Positive Feedback ISSUE 64
november/december 2012

 

David Manley's Vacuum Tube Logic Purist Recordings
by Teresa Goodwin

 

VTL - The Vital Sound

The late David Manley didn't just design great sounding vacuum tube preamplifiers and amplifiers; he was also a brilliant recording engineer.

Using his professional line of vacuum tube recording gear, David Manley recorded direct-to-two-track analog, using the Manley Stereo Gold Reference microphone in his 30 foot by 40 foot studio, with a cathedral-peak ceiling height of 16 feet. The entire acoustic treatment was finished in Oregon Oak and Douglas Fir timbers, with continuous Helmholtz-tuned resonance absorbing slots. The floor was rubber over high density particleboard over concrete, with a resultant reverberation time of approximately 1½ seconds, providing a totally neutral and resonance-free acoustic. The Manley studio was unique because the complete recording and playback chain from microphone to playback monitors were made up of Manley tube electronics. Further, the studio was designed for purist recording techniques only, with all the music played live and captured straight onto two tracks.

Every single piece of equipment in the recording chain was entirely tube and entirely analog, of David Manley's design and built in their factory in Chino, California. This included the microphones themselves, the Manley Stereo Gold Reference condenser microphone. The Manley microphone was of the so-called larger capsule variety, has a diameter of 1¼ inches, with 3-micron gold-deposition Mylar diaphragms. The stereo version has one fixed capsule and one rotatable capsule, which offers a continuously variable pick-up-pattern. He most often used the figure 8 in the classic Blumlein coincident crossed-pair mode. The entire vacuum tube amplification is built into the microphone body, and no transformer coupling or external amplification is used at all.

The microphone is connected via VTL Quad double-screened cable right into a unity-gain mixer for level setting and metering. The mixer was based around the Manley Reference preamplifier, and can mix up to 10 microphones into 2 busses. Mixing of microphones is achieved by each input having its own dedicated grid, and not by the usual pot and build out resistor method as found in every console in use in the recording industry.

No equalization of any kind was employed. All fixed wiring in the patch-bay and control room was VTL White wire 3x pure copper and silver cores in Teflon. David Manley fully updated the mechanics in the ½ inch two-track Studer C37 analog tape deck, which contains only their Manley pure tube circuitry.

The recordings were then mastered in his full-featured mastering room. The LPs were mastered from the original analog tapes, and the CDs were transferred and mastered from the two-track analog master to the digital master using the Manley 20-bit analogue-to-digital converter with 128x oversampling. These original LPs and CDs under the ViTaL label are now out of print. However select titles, have been brought back into print by the Italian record label Fonè.

ViTaL recordings Discographies

In print: ViTaL SACDs and 45 RPM LPs, reissued by Fonè.

Out of print: original issue ViTaL CDs and 45 RPM LPs

ViTaL SACDs, reissued by Fonè

David Manley, Recordings (a sampler)
(See review at the end of this article for a listing of selections and artists.)
ViTaL Records, reissued by Fonè, 044 SACD

Doc Powell, The Doctor
Doc Powell (guitar), Rodney Franklin (piano), Reggie Hamilton (bass), Michael Baker (drums)
"All Right Now, For The Love Of You, Celia, Sugar, Isn't She Lovely, Maiden Voyage, B.B., Just Love"
ViTaL Records, reissued by Fonè 046-SACD

Karen Knowles, Moonglow
"Moonglow, Espresso, There I’ve Said It Again, All I Want To Do, Don’t Say, Under The Moon, What’s Taken Your Smile Away?, Nature Boy, Turn It Upside Down, It Goes Like It Goes, Every Time We Say Goodbye, Art Of Love, Dream A Little Dream, Every Once In A While"
ViTaL Records, reissued by Fonè 099 SACD

Sekou Bunch, Sekou
"Catano, Pastels, Night On The Town, As A Matter Of Fact, What? Mr. Bunch, Dolphin Dance, Seven Steps To Heaven, Footprints, Let’s Jam, Naima, Day In The Sahara
ViTaL Records, reissued by Fonè 107 SACD

Toolbox, Toolbox
David Garfield (piano, 9’3” by Julius Bluthner 1930)
Michael O’Neill (Yamaha Nylon Stringed Acoustic Guitar), James Earl (Warwick Acoustic Bass Guitar), Larry Klimas (Tenor & Soprano Sax, Flute), Walfredo Reyes (Drums, Custom Pearl Kit)
"The Loft, Ana Maria, Ganja, Indiansong, Latin Slam, In The Shadow Of Love, Corbitt Van Brauer, Nothing Personal
ViTaL Records, reissued by Fonè 120 SACD

