Schiit Mani 2 Review

Discussion in 'Vinyl Nutjob World: Turntable and Related Gear' started by purr1n, Feb 23, 2022.

  1. purr1n

    purr1n Burned out

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    HISTORY

    The original Schiit Mani was put through its paces on changstar back in 2015. No, it didn't win the shootout. However, it held its own against much better competition, only to lose against the Franken TC-750 (partially DIY). Looking back, perhaps I've been unfair to the original Mani. No doubt it was a high value. However, it just wasn't good enough for me. That is good enough to work as a secondary phono pre on my VPI Classic 4 table which supports multiple armwands. I know, it isn't quite fair to expect a $150 to do justice to a $10k table. It isn't quite fair to expect a $150 phonostage to keep up with a cheap commercial unit modified with boutique caps and a beefy LPS. However, I can DIY and I'm a cheap bastard. I have high expectations even for $150 gear. To be fair, the original Schiit Mani has provided many vinyl noobs (and returnees) with hours of listening pleasure at a bargain price and with better performance than more expensive entry phonostages from already well established names.

    No doubt, the Mani 2 would be better. What I didn't count on is that it's a helluva lot better. I can name two phonostages priced about $1k which I own or owned which the Mani 2 easily bests. A big reason for the improvement is this: DC coupled, that is no coupling caps in the signal path (excluding the RIAA network caps of course).

    DESIGN / ARCHITECTURE

    The OG Mani I believe was a three stage passive RIAA design with caps after every stage. The opamps used were very good, but the design was very much old school, mimicking a tried a true three stage tube design (gain passive RIAA, gain, buffer) but using opamps instead of tubes. Schiit this time (we all know this is Jason by now) took inspiration from the OG Mani, but redesigned with a modern take using only two stages with the OPA1612 (one of these current generation fancy opamps) and a servo for a 100% DC-coupled design. The joke around here is that the OPA1612 is my favorite opamp. This mostly true, but it depends upon where it's used. Basically, what we've eliminated in an unnecessary buffer stage, and three sets of capacitors.

    SOUND

    The results are as expected. The OG Mani's weakness was lack of clarity, as if a blanket was thrown over the soundscape, and secondarily, less than stellar microdynamics and engagement, a bit flat. The Mani 2 addresses all of these shortcomings while retaining the OG strengths of extension low and high, control, and slam. The soundstage is expansive and deep as is usually the case for sticking a passive RIAA network in between the gain stages, e.g. the Sutherland Ph3D. Not quite as super deep beyond the wall a the Sutherland (sitting in row 40), a little bit closer than the original Mani (row 30), but we are still sitting at row 25. What we get in return from being 5 rows close is more precise, less diffuse imaging. For those used to the multibit Schiit DACs where the stage is close, the soundstage of the Mani 2 is totally different.

    COMPARISONS

    Tonally, this phonostage is neutral. If you want something warmer sounding, my recommendation still goes here to the iFi Zen Phono. The Mani 2 is clearer. The Zen Phono is a bit more intimate. Both have good microdynamics and expressiveness unexpected at this price point. Ultimately what works best will be a matter of table, cart, the remaining components and personal preferences.

    Compared to my existing secondary solid-state phonostage, the RSA Nighthawk, the Mani 2 will be replacing it. The Nighthawk wasn't the greatest thing in the world, it wasn't even a good value. However it provided amazing synergy with my turntable setup for many years. The Mani 2 has a very similar tonal presentation, equal microdynamics, but marginally more microdetail, significantly better extension at the extremes, and a deeper placed soundstage. It's a no brainer.

    I had actually thought of purchasing a Sutherland opamp based unit again and modifying it to extract more texture (the weakness of the Ph3D), but Mani 2 makes this unnecessary. There are always unknowns when it comes to new designs, but sometimes cosmic forces align and everything falls into place. I believe that there weren't any revisions to the early prototype - the universe smiled on this one from the very beginning.

    5F4A0097 (Large).JPG

    I spy shiney Pokemon. Surface mount parts can be guud, like boutique audiophool $$$ parts guud, in 2022.
     
