I have spent a lot of time with the original Schiit Mani phono preamplifier, which I was fortunate to have in one of my systems for several months, so when the Schiit Mani 2 was made available for me to audition I jumped at the opportunity to check it out.
And getting right to the point, wow! I loved the original Mani in many ways, but the 2nd generation seems vastly improved on many fronts, and some of the issues I had with gen 1 are so much better.
Bottom line, I can’t think of a better <200 preamplifier – but let’s get into a bit more detail.
Schiit Mani 2 Phono Preamplifier Overview
The Schiit Mani 2 is an inexpensive outboard phono preamplifier for both moving magnet and moving coil cartridges. It is intended to be placed between your turntable and amplifier, and amplifies the very low current coming out of a phono cartridge to a level that the amplifier can use.
Even people with amplifiers turntables that have built-in phono preamplifiers consider getting an outboard unit, because it might sound better (and the Schiit Mani 2 definitely will in almost all cases), but many newer amplifiers and receivers, as well as most powered speakers, do not have a phono stage inbuilt, and so a separate unit like the Mani 2 is necessary.
The Schiit Mani 2 is very small, only 5 inches wide and less than a pound in weight, and very simple in design. The front panel has nothing but a power light, and the back panel has a power switch, RCA inputs (from your turntable) and outputs (to your amplifier) and a ground post.
The bottom panel of the Mani 2 is a bit more complex, There is a gain control for moving magnet or moving coil (which have lower output) cartridges, switches for changing impedance loading resistance and capacitance and a customizable low frequency filter for eliminating low rumble.
Generally, though, given that most people will likely be using the Mani with a moving magnet cartridge, you probably won’t need to mess with the controls here – and, somewhat humorously, Schiit clearly admonishes us in the user manual to “”don’t flip it over.”
The second generation of the acclaimed Schiit Mani, the 2 has eliminated capacitors from its circuitry, and is now a true DC-coupled amplifier, incorporating the excellent Texas Instruments OPA 1612 op-amp – this should, in theory, give the Mani 2 a more neutral and open sound than the original, which used three capacitors as buffers.
The Mani 2 is made in the United States, and is covered by a 2 year parts and labor warranty. It includes a separate power supply transformer, kept external for lower noise,
All in all, a solid and very well made piece, which is incredibly easy to set up and works perfectly. Maybe not the most attractive item in the audio world, but well finished and nicely understated.
Schiit Mani 2 Technical Specifications:
- Gain: 33dB, 42dB, 48dB or 60dB Switchable
- Total Harmonic Distortion (THD): .0003 – .0015 % (dependent on gain)
- Signal to Noise Ratio (SNR): >108 – >87 dB 20 Hz to 20 kHz (dependent on gain)
- Crosstalk: -90 – -75dB (dependent on gain)
- Input Loading
- Resistance: 47KΩ, 200Ω, 47Ω or 38Ω switchable
- Capacitance: 47pF, 100pF, 150pF or 200pF switchable
- Low Frequency Filter: 6dB/octave or 12dB/octave at 15 Hz, fully passive
- RIAA Accuracy: +/- 0.2 dB 20 Hz to 20 kHz
Associated Equipment and Recordings for Testing the Schiit Mani 2
I like to keep things simple when testing gear – I find that trying a bunch of different turntables, cartridges, cables and other gear when trying to assess a single component gets confusing – both to me and to readers, I’m sure – and focusing on a single setup really lets me go deeper into aspects of performance and sound.
So in this case I used the following:
- Schiit Mani 2 MM / MC Phono Preamplifier
- Rega Planar 2 Turntable with Carbon MM Phono Cartridge
- Hana SL MC Phono Cartridge
- Rega Brio Amplifier
- KEF Q150 Speakers
- Mayflower Electronics Desktop Objective2 Headphone Amp/DAC.
- Sennheiser HD650 Headphones
Some might say that this is, while still a moderate system, a bit high end for testing a phono preamplifier that costs less than 200 dollars, but that’s exactly what I wanted – this whole system is exceptional for its resolution, transparency and honesty, and really allows me to hear the Schiit Mani 2 – or any added component – with absolute clarity.
