labels, even though the date codes are pretty close. Manley will pick them for you if you ask.)
Finally, and once more like whart (I want to be like whart!), I moved on to the Allnic H3000, selling my Steelhead to a happy audiophile. I greatly enjoyed my time with it, and Manley is a solid operation that cares about its customers. Have fun with it. In your system, going direct might be just the thing.
Thanks for eveyone's responses. I have spent 20 yrs towing the Spectral "line" and am finally parting ways. Spectral said using Steelhead to drive my DMA 360s would void my warranty. So always ran it through the preamp; sounded good but never GREAT. Bought a Mark Levenson no.27; but the Steelhead did not "mate" well ( also never sounded great ) Just paired the Steelhead with a pair of Forte' model 7 monos that have been sitting in their boxes for 15yrs; Last night, for the first time; I understood that the Steelhead IS a great phonostage and might be a great preamp as well. Will have to experiment and listen for awhile! This divorce from Spectral is opening a new and exciting journey for me. Mix and match equipment. Try Tubes for real. The possibilities are almost endless! Rather than being chained to the Spectral ( even though the Spectral sound is Good ) I don't think that I will miss the Hyper Detailed Sound. I am going to be auditioning some CAT electronics ( anyone that can compare CAT phono to Manley Steelhead ? Also going to try Steelhead driving Pass 160.8s. Any other recommendations are welcome! It is a new world for me and I am wide open for the "dating scene"
You know, Spectral has always been in the same category as B&W to me. Once I heard it I was like "hmmmm, um, what am I missing?" so I am glad to hear you are moving beyond their ecosystem. :)
Thanks Erik; I feel free to explore without hindrance. I am totally a vinyl guy; own 83 CDs ; working on 3000 LPs. Still have LP 12 and a new Kuzma. Really liked CAT / Martin system at Axpona this year. Have a fair amount of dealers in my area and within driving distance too. Should be a good time and not without tunes plus have more than enough gear to sell.
nkonor-I am a big fan of Franc Kuzma's work. His designs are thoughtful, well executed and built to last. Plus, he is there for you- I have enormous respect for him.
wrm57- we've recognized before that we are sort of doppelgängers.
It is a heavy cross to bear. :)
Which Kozma do you own? I have never had one but always admired them and they have been steady in their design fundamentals.
What area are you in? Might be able to recommend a dealer.
Soundsrealaudio, I bought a Kuzma Stabi S with the platter upgrade ( essentially (2) platters matted together) , Kuzma 12" reference arm and outboard power supply ( for dead on speed control at 33 & 45 rpm ) Workmanship and ergonomics are Great! Plays well above its cost!! I am in Chicago and bought it from Essence Audio at Axpona in April. Both Kuzma and Essence Audio have provided above par service! I am very happy.
nkonor, I had several CAT preamps, a Reference Mark II, Signature Mark III, and Ultimate Mark II if I remember correctly (I have a photographic memory but it hasn't developed yet). The first two had phono stages but I had a gain problem, or a lack thereof, with my Audioquest AQ7000nsx cartridge that had a 0.3 mV output. I think the CAT only had about 44 dB of gain or something like that and I had to run the preamp volume control at 2 to 3 o'clock. Some LP's that were recorded at lower volumes like MFSL titles just were too quiet and lacked dynamics. I have had several standalone phono stages since including my current Steelhead and I have an Essence preamp that outputs 38 volts at full output, so this is no longer a problem. It probably isn't the best comparison as my CAT preamps were older types and my system suffered from low gain, but I did have the same cartridge and the Steelhead in my opinion is a much better phono stage. Hope this helps.
riaway, Thanks! Your comments confirm my research so far. I never tried the Steelhead driving my Spectral 360s (would void warranty) I bought a Mark Levenson no27 but it didn't do it for me. I just hooked up the Manley to a pair of Forte' model 7 monos (75w/ class A) WOW! Now it is a great phonostage !! Was always good running through Spectral pre but now is great running the Forte's. Need more power to drive my Avalons. Going to audition a pair of Pass 160.8s driven by steelhead. Thanks Again
nkonor thanks for the info on the Stabi. I have quite the LP route, but I will recommend the Stabi to anyone interested.