Manley VOXBOX Channel Strip
The legendary Manley VOXBOX Channel Strip - there is no substitute. Greater than the sum of it's parts, the Manley VOXBOX Combo is a staple of both studio and stage - even Bob Dylan and Phish are known to use them on the road. So, if you're looking for one of the ultimate in analog voice processors, look no further than the original - the Manley VOXBOX.
The Manley VoxBox - Primarily, it is a voice processor which in itself is not a novel idea, but the time had come to pull out all the stops and make a truly professional high-end statement. One that covered the needs of the project songwriters and big-time major studios alike. One whose all-tube signal path could bring every instrument and overdub to life. One that, plain and simple, sounded unquestionably better than the rest, provided flexibility, simplicity, and well thought-out ergonomics. Full of features, timeless style, robust build quality, and that world-famous "Manley Sound", Manley presents to you the MANLEY VOXBOX.
While Manley was designing the VOXBOX, they couldn't help but notice how well it works on other instruments besides voice. There are some great settings for drums, bass, guitar, and keys and the two separate sections can be used together or independently. Stereo using two VOXBOXes? You know Manley couldn't resist planning for that as well. There are Stereo Links for both the compressor and the De-Ess/Limiter sections, special compression settings and super-sweet EQ frequencies for your mix or pre-mastering. So don't just use it for voice. The name "VOXBOX" represents only the beginning...
The preamplifier is a clone of a highly regarded and popular mic pre: the Manley Mono Microphone Preamplifier! The mic input transformer is Manley's own design wound in-house at the Manley Labs factory. High current 48V Phantom power is switchable from the front panel. A simple and effective passive BASS CUT switch kills rumble and reduces popping. The INPUT ATTENUATOR is a variable pad control situated before the first tube stage allowing the preamplifier to accommodate +4 line level signals via the balanced LINE INPUT and instruments via the front panel 1/4" DIRECT INPUT. These inputs are selected in the middle position of the dual-function phase invert switch. Manley provides both transformer balanced XLR output as well as a transformerless "audiophile" 1/4" phone jack output. The Gain switch is actually a clever variable feedback control that changes not only the gain but the slew rate and flavor of the circuit. With it you can choose how laid back and mellow or how up-front and aggressive you want it to get. See "Notes on Variable Feedback" for more info. Headroom is a strong point in this circuit, +31dBu capable. This is 5 to 10 dB better than almost all other pro gear. The music passes through only Manley super-clean pure Class A vacuum tube circuitry. There are obvious advantages to Manley's purist approach and foremost is the un-electronic final sound that carries emotion into the digital realm.
Compressor SectionThis cool compressor design takes the Manley opto-isolator approach of the Manley ELOP Limiter to the max. Manley adjusted the Ratio down to 3:1 to turn their ELOP into a compressor and added ATTACK and RELEASE controls for more versatility. What is clever is how the signal is compressed before it hits the tubes with no detrimental effect on distortion or frequency response. This way, it can prevent mic-pre clipping and eliminate whole stages of electronics. This cuts the typical path of mic to tape in half! We also pioneered new thinking in the sidechain by using up to four different time constants simultaneously and controlling them with familiar simple attack, release and threshold controls. We call the approach "Parametric Compression". Manley developed optimum settings or presets based their favorite Vactrols that they use in their own fast ELOP Limiter, the quick LA-2A's T-4 module, the slower LA-3A and then created more complex special settings. This extended range and method of timing delivers fresh sounds from powerhouse punching drums to super-solid bass yet can also emulate the way good engineers delicately ride a fader while recording. It is transparent and liquid-smooth on vocals, easy to use and accurate. Also rare for an opto-based dynamic processor, this compressor works great on mixes. Of course, you'll be needing two VOXBOXes linked in stereo.
Lots of folks requested that Manley include the Pultec Mid Frequency Equalizer in the VOXBOX, but they wanted MORE.... Now Manley have extended it to 33 frequencies in 3 bands with 6 new frequencies from 20 Hz to 150 Hz, and 6 more in the highs from 6.4 KHz to 20 KHz. Ever notice that only EQs with real inductors have the bottom end magic or that only Class A circuitry can keep the top end sweet? This is for you. The EQ INPUT switch patches in the Line Input, Preamp Output, or the INSERT return. This switch serves double-duty acting as a bypass switch for the preamp and/or external processors or for processing two different tracks.
De-Esser and Limiter Section
Designed by folks with admittedly large gaps between their two front teeth, (Hutch and EveAnna) the VOXBOX combo also includes a de-esser & peak limiter based on Manley's original ELOP Limiter design but with an added passive LC network to handle the de-essing four carefully chosen notch frequencies from 3KHz to 12KHz. (That 3KHz setting really tames those annoying frequencies!) The fifth position gives you a limiter which totally mimics the famous LA-2A. This means you can both compress pre-EQ then limit here post-EQ. Another cool feature is the ability to insert this de-esser silently and smoothly as the music plays, using it as needed.
