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Audition: Aurora GTQ2, Manley Core and Manley TNT Dual-Channel Preamps
Old 26th September 2016
Here for the gear
Daniel Sili's Avatar

Audition: Aurora GTQ2, Manley Core and Manley TNT

Hello friends at GS,

This is my first thread and after a session at my studio today I found it helpful as some of these gear don't have many auditions over here except for the Aurora with other Neve types.

So first of all I have to say, as you guys don't know me, that I've worked on some big studios here in Brazil and have some experience with High end gear, specially Vintage Neves that I love them so much ever since i've heard them the first time (original 1064's and 1272's) on a record I assisted years ago.

So, I'm a studio Owner and just got some new gear over the last 4 months as I was upgrading the control room over here. The first thing I wanted to make after it was done was an audition of course, so I arranged to make these with the following instruments and signal chain:

Aurora GTQ2
Manley Core
Acoustic Guitar - U87ai - Manley TNT - Lynx Aurora 16
Fender PBass - Pre's DI Lynx Aurora 16

* I wasn't very scientific about the gain match precision because it wasn't a comparison per se but I was going for what each of the pre's could bring me, so I saturated the inputs and etc seeking to find that sweet spot and the gains of each channel were kind of Protools VU leveled according to each instrument needs (tone).

* I can post some audio files later

Here are my impressions:

Aurora GTQ2

This was a love at first note. I'd already used this pre on some sessions so it was actually my reference for the others. It just has that creamy midrange that we love so much and round low end, very nice overall colour, great high frequency details. A great sounding pre.
The acoustic guitar just sounded ready to go, and if you hit the Eq it just comes that great shine of harmonics from the 12k knob or some extra girth of the 80hz one. That unit is just something that i wish to have more 10 of them (one day). A winner.
The Bass sounded great too, everything there, lots of bottom, detailed mid-lows, very round.

Manley Core

I was very curious about this one as i had already worked with a Manley Voxbox and I know it's a great strip.
The first thing i've noticed is the openness of the high frequencies. It doesn't have that strong Neve-like natural compression from the transformers, maybe because it only have one input transformer, but this is not a bad thing as it shines on details, not harsh, not hyped. It opened the sound of the acoustic guitar, lost some of the mid-punch as i said. I tweaked the Eq a little and it was really musical too, in this case i would leave it bypassed because the preamp made the source very clear already. The compression was not very friendly quickly, I still had to tweak it and find the sweet spot probably leaving it with a very light threshold, just for some extra "punch". Haven't touched the limiter here. Lot's of gain on this pre, with the "high gain" pushed it gave me tons of headroom.

Now, when i plugged the bass in the DI, boom. That cave monster came up! It was very exciting as in the whole process I was kind of thinking "well let's see if one of this guys can be in the first choice place over the Neve on anything". And yes, the Manley Core just gave the Bass that extra heavy Bottom and clearness that I was after. I had a country-train track session open with nice Drums, guitars, MIDIBass, mandolin all of that, and when I substituted the MIDI with the real one coming from the Core, wow… I didn't expect that much difference as the MIDI stuff today are pretty good soundwise…

Again the compression wasn't as easy as a LA2a, but you can probably get a sweet spot after spending more time learning how it works. I liked the Core a lot here, i'm a preamp enthusiast, so I admire when i plug in something that is mic'd correctly and sounds good and the Pre just makes it sound even better without any effort, great. It's great to have high end gear, thank god for these days..

Manley TNT

I haven't heard much about it on the forums, but the guys at Manley were saying that it has the SLAM Tube pre's + transformers and a solid state channel with lot's of options, including output transformer saturation control and that sounded great to me.

Same place, just changed one pre for another… I was like "let's see the different textures that Manley can give me" as the CORE was said to be the baby VOXBOX and the TNT the SLAM with some more features.

Said and done. Totally different sound from the CORE to the Tube pre from the TNT. It lost that openness but stead it had that mid-range power from the transformers and LOTS of detail. That guy has a Lundahl input transformer, 2 Tubes and a Manley custom output transformer. It sounded like it mixed the best of the two analog worlds, the Tube warmth + the transformer punch and detail.
Me and the guitar player were kind of impressed on how good that Martin was sounding, and he haven't even change the strings before the session for that extra bright tone, but it was very ok (we would never put a guitar with rusty strings and no tuning to do such an audition).
I left the impedance in the 2.4k
Lot's of gain too. Stepped gain knob + trim is always good

The Cool channel.

Well, it was smoother as Manley said it would. I just loved that 60s-70s-Clear switch that is a harmonic saturator for tonal shaping(inserts the class A circuit). Plus it even has a knob named IRON that you can choose the exactly amount of that IRON compression/punch that you want (it boosts and attenuates the output transformer)… Man you almost don't need a compressor when you hit the 5 o'clock. Very cool, this just gives me a lot of possibilities for those sources that need that punch. I got VERY curious to test it on Vocals, to be honest on all of the pres.

As a matter of time I had to stop and haven't plugged the Bass on the TNT. I will do it very soon and add here.

The final verdict:

* Aurora GTQ2 - Is a very round and equilibrated sounding unit. The EQ is marvelous. I'm sure that anything I plug in it will sound great and is a go to when don't have time for experimenting on a session.

* Manley Core - Sounds like it shines on those sources that need some extra clarity or extra bottom. The EQ is Great and sweet (reminds me os pultecs). The compression is good, but you have to know how to work with it, the limiter I didn't had time to experiment a lot, but having a output knob is always good for some input saturation. I have to try more sources here because this unit can surprise..

* Manley TNT - Man that unit just smells like IRON. It has a girth that I was expecting from Manley products and a great Tube unit.
Highest quality clear tones with warm and strength regulation on both preamps.

I was thinking initially on buying another Aurora GTQ2 instead of the TNT(because I love Neves on everything), but after this audition with all of them I just realized how good is to have many tone options and how interesting and exciting this is. At this time it sounds better than having a lot of the same. I have a Focusrite ISA 828 here too for some clear/neutral extra channels, so channel numbers is not an issue. So it's better to have a lot of colours and options, as it's great to have a lot of microphones in the locker to fill the needs of each particular instrument.
I'll keep the TNT and will leave the second Aurora unit for the future.

Feel free to ask anything.

Thanks a lot,

Daniel Sili
Old 2nd October 2016
Gear Maniac
m03's Avatar
Thanks for this. It's been tough to find reviews of the TNT...would love to hear more of your thoughts after using it.
Old 2nd October 2016
Lives for gear
Curve Dominant's Avatar
Originally Posted by Daniel Sili View Post
* Manley Core - Sounds like it shines on those sources that need some extra clarity or extra bottom. The EQ is Great and sweet (reminds me os pultecs). The compression is good, but you have to know how to work with it, the limiter I didn't had time to experiment a lot, but having a output knob is always good for some input saturation. I have to try more sources here because this unit can surprise..
It's not your imagination. I acquired a Manley CORE almost a year ago, and wow, what a value for THAT sound. EveAnna sprinkled her fairy godmother audio magic pixie dust all over the insides of that unit.

About the CORE's compressor section: Its ELOP compressor circuit is integrated within the preamp section, to the effect that the compressor initiates before the preamp. (EveAnna described it to me as a recursive circuit, FWIW.) In English, that means: Try dialing back the ELOP attack setting towards slow, and dialing the release setting towards fast, then dial up the amount of compression, and see if that works for you. Because I've been able to get the GR needle to move on the CORE and it sounds really nice, but I'm a bit of a compression slut, so proceed with nuance.
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