Manley WAVE Preamp + DAC Review

Franco Vitaliano


If my experience is any indication, this big grown up toy will get you grinning like Xmas morning glee.

The first thing I immediately noticed is the WAVE’s serene quietness.  With no source playing and with a fully cranked volume control, a massive knob that was apparently controlling a 1930 steam locomotive in a prior life (nothing about this MAN-ley design could ever be termed dainty), everything was uncannily hushed-- No hiss, no rush of furious electrons surging out the speakers. My big MBL 101D’s, which are notorious nitpickers, were uncharacteristically without comment. Your spouse should be so silent.

Apart from the pair of MBL 101D speakers, the rest of my rig consists of a pair of Sunfire Signature solid-state amplifiers. Each amp puts out a gaga 1,200 watts/channel at 4 ohms. Better yet, these incredibly commanding amps don’t throw off the burning heat of a falling asteroid, unlike most other hugely powerful amps out there. In my configuration, both channels of each amp are sending all 2,400 of their combined 4-ohm watts to just one speaker. The power mad MBL’s eagerly lap every watt up. Joe Reynolds’ extraordinary Valhalla speaker wires and interconnects tied everything together. I also used another amazing Nordost product, the Thor Power Distribution System. The Thor is not an optional accessory for a high-end rig.  It is obligatory.  You simply must experience how the Thor mercilessly hammers down the noise floor in your system.

As for my primary music source, a while back I ripped most of my CD’s into uncompressed WAV files and stored them on an external 250GB drive, which is hooked up to my dual processor Mac using high speed Firewire (IEEE 1394). To play the files, I use the Squeezebox 3 from Slim Devices. I cannot tell you how excellent and completely liberating this source setup is. The diminutive Squeezebox 3 has its own internal Burr-Brown 24-bit DAC, featuring two dedicated linear power regulators for the DAC and lineout stages. The received signal (using a wired or wireless Ethernet network) is output from the Squeezebox 3’s analog RCA connectors, or you can use its S/PDIF output (optical and coax) to feed the digital source to an external DAC. I hooked up the WAVE and the Squeezebox 3 via their respective coax S/PDIF connectors, taking full advantage of the preamp’s custom designed DAC.

I also have a Polk XRt12 Reference tuner that receives XM Radio, which I absolutely love. The Polk unit, like the Squeezebox 3, offers analog as well as S/PDIF with coax and TOSLINK connections. To once again use the preamp’s DAC, the TOSLINK connectors on the Polk and the WAVE were coupled together.

It was now time to boogie (I hoped).

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