Frankly Speaking

EveAnna Dauray Manley of Manley Labs, Part One

Issue 129

EveAnna Dauray Manley is the president of Manley Laboratories, Inc., makers of high-end consumer and professional vacuum tube audio equipment. The company’s audiophile products include the Steelhead RC and Chinook phono stages, Jumbo Shrimp preamplifier, Neoclassic 300B RC preamp (yes, a preamp with 300B tubes) and vacuum tube amplifiers from 18 to 500 watts. Manley’s pro audio line offers microphone preamps, equalizers, microphones, mastering electronics and monitoring gear.

EveAnna started working for Vacuum Tube Logic of America (VTL) in 1989, beginning on the production line and moving into quality control, then management. In 1993, Luke Manley formed VTL Amplifiers, Inc. while EveAnna and founder David Manley continued with Manley Laboratories, Inc. as a separate company. It wasn’t a smooth transition. In 1996, David left, leaving EveAnna in charge, a role she continues to this day.

Frank Doris: I always start out by asking: what is your first memory of hearing music? How did it grab you?

EveAnna Dauray Manley: The very, very first memory I think would be the song “The Sound of Silence” [by Simon and Garfunkel].

FD: How ironic.

EM: How ironic! My parents had a Fisher 500C receiver and a Garrard turntable and Acoustic Research 2ax speakers, and it was a good little hi-fi system. I was all over that when I was a very young kid. I was so into rock music on the radio, from the earliest time. I didn’t want to listen to children’s records, and my parents, man, they had this whole-house intercom system in the early ‘70s and my mother would pipe through elevator music; “beautiful music” is what they called it. I thought I was going to go brain dead. I really just wanted to listen to Led Zeppelin or Paul McCartney or anything except for the 101 Strings.

I was born in 1968. I listened to hard rock, yacht rock, disco later in the ’70s, all that stuff. I still really love all that music.

EM: In about 1980 I rediscovered a lot of stuff. My stepfather, Albert J. Dauray, Jr., had owned Ampeg [the musical instrument amplifier company – Ed.] back in the 1960s. He had put a whole bunch of stuff into storage in about 1972, and about eight or 10 years later, it was sent to us in Atlanta. It was like a time capsule from a decade prior – and included my step-siblings’ record collection, which ranged from 1965 to 1970, maybe ’71. I just delved into that. So during the ’80s, I wasn’t listening to synth pop or any kind of music from the ’80s. I was totally listening to all the ’60s stuff that I had missed out on.

I’ll tell you, I am the laziest audiophile these days…I always have music playing in the house when I’m working, and I have a whole bunch of Sonos systems all over the place. But seriously, there are days that go by where I don’t turn on tube amps. I’m just listening to the kitchen radio.

EveAnna Manley with a Manley Labs Absolute Headphone Amplifier.

EveAnna Manley with a Manley Labs Absolute Headphone Amplifier.

One radio station I really love that I can stream is called Psychedelicized and it plays real odd late ’60s psychedelic kind of stuff, but not what you’ve heard a thousand times that you’re sick of. Another favorite DJ is Larry Grogan who broadcasts a couple of different shows, but the one I like is called “Testify!” on Thursdays on WFMU out of New York. He gets into all kinds of weirdo 45s. There’s another show he does called Funky 16 Corners. Another favorite is “Honky Tonk Radio Girl With Becky,” also on WFMU.

FD: How’d you get started with Vacuum Tube Logic, going from just being around the stuff to actually working there?

EM: I grew up being a total band geek in high school in Atlanta. I bought my first mid-fi audiophile system then. I worked really hard and saved up my money and did all the research. I knew about Audio magazine, Stereo Review and the catalogs you could order from and stuff. I was one of those bad customers – I’d go into the local stores and check out the gear and then order online because it was cheaper. Then I went to college at Columbia and I was studying music, mostly music theory, and one day met Bill Graham, the concert promoter.

His son was in my class and Graham came to teach class that day and explain to us how the music industry worked. Wow, I was sitting in the front row. I knew exactly who he was, because he’s the voice on the beginning of that Big Brother and the Holding Company record [Cheap Thrills]. So after that class, I was just so inspired. I decided I would take the next semester off and drive to California and go find him and try to talk my way into some kind of job.