ViTaL 45 RPM LPs, reissued by Fonè
Signoricci Vinyl, Pure Analogue Recording, Pure Analogue Cutting, One-Stage Pressing Process, 45 rpm, 180 Gram, Heavy Quality Sleeves

Todd Cochran, Todd
ViTaL Records, reissued by Fonè 004 - 4LPs (4 sides)

Munyungo Jackson, Munyungo
ViTaL Records, reissued by Fonè 005 - 4LPs (4 sides)

James Leary, James
ViTaL Records, reissued by Fonè 006 - 4LPs (4 sides)

Doc Powell, The Doctor
ViTaL Records, reissued by Fonè - 014J - 2LPs (4 sides)

ViTaL LPs 45 RPM 2 LP sets (out of print)

Todd Cochran, Todd
VTL-001

Munyungo Jackson, Munyungo
VTL-002

James Leary, James
VTL-003

Sekou Bunch, Sekou
VTL-004

James Leary, James II
VTL-005

Doc Powell, The Doctor
VTL-006

Louis Verdieu, Louis
VTL-007

Toolbox, Toolbox
VTL-008

Karen Briggs, Karen
VTL-009

Iroko, Iroko
VTL-010

Lesley Olsher, Lesley
VTL-011

Josh Sklair, Josh
VTL-013

La Follia Salzburg, Music In Austria Before Mozart "Johann Heinrich Schmelzer: Fechtschule, Stefano Bernardi: 3 Canzonas for Strings and Continuo, Johann Heinrich Schmelzer: Lament on the Death of Ferdinand III, Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber: Mensa Sonara, Pars III, Antonio Caldara: Sinfonia No. 4, 'Morte e Sepultura di Christo', Johann Joseph Fux: Concentus-Musico-Instrumentalis, VI
VTL-CLAS001

ViTaL CDs (out of print)

Todd Cochran, Todd
VTL-001

Munyungo Jackson, Munyungo
VTL-002

James Leary, James
VTL-003

Sekou Bunch, Sekou
VTL-004

James Leary, James II
VTL-005

Doc Powell, The Doctor
VTL-006

Louis Verdieu, Louis
VTL-007

Toolbox, Toolbox
VTL-008

Karen Briggs, Karen
VTL-009

Iroko, Iroko
VTL-010

Lesley Olsher, Lesley
VTL-011

Vickie Leigh, Vickie
VTL 012

Josh Sklair, Josh
VTL-013

Toolbox, More Toolbox
VTL-014

Kate McGarry, Easy To Love
VTL-015

Jim Dawson, Independence
VTL-016  

Karen Knowles, Moonglow
VTL-017

Vickie Leigh, More Vickie
VTL-018

Jim Christopher and Brown Burnett, Main Liners
VTL-019

Sam Sklair, Virgo
VTL-020

Chistopher Cortez, Territorial Imperative
VTL-VF001

Chris McGregor's Brotherhood of Breath, In Memoriam
VTL-VF002

La Follia Salzburg, Music In Austria Before Mozart
"Johann Heinrich Schmelzer: Fechtschule, Stefano Bernardi: 3 Canzonas for Strings and Continuo, Johann Heinrich Schmelzer: Lament on the Death of Ferdinand III, Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber: Mensa Sonara, Pars III, Antonio Caldara: Sinfonia No. 4, 'Morte e Sepultura di Christo', Johann Joseph Fux: Concentus-Musico-Instrumentalis, VI
VTL-CLAS001

Gert Hecher, The Poetic Liszt
"Invocation, Funérailles, Feierlicher Marsch zum heiligen Gral aus Parsifal, O du mein holder Abendstern, transcription for piano (after Wagner: Tannhäuser), Isoldens Liebestod: Schlußszene aus Tristan und Isolde, transcription for piano (after Wagner), Années de pèlerinage, 1st Year ("Suisse"), suite for piano, Les Cloches de Genève, Vallée d'Obermann"
VTL-VC002

Bruce Brubaker, Piano Music
"Johannes Brahms: Fantasies, Richard Wagner: Album Leaf for Frau Betty Schott, Edward Steuermann: Sonata For Piano
VTL-VC003

Review of the ViTaL Records, reissued by Fonè SACD Sampler. David Manley, Recordings (a sampler)

1. Sekou Bunch "Catano"
2. Doc Powell "B.B"
3. Munyungo Jackson "So Happy"
4. James Leary "Ambidextrous"
5. Todd Cochran "Behind the Mask"
6. Karen Knowles, Don't Say
7. Sam Sklair, Just Maybe
8. Karen Briggs,Cantos de Los Gitanos
9. Brown Burnett, Baby Please Don't Go
10. Vickie Leigh, Into The Light

