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Review and Measurements of Schiit Mani Phono Stage

amirm

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#1
This is a review and detailed measurements of the Schiit Mani Phono stage/pre-amplifier. I was prompted to purchase it a while back due to its popularity. The Mani costs US $129 plus shipping.

Naturally, the Schiit Mani adopts the look and feel of other Schiit desktop products:

Schiit Mani Phono Preamplifier Audio Review.jpg

I was expecting gain and MM/MC switch but there is none. Instead, dip switches under the unit perform these functions.

A 16 volt, 500 milliamp AC external transformer powers the unit.

The back panel as you would expect:

Schiit Mani Phono Preamplifier Back Panel Audio Review.jpg

There is a stout grounding terminals which I did have to use. Lowest noise/hum was achieved with my Audio Precision analyzer with its unbalanced inputs and outputs fully floating.

Back to the dip switches, there are two stages, each with a High Low setting. So overall, you have a choice of four gain settings. By experimentation, I used High on Gain 1 state and low on Gain 2 for Moving Magnet cartridge representation. And High+High on both stages for Moving Coil. Without any kind of standardization in the industry regarding gain, direct comparison of products becomes difficult as they differ from each other by a few dB.

Phono Stage Audio Measurements
Let's start with MM representation using gain setting of H/L and 5 millivolt input level we have standardized on:

Schiit Mani Phono Preamplifier Audio Measurements.png


Invariably, when testing output levels below 1 volt, the measurements of THD+N only represent the "N" designation (noise). Distortion products are lost in the noise in the FFT spectrum above. Even mains peaks at 60 Hz and multiples doesn't rise the same level as the general noise from the device. We can verify by digitally teasing out the THD and N components separately:

Schiit Mani Phono Preamplifier THD and Noise Ratios Audio Measurements.png


We see that the harmonic distortion at -92 dB is well below the noise level at -74 dB which naturally sets the SINAD.

When I started phono testing, I would opt for higher input levels (typically 8 millivolts) to garner and output greater than 1 volt. If we mess with the gain settings, we get that on Mani and the resulting SINAD goes up to 81 dB. So for better apple vs apple comparison, I used that value to compare to other phono stages tested:

Best Phono Preamplifiers Reviewed 2019.png


Performance falls in competent category now with no danger of unseating our best in class, Cambridge Audio Phono Duo.

One of the key measurements in phono stages is implementation of RIAA equalization as reflected in frequency response measurements:
Schiit Mani Phono Preamplifier MM Frequency Response Audio Measurements.png


I like a very flat response from 100 Hz to 20 kHz and beyond. The rise in low frequencies is a bit unfortunate though as it will magnify rumble and other low frequency aberrations. Would have been nice to have this slope down, not up. Still, a good job compared to boutique products that have ups and downs in mid audio band.

Spectrum of noise with no signal shows what we already know:

Schiit Mani Phono Preamplifier Noise Audio Measurements.png


The higher noise floor on Mani causes it to fall behind competitors in THD+N versus frequency:
Schiit Mani Phono Preamplifier MC THD+N vs Frequency Audio Measurements.png


Schiit Mani Phono Preamplifier MM THD+N vs Frequency Audio Measurements.png


Testing the headroom level using output levels gives us this:

Schiit Mani Phono Preamplifier THD vs Output Level Audio Measurements.png

Schiit Mani Phono Preamplifier THD vs Output Level MM Audio Measurements.png


The unit can't go above 3.2 volts or so and hence it clips. We can do the same comparison against Cambridge Duo:

Schiit Mani Phono Preamplifier THD vs Output Level Audio Measurements.png


So there is a large gap in performance.

Phono Stage Overload Margin Measurements
Pops and clicks are inevitable in LP playback. Given their impulsive and high power nature (relative to music) a measurement called overload margin can tell us what happens to distortion profile of the phono stage should such a thing occur. The goal is that the phono stage will amplify it as well as it does any signal and won't go into hard clipping that causes distortion to add up to the energy of the pop/click, making it sound worse than it already is.

