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Line preamplifier
Manley Laboratories

Prices: 9900 zł

Distribution: Moje Audio

Powstańców Śląskich 118, 53-333 Wrocław

tel./fax: (71) 336 52 67
tel. kom.: 606 276 001, 790 425 142


Manufacturer's website Manley

Text: Wojciech Pacuła
Translation: Krzysztof Kalinkowski

Despite the funny name, Jumbo Shrimp is a very serious device. Based on six tubes in the sound path, solid state power supply and having external design so characteristic for this manufacturer it has all the needed inputs and outputs. And – finally – there is a remote controller, a radio frequency one, so you do not need to point it at the unit to operate. The only missing item is for me the lack of an headphone output. And I am talking about “output” on purpose, because you can connect headphones to the Shrimp, using a RCA-big jack converter. Such a case is described on the company web page (HERE). But this solution does not guarantee to function properly with all headphones. If there were an appropriate output socket and an output transformer, adapting the output impedance to the impedance of the headphones. Then we would have a complete device. I understand, that the manufacturer wanted to keep the price as low as possible, but it would be worth to pay a little more and have two devices in one. But besides that, this is a brilliant preamplifier. Brilliant, because it is complete and competent. It was made in a way, that it is resistant to tough conditions of working in a rack in a recording studio. So it can handle crowded, hot racks, thus it will not be a problem to work in comfortable home conditions.

Besides the usual reference system, in the test we used the turntable with Reed 3Q tonearm and Air Tight PC-1 Supreme cartridge, turntable Avid Acutus Reference with the same and Miyajima Waza cartridge, as well as the preamplifier Music First Model MkII Copper and power amplifiers nowe audio mono3.5.

Previously we tested the following Manley Laboratories gear at “High Fidelity: SOUND

Discs used in the test:
  • Clifford Brown and Max Roach, Study In Brown, EmArcy/Universal Music Japan, UCJU-9072, 180 g LP (mono).
  • Danielsson/Dell/Landgren, Salzau Music On The Water, Act Music+Vision, ACT 9445-2, CD; review HERE.
  • Deep Purple, Perfect Stranger, Polygram Records/Polydor K.K. Japan, 25MM 0401, LP.
  • Ella Fitzgerald&Joe Pass, Take Love Easy, Pablo/JVC, JVCXR-0031-2, XRCD.
  • Frank Sinatra, The Voice, Columbia/Speakers Corner, CL 743, Quiex SV-P, 180 g LP (mono).
  • Frédéric Chopin, The Complete Nocturnes, piano: Gergely Bogányi, Stockfisch, SFR 357.4051.2, 2 x SACD/CD.
  • Gerry Mulligan Quartet, Dragonfly, Telarc, CD-83377, CD.
  • Jean-Michel Jarre, Zoolook, Disques Dreyfus/Polydor Canada, Jar 5, LP.
  • Julie London, Julie Is Her Name. Vol. 1, Liberty/EMI Music Japan, TOCJ-90014, HQCD.
  • Kraftwerk, Tour The France Soundtracks, EMI Records, 591 708 1, 2 x 180 g LP; review HERE.
  • Lars Danielsson & Leszek Możdżer, Pasodoble, ACT Music, ACT 9458-2, CD; review HERE.
  • Marty Paich, I Get A Boot Out of You, Warner Bros./Warner Music Japan, WPCR-13187, SHM-CD.
  • Milt Jackson Quartet, Statements, Impulse!/Universal Music Japan, UCCI-9088, CD.
  • The Cult, Electric, Beggars Banquet/Sire, W1-25555, LP.
  • Thom Yorke, The Eraser, XL Records/Warner Music Japan, WPCB-10001, CD.
  • Tori Amos, Abnormally Attracted To Sin, Universal Republic Records, B0012906-01, 2 x 180 g LP; review HERE.
  • William Orbit, My Oracle Lives Uptown, Guerilla Studios/Linn Records, AKH 351, 2 x 180 g LP; review HERE.
Japanese versions of the discs are available at CD Japan.