The MeterThe METER is a full size illuminated Sifam VU meter. A five-position switch shows three audio levels: the line input, the preamp output and the final output. It also shows compressor gain reduction and the de-esser/limiter action. Other clever innovations incorporated into the VOXBOX combo include warm-up muting circuitry, extensive magnetic field containment, 'smart -grounding', and silent switching. The sum-total is more than the separate parts: consider the reduced patching, the short path to tape and you having this much immediate control. As engineers, we choose what we use not based entirely on features and functions - there is a sound, a texture we reach for and the VOXBOX combo puts the 'Manley Sound' together with 'Your Sound'.
Manley VOXBOX Channel Strip Features
- MANLEY transformers w/nickel laminations in mu-metal cases
- 2 Kohm MIC INPUT Z w/High current 48V Phantom power built-in
- Hi-Z (100K) Direct Instrument Input
- LINE & INSERT INPUTS (balanced XLR & 1/4")
- PREAMP & EQ outputs LO-Z (50W)
- Transformer balanced XLR outputs
- Transformerless unbalanced 1/4"outputs
- STEREO LINK for Compressor & De-esser/Limiter
- SIDE CHAIN MONITOR for De-Esser
- Large ILLUMINATED Sifam METER with FIVE readout modes
- THD + N (1KHz @ +20 dBu): 0.3%
- Maximum output: +31dBu
Manley VOXBOX Channel Strip Specifications
- Mic Pre
- Frequency Response: +/-1dB 20Hz - 60KHz
- Noise Floor (A-wgt): -86 dB
- Signal to Noise Ratio: 113 dB
- Tube complement: 12AX7LPS & 6414
- Gain: 40 to 60 dB
- Frequency Response: 10 Hz - 100KHz
- Noise Floor (A-wgt): -89 dB
- Signal to Noise Ratio: 116 dB
- Tube complement: 5751 & 6414
- Gain: Unity
- Ratio: 3:1
- Maximum Reduction: 16 dB
- Attack Times: 4mS to 70mS
- Release Times: .3, .5, 1, 2, 5 Sec
- De-Esser & Limiter
- Ratio: 10:1
- Maximum Reduction: 32 dB
- Attack Times: 2mS
- Release Times: .5 Sec
- De-Ess Notch Frequencies: 3, 6, 9, 12KHz, none (LIMIT)
- Power Consumption: 24 watts
- Mains Voltage Frequency: 50~ 60Hz
- Dimensions: 19" x 5.25" x 10" occupies 3U
- Shipping weight: 21 lbs.
Manley VOXBOX Channel Strip Includes
- VOXBOX (115V)
- IEC Mains Power Cable
- Manual & Warranty Information
- Totally kick-butt shipping box (Keep this!)
What We Think - Manley VOXBOX Channel Strip Review
The Manley VOXBOX Combo can be a little daunting to look at when trying to figure out the signal flow. For this reason alone, I strongly suggest to RTFM! And what a manual it is. Manley gear always has some of the best, most comprehensive, and thoroughly technical manuals available. In an age of simplified-consumerization of audio gear, manuals such as those for the VOXBOX Combo serve as a reminder as to what a professional audio equipment company truly is.
So, the short story is that the VOXBOX is a channel strip containing their well known Mastering Lab preamp, a single ELOP channel + DeEsser, and a modified Pultec-Style EQ. But there are lots of additional features that this box has hidden in plain sight. For instance, the Preamp Out on the XLR is post Transformer where the Unbalanced 1/4-inch Phone Jack is actually pre-transformer, offering the cleanest output for direct to tape recording. This methodology of XLR=Balanced/Transformer, 1/4-inch=Unbalanced/Transformerless is carried over to the EQ section as well. And it's even there for the "Insert Inputs," though the 1/4-inch Insert Input can be used balanced or unbalanced. Those looking to use the VOXBOX more as a standard channel strip, should note that the EQ OUT (XLR) transformer balanced version the 1/4-inch output - and it is also the final or MAIN output. It's also quite important to note that a 1/4 inch phone plug in the jack below will kill the XLR output. So, attempting to connect all connection possibilities up to a patchbay might present some problems. Regardless, you're just going to have to spend some time experimenting with it, splitting hairs to see which combinations of connections you prefer to regularly work with and go from there.
So, the options for really digging in and adding/removing a layer or two of transformer saturation is totally there, but the options are probably too far on the advanced side to make the VOXBOX the best choice for a relative beginner to start out with. For those purposes, I would recommend going down the path of the Manley CORE, which is designed more with this user in mind (plus you can save some not so insignificant "cheese" with the CORE as its design is far less complicated and esoteric to build). But if you must have the ultimate and a bit of a learning curve doesn't phase you, then by all means, the VOXBOX is truly the ultimate Manley TONE MACHINE for great vocals.
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At the studio where I worked we called this the 'all-pro knob'. It almost doesn't matter what you send through it - it comes out sounding better. The Voxbox offers a great set of features - unbeatable for tracking superstar vocals. But also adds warmth and size to just about anything else. Not cheap, but worth it!