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Manley WAVE Preamp + DAC Review

Francis Vale

The $7,500 Manley WAVE tube preamplifier + DAC is another unique creation from EveAnna’s West Coast assembly of audio free thinkers. It must be something about all that endlessly fronded sunshine and cortex cleansing surf. But how do you write a review about an audio product that does nothing but ponders silently unto itself? Perhaps this is a review better left to some French high-end audio existentialist. This serious piece of gear takes a low level audio signal from a source, adds some clear as California skies gain, and feeds it to an amplifier. It doesn’t color the sound, make it sound ratty, nor otherwise get confused by it all. The big silent WAVE just exists, like some distant conception.

The WAVE got its moniker because someone at Manley thought EveAnna’s front panel design with its array of blue LED’s evoked an image of a breaking ocean wave. And that’s about the only tumult you will likely encounter with the WAVE. The whole affair looks like it was built to DOD ruggedized specs. The main control unit is a big, hulking piece of kit. It’s huge separate power supply looks like it could light up Bush’s imagined Baghdad, and its enormous, two-fisted, all-metal remote control has the heft and feel of something that was ripped out of an up-armored Humvee. And from all appearances, it would probably take an IED to do some harm to the hulking WAVE. But as for the music, this impassive audio behemoth harbors such a gentle soul.

Behind the preamp’s massively emotionless fascia lies some surprisingly unique circuitry. Manley certainly got their electro-cosmology right, as the yin and the yang of the WAVE exist in perfect harmony.

The binary yin of the WAVE features a built-in 24-bit, 96Khz Burr-Brown PCM1704 DAC designed by Fred Forssell. But note there is no HDCD decoding capability. All inputs below 96 KHz are upsampled to 96 KHz before conversion. The upsampled output is clocked out via a low phase noise/low jitter precision crystal oscillator to eliminate any interface jitter or timing problems with the incoming data stream.

Sampling rate indicators on the fascia light up to show the incoming digital signal's sample rate, which will not light until the digital input circuitry has locked onto valid data. There are three LEDs, marked 32, 44.1, & 48 and glow to indicate one of those incoming kilohertz frequencies. And if an 88.2 or 96KHz sample rate signal is present, the x2 LED will wink on.

In stark digital contrast, the WAVE’s free electron flowing yang encompasses a vacuum tube output stage consisting of two 12AX7EH input tubes and two 7044 JAN NOS USA output tubes.

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