And I needed to take a break out of school for a couple of reasons. One was, I totally needed to go earn some money to finish my degree, because my stepfather was trying to pay for my sister and me in college at the same time and was not able to. Also, I had this big kind of wanderlust; I’d been in school my entire life and I just wanted out and wanted to figure out what my career would be.

"On the road again..."

“On the road again…”

So in early January 1989, I drove across the country in my red Beetle and stopped at Graceland on Elvis’ birthday, then went on to Southern California, where my old band director [from Atlanta] had moved back to. I did work for him for a couple of weeks. Then my dad had given me names of some of the ex-Ampeg employees who had worked for him about 20 years prior. The first guy didn’t pick up the phone, but the second guy did – Roger Cox at Fender. [At Ampeg, he was responsible for the design of the SVT, still considered by many to be the greatest bass amplifier ever created. He also designed other models for Ampeg and the original Fender Passport portable PA system, and had a hand in many other products. – Ed.] He’s the one who put me in touch with David and Luke Manley. He said, “I know these two crazy South Africans out in Chino and they’re building tube amplifiers. So you should call them.”

What was that about? Tube amplifiers? And then I look for Chino on the map, and I’m halfheartedly thinking, “Oh hell, all right.” But I went out there, and got hired onto the production line. I had to learn how to make a proper cup of tea for David, British tea. My co-workers taught me how to solder and how to screw stuff together and wire things up and build tube amps.

But pretty quickly I found that I had a good propensity for organization. I directed a lot of my focus to organizing things and then training other people. Then, just building primitive business systems at VTL, even though I didn’t really know what I was doing, I just used some knowledge from a previous high school job. I certainly didn’t study anything, just made it up as I went along. And I was working with paper, even before Windows 3.1 came out.

VTL 100/100 integrated amplifier, produced from 1996 – 2003.

VTL 100/100 integrated amplifier, produced from 1996 – 2003.

At some point I decided I was going [to go] back to college. In the meantime, I hung out with David Manley a lot. By about July 1989, we realized that we really dug each other and fell in love. Who knew? He was really pressing me to quit Columbia and pick up studies at CalTech or something to be close by. And I’m like, “Oh hell no, man. My family and everybody I know have supported me and I’m not giving up a fricking Ivy League degree. I’ve got just three semesters left, I’m going to serve it out at Columbia.”

FD: During that time, you had come to visit The Absolute Sound in Sea Cliff, New York, which is when we met.

EM: I had driven my red Bug back to Atlanta to see my high school buddies. Then I drove to Sea Cliff in one long day. I got in really late and David had already flown there and met with you and Harry Pearson the day before. So I didn’t meet Harry but remember meeting you in the offices.

FD: Harry had a habit of hiding from people.

The first time I met David Manley was on that trip. I helped him assemble a pair of VTL mono amplifiers, the 300-watt ones I think, the two of us on Harry’s floor with screwdrivers and nuts and bolts, contorting ourselves to put the things together. I remember thinking the amplifiers were unrefined and industrial-looking – screwing together acorn nuts and bolts and steel frames – and then firing them up and being blown away by the sound. Smooth but with great detail and authority. David was not shy about telling me what he thought of solid-state amplifiers – they were something you’d need a pooper scooper for. He was wearing a ratty old white sweater and took a lot of cigarette breaks.

After listening to the amps for a few days, Harry told me to call David and tell him, “these amps are great. If only they had more power!” More power?!

EM: And then David made the VTL 500 amps, the double decker 500s [two chassis atop each other].

Manley 500 monoblock amplifier, built at VTL from 1998 – 1993.

Manley 500 monoblock amplifier, built at VTL from 1998 – 1993.

FD: What happened to cause Vacuum Tube Logic to split into VTL and Manley Labs, with Luke Manley taking over at VTL and you staying at Manley Labs and getting into pro audio as well as high-end equipment?