Tom MacMorran, piano (1), Doc Powell, guitar (1,2), Rayford Griffin, drums (1,3), Bill Summers, percussion (1,3), Keith Jones, fretless bass (1), Sekou Bunch, tenor bass (1,3), Rodney Franklin, piano (2), Reggie Hamilton, bass (2), Michael Baker, drums (2), Munyungo Jackson, percussion (3), Frances Awe, percussion (3), Lenny Castro, percussion (3), Maurice Dosso, percussion (3), Angel Figueroa, percussion (3), Rabia Rayford, percussion, vocals (3), Todd Cochran, piano (3,4,5), Michael O'Neill, guitar (3), Robert Greenidge, steel pans (3), James Leary, Hawkes-Panormo (4), bass (5), John Clayton, unknown French Rarity (4), Reggie Hamilton, Pollman (4), bass (7), Al McKibbon, Steiner (4), Clayton Cameron, drums (4,5), Fred Tinsley, Bella Rosa (4), Karen Knowles, vocals (6), Frank Crawford, piano, keyboard (6,7,9,10), Bruce Bishop, acoustic guitar, backing vocals (6), guitar (9,10), Darek Oles, bass (6), Josh Sklair, electric guitar, acoustic guitar (6,7,9,10), Efrain Toro, drums, percussion (6,7), Sam Sklair, arranger (6,7), clarinet (7), percussion (9), Vickie Leigh, vocals (6,9,10), Jack LeCompte, drums (7,9,10), Larry Klimas, tenor sax (7), Bob Summers, trumpet, flugel (7), Karen Briggs, violin (8), Charlie Bisharat, violin (8), Mark Cargill, violin (8), Harry Scorzo, violin (8), Jimbo Ross, viola (8), Milcho Leviev, piano (8), Russ Henry, drums (8), David Romero, percussion (8), Nedra Wheeler, string bass (8), Brown Burnett, vocals, Mississippi sax (9), Jim Christopher, guitar (9), Bill Von Ravensberg, bass (9,10)

Stereo Hybrid Analogue. ViTaL Records, reissued by Fonè 044 SACD

All the selections on this SACD sampler are recorded by David Manley of VTL fame with imaging so real you can reach out and touch the musicians. I used to own several of these recordings in their original 45 RPM double LP sets released back in the 1980's. I am quite impressed sonically with this sampler and if my memory serves me correctly these are very close to the sound of those original LPs.

The musical styles vary, and the sonic quality is consistently excellent throughout. The SACD sampler begins with Sekou Bunch's "Catano" which is a pretty cool jazz piece, one of the ones I used to own on LP. Next up is Doc Powell's "B.B." with really great percussion that will show off the high frequency capabilities of your system. Munyungo Jackson's "So Happy" has very accurate sounding steel pans and on James Leary's "Ambidextrous" I really like the interplay between the bass and drums.

Todd Cochran's "Behind the Mask" is from my first ViTaL LP and the one that got me excited about VTL, it is a great piano, bass and drums jazz piece. Karen Knowles' "Don't Say" has very realistic ambiance and vocals and Sam Sklair's "Just Maybe" which is a larger jazz band and the sax sounds really sexy. Karen Briggs' "Cantos de Los Gitanos" is violin lead jazz which is an instrument that is a real challenge in digital and this SACD pulls it off as it sounds silky smooth and very analog-like and the music is very spicy Latin inspired. Brown Burnett's "Baby Please Don't Go" really rocks and is proof positive that rock-style music can sound great if recorded naturally. Why are so many artists and recording companies afraid to try?

The final track Vickie Leigh's "Into The Light" is a jazz vocal and my least favorite cut, just not my style, even though sonics are superb; however, this is expected in a sampler.

My only complaint is this SACD is not as warm sounding as I usually expect from tubed analog; this was true of the 45 RPM LPs as well. However, the very accurate sonic realism and perfect tonal accuracy more than makes up for this, and I am quite sure this is what the ViTaL studio really does sound like. Highly recommended.

As a bonus the CD layer is a "Signoricci CD" with a claimed quality enhancement of 20% compared to conventional CD, containing more sonic details, more realistic ambiance, more correct tone colors, and a more detailed reconstruction of the soundstage. Still, one will purchase this for the SACD layer. If you have a CD player in your car, though, this will give impressive sound there as well.

So, while David Manley will be missed, he left a wonderful legacy behind.

 

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