Manly Steelhead - any downside??

I am thinking of going for a Manley steelhead and have read many great reviews.
One thing that is mentioned consistenly is that it is a little lean.
Does that translate to the music being a little too revealing on the not so good recordings?.
Or does it make these recordings sound better and easier to listen to compared to warmer sounding phono stages?

me I want to to be able to listen and enjoy all my records, so ultra revealing is not something I am looking for in any phono stage.

appreciate any thoughts
If anything, the Steelhead is known for being just a touch on the warm side. In my experience it is certainly not lean or analytical sounding. The bass is full, extended, exceptionally taut and well articulated. The treble frequencies are smooth and well extended. I should also note that the Steelhead bested the Lamm LP2 in my system. The Steelhead is the best phono stage I have personally experienced. If you are looking for a component to lend a decidedly warm character to your system, the Steelhead is probably not your best choice, but if neutrality with just a slight lean toward the warm side of the spectrum is what you are after, I would buy the Steelhead without hesitation.
Hi Shane:

Cincy_bob is correct on all points. Where did you get the impression that the Steelhead is lean?

Best regards.
Lean?...Somewhat when new and with stock tubes. I have not listened to the Steelhead after burn in with its stock tube compliment. After some tube rolling and about 200 hours of serious breakin time using a phono stage burn in CD, this unit is not the slightest bit lean in my system. After a number of different tube trials, I have ended up with Tung-Sol 5687 black plate/d getters and Siemen's CCa's. For the folks that prefer a warmer, tube like sound, go for some Amperex 6922's and some GE 5 Star 5687's. Want even more articulation, try some Telefunken 6922's. Some combination of these tubes should please most tastes.

The leading edge dynamics and full body of the notes from piano and guitar are the best I have had in my room yet. Soundstaging is also as good or better than the other units I have tried. For reference, I have had or have a Tom Evans Groove plus, TAG, Rhea, Supratrek Syrah and Grange, EMM Labs DCC2, X-ONO etc. The Steelhead lets me listen to any record I own AND get the most out of that record. A fault I have with some systems that let you enjoy generic recordings is that they suck the magic out a really great recording like David Roth's "Pearl Diver" or The Third's "Take The A Train". The Steelhead won't be at fault if that happens in your system.

A bonus with this phono stage is that you also get a VERY good line stage. The Steelhead's line stage has taken my digital playback to a level that makes CD listening as enjoyable now as vinyl. I am not saying that CD's now sound like vinyl, just that there is a fullness to the sound that makes me forget I am listening to digital. Much like going from standard TV to HDTV.
How can price be that big an issue when you are getting one of the best phono stages available and a line stage that is also very good? Where else can a consumer get that much from a product for less money?
thanks guys.
I got the slightly lean charactisation from reading a lot of the reviews and reading somewhat in between the lines.
I just sold my Pass Xono for a pretty good price, so looking at what will be my last phono stage.
Thye steelhead seems to be the real deal. The main thing is that I want to be able to enjoy all my records, not just my finely engineered audiophile quality one's.
Is rolling the 6922's mandatory for the best musical sound?
Hi, Downunder,

Yes, I think you need to roll the tubes to get the best possible sound. The character of the sound changes a lot with tube rolling. Not that it is shabby in stock form at all, it is just capable of a more lucious sound. I thought it was lean at first, but after tube rolling and listening, I realized I just hadn't heard that level of fidelity before and now use it for preamp as well as amp. Vettrone's recommended tubes are spot on.
Money is an issue if you don't have it, even if it is the best. Otherwise, we'd all be driving Bentleys. $10K is a lot of money for a preamp, no matter how you slice it. It may very well be worth it if you have the money, but few have the money, especially when you consider that it is only one part of a system.
The best phono stage I've ever heard was a manley design. I don't really know how to describe it, except for the fact that it was so amazing that it made one believe you had an entirely new LP collection.
The retail price is $7300.

Chambers Audio
I agree about the sound. In particular, the mids and highs are clean and clear without any deemphasis of the low end. The sound is dynamic, emerging from a black background.

Downsides? Cost has already been mentioned. Also, having an extra chassis for the power supply eats rack space, and after a while I tire of waiting for the built-in delay circuit when switching sources, etc.