For a long time I searched for a preamplifier costing about 10000zl, which would be versatile, well made, long lasting and providing comfortable listening with power amplifiers from around 8000zl to 20000zl. And this is really difficult. With inexpensive power amplifiers the preamplifier needs to use the most of what they offer, while at the same time cover their shortcomings. And with expensive units it must be transparent enough, so that only the minimum amount of its character is imposed on the amplifying system (preamplifier + interconnect + power amplifier). Please believe me, this is truly a very hard task. Because the preamplifier is one of the weak links of the reproduction chain, where the fusion of resolution, timbre, dynamics and elegance come together. This is the reason, that the most expensive ones cost more, than other components of the system. Most preamplifiers from below 10000zl, if at all fulfilling one of the postulates, then at the expense of another; if the second one is OK, then the first one is off. You always need to choose. This is also true for passive preamplifiers, where other problems become visible. This is the reason, that the Jumbo Shrimp seems so special.

If you remember my test of the CD player CD-07 from Ayon (HERE), then you should not have problems in accepting what I am telling now: this is probably the most successful product of Manley. Not the best one - I will repeat this, just to make sure – not the most expensive, but just most successful; combining high quality of the sound, versatility, quality of manufacture and price in one device. Because this is what I found – at least it seems so to me. I do not say, that there will not be others, probably there will be something sooner or later, but Manley Jumbo Shrimp is a safe bet for me. Why? How did I define this “successfulness”? Based on listening (and looking, and the long time of using it), this is clear. And in this listening session it turned out, that Manley does almost everything that the expensive, master devices do, but it does “less” of it.

The first characteristic of the sound we experience, is its completeness. Shrimp is a tube preamplifier from Manley stables and you can hear that. But you do not hear it directly, because it does not cover the sound, but we perceive the sound as marked with those elements to a certain extent. So I’ll repeat: those are not stigmata, that would draw our attention, but parts of a bigger whole. A good project, supported by tubes results in completeness. At this price level, there is no possibility to clean the sound from the flaws of those amplifying elements, leaving only their strong points. Balthazar R. Hernandez, who designed this device, chose the “midpoint” path. Not only he chose that, but this choice brought also the expected results. The Shrimp’s completeness does not come from boosting a part of the sound spectrum, but from good reproduction of the volume of the elements and from keeping good dynamics. And this can be heard with all kinds of music – with the solo piano of Gergely Bogány, or the ultra pure recording of the trio Daniellson/Dell/Landgren. Each time I got a big, full picture between the loudspeakers, closing on both sides in a solid, finished way. Manley builds a “complete” sound in a way. I mean, that we do not have the impression of “incompleteness”. Although this is not the ideal sound, and I will come back to that at the end of the text, but we accept it without any reservations, and even if we have any “buts”, those are only small “buts”.

I will repeat, because that is the core of that sound, Manley has a full, complete sound. Its part are well played extremes of the sound spectrum. The treble is clean, surprisingly clean, for tubes (against appearance, tubes sound in a rather dirty way, distorted with noise and THD, and only their harmonic coherence makes them to be perceived as clean). The best tubes are going that way, like in my Polaris II. Manley is not as resolving, not that clean, but to hear that, you have to compare it with other, equally well sounding devices. Solid state devices tend to fare better in that aspect, like the splendid Accuphase C-2410, and - what is easy to understand – passive preamplifier Music First. But both are “thinner” than Manley, and not as saturated. Brass, well recorded and played, like from Study In Brown Clifford Brown and Max Roach, or from Statements Milt Jackson, are really clean, precise, and well placed in space, but Shrimp plays them nicer, deeper. Localization is not as precise, there is not such a clear picture of them between the loudspeakers, but they are more true, more natural, despite that.