Running the same test as above but this time, plotting the input level to the unit allows us to compute the overload margin:

Schiit Mani Phono Preamplifier THD vs  Input Level and Overload Margin Audio Measurements.png


Overload margin is always in dB which means it needs a reference voltage. For that, I have used 5 millivolts for MM and 0.8 millivolts for MC as I have standardized in the rest of the measurements. Using those values, we get overload margins of 14 down to 12 dB for MM and MC respectively. Marketing department can use lower reference voltages and get any number they like. :)

The above test is at 1 kHz but clicks and pops occur at higher frequencies so I tested for that effect:

Schiit Mani Phono Preamplifier THD vs  Input Level and Frequency Margin Audio Measurements.png


Up to 10 kHz, the knee in the curve remains around the same input voltage of 25 millivolts or so. Once we go to 15 and 20 kHz, distortion rises above noise floor much earlier making it hard to see any clear step function in distortion. Eyeballing values anyway, I am not seeing more than 1 dB or so in overload margin loss.

This is rather low overload margin so there is value in getting other products with better measurements in this regard. But be sure to seek out proper parameters per above instead of trusting what the manufacturer has published.

I am also working on a test to see whether the phono stage stays in clipped/overflow mode even after the click/pop has gone away. The preliminary results (not shown) indicates that the Schiit Mini happily recovers from the overload without any hangover. Once I have more confidence in the testing, I will start publishing those results.

Conclusions
The Schiit Mani seems to be competently designed. I find no clear flaws in it. For sure, it sets a lower target then the Cambridge Duo and gets there. If you can save up US $299, my strong recommendation is for the Duo but otherwise the Mani does the job for a budget phono stage.

I am going to put the Schiit Mani on my recommended list.

-----------
As always, questions, comments, recommendations, etc. are welcome.

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Icboschert

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#2
Cambridge Solo also a cheaper option minus the headphone out. $180-$199. My trusty Art DJ PRE seems to hold up well for the money.
 
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#5
I tried 2 of these units in my setup and got the same result each time. FM radio interference that was audible through the speakers with the volume all the way down on the stereo preamp. Clear enough I could hear the radio station while sitting 6ft away.

Taking the Mani out would stop the interference. Tried numerous grounding points, wall outlets on different circuits, unplugging the RCAs from the turntable so only the Mani was plugged into the stereo preamp. Unfortunate I never got to fully use the unit because of this.
 

SIY

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#6
First, kudos on adopting the 5 mV input standard.

Second, to put the noise in perspective, even without a typical cartridge loaded into the groove, the Johnson-noise limit is likely worse than the noise shown here- though you still aren't driving the stage with an appropriate source impedance, so it's possible that there's some issues there.

This is still ridiculously better than the Lounge LCR abomination in just about every respect.
 

restorer-john

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#9
I tried 2 of these units in my setup and got the same result each time. FM radio interference that was audible through the speakers with the volume all the way down on the stereo preamp. Clear enough I could hear the radio station while sitting 6ft away.
Didn't they tell you the unit has a free, bonus FM tuner (one station only) built in? In the old days, phono preamps only came with bonus AM tuners that also only worked with powerful local stations. ;)
 

cjfrbw

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#12
I remember reading an article that if homes were too close to the broadcast towers, you could hear stations through chain link fences. Also in the olden days when there was a lot of amalgam filling in people's mouths, they sometimes complained of hearing radio presumably projected through their fillings and conducted to their ears through their skulls. This lead at times to psychiatric diagnoses.
 

Tks

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#13
I remember reading an article that if homes were too close to the broadcast towers, you could hear stations through chain link fences. Also in the olden days when there was a lot of amalgam filling in people's mouths, they sometimes complained of hearing radio presumably projected through their fillings and conducted to their ears through their skulls. This lead at times to psychiatric diagnoses.
That sounded so ridiculous, it was funny!
 

maxxevv

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#14
I remember reading an article that if homes were too close to the broadcast towers, you could hear stations through chain link fences. Also in the olden days when there was a lot of amalgam filling in people's mouths, they sometimes complained of hearing radio presumably projected through their fillings and conducted to their ears through their skulls. This lead at times to psychiatric diagnoses.
Probably a co-related higher than average occurrence of cancer in those areas if energy levels of the broadcasts were that high.