Plus, the Rega amplifier has an excellent built-in phono stage, and so comparing the Brio’s phono preamplifier to the Mani 2 was very helpful – and very interesting.
But if you’re concerned about what the Schiit sounds like with ‘lesser’ equipment, I did connect it to a receiver and some low end speakers (the excellent Sony STRDH190, through its auxiliary inputs, and the nice little Micca MB42 bookshelf speakers, and it still sounded stellar, with all of the same qualities still abundantly obvious.
Oops, I guess I should have given you a spoiler alert there – yes, with every record I listened to, through my main system or through less expensive gear, the Mani 2 is a wonderful little piece of gear, with real high-end chops and a remarkably accurate, open and musical sound.
Speaking of records, I used (among others) the following LPs for my review:
- Boards of Canada – Tomorrow’s Harvest
- Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon
- Sigur Rós – Odin’s Raven Magic
- Eric Clapton – Slowhand
- Joni Mitchell Court and Spark
- Holst – The Planets – Zubin Mehta
- Opus 3 Test Record 1
- Supertramp Crime of the Century
How Does the Schiit Mani 2 Sound?
I loved the original Schiit Mani, which I saw as one of the great bargains in analog vinyl record playback equipment, and it seems that a good overview of how the new Mani 2 sounds can be had by comparing it to its predecessor.
There are so many things that the original Schiit Mani is fantastic at, which I can say in every case are just as strong, or even slightly improved in this wonderful 2nd generation:
- Deep bass impact and extension – though if anything the 2 may go deeper, and has a bit more weight and speed
- High frequency ease, space and extension
- Control – especially attack, sustain and decay of musical notes
- Imaging and soundstage – though the 2 does have a Larger and more integral soundstage
- Warmth and musicality – though the effortless quality of the 2 makes things even more musical
And while I thought the original Mani was just wonderful, there were a couple of issues – not things I would have expected, necessarily, at that low, low price point, but sonic characteristics – or lack thereof – which I experience with higher-level phono stages.
In each case, the Mani 2 shows marked improvement in these key areas:
- Vast increase in detail and clarity
- Dynamics, micro-dynamics and musical energy – ok, actually the original Mani is known as a bit of a dynamic powerhouse, but the 2 is even more brutal, and yet at the same time more refined
- Ease and space around the notes
- Much lower noise floor
Don’t get me wrong – the original Mani was pretty special. But the Mani 2 preamp has an open, effortless quality which allows music to arise from nothing and exist in proper space and time, with appropriate scale, effortless energy, a warm and rich musicality and a tonal accuracy which gets everything, from the most simple to the most complex tones, just right.
In fact, we can now comfortably say that the Schiit Mani 2 approaches that magical music-making we expect to find in the highest of high end audio equipment, and from here most improvements can be subtle at best, and a bit out of proportion to the increases we see in price.
So if the original Mani was a great value, I would say the Schiit Mani 2 is definitely on its way to becoming a truly legendary one.
My Listening Experience with the Schiit Mani 2
I spent a couple of weeks with the Mani 2 in my main system, with some switching to a more budget system as well (details of associated equipment are included above). The sound was fabulous with both systems, and the same qualities were evident to a greater or lesser degree, but the following comments will focus on my main system.
The superbly recorded voice of Joni Mitchell on Court and Spark came forward with such remarkable palpability that I was reminded of very high end analog playback systems and phono stages. Her singing had an integrity and solidity overall, and the inflections and nuances, as well as the unique tonality of her voice and the texture of the sound, indicated the Mani 2’s very high level of detail and micro-detail, as well as its dynamic aplomb.
With Therese Juel’s singing on Tiden Bara Gar – the first track of my favorite record of all times for really testing audiophile record playback gear – Opus 3’s Test Record One (sadly long out of print) – the tonality and expressivity were equally present, and it was clear that the Mani has the ability to present the shape of a singer’s voice and the space around it with startling realism.
