Schiit's Mani 2 MM/MC Phono Preamp Goes to the Head of the Budget Phono Preamp Class

If the audio industry handed out awards, the winner for “The most improved analog product of the decade” would be Schiit’s Mani 2 MM/MC phono preamplifier. Okay, that’s “click bait” so how about “Schiit’s Mani 2 might be the winner”? Yes, let’s stick with that.

Despite some online accolades from people who think their Schiits don’t stink, the original Mani was only an “okay” budget phono preamplifier. The most attractive thing about it was the low price. Second most would be the overall construction quality. The problem with the original Mani was its opaque, lackluster sound.

Despite the online excitement for the then $129 Mani, in the AnalogPlanet “blind test” comparison with the $89 U-Turn MM, listeners preferred to U-Turn 2:1. They heard what I heard when I compared the two not “blind”. True, the U-Turn was MM only but I concluded that people buying an inexpensive phono preamp would almost certainly be using it in MM mode so why in that case pay extra for the MC stage to get not such great MM sound?

Clean rear layout. (Photo: Schiit)
All that’s changed with the introduction of the Mani 2 and there are no mysteries involved in why the 2 sounds so much better, though the price has only gone up $20.00. Instead of the signal going through multiple coupling capacitors as on the original Mani, the Mani 2 is D.C. servo-coupled, basing the circuit on a D.C. servo incorporating Texas Instruments OPA 1612 op-amp. Coupling capacitors “sound”, which is not to say D.C. servo-coupled outputs are inherently transparent, but when properly designed they pretty much are. The noise floor is way down compared to the original Mani (Schiit claimed nearly -100dB), which produces far blacker backgrounds and wider dynamic range. Schiit has also simplified the overall circuit, eliminating a couple of gain stages. Passive RIAA uses 2% film caps and 0.1% thin-film resistors.

The Mani 2 offers 4 gain settings (30, 42, 48 and 60dBs of gain) enough for all but the very lowest output cartridges. With all loading switches “out” (the factory default setting) capacitive loading is 47pF and resistive loading is 47k Ohms, ideal for most MM cartridges since the cable will add around 50pF and 100pF total suits most MM cartridges. For MC cartridges you can select switches for either 200 ohms or 47 ohms, or 38 ohms by switching on both 200 and 47 ohm switches. For MM cartridges capacitive loading, a pair of switches allows you to add to the built in 47 pF an additional 47 pF or an additional 100 pF.

Honestly, this is the most confusing part of this set up and especially for “newbies” it should be better explained! In other words, if you flip the 47pF you add 47pF to the built in 47pF and you get “around” 100pF. Flip just the 100pF switch and you get a total of around 150pF. Or flip both and you get around 200pF. Don’t forget to add the cable’s capacitance to the total before setting this one. Since most phono cables are low capacitance and add around 50pF (hopefully not much more) that plus the built in 47pF give you around 100, which is ideal for most MM cartridges. That’s why the instructions say if you’re using a MM cartridge DON’T TOUCH ANYTHING.

The Mani 2 also sports a pair of passive high pass rumble filters, one at 6dB/octave and one at 12, passively implemented to avoid going through additional active stages and they are 100% defeatable, meaning when they are off they are not in any way in the circuit. The outboard dual filtered power supply (a larger than expected “wal-wart”) features ±16 volt rails. In other words, you get a great deal of flexibility for your $149. You also get a two year limited parts and labor warranty and a 15 day money back guarantee minus a 15% re-stock fee. Based on what I heard, you’re not likely to be returning the Schiit Mani 2.

Super Sonics

First up was the Sumiko Wellfleet a $449 MM cartridge featuring a nude elliptical stylus that gives the cartridge speed and resolution not shared with the other Oyster cartridges that do not have this feature (kind of like going from an Ortofon 2M Red to a 2M Blue). The cartridge got “the ride of its life” mounted in the Kevlar-tubed J. Sikora unipivot arm spinning records on the $45,000 J. Sikora REFERENCE turntable. The first record I played was Music to Listen to Red Norvo By (Stereo Records “In association with Contemporary Records” S7009) a fun listen featuring Norvo (vibes) Buddy Collette (flute), Bill Smith (clarinet), Barney Kessel (guitar), Red Mitchell (bass) and Shelly Manne (drums). It was recorded in early 1957 and the record is dated 1957, making it among the earliest stereo releases.