By the way, I have stayed with the stock tubes, reasonably happily. I'm curious to read about others' experiences with different tubes.
Downside is the cost obviously. But upside is abundant.
Now I am using the Steelhead as a full function preamp bypassing the line stage. To me the sound is pure and extremely open. No more line stage and one less interconnect. I didn't experience the lean sound you mentioned. Steelhead is my ultimate preamp that will last for a long while.
The phono stage of the Steelhead gets wide praise. For those of us interested in a full function preamp, how does the line stage compare to the line stages of other preamps in its class/price category? I'm thinking of CAT, Aesthetix, etc. Please add your own relevant comparisons.
HOw much tube rush to you get at medium and loud volumes.

I just tried the Aesthetix Rhea and it had noticable tube rush and medium and loud volumes.
Downunder, I also had noticable tube rush in my system with the Rhea. Very dynamic though. At medium volume, no tube rush at all in the phono stage with the Steelhead. At full volume there is only a slight amount of tube rush in the phono side and none in the line stage side. At normal listening levels (75-90db)I can't hear any noise from about 2 feet back when the needle is between tracks.
Nothing wrong with the Steelhead at all - except if price IS an issue. If you'd prefer not to pay for the "brand premium", nor huge advertising, tradeshow, and dealer/reviewer demo budgets, consider the Granite Audio 770FP. A spectacular sounding and incredibly built preamp with phono stage from a no-hype manufacturer at half the price.

Here's a review if you're interested:
Dear Downunder: any downside??, well at the asked Steelhead price every one hopes there is no downside, unfortunatelly for the quality music sound reproduction the Steelhead has some " downside ":

first, it had a high RIAA eq. deviation from flat: " +0.5 / -0.3 dB from 20 Hz to 20 kHz, " , this means a swing of: 0.8 db when it has to be at least 0.2 db. This deviation is severe and colored the sound. It will be interesting to see where in the frecuency range response are those deviations.

second, it use step-up autoformers for gain in the MC stage that do a degradation to the signal.

third, it use tubes: as a phono stage is noisy.

fouth, you have to roll-off the tubes to achieve better performance: this is incredible. More money !!!!!

+++++ " so ultra revealing is not something I am looking for in any phono stage. " +++++

I can't understand that statement. Do you mean that you don't care if the phono stage can't has high resolution ( revealing ) ? do you mean that you don't care if the phono stage can't reproduce what is in the LP ? Please let me know what you care about LP reproduction. I can see on your system ( very nice system ) that you use cables that are very revealing and you phono cartridge is truly revealing too along with your speakers. So I can't understand that statement.

Regards and enjoy the music.
Thanks Vetterone. How did you find the sound compared to the rhea?.
EvaAnna from manley said the same thing re tune rush, however always better to get that from someone who owns one.
You and I have the same dyna XV-1s ( great cartridge) What do you load the thing at with the Manley?.

I am hoping to get a demo of a manley next week, living in Sydney that is no mean feat as they are bringing one in!
Did you have much burn in time?
thanks Opalchip for the recommendation. I don't need a full pre amp and Granite does not have a presence in Australia. Most importantly I cannot live without a remote for volume control at the very least. yes very laxy but important to me as I like to mix the volume around even on one LP.

Raul, true to form is simply wrong again! The Steelhead is one of the quietest phono sections that money can buy. Some of that is going to be tube choice issues.

Vetterone told me that it is quieter than the X-Ono which I bought from him. Many people have claimed that there are not more than a handful of phono stages quieter than the Pass Labs (see Michael Fremers review), but the Manley is one of them.

The sound of the Steelhead is amazing, both as a pre-amp, and a phono section. You will not be disappointed with this unit. I plan to buy one in spring!
IMO the only response to Raul's posts is no response. He is entitled to his opinions, as misguided as most of them are, like everybody else here. The record is replete with his omniscient and combative ideas so why not let him go? I for one take no stock in anything he says and read them for the entertainment content. Roll with them and grab a few laughs.
Raul, What I mean but not wanting something "ultra revealing" is that buying hi fi is a means to an end. the end is to enjoy most of the LP's that you own.
I have heard/owned ultra revealing and detailed gear in the past which has all the detail but you cannot listen to it for long periods and makes your "non audiophile" records sound like shit. That is not what I call being able to listen to music and enjoy.
Great recordings will always sound great, but it is the way a phono stage treats the not so good recordings and makes them enjoyable and removes the equipment from the equation (as much as possible) is what turms me on, not something that makes every fault magnified.
After all that is why I have 4000 odd LP's, to be able to listen to all of them at some stage and enjoy them for their musical qualities.

