I had a Manley Massive Passive. But the tracking guys "borrowed it" for a session. That was over a year ago. I don't think I am getting it back. So, I was excited when I heard Manley released the Mini Massive. Offered under the Langevin brand, the Mini Massive is not simply a solid-state version of the tube-based Massivo. While it is based on some of the same EQ sections, there has been a redesign of the four lowest shelf settings, the four highest frequency shelf settings, and the addition of new, higher-Q bell shapes for the four highest frequencies, with a modified three-position bell/shelf switch in order to select the new bell shapes.
In appearance, the Mini Massive is smaller (hence the name), taking up only 1RU of rackspace. Gone are the beloved blue channel lights and the standard flat-black Manley knobs. The Mini has fire-engine-red gumdrop knobs and a single light that indicates the unit has power.
Underneath the hood, the Mini Massive uses four of the new Manley Rapture Amplifiers for gain. The Raptures were originally designed for a cost-is-no-object DAC. (Manley does solid business in the audiophile world, for those of you who don't get out much). The build-quality is superb. After inspecting the innards, Dom Misja, our chief technician here at Treelady, had the following comments: "Of all the gear we look at, Manley clearly has a right to charge a premium for what they give you. For example, look at the capacitors. Many people would use caps that cost a few cents, but the ones in the Mini Massive cost a few bucks a piece. And there are dozens of them. And that thing (pointing at a Rapture Amplifier), I don't even know what the $#% that is! And the soldering and layout quality are first-rate."
Finally, there is an added twist. On the output, users are given three choices: transformerless, transformers (the same ones used in the Massive Passive), or Iron, a vintage option voiced for an even more pronounced coloration of the signal. The downside? The toggle switch used to select the output flavor is on the back of the unit. Trust me, I gave the Manley team serious grief about this at the Potluck Conference. In their defense, the front panel has almost nowhere to add another control. And from a fidelity standpoint, having the toggle so close to the output transformers reduces possible signal degradation from running the wiring up to the front. Turns out, I found one setting I liked the most, and ended up keeping it there.
In mastering applications, the Mini Massive is a better fit for me than its bigger brother. The added bell shapes were very useful for taming hi-hats, sibilance, and trashy cymbals. The low end was tight without being overboard or tubby. The Pultec-like overshoot on the shelves let you do things that can't be done with many other units. (I strongly urge readers to download the Mini Massive manual from Manley's website. Not only does it provide specific curve plots, but it's an informative piece on equalization as well.) But the big winner for me is the 27 kHz "air" band, which I would describe as providing the silkiest top end I've heard in a long time. Of course, restraint is in order, as it can easily turn from smooth and open to harsh and chirpy. In mastering situations, ten out of ten times I opted for the transformerless output-the most open, hi-fi sounding option.
I was able to try the Mini out for remixing certain mix elements. I could see this as being a bread and butter unit for keyboard and synth players. The unit can subtly enhance or mangle, as needed. If you're working with a mono source and need more bands, simply patch the out of channel 1 into
the input of channel 2, and you have more bands at your disposal. For sound sculpting, I found the standard transformer setting gave sources a slightly thicker sound. Moving to the Iron setting definitely added a warmer/vintage sound, especially for guitar leads that had a touch too much single-coil bite. However, both transformer options seemed to round off the high end in addition to enhancing the lower end of the spectrum. For individual channels or flavoring, this should be no problem. But it explains why mastering-types might choose the transformerless option and leave the setting alone. Most engineers will probably pick the transformer or iron setting and be pleased.
I think Manley has us coming or going. If you have and love a Massive Passive, you should stay put. But if you could never quite gel with it, either because of the sonic fingerprint of the unit or the high and low-band limitations, you should really consider the Mini Massive. Other than the space it takes up, there is nothing diminutive about the sound of this unit. Considering the transformer options and the lower price, the Langevin Mini Massive is a very smart option for those seeking some unique voicing out of their equalizers. ($2800 MSRP; www.manleylabs.com)
Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.