Manley Stingray II Integrated Amp-Owner's Review
I have to admit I have minimal experience with tube gear in my own home. While I tried a few out and listened to many others at the homes of friends it's been SS gear that has powered my speakers for over 30 years. Tubes always struck me as a bother.
After ordering a new set of Merlin TSM-MXr speakers I started fussing over which amp to use. Quite a few people were happily using SS amps, and yet Bobby over at Merlin kindly suggested giving tubes a chance. He suggested a used Manley Stingray and I certainly wasn't bothered by the price. A used Stingray can be had for 1200-1500 dollars. Of course I made the horrific mistake of doing more research and learning that Manley had a new "modern" Stingray with several improvements along with a remote control! I called Rich at Signature Sound at ordered a new Manley Stingray II.
Ipod? with Itube?
Yes, the new version of the Stingray is available with an integrated Ipod dock. There is nothing very special about it as docks go and I stared at the Itube with Ipod the same way I would if it had an integrated 8 track player. No way did I want an Ipod mucking up an otherwise lovely amplifier, so I ordered it without the dock feature. There are better Ipod docks which can be hooked into the system of course.
Out of the Box
The Stingray is carefully packed with tubes installed. Pulling it from the box I was struck by it's moderate size. The shape, of course, is another matter. This is one unique looking amp! It is for all intents and purposes, a pair of monoblocks mounted on a single chassis. There are two sets of connections on either side for right and left as well as two switches for triode and ultra linear modes. You'll also need a sub cable for each channel if you're running a subwoofer. The main power switch is on back; flip it and the standby light is always on. Activate the amp and the tubes glow amber and the volume and source lights also glow a soft blue. The huge remote operates the amp via RF and radio signals, so it will work anyplace, even upstairs! It is also backlit, which makes it great for those romantic listening sessions with my wife. The remote also controls most of the other amp functions. Of course it is a heavy metal item and it compliments the amp nicely.
I was warned about the initial sound of the Stingray and it was indeed somewhat harsh and forward. But after 150 hours it settled down and smoothed out. The amp became more laid back. I carefully checked tube bias with the included meter and logged another 50 hours for good measure.
Am I mad? Who would connect a Manley Stingray to a pair of Definitive Technology 7004 tower speakers? Me, that's who! To be fair, the Def Techs are actually a very good sounding speaker that most people dismiss because they've only heard them at Best Buy with a Denon receiver. They have their own powered subs, so the Stingray had an easy go to power them. Set to triode mode the Stingray is rated for 18-20 watts maximum, which seemed pretty weak against the type of power most people throw at speakers like these. Previously powering the Def Techs, we had Music Hall, Emotiva XP3 and a Odyssey Stratos Plus. The first thing I heard was that the Def techs suddenly sounded like Snells! They were smoothed out and the metal tweeters were suddenly sounding very un-metal like. Perhaps most astonishing was the imaging, which was now excellent. Much to my surprise I could also play the Def Techs quite loud with the Stingray. It was less prone to run out of steam than the 50 watt Music Hall. The bottom line was that the Stingray not only earned high marks, but also proved quite a bit of hidden potential in a speaker most audiophiles would call "mid-fi" or "Home theater speakers."
I did play the Stingray with a few other speakers, but it's the Merlins that are the end-game. While everything continues to break-in and evolve in a positive way, allow me to compare the Stingray to the very good Odyssey Stratos/Rogue Metis combo. In this little shootout the Stingray does seem to give up a bit of low end, but also sounds more lively and better defined at the bottom. The Stingray also bests the Odyssey for vocals by creating an almost unreal image quality. The speakers vanish from the room and listening to anything from Anne Sophie Mutter to Eric Clapton Unplugged was a revelation. Again, this was not really an increase in detail. Both amps could get the instruments and voices right, but it was the Stingray that placed them at specific points in the soundstage. The Odyssey tended to lay things further back in a lump of sound. For a few orchestral passages I did marginally prefer the Odyssey, but on almost everything else the Stingray simply out finessed the bigger amp. The Stingray seemed to hit it's stride after about 20-30 minutes of warming up, so I'd generally let it play "alone" before settling in for some listening. For anyone who would like to read it, my review of the Merlin TSM-MXr speakers can be read at http://carew.synthasite.com
I've got one....and it's a big one! Why doesn't somebody make a dust cover for this thing?! At this point, once it cools down, I cover it with a pillow case. But a nice lucite/plexi cover would be a home-run.
In some ways it's more impressive to hear what the Stingray does when connected to speakers you'd never typically associate it with. You expect it to compliment the Merlins and many others. It was fun to connect it to a pair of SVS speakers that cost 110 dollars each...and what beautiful music they made! Obviously most people will use speakers that cost as much or more than the amp, but most audiophile will snub the Stingray's 20/40 watt output.
They don't know what they're missing.
For a few shots of the amp/system, visit...