The Ultimate iPod Accessory

Way back in 1999, Stereophile reviewed the Manley Laboratories Stingray 2-channel tube-based integrated amp, whose shape inspired the late, great J. Gordon Holt, the magazine's founder, to suggest its name. Now, 10 years later, Manley Labs has replaced the original Stingray with the Stingray iTube, which improves various elements and adds an iPod dock.

The dock joins three other unbalanced inputs, and a new IR/RF remote provides transport controls for the iPod. An S-video output sends the iPod's video signal to a display, and a headphone jack re-routes the output from the speaker binding posts and mutes the subwoofer output when headphones are connected. A tape loop is also provided, and the level of each input can be individually trimmed to optimize the gain staging for different source components.

Like the original Stingray, the iTube can be switched to provide 20 watts per channel in triode mode or 40Wpc in ultra-linear mode. The technical difference between these modes is too complicated to get into here; suffice to say that each provides its own distinctive sound, so those who prefer one over the other can have it their way. And if you think that 20 or 40 watts isn't much power, think again—this is actually quite respectable for a tube amp, and it should play plenty loud when paired with speakers of high sensitivity.

As you can see, the Stingray iTube isn't your average iPod accessory, which is clearly reflected in its price of $3400. If you don't have an iPod, you can opt for the Stingray II, which replaces the dock with an 1/8-inch stereo input, for $3000. Either way, tube fans are more than likely to get their money's worth from this beauty.