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    Last edited: Feb 23, 2022
  2. purr1n

    purr1n Burned out

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    As I've been warned (it's also in the manual): do not mess with the gain switches without first turning it off!

    The Mani 2 comes with an adjustable rumble filter, four settings for capacitive and resistive loading, and four gain settings, all via dip switches. I would have liked knobs like on the RSA Nighthawk, but the fact is, it's pretty much set and forget. If you are worried about all these choices, don't bother! The manual makes this absolutely clear (the assumption that is that you will be running a MM cartridge).

    But in most cases, you don't have to do anything. Don't flip the Mani 2 over.
    No. Seriously. Don't turn it over.

    5F4A0098 (Large).JPG

    If we are running an MC cart, the resistive loading will definitely to have to changed from 47k down to either 200, 47, or 38-ohm load. This last one would be both switches set to I. Most MC carts will like 47 or 38. The Denon DL-103 may work best with the 200-ohms setting.

    Capacitive loading may be needed for an MM cart to get the flattest response. See here for examples, unfortunately, providing settings for every phono cartridge is beyond the scope of this review: https://www.superbestaudiofriends.o...i-phono3-black-label-review.9483/#post-306545

    Finally, there are the rumble filters, 6db or 12db slope. I wouldn't bother unless you see your woofers move unnaturally.
     
  3. purr1n

    purr1n Burned out

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    FYI, I advise to set the gain settings as high as possible (just make sure there's no clipping) to minimize the feedback on the opamps. Opamps usually sound better with less feedback, although measurebators should use the lowest feedback for best THD+N.

    Schiit Mani 2
    5mVrms input (MM cart) with stock gain gettings (49db gain)
    upload_2022-2-23_20-37-11.png
    upload_2022-2-23_20-37-59.png

    Schiit Mani 2
    0.5mVrms input (MC cart) with max gain gettings (60db gain)
    upload_2022-2-23_20-40-51.png
    upload_2022-2-23_20-41-30.png

    There is a bit of hum at 60Hz. The right channel has more harmonics of this hum. However, I wouldn't worry about it as this is actually typical behavior for phonostages and the RIAA EQ which applies a ton of gain to the lows. This is why needles on records sound tinny, the lows are EQ'd down to make the groove sizes smaller so bass notes won't jump the groove!

    Besides, if you've ever measured the output from a record on a turntable, the mechanical hum is going to be x100 worse. The reason I mention this is so we don't become measurebators. I am betting that where you sit right now, if you look a microphone out, you'd see a ton of 60Hz hum at relatively high levels. It's all around us. We don't hear it because we are accustomed to it. The hum from the Mani 2 at -80db is not going to be a factor because ambient hum and the hum from the record motor is going to be x10 to x100 louder.

    upload_2022-2-23_20-50-24.png
     
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2022
  4. purr1n

    purr1n Burned out

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    Let's take a look at THD and noise in another way (linear scale)

    Schiit Mani 2
    5mVrms input (MM cart) with stock gain gettings (49db gain)
    upload_2022-2-23_20-59-53.png

    Schiit Mani 2
    0.5mVrms input (MC cart) with max gain gettings (60db gain)
    upload_2022-2-23_21-1-47.png

    Wow, both of these results are amazing. Whatever distortion is visible in only in the MM case, and even then it's a nice tiode like pattern of descending harmonics and no "crap-factor" (to borrow a phrase from @atomicbob). The noise floor for the MC case is at the cost of sounding repetitive is simply amazeballs.
     
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2022
  5. purr1n

    purr1n Burned out

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    Schiit Mani 2
    THD Ratio vs Frequency
    0.5mVrms and 1mVrms
    49db gain
    90kHz bandwidth
    upload_2022-2-23_21-19-14.png

    THD is flat across from 20Hz to 20kHz for the levels tested.
     