Does that answer your basic question?

BTW what is wrong with autoformers?. I am aware of tube noise, that is why I am asking, but it would seem that the steelhead is quiet.
Have you heard the steelhead in your sytstem Raul? , as that is the advise I am looking for, people who have lived with the steelhead and can idendify it's positives and negatives.

cheers Shane
Nrchy, If the steelhead is quieter than the Xonon that would be great!. I have just sold the Xono( great phono stage!), hence looking for an other phono stage.
I am listening to the Ayre-P5x at the moment at it sounds very very good, especially at the price and has a more pure sound than the Xono, better bass control but is a little softer on top.
Shane, I am running the Manley Steelhead with a Dynavector XV-1s cartridge. The XV-1s pairs very well with this phono stage. (Given the flexibility of this phono stage, I am hard-pressed to name a cartridge that does not pair well.) You will find that you have the flexibility of running your cartridge into either the MM section or the MC section of the Steelhead.

I am running the XV-1s into the MM section of the Steelhead with 55dB of gain. I find that the sound is a bit more immediate and transparent through the MM section than it is when run through the step-up transformer, but the difference is subtle.

As for impedance loading, I have found that the 100 ohm setting is optimal with most LPs in my system. However, if a recording tends to be bright, I find that the 50 ohm setting sometimes results in better tonal balance. Perhaps the ideal impedance setting is somewhere in between these two values. FYI, the U.S. Dynavector importer tells me that most XV-1s owners are loading the cartridge somewhere between 30 ohms and 100 ohms.
Interesting Bob. I'll start off at 100 ohm's and work from there.

Strange thou that with my previous two phono stages the cj prem 15 and Pass Xono, both sounded better in my system loaded at 47k. I have been using the XV-1 and now s for the last 5 years or so - luv the sound of it.

The rhea I have just tried liked 125 ohms better and the ayre P5x back at 47k.
I hope the steelhead works out as I would like to get my old Linn lp12 up and running again with a more reasonably priced cartridge like the Denon 103 for some fun listening.

cheers Shane
Shane, the specifications of the XV-1s cartridge would indicate that the upper end of the range for optimal impedance loading would likely not exceed 200 ohms. Loading the cartridge at 47k ohms should tend to emphasize the treble frequencies and attenuate the bass frequencies. Is it possible that you gravitated to the higher loading value in order to compensate for something else in your system that is leaning the sound of your system toward a dark or bass-heavy character?
Dear Shane: Tks for your answer. Now I understand what you mean about.
Btw, what you are asking: " makes your "non audiophile" records sound like shit. " " but it is the way a phono stage treats the not so good recordings and makes them enjoyable and removes the equipment from the equation (as much as possible) is what turms me on, " ,
is and ideal way to go: a phonopreamp where any thing go through it sound well, this is fine but not realistic.

I respect your opinion but I prefer a phonopreamp that tell me what the cartridge " take " from the LP: nothing more nothing less, an unfortunatelly the bad recording/mastered LP's will be sound bad and this " bad sound " is the true sound: this is what I'm looking for always.

About the autoformers: Cincy Bob already post about.

+++++ " I am aware of tube noise, " +++++

All te tubes are noisy by nature. As a fact the Steelhead is less noisy because in reality it is not a 100% tube unit: it use a j-fet at the critical first gain stage, so it is a hybrid design.

Unfortunatelly I never had the opportunity to heard the Steelhead in my system. I heard it at least in six different times: four with audio dealers and two times in audio systems that I know very well.

Now, the RIAA eq. deviation issue is a real problem on the Steelhead and at that price ( in my opinion ) is a high concern for every one.

I know that you and other Steelhead owners are satisfied with its performance and that kind of attitude don't help you and don't help the music, why? : because if the manufacturer always read that the Steelhead is a top performer he don't do nothing for an improvement in the faulty RIAA eq deviation. I think that every of us " music lovers " deserve more than what many manufacturers choose to give us through their audio devices.