The Opus 3 test record has many different types of instruments and ensembles, all naturally recorded in pure analog sound, and in each case the Schiit Mani 2 seemed to get the sound just right – solo piano had the attack and ring I’d want, but without a hint of glare, and guitar similarly had real detail without aggressiveness, and amazing spatial presence. Jazz combos and full symphony orchestra, all beautifully recorded on this LP, appear with real accuracy – the individual instruments retaining their own sound and character with amazing fidelity, and their interaction and ensemble just ideal.
The tonal and spatial complexity of the full symphony orchestra, like on the test record, and especially on Mehta’s stunningly recorded reading of Holst’s Planets, was fully conveyed. Do some much higher end phono preamplifiers work out the finest of interactions in sound, and in space, a bit more completely than the Schiit? Sure, but this is the real deal, and even the most complex and powerful passages were dispatched with ease and authority.
Speaking of complexity, and especially as it relates to imaging, it seems that most phono stages, even the super-budget variety, can throw a fairly large and complete soundstage, but when it comes to very complex music, like the full orchestra in The Planets, and especially at very strong or very low levels, the image can kind of collapse or lose its integrity.
But with the Mani 2 the stereo image was big, deep, tall and always appropriately scaled, and remained as accurate and consistent regardless of complexity, volume or other factors. The Mani 2 also has the ability to capture other aspects of space – like, again, the shape of a voice or instrument, the space between musicians, the shape and characteristics of the room.
With Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, there are places where Alan Parsons, great guru of audio engineering that he is, extends the image of the album’s normal stereo mix well behind the listener, and when it hits the effect is not just kind of eerily cool but as obvious as anything, even though some higher end preamps can’t quite get it. The Mani, on the other hand, not only got the imaging but also the sense and continuity of movement behind me just right.
With dynamics, like with imaging and vocal and instrumental accuracy, I have to again comment on the amazing ability of the Schiit Mani to resolve even the most complex musical signals. On Board of Canada’s remarkably analog sounding Tomorrow’s Harvest, the swirling, swooping, interacting dynamic levels (as well as the interactions of time, engineered space, tonality, energy, texture and a lot more) are beautifully captured by the Mani 2, which never seems to be straining or even slightly veiled.
Every recording I used is a masterpiece of dynamics in one way or another, and in each case I was pretty blown away by the Schiit Mani 2, which really does seem more talented in this way, and in many other ways, than not just similarly priced phono preamplifiers but even well-regarded preamps that are a lot more expensive.
To wit, the heartachingly beautiful soft passages and the enormous blasts of sonic energy in The Planets were both delivered with immediacy and full effect. The crunchy texture, micro-inflected attack and the solid leading edge analog impact of Clapton’s guitar, which seems pretty simple and central, but which no CD or digital file, and few phono stages, can seem to get right, were all there with the Mani 2. The range of Sugar Ros’s big ensemble, Joni’s voice, Supertramp’s perfectly miked drums – all dynamic information, bit and small, was there and sounded just right.
I spent most of my time listening to moving magnet cartridges, but this section on dynamics is a good time to mention the Mani’s performance with the wonderfully sweet, subtle and expressive Hana SL moving coil cartridge, and to especially emphasize how the delicate nature of the low output Hana SL was so beautifully conveyed by the Mani 2 MC Phono Cartridge.
The lowest levels of sound as well as the nuances and most subtle expressions of the Hana came through with wonderful micro-dynamic range, and with little or no noise, but the SL can be as powerful as anything when the music demands it, and the Schiit kept right up, effortlessly transiting from the quietest signals to the most impressive dynamic swells without missing a beat.
Speaking of Supertramp, their audiophile classic (and rock and roll classic) Crime of the Century has always been one of my go-tos for assessing a product’s bass response, and the Schiit Mani 2 got those drums just right, with huge amounts of air being moved even with my smaller KEF speakers and complete extension on my Sennheiser headphones. The same album has a repeated bass guitar slide on the first track which doesn’t sound complete, or convincing, on so many amps, speakers or phono stages, but again even on the KEFs the slide was all there, and even rounded and defined on the bottom end, and with the Senns it was truly awesome.