The same thing is true for the other end of the sound spectrum, the Achilles heel of tube devices. We must say, that the best solid state units, but also my Polaris, sound even lower, sound with an even more controlled bass. But Manley does it really well. The contrabass had a good beat, it was not softened, neither was the left hand of the piano. At the same time the timbre of this subrange was really nice – but again: better than in the solid state and passive units – strong, saturated, colorful. It was aided by good dynamics, I mentioned before, where such dynamites, based on bass pulse, like Kraftwerk or The Cult, sounded really explosive. This was a strong, dynamic, really fast playing. Also the bass was well placed in space – in depth, like on monophonic records, and in width. It was not always in the middle, where it is usually heard, but there, where the sound engineer placed them. So when the contrabass player was off axis, then he was heard to the side; when it was located behind the vocalist, or – like on the Brown disc, behind the trumpet, then it was behind them, without any special tricks. There was not a contoured “extraction” from the musical context, but – similar to the treble – just embossing the bass from the background.

You probably noticed, that despite the fact that Manley bases on tube technology, I did not start the description from the midrange. And it could seem natural to do so. But I want to repeat what I said in the beginning: Shrimp sounds in a full, complete way. It means, that none of the subranges, that we divide the audio spectrum in (treble, midrange and bass), does not dominate the sound. If I would be nitpicking, I would say, that the upper bass is a tad stronger than in my system. But this is not a complaint. Let me be understood well: for this money, having to work with devices from the price range I mentioned in the beginning, this is an asset. Because this stronger playing does not mean that the contrabass is brought to the front, or that the vocals are bigger. There is something “more” there, but this does not enlarge the sound sources, in contrary – it allows to present the events in proper scale, without making them smaller. The midrange is even, and does not jump in front of the rest of the sound source. This is the best summary for the preceding paragraph. The voices are nice, and the instruments operating in that range, like Landgren’s trombone, were palpable, strong and nice. But nothing were enlarged, made nicer by force, accented. When a voice was behind the instruments, like on the Cult disc, then it remains there.

Because the Jumbo Shrimp does everything right. It will prove itself with solid state electronics and with tube one. It will not impose its character in them, only give a direction to the sound, leaving the rest to the other components of the system. The attack of the sound is slightly softened, but this does not result in slowness. The upper bass is also a little stronger, but this does not change the overall impression. But it should be clear, that this is not the ideal preamplifier. Only the lack of a headphone output can be counted against it, in terms of handling, the rest is super. In terms of sound, in better preamplifiers there is more air, the sound stage opens, here being a little constrained, due to a better resolution the instruments are more “here”, and the bass reaches lower. But those are linear changes, all come in equal proportions. This is why Manley Jumbo Shrimp seems such a successful product to me. While not the most expensive, I think that it is even the cheapest product of that manufacturer, it is – in my opinion – the best one.

Let us try to built an optimal system around it – it would be composed of:

Then it will be good, really good.


The Jumbo Shrimp preamplifier is a new version of the Shrimp, equipped with volume remote control – this is handled by a controller called Remora. It is a small tube device, made from aluminum, with a very characteristic front panel. It is characteristic for a few reasons: it has rack mount holes, it has 2U height, and a steel-blue color. The fascia bears four knobs and a “widow” with a backlit logo and model name. The knobs are black, with a white line indicating their position. The knobs have a half round top. The largest one is for volume control, and the small ones are for (from the left): we choose the input, control the balance and switch the power on or off. Below the logo window there is a blue “mute” button, which lights up after engaging. On the back we have gold plated RCA sockets, wide apart – the Shrimp is not balanced. We have five line inputs at our disposal, two variable outputs for power amps and a fixed output for a recording device or headphones. The last one is always active, even when the preamplifier is not powered on. The signal there is taken from the input selected with the selector. The descriptions on the back plate are big and clear, reminding us again about the practical approach Eva Manley has to life.