Regards and enjoy the music.
Dear Wc65mustang: +++++ " I give up " +++++, remember your post?

I was right with my answer to you that time. I knew your bad intention against me and your today post confirm it.

Keep laughing I think is the best and the only thing you can do.

+++++ " I for one take no stock in anything he says and read them for the entertainment content. " +++++

Tks for read me, I know for sure that you are learning.

Regards and enjoy the music.
So Raul, Have you ever had a Manley Steelhead in your system or are you giving advice based on the specs you read and your disdain for anything with tubes ?
Here you go again, out on your mission to mis-inform the public.
Downunder, the Steelhead is MUCH quieter, slightly more dynamic,has more body to the notes and grabs the bass notes by the shorthairs and does not let go, compared to the Rhea anyway. And, except for the noise, I liked the Rhea a lot. The Steelhead is just in another league.

I run my XV-1s at 100 ohms. Tried 50 ohms, and on the records I listened to, it was a little too subdued on the top, but as Bob said, it was a subtle difference. Even a 500 ohm setting was not bad, 100 just seems best to me. I also run through the MM section w/ a 60 db gain setting. Again Bob's description of the differences between MM & MC were spot on with my experience.

As far as tubes, I spent about $100 bucks for all six tubes and that compliment of tubes was only slightly bested by a pair of $300 NOS Siemens CCa's. If I had to do it over, I would not have bought the CCa's and stuck with the $40 Amperex 6922's.

Oops...sorry guys, I forgot, you better ignore my thoughts on bass. Raul told me today on another thread that I don't know what real bass is because I like the ZYX UNIverse cart. In fact, did he tell me here that the Steelhead will sound severe and colored (is that PC?), the step ups will degrade the sound and since it has tubes it will be too noisey? I think he did say that! You better ignore everything I said about the Steelhead since I must not know what the hell I am talking about. I think all of us Audiogoners should get down on our knees and thank the Lord that we have such an omniscient member such as Raul that can lead us mere mortals through this maze of stereo gear. Thank you so much Raul!
Bob, I have never found loading at 47k to reduce bass, but you are correct you do get more air in the high frequencies. As I said it has depended on the phono stage. Prior to that I used to have tube monoblock's coupled with hard to drive mahler speakers a little too close to the wall giving it a slightly boomy character - got that licked now with my ss cj amp a little tighter in the bass and able to drive the mahlers better and have moved out from the back wall a little more.
Looks as thou MM input might be best for the XV-1s and MC for my fun TT.

Vetterone, thanks for the update. Sounds like it is a lot quieter than the rhea which just frustrated me. Also given the large Floyd back drop you must like loud rock music! rock on.
I'll listen to the steelhead with standard tubes - it should give me most of what it does, NOS should just be icing on the cake.

How many hours does it take before the unit is sounding sweet?

Sounds like Raul may not heard the steelhead after all, just summarising a set of audio urban legends and applying them as fact :>)

Now I can't wait for the unit to come in for listen!

cheers Shane
I am also using XV-1s to pair with the Steelhead and loading at 50 ohms. However, I am running it direct to the amplifiers. I find the sound very pure and transparent. I do also find that loading at 47k slightly reduces the bass. It is hard to go wrong with this phono stage given you can dial in your cartridge the way you want it. It is also as quiet as the Whest Audio Ps.20 phono stage I used before. I don't know the downside except the cost.
Shane, I bought my Steelhead new, and I found that it settled in very quickly. It bested my Lamm LP2 right out of the box. The changes in the sound with additional run-in were subtle.
Dear Vetterone: I never say nothing against you: ever.

Like Frank you are not ( fortunatelly ) a " member's club ".

About the SUT, Cyncy Bob already post an answer. So it is not only my opinion, it is an owner opinion and it will be very educative is you can post what you think about using the autoformers in the Steelhead against the MM stage: do you agree with Cyncy Bob ?

Regards and enjoy the music.
Raul. I don't own a steelhead, hence all my questions. I think it is instructive and a bit of fun getting the thoughts of fellow music lovers both positive and negative. Including your own :)
Ultimately when I get the opportunity to listen to the steelhead I will make up my own mind, at this price it should sound better than any other phono stage I have owned or listened to.