The Roy DuNann recording was demo quality then and is demo quality now. The bottom end weight and control delivered by the cartridge and the Mani 2 surprised me as did the overall warmth with detail you’d hope for in a great MM set up. Instrumental timbres were believable, imaging and the rest you’d hope for from any front end set up were there. True the ‘table and arm combo costs in excess of 50K but you know about the weakest link in the chain, and here if the budget cartridge and Mani 2 were the weak links they proved really strong!

So why not try a $10,000+ Ortofon Anna D (now discontinued partly because of Anna Netrebko’s Putin connection and partly because there will be a new top of the line Ortofon MC coming soon) on the circa “$50,000 SAT CF1-09 arm? The Anna D outputs a meager .2mV so instead of describing how stupidly good this sounded why not listen for yourself? The track is from a limited edition all-analog recording of the Lester’s Blues jazz septet produced by Tom Callens and recorded live with the band centered around two microphones mixed straight to analog ¼” tape. Rainer Maillard mastered at EBS. The limited edition record and another equally great one are available for pre-order on Bandcamp.

Listen for yourself! ”Easy Living”

Conclusion

The file speaks for itself both about the fine recording and about how good the $149 Schiit Mani 2 sounds. It’s quite remarkable performance re-sets the bar for under (and over) $200 MM/MC phono preamps. For more information and/or to order one visit The Schiit website.

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COMMENTS
ivansbacon's picture

That Schiit is so good you had to post it twice.

Michael Fremer's picture
I could give two Schiits!
ivansbacon's picture

You did. Thanks.

ivansbacon's picture

That is to say Tou(s)che'.
I was caught up i my own sense of cleverness and did not proofread my schiit.

Monster64's picture

Thanks for the review Michael, and you probably new this question was coming. Have you compared the Mani 2 to the ifi Audio Zen phono preamp? I've got them both and one is going back, but which one? They sound quite different. The Zen is quieter, less "analog hiss" (is that a thing?). And they do sound pretty different. The Mani 2 is definitely heavier in the bottom end, the Zen is more detailed in the upper end and punchier. I know it's a matter of personal preference, but if you have a chance, I'm interested in you personal opinion. Thank you.

Michael Fremer's picture
I didn't want to start into the comparison thing but the Zen has greater liquidity and the Mani 2 definitely has more bottom end weight but I suspect it's also cartridge dependent. You are lucky to have both to compare. Pick whichever you prefer!
Ortofan's picture

... over the new $99 ifi Zen Air phono preamp?

https://ifi-audio.com/products/zen-air-phono/

Michael Fremer's picture
I've not heard from iFi about this. I'll ask
Anton D's picture

I love Hi Fi for the common man.

I'm looking forward to hearing their new Tyr mono amplifier!

Vinyl On Tubes's picture

Gain setting are 35, 45, 50 & 60dB. I think the listed ones are the older Mani MkI settings.

Michael Fremer's picture
The instruction manual. Where did yours come from?
565hunter's picture

You both appear to be correct based on where you got your information. In the PDF manual it states 33,42,48 and 60. In the product description and specifications tabs it lists 35,45,50 and 60. Hopefully Schiit will step in and clarify...

contium's picture

There are all kids of inconstancies on the gains. The manual vs the specs on the website vs the online pdf all all over the place. I asked Schiit about this they said the online pdf manual is correct.

Robert Moon's picture

Many thanks for Lester’s Blues band! A much-needed palate cleanser after hearing that Ortofon Anna D was discontinued because of Anna Netrebko’s Putin connection. Really? Who gives a Schiit! How many Anna D customers would ever buy this Schiit? It's not like they discontinued Putin's oil and gas.

Arvo Palm-Leis's picture

The original Mani was on the Stereophile's recommended list, Class C, so I bought. Originally paired it with the Ortophon MM2 Red, and now with a Clearaudio Performer v2. I've ended up, like you, dissatisfied with "its opaque, lackluster sound."

So I'm excited to read this quick review so soon after Mani II's intro.

Do you think it will make the recommended list? Maybe even Class B?

kleinbje's picture

Input is 200pF, am I schiit out of luck when using MM carts, especially given the cables capacitance? I have a Chord Music and Analysis Plus Silver, neither lists its specs. I have been using a Clearaudio Charisma V2.

Arvo Palm-Leis's picture

From the website: Choose...47pF, 100pF, 150pF, or 200pF...

Barretter's picture

The Red Norvo was recorded in stereo in 1957 and was issued in 1957 but only in mono. The stereo version was issued in 1958. The copyright date, which recordings use, is not the same as the issue date. The only stereo disc in the entire world issued in 1957 was an Audio Fidelity demonstration disc which came out in December 1957.

cundare's picture

So should I be trading down my QHW "The Vinyl" phono stage??

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