EM: I finished my degree within a year of visiting Sea Cliff, and then David and I got married the following year. Then I was back out in Chino full-time. David, Luke and I were building the hi-fi gear and we had just started to build Manley pro audio equipment. Around 1990 David started his record label, Vital Records, doing live-to-2-track recordings and designing and building all this recording equipment. And his thinking was, nobody else is making everything [in the recording chain] from the microphone to the loudspeaker. So he decided to do it, and that was a pretty special accomplishment. He did it as a marketing device as well as for his love of recording.

He built a studio behind our house and every weekend we’d have 30 or 50 people out there and it was just crazy. I mean, the amount of activity was just crazy, and what we didn’t know at the time was that he was bipolar. He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder many years later.

So at the time he was in this manic mode, where he’d get phenomenal amounts of stuff done. But he was also alcoholic. He had not been drinking during a lot of the 1980s; then in the 1990s, he started drinking again. So the combination of the alcoholism with the bipolar disorder was…sometimes he could get a lot of stuff done, but it was chaotic. The stuff we were working on wasn’t documented right, and products weren’t developed all the way through.

I’d get products on my bench and would be testing them and finding something wrong, and he’s saying, “just ship it.” And I’m answering, “No, but this thing is really noisy and humming a lot.” He’d get angry and say, “just ship it. Nobody cares!” I knew that the customer would end up calling me.

So that’s where I developed my technical chops, basically as a design assistant. The problem was these designs were already in production because he would just do everything too quickly, order 50 circuit boards, and now we’re building that thing and there’s major problems.

Also, Luke wanted to work with dealers and David wanted to sell direct. That caused a conflict. Then David decided to open a factory in Spain, around 1992, but no money’s coming back from it. Originally there was Vacuum Tube Logic of England, and he asset-stripped that company to form Vacuum Tube Logic of America. So Luke thought, oh, I see what’s going on here, realizing it was happening again. So there was just all this chaos, all this stress. David was not a pleasant person when he was drunk; he’d get very angry, stay up all night and it was just complete chaos.

It led to David and Luke splitting into two separate companies in 1993. A guy from a San Francisco dealer and Luke teamed up to buy David out of Vacuum Tube Logic of America and they formed a new company, VTL Amplifiers, Inc., building amplifiers and preamps. David purchased a building down the street just a mile or so away from the VTL premises. We split up the inventory and the staff and David established Manley Labs in that new building. Things had gotten so traumatic and horrible for me at the time that I was actually in Florida at my mother’s house when that move was happening.

But again, with his manic behavior David could get a lot of stuff done. So all of a sudden, bam, here’s this new factory. Then I walked in and asked, “Okay guys, what orders are y’all working on?” And they’re like, “I don’t know; we sold a pair of speakers last week.” I asked, “Wait, right, who’s going to pay your checks on Friday?”

Manley Stingray integrated amplifier, made from 1997 – 2009 and replaced by the Stingray iTube and Stingray II.

Manley Stingray integrated amplifier, made from 1997 – 2009 and replaced by the Stingray iTube and Stingray II.

So that’s when I put the sales hat on. I took out every business card from every person I’d ever met at any trade show and just started sending faxes out. “Hi, we’re here. We’ve got equalizers, we’ve got power apps, we’ve got microphones. Can you buy any of these things from me?” That’s how Manley Labs got started.

FD: And Manley Labs and VTL have both continued on.

EM: Well, David was only at Manley Labs for three years and was in this funky depressed mode during this time. Then in 1996, blammo, he just moved to France. So he took himself out of the equation. It was really hard, man. The things that would come out of his mouth were just hurtful and hateful, especially to those closest to him. He moved away and didn’t want to live in America anymore, didn’t want to deal with the factory, didn’t want to deal with me or Luke or anybody. Then we divorced and I negotiated to buy him out. It took three years.

Emotionally, it was very difficult…and I realized, you know what? I don’t have to suffer through this abusive behavior. I don’t have to take this from anybody anymore. I used all that emotion and all that anger to extract my revenge through kicking ass and just being awesome. So that’s when I designed the Stingray integrated amplifier and also the VOXBOX [voice processor/channel strip].

My motivation was, “I’ll show you. Revenge through success. I’m going to make these new products that are way better than anything you’ve ever done before.”

To be continued, next issue.

 

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