The top and side cover is from thick mesh. When we take it off, then we can see crowded insides. Markings on the back indicate, that this unit was designed by Balthazar R. Hernandez, responsible for most Manley gear. The whole circuit is mounted on PCB’s. There are four main and two smaller ones. The input sockets are soldered into the first one, where there is also a very nice, sealed, mechanical selector made by the British company Lorlin. Its axis was elongated to the front panel. From that PCB the signal goes with a short cable, made by the company (the shield is aluminum tape), to the main amplification board. This one is constructed from two input tubes 12AT7EH (one per channel) from Electro Harmonix and two 7044 tubes from General Electric, in a circuit called White Follower, what results in 50Ω output impedance. The actual amplification circuit (White Driver), which employs another two tubes, the 5670 from General Electric, is placed on a separate PCB, next to the one with the Alps “Blue Velvet” potentiometer. This PCB is not mounted horizontally, but at an angle, to minimize vibration, similar to what Naim does. The circuit has no global feedback loop. Let me add, that on the same PCB we have also the balance potentiometer (the same as the volume one) and the controller for the potentiometer motor. The receiver is on a small PCB near the power supply – this is radio receiver, and not an infrared one. So we do not need to point our remote to the unit to operate.

The circuit is based on a very good passive elements, like Dale resistors, and precise, metalized ones. The coupling capacitors are also beautiful – those are very big, polypropylene capacitors MultiCap PPMF. On output we have monsters with 30μF capacity each. The power supply capacitors are also solid – there are lots of them, most carry the logo of Manley (probably those are made by the American specialist, the company Cornel Dubilier), and some are Nichicon products. There are two power transformers, one IE type, and one “double-C” for heating. The power switch is just near the IEC socket, and the shaft was also elongated to the front panel. The anode voltages and heating voltages are rectified separately. The whole circuit looks very solid, but it has some cable connections, what usually negatively impacts noise levels and dynamics.

Technical data (according to manufacturer):
Gain: 11.8dB
Input impedance: 250kΩ
Input sensitivity: 200mV (at 1V output)
Maximum output voltage: 5V (at 1.5% THD)
Frequency response: 10Hz - 80kHz (-3dB); 20Hz - 20kHz (-0.3dB)
Noise: typical -83dB (20Hz - 20kHz; max gain)
Noise: typical -95dB (weighted [A], 20Hz - 20kHz; max gain)
S/N ratio: typical 95dB (weighted [A], 20Hz - 20kHz; max gain)
THD: 0.02 % (at 1Vrms output)
Output impedance: 50Ω
Power consumption: 55W
Weight: 6kg

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  • CD player: Ancient Audio Lektor Prime (tested HERE)
  • Phono preamp: RCM Audio Sensor Prelude IC (tested HERE)
  • Preamp: Leben RS-28CX (tested HERE; soon to be changed to Polaris II, tested HERE)
  • Power amp: Luxman M-800A (tested HERE)
  • Integrated amp: Leben CS300 (reviewed HERE)
  • Loudspeakers: Harpia Acoustics Dobermann (tested HERE)
  • headphones: AKG K701, Ultrasone PROLine 2500, Beyerdynamic DT-990 Pro, 600 Ω version (reviewed HERE, HERE, and HERE)
  • interconnects: CD-preamp: Wireworld Gold Eclipse 52 (tested HERE; soon to be changed to Acrolink Mexcel 7N-DA6300, article HERE), preamp-power amp: Velum NF-G SE (tested HERE)
  • speaker cable: Velum LS-G (tested HERE)
  • power cables: Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC9100 (CD; reviewed HERE) and 2 x Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC7100 (preamp, power amp (reviewed HERE)
  • power conditioning: Gigawatt PF-2 Filtering Power Strip (reviewed HERE)
  • audio stand Base
  • resonance control: Finite Elemente Ceraball under the CD (article HERE ) Turntables change continuously, as do cartridges. My dream setup: SME 30 with Series V tone-arm and Air Tight PC-1 cartridge (also in the PC-1 Mono version).