If not, those guys seriously need psychotic rehabilitation help.
 

anmpr1

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#15
I bought one of their el-cheapo DACs and headphone amps. I use the headphone amp, but the DAC is in a closet somewhere. Nothing 'wrong' with it, just don't need it. I like the idea of supporting an American company. Even one as goofy as they come off as. I wonder what they are thinking, sometimes. The headphone amp is in a second system--preamp has no headphone facility. The S**** is OK, however the line bypass is active. You have to turn the thing on to pass the signal to the amplifier. Not sure why they couldn't have made the bypass passive. I guess there's a reason. Maybe they are all like that. No big deal.

In the world of cheap phono, I see nothing really wrong with this item. I use a Project box that works fine, and has a MC stage. I think it cost less than this. I think I paid a Ben Franklin for it.
 
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#16
I bought one of these because I liked the combination of price and adjustability. My dad had a turntable when I was a kid but this is the first phono pre I’ve ever owned so it was a bit of a shot in the dark. I’ve been looking forward to this review and I’m glad the thing is decent since I’m stuck with it :)

The hivinyws guy on YouTube loves his Schiit Mani. Whether or not you agree with his methodology or conclusions, it’s hard to fault his enthusiasm.
 
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#18
Here I go again... If you're handy with a soldering iron, you can bypass the two larger Wima box caps that AC couple the output. In my "baby system" the Mani plugs into a Topping Tp60 which is AC coupled at its input (upgraded to Clarity CMR). No need in my case for double blocking. The direct connected DC offset was about 1.6mv so still very low. The DC connected output does not change "timbre" but the midrange resolution is improved and the sense of soundstage space opens up. A 1.6 amp 16v AC power transformer from the local surplus store delivered a smoother sound in the high frequencies, better perceived transients and further opened up the soundstage. Adding two additional caps after the main regulator again (slightly) improved the openness of the soundstage. In total, $130 for the preamp, $10 for high current wall wart, $3 for additional supply bypassing caps, and my particul example really sounds quite good. Compared to my primary, extensively reworked Quicksilver tube phono pre, the little Mani gets about 70% of the way there at about 5% of the cost.
 

restorer-john

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#19
The DC connected output does not change "timbre" but the midrange resolution is improved and the sense of soundstage space opens up. A 1.6 amp 16v AC power transformer from the local surplus store delivered a smoother sound in the high frequencies, better perceived transients and further opened up the soundstage. Adding two additional caps after the main regulator again (slightly) improved the openness of the soundstage. In total, $130 for the preamp, $10 for high current wall wart, $3 for additional supply bypassing caps, and my particul example really sounds quite good. Compared to my primary, extensively reworked Quicksilver tube phono pre, the little Mani gets about 70% of the way there at about 5% of the cost.
Welcome to ASR. :)

Have you made any objective test measurements which can demonstrate and/or support your subjective findings?
 
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#20
My phono stage for years was the ProJect Tube Box SEII, which was great, but I wanted to get away from tubes so sold it for the Vincent Pho-8. After seeing so much positive feedback on the Mani I decided to buy a B-Stock one from Schiit to compare with the Vincent.

I received my Mani yesterday and I've discovered something very troubling about it.

Here is an audio sample, the same record but one ripped with my Mani and one ripped with my Vincent and normalized to -1 db in Audacity:
Mani vs Vincent Pho-8.PNG


Uhh what? Why is the Mani so much louder? It looks dynamically compressed to me. Next, I ran the files through TT DR Meter and got this:
mani DR analysis.PNG
vincent pho-8 DR analysis.PNG


What in the world?! Is the Mani compressing dynamics? I have a old rip of the same song from my ProJect Tube Box SEII and did the same analysis:

Tube Box SEII.PNG

About a half db worse than the Vincent and 2 db better than the Mani! What is going on here? I didn't think phono stages could effect dynamic range but it looks like they can.
 
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