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2022
  6. purr1n

    purr1n Burned out

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    Schiit Mani 2
    THD Ratio vs Level
    49db gain
    90kHz bandwidth
    50uVrms to 5mVrms (generator level)
    upload_2022-2-23_21-42-38.png

    Note: plots in this and prior post are THD, not THD+N.
     
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2022
  7. purr1n

    purr1n Burned out

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    In a nutshell:

    The Mani 2 provides both fantastic measured and subjective performance at any price point. The phonostage offers a variety of features such as rumble filters and a decent level of granularity when it comes to gain, capacitance, and resistive settings to suit a wide variety of phono cartridges. Clarity, soundstage depth, neutrality are the Mani 2's strengths. Slam, microdetail, and engagement factor exceeds expectations. Only the best discrete or tube designs will beat the Mani 2 when it comes to resolution and microdynamics. The dip switches are bit clumsy, but they are set once and forget. The measured distortion and noise floor are astounding. There's a bit of mains hum, but because it's 80db down, this seems academic considering motor induced noise in vinyl playback.

    5F4A0100 (Large).JPG
     
  8. Cspirou

    Cspirou They call me Sparky

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    I really always wondered why the Nighthawk cost what it did. It doesn't look anymore complicated than an O2 (or Mani for that matter) but was $800.

    Recent phono offerings seemed to have brought opamp based preamps to sensible territory
     
  9. MellowVelo

    MellowVelo Friend

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    @purr1n, if I recall correctly, Schiit made revisions to the OG Mani at some point during its production run but never changed the name or really talked about the changes. From what I remember, SBAF folks noted an overall improvement in sound quality and measured performance compared to the units that first shipped in 2015. How does the revised OG Mani compare to the Mani 2?
     
  10. Azimuth

    Azimuth FKA rtaylor76, Friend

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    Yes, the only changes were mostly the small op amps to full SOIC versions and maybe some other minor tweaks.

    This seems like a much bigger change. Change from AD op aps to OPA1612's (which is a very good performing op amp) and removing the cap coupled outputs to DC coupled. Now the original Mani and silent revision Mani had WIMA film caps on the output, so these are signification changes. I would expect cleaner output, lower noise floor, more dynamics.
     
  11. purr1n

    purr1n Burned out

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    Yeah, that was the phono market back then and still even now to a large extent. All the Nighthawk lacked was a big chassis like the Sutherland. (Sutherland opamp based phonostages are just as guilty for lack of value). Heck, even one multi-thousand dollar Stereophile recommended phonostage was an opamp design. To Ray's credit, the fit and finish, the selectors, the knobs, the PCB quality, the little details, on the Nighthawk are good step or two above that of the utilitarian Mani chassis and dip switches. Also, while Ray had a dud or two, for the most part, I felt he had good ears and knew what kind of sound he was looking for. In retrospect, the attacks against him for only knowing how to do opamp designs were unfair, because he had sensible ears, unlike some folks at HC who seemed to prefer a harsher brighter steely analytical sound and passed it off as "wire with gain" (which we all know there is no such thing). Anyway, the value definitely isn't there for the RSA F-117 Nighthawk phonostage, there's no argument about that.
     
  12. purr1n

    purr1n Burned out

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    Ahh, yes. I remember that. The revised Mani was a little bit better. The comparisons from above apply to the revised Mani 1, of which is the only one that I have. I sold my OG first production run Mani a while back. The revision helped improved on a few things, but it was still an OG Mani.

    To put things in perspective, the improvement of the revised Mani was very incremental over the first production run. The Mani 2 is significantly better than any revision of the OG Mani.
     
  13. Storytime

    Storytime Rando

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    Thanks for the review, purr1n. I've been running an RSA Nighthawk and like it with my MM cart (I might take the plunge into MC soon). Now I'm thinking of an upgrade to the Mani 2, which would let me sell the Nighthawk for a small net profit. But I've got a couple questions:

    You mention hum on the Mani. How does it compare with the Nighthawk?

    Are you running the Mani 2 with any special power source, or just what comes standard out of the box?
     