The Schiit can even hold its own with the frankly overwhelming bass information on the Opus 3 test record’s organ track, and although phono preamplifiers that are substantially more expensive might bring a more complete picture of that immense low end, the Mani presented the organ’s low pipes with authority and real excitement.
Midrange frequencies are open, clear and tonally pretty much perfect – not just flat and ideally balanced, and with superb tonal accuracy, but with the life and believability that only comes when those mids are fully integrated with, and informed by, truly extended and accurate bass and high frequencies.
This is so evident on the guitars on the Clapton and Supertramp, and the wide range of beautifully recorded instruments on the Sigur Ross album, as well as the vocals on all of those recordings, and equally clear on the electronic sounds of Boards of Canada, which sounds had as much life as any of the other music, and were at once both complex and simply integrated.
High frequencies on the Mani are very well extended – not just to the point that all musical information was there, but so much so that all high frequencies, and all the mids and even the bass notes, were open and spacious, with delicious ease and a liquid musicality.
Flutes, piccolos, metal percussion and the sheen of string instruments on The Planets were so clear and so effortless, and the bell at the beginning of Therese Juel’s track – maybe the single best recording I have – comes through with such startling force, detail and impact, and with such an easy and accurate space around it.
I can talk all day long about frequency response, tonality, energy and dynamics, imaging and lots more, but at the end of that day I want to forget about all of those individual factors and just hear the music.
And with the Schiit Mani I could do just that with a sense of satisfaction, engagement and even joy I find very rare with such affordable equipment – and really, my immersion into the music, loss of thought and realization of that rare sense of flow, was higher with the Mani 2 by far than with almost any phono preamplifier I’ve ever used at this price, or for that matter most preamps that cost many times more.
The Mani 2 has an extraordinarily low noise floor – a problem with the first Mani, but one of the greatest strengths of gen 2 – and an amazing dynamic ease, and its accuracy, high resolution, transparency, phase coherence and attendant imaging and soundstage, are all at such a high level that music simply appears out of a black background, lives and interacts in the space in front of and all around me, and then sinks back into that emptiness.
Life, expressiveness, tonal beauty, timing, spatial dimension, accuracy and scale, power and subtlety, all of these are at frankly astonishing levels with the Schiit Mani phono preamplifier, and it all comes together with such integrity and such authority that I just get lost in the music.
Conclusion: Would I Recommend the Schiit Mani 2?
After everything I just wrote, how can you even ask that question? Oh wait, I guess it was I who asked, wasn’t it?
Ok, so since it’s out there, I might as well answer – yes, absolutely and without reservation.
I have listened to so many different outboard phono preamplifiers, and so many phono stages built into receivers and amplifiers, and ones ranging from well under a hundred dollars up to several thousand.
And while the Schiit Mani 2 is much closer to the low end of that price spectrum, it is much closer to the high end in terms of sound, and is actually much better built and enjoys a higher level of fit and finish than many top-tier products I know.
Ease, transparency, dynamic energy and life, expressivity, space and time, all aspects of musical reproduction are at the highest levels imaginable with the Mani 2, but even still, all of these things don’t always add up to a satisfying listening experience.
With the Schiit Mani 2 phono preamplifier they definitely do, though, and all throughout my listening sessions I was so thrilled, even with records that I had heard a hundred times before, that I couldn’t help but think of that fire and excitement I experienced when I listened to my first really musical stereo system years ago – a fire and excitement I don’t feel often enough these days, even with the most advanced, expensive audiophile equipment.
But the Mani 2 doesn’t really present itself as a piece of audio equipment, but rather just allows the music to live and breathe, naturally and organically in space and time. And I realize that it was never the gear, really – the music itself is where that fire and that excitement really live.
So yes, I give the Schiit Mani 2 outboard MM / MC phono preamplifier my highest recommendation, and am happy to say that it is one of the most extraordinarily musical and satisfying pieces of affordable audio gear I’ve ever auditioned.