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Positive Feedback ISSUE 5
february/march 2003


mana acoustics

Reference Table

as reviewed by Larry Cox


Mana-1-(1).jpg (35750 bytes)





Audio Note CD3 CD player.

Ensemble Dynaflux and Calrad balanced interconnects. Speaker cables made from Belden 1219A wire & IXOS 6003a.

API Power Pack. BDR cones.


There are so many little things to worry about in the realm of two-channel audio, you'd think that we’d reached the limit, but it’s not so. If you peruse my associated equipment list, you’ll notice that I don’t list a lot of tweaks, even though I’ve listened to, written about, and enjoyed what they do. What gives? I had the notion that it was the big stuff that matters, and while little things like pucks, stones, etc. make a difference, it wasn’t where I preferred to spend my money. That changed after I had the Mana table in my system. The Lovan rack I had been using for six or seven years—a hollow metal frame with thin MDF shelves—is on its way out. The Lovan was certainly an improvement over placing gear on top of furniture or in the "entertainment center" I used to have, but prior to this review I considered racks to be window dressing or audio jewelry.

Before trying the Mana table, I believed that a table performed valuable service if it kept gear cool and allowed easy routing of cables. After trying the Mana table, I see that I've been missing out on some important sonic benefits. Looking at the Mana table and seeing what it cost set me back. It is a simple, three-shelf affair that costs a princely $1400, and it doesn't look like there is a whole lot going on. The structural support of the table is bent steel. The steel is not bent so as to halve its length. Rather the width is halved, so that you have one-inch metal legs and shelving forming a sort of "U" along the length of its shaft. Each corner is welded with a cross bracing where the shelving support attaches. The cross bracing and the table are coated and finished, making them slightly thicker than a simple piece of bent metal, but not substantially. The finish is professionally and uniformly applied, and I'm guessing that the coating plays a role in damping resonances.

In the middle of each cross brace is a thread for a spike. Each spike becomes the contact point from the frame to the piece of glass upon which your gear sits. These spikes allow you to tune the table, so you raise or lower the spikes until the glass stops rocking and has a dead sound. Finally, the legs are spiked to the floor. Each shelf is made of a surprisingly thick, heavy piece of glass, with strips of some sort of damping material affixed underneath. It turns out Mana and its founder hold several patents on their products, so this ain't your basic table. It was designed, not stumbled upon. You are probably wondering whether the metal rings. And how about the glass? Shouldn't a combination of glass and metal ring louder than a bell? The Mana doesn't ring, not even a little.

Due to my review schedule I had a JR Transrotor Leonardo turntable ($3500) with a Clearaudio Virtuoso Wood cartridge ($1000) on hand. On my Lovan rack, the sound was slightly clinical. Sibilants were emphasized, and pops and ticks were louder in relation to the music than I recall with either my Oracle Delphi or Sota Sapphire. Not a great showing for a $4500 front end. Placed on the Mana table, the Leonardo sounded far less sibilant, allowing an intimacy to unfold. Pops and ticks were also quieter, if heard at all. However, the more important transformation wrought by the Mana was the sense of calm it brought to the music. Listening to music became a more intimate experience. Pin drops, coughs, sighs, and the vital nuances of musical events were now part of the presentation. There was also an expansion of the soundstage, with a greater sense of three-dimensionality and space, not only for the music but also for the performers. The increase in elbow room allowed performers to let their expressiveness grow, and to pour out beauty.

At the risk of sounding melodramatic, I felt like the performers entered my living room by invitation for a private concert. Did I like it? No, I loved it, and so did my wife, Simone. When I first played the Leonardo table on the Mana table, she looked at me to validate her sanity, as though she couldn't possibly be hearing the differences she heard. However, if she was crazy, so was I. The increase in the quality of the sound moved from grudging respect to a wildly positive response. A similar, if not quite as drastic increase in performance was noted with my Audio Note 3.1x CD player. In the case of the Audio Note, there was increased clarity, palpability, and a slightly greater sense of drive. I don’t mean to say that the Mana hyped up the sound or imparted a latent stridency. In fact, stridency would be the last thing I'd attribute to the Mana. Instead, it was as though extraneous chaos antithetical to CDs and LPs was being abolished from the music. Instead of a sharpening of the sound, it was a rounding out of and inclusion of more music into the listening realm.

For example, the witty, but very fast dialog of Monty Python’s Flying Circus can be difficult to understand for those not accustomed to British dialects. On my LP The Worst/Best of Monty Python, the brash British banter is a workout requiring full attention. After nearly thirty years of listening to the record, I can make out what they’re saying fairly easily, but my German wife really struggled with the Python gang until I played the LP with the Leonardo turntable on the Mana stand. She understood far more of the dialog without translation requests, and laughed along with me while listening to "Embarrassment Predicament, or The Argument Clinic," and the rest of this great album. (Perhaps the Mana just understands British accents better.) This sort of wonderful ease is an experience you want in your audio life.

Although I had my E.A.R. 864 preamp on the table as well, I can't say that I noticed as great an improvement as I did with source components. It could be that I didn't remember to do a before-and-after with the Lovan. (I think I did forget!) So, you’re probably wondering, "Did he buy it?" I could have, and would have liked to, but, like many reviewers, I am a poor type who loves playing with stuff I can't afford, so snapping up gear isn't something I can do all the time. I probably should have purchased the Mana because it really is great, but I didn't, for two reasons. One, I'm constantly putting new equipment on my table, and the glass shelves slide a bit on their spikes, which protracts the gear-swapping process. If your system isn't in a constant state of flux, you shouldn't be concerned. The second reason is that I'm temporarily without an amplifier and speakers, and as good as the Mana is, I need the amp and speakers first!

If you aren't in such straits, consider a Mana table. There are several pre-built models to choose from, starting relatively inexpensively, but leaving that territory rapidly. Mana will also make their tables in just about any configuration, including the number of shelves, the spaces between shelves, and the height of the table, to suit your needs, keeping in mind the structural integrity and the table's capacity to support certain pieces of gear. Flat Earth Audio provides a thirty-day trial, but I'm told that in six years of representation, almost none have come back. The Mana table will be a surprisingly welcome addition to most any system. I'm hoping to try out their turntable table a little later in the year, when I have a turntable in hand. Look for more commentary here.




Mana UK
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Flat Earth Audio
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