  14. capt_wacky

    capt_wacky Rando

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    Thanks for the review and for putting the mains hum into perspective. This seems like an incredible value for both budget and mid-fi systems. I’m not a huge fan of dip switches from a usability standpoint, especially given that phono stages always seem to put them in inconvenient locations. Can you explain to a dummy like me why they may be desirable enough to be so common in phono stages (for simplicity of circuit, affordability…)?
     
  15. Armaegis

    Armaegis Friend

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    RSA was always an expensive boutique brand. I remember a lot of huff (both good and bad) about his amps back when portable headamps were first gaining traction. High prices, stupid balanced connector, blah blah.
     
  16. MellowVelo

    MellowVelo Friend

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    I have the Nighthawk and the revised Mani 1. In the right conditions, the Nighthawk is very quiet because the battery power eliminates the mains hum, BUT in my experience, the shielding on the Nighthawk sucks, making the Nighthawk very susceptible to RFI/EMI hum.

    The revised Mani 1 has excellent shielding and does not suffer from RFI/EMI interference. Although there is a slight mains hum coming from the unit, it's so far down in the noise floor that you'll never hear it when using your turntable. You have to turn off the turntable and crank the volume control on your amp to hear it. From everything we've read in this thread, the mains hum on the Mani 2 is even lower than the mains hum on the Mani 1.

    So, in other words, don't worry about the hum on the Mani 2, and go enjoy some music.
     
  17. Beefy

    Beefy Almost "Made"

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    I remember RSA sanding down the tops of OPAMPs. Because not knowing if it was AD797* vs AD825* would make suuuuuuch a huuuuuuuge difference to being able to clone the amp.

    * made up OPAMP numbers.
     
  18. Ringo

    Ringo Rando

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    Thanks for the review! It's an intriguing product. Seems as though this might perform audibly better than the built in phono stage on my Technics sl-1500c. I A/B'd it against my U-Turn Pluto and to my mild surprise it seemed like the built-in was at least as good or probably a little better than the Pluto. Have rolled with the built-in since and been pretty happy, but am interested in upgraded preamp options that won't necessarily involve a ginormous outlay. I mean, if I had to spend $300-$500 I probably would, but it seems like the Mani 2 could potentially offer a very cost effective upgrade. Might be worth grabbing one and the 15% restocking fee wouldn't be too bad a pill to swallow, if not. Thanks!
     
  19. schiit

    schiit SchiitHead

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    Mani OG actually went through three revisions during its 6-year run. All perform about the same when compared to Mani 2 or the MM phono card for Jotunheim/Ragnarok.*

    The first, changing op-amps due to the originals being unavailable (sadly much more likely these days).

    The second, a secret Mike Moffat thing we don't talk about (not kidding, there's some stuff like this).

    The third, additional RF filtering for people who are unfortunately too near an RF source.

    In short, not unexpected for a product of such longevity. The OG Mani is a great phono preamp. The new Mani 2 is intended to be insanely great. We'll see what everyone thinks, in time. Hopefully it's on its way to as long a run as the original.

    *Not kidding. Part of the impetus for Mani 2 was the technicians in QC/Sound Check asking, unprompted, "Why does the phono card sound better than Mani?"
     
  20. purr1n

    purr1n Burned out

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    For clarity, the OG Mani I have is the one where Mike did his secret thing, of which I have sworn an oath to never divulge, and to be honest, I am only 60% sure of what it is.

    It's kind of cheesy and something I just wouldn't bother doing. However Ray probably spent a great deal of time listening to dozens of opamps to get the right sound. As I mentioned, at least Ray curated his sound. We know that putting random high THD+N parts together doesn't usually equate to something good sounding, e.g. Topping. ;)

    --

    I've noticed an error in the manual. Evidently the settings with the Input gain set to L and output gain set to H result in about 49db of gain instead of 42db. This has been corrected in the above posts. It's my understanding that Schiit has caught this error in time. If there are any units that ship with the 48-49db gain, it still may not be an issue with most MM carts. As I mentioned, run as high gain as possible to get lowest noise and best sound quality... until clipping.
     

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