Can't comment about the RIAA curve deviation - do all tube phono stages deviate that much or perhaps manley are just being honest :) Does not seem to make the unit sound any worse.
They do state they have accurate "4-corner" riaa equalisation which covers all the 4 time constants of 3180, 318, 75 microseconds and 3.2us, which the say most phono stages ignore which gives flat response to about 50khz. Not sure exactly what this means, pewrhaps someone else could expand.
Please don't ask him questions. It only results in a scolding and/or lecture. Just tell him he's right and say thanks.
I run the Steelhead through the transformers and prefer the MC transformer input sound quality over the MM. I find with my cartridge that the transformer coupled sound is silky and very enchanting. However, I think that Michael Fremer in his review also preferred the Steelhead through the MM inputs. So this may be a matter of taste/ cartridge/ synergy. However, how many phono stages even give you the option of going transformer/tube or all tube (or all tube/jfet if you prefer)?
Dear Downunder: I think that the best for you is to enjoy it. Best wishes.

Regards and enjoy the music.
Raul - what gear do you sell in your store?
Only the very best and that's because they say so. Don't argue or you'll be asked to leave.
Dear Nrchy: I don't have any audio store.

Regards and enjoy the music.
Gents. Are there any current production 6922's that improve the sound compared to the Steelhead stk 6922's??
Not really. It's my reference, and has been for a few years now. There are a few other great ones worth auditioning like the BATVK 10SE, but the Manley's flexibility can't be beat. I use the stock tubes.
Downunder - I'd recommend Telefunken CCa's if you can find some. They have a certain sonic purity which is great for phono applications. Before the Telefunken's I had the early Siemens CCa's which are "highly regarded" and found them screechy. Side by side, the Telefunken CCa's rule.

Now.. the trick is to find a good replacement for the harsh sounding 7044's.
Mikey. It is yourself and other reviewers that enable guys like me outside the US to know what is available and what might take our fancy. I am looking forward to hearing the steelhead and if I like it to power up my old Linn.
Downunder, check with Vetterone when he gets home. He has been using the Steelhead for a while, and with some tube upgrades he is quite taken with it. Even more so than some well regarded and more expensive units.

FWIW I'm planning to sell my Klyne and Pass Labs in spring to get the Steelhead. Don't buy the one I want!
I just received the brand spanking new steelhead from the distributor and finished playing three LP's. New Order's latest LP "waiting for the sirens call", New Order "Brotherhood" and 1st Dire Straits album.

WOW! It sounds great straight from the box (well 30 minutes after switch on:). Sometimes when you plug something in it just sounds right - well the steelhead is one of those piece's of equipment.

The steelhead has great bass weight and drive, that unmistakeable tube bloom/meat on the bones(or whatever one wants to call it) in the upper bass,lower mid's and it actaually does PRAT, like the best naim equipment.
If it continues to get better over the next few days - it ain't going back!.
After many years and quite a few phono stages either owned or at home for demo's - namely Naim prefix, fm acoustics 122, cj prem 15, CAT internal phono, Aesthetix IO & rhea, ayre P5x,herron phono and finally the very nice Pass Xono. the steelhead just on 3 records has quite easily bested these nice phono stages buy making the records like good music. I guess sometimes money does buy a better sounding product.

thanks to all you goner's that gave me your insights to how it sounded in your systems from this thread.

back to listening to the steelhead and music!
Downunder...I am so glad you like what you are hearing. It will smooth out somewhat with more hours. A bigger change will happen when you change the 6922 tubes. I have tried many tubes but not the Tele CCa's yet. I will take Brian's advice and try these too. I have, however, tried Tele EC88's and E88CC's as well as half a dozen other in the 6922 family. My experence with the Siemens CCa has not been anything but great. They are my favorite as of now. For a lot less money, a set of Amperex white lable PQ 6922's will sound smooth, not hamper the details and let the sound flow in a very musical way.

Another thing I have tried is placing a small amount of Stillpoints ERS material around the caps. Too much tends to kil the life of the music but a little bit ( a square inch on each side) attached to the case in the area of the caps adds to the clarity and articulation that I get when I listen.

Please keep us posted on what you experience...

Steve, Where would one get a set of Amperex white label PQ 6922's??.

R there any current production tubes that are better than the stk tubes?.

cheers Shane
PQ 6922 white labels?

A little pricey, but always top quality, Brendan's tubes are exactly as he describes them.