Manley WAVE Preamp + DAC Review

Francis Vale


My high hopes were fulfilled like grandma getting a 25-year-old boyfriend. Both toys can pump out the joy, and never get tired of doing it. Yowza!

The WAVE’s bring it on performance was exemplary in every imaginable musical way. The soundstage did a breaking and entering into my hapless neighbor’s apartment, instruments were discovering another Sci-fi channel dimension, and all the while musicians were merrily finding a whole new space to romp and stomp. The bass was better-check-the-earthquake-insurance as the crockery started finding new places to sit. But it was the incredibly nuanced detail that really got me. 

Playing in the high-end is typically a matter of audible inches once a certain level of performance is reached. But like baseball (or for those to whom size matters), those precious inches can mean either winning or losing in the last gasping inning.   The difference between a really good audio facsimile and, an, oh my god, experience is a matter of highly skilled finesse.  If the slightest bit goes off kilter, poof, the ecstatic soap bubble pops. That’s why the high-end is such a demanding, and yes, expensive, hobby.  To get from very good to great in designing an audio component takes a lot of time, effort and money.  Pushing sports analogies over the cliff, it’s like racecars: how fast you want to go depends on how much you are prepared to spend. The WAVE is an audio F1 racer.

There is a Mobile Fidelity disc I always seem to come back to when I want to feel the power.  It’s Prokofiev’s score for the Russian film classic, Ivan The Terrible (MoFi Ultradisc UHR, UDSACD 4003). Leonard Slatkin leads the Saint Louis Symphony and chorus in a classic, rousing rendition. When Slatkin hits the windup to this monumental music, it’s goose bumps all around. The WAVE reached down deep into the Russian soul and pulled out a wildly emotive audio performance that had me reaching for the Stoli. Details sparked and flew, the chorus never once got lost in Little Red’s woods, and you just knew that fearsome Russian was coming for you, and he wasn’t about to spare the Polonium.

Another terrific MoFi recording for learning what your system is capable of is Aimee Mann’s Bachelor No. 2 or the last remains of the dodo (UDSACD 2025). Her terrific vocal performance won 4 star accolades all around when this album was released in 2000. With the WAVE handling Aimee’s distinctive and very intimate voice, she was able to reach out and touch places of your mind that remain oft unvisited, for better or worse. It’s a provocative, darkly moody song cycle that’s well worth the highly changeable ride. This album is all about vocal nuance and tonal color.  But get the subtle sonics wrong, and this CD could easily qualify for an SSRI. The WAVE clearly showed its therapeutic heart as not a note was left to suffer.

And, of course, one must have a piano recording to see how well a component fares.  In this regard, nothing beats the fabulous Cuban pianist Jesus "Chucho" Valdes. This towering maestro is the new millennium Franz Liszt. Castro is probably sucking down his last gasps of life listening to Chucho, in the hopes that this artist’s fearsome life force will somehow endow our Beloved Leader with a few more moments of Cohiba Siglo VI bliss. Run, download, or do whatever you have to, and get Chucho’s performance on the Blue Note CD "Bele Bele en la Haban" [7 2438-23082-2]. Chucho wholly bends unyielding wood and ivory to his awesome musical will. With the WAVE in the system, those meshugga Miamians finally got jumped for all those great Cuban musicians they’ve punked.

So pass me a Cohiba and the Stoli…. and crank up the WAVE.

Manley WAVE Preamp + DAC

Vendor: Manley Labs

Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price:$7,500


Manley Page 4 of 4

Page 1 2 3 4


21st, The VXM Network,