Guide to setting up and maintaining a Mana-based system

Systems that use Mana sound clamps and multiple stages need to be ‘balanced’ to get the best quality. Here are some tips to for set-up and maintaining a Mana-based system.

Linn Majik
Linn Majik, supported by a Mana system

Below are some basics for listening to changes and comparing stacks that have assorted Mana components; then some guidelines and specific problems; and finally some maintenance tips.

This is an independent review. Please contact Mana Acoustics via its founder, John Watson (Instagram page).

The improvement scale

Whenever a new level is added into a Mana-based system there should be an obvious improvement, but there are cases where it may be small, and others where it is so enormous that that you want to listen to your entire music collection because there is so much more to hear.

Below is a scale for sizing improvements from any change to HiFi, whether from Mana tables, new HiFi components, cables, or switching from CD to 24-bit.

No detectable change. This includes changes that are so tiny, that you have to concentrate to hear them and spend time wondering if they are real or imaginary.

Selective, where there are changes to some types of instrument or sound – they make you sit up when they occur – but for the rest of the time it’s largely the same as before.

Significant, where there are obvious improvements in detail across different types of instrument and different types of music. Distortion is reduced.

Transformational, where whole swathes of detail suddenly appear, some supposedly dodgy recordings become fantastic, and you may have to retrain your ear to listen for subtleties you had never heard before.

For example, a Mana Clamp can be transformational.

How to count levels

n the 1990’s we counted Mana levels according to the number of levels, whether from stages, frames or an amp rack. The assumption was the top level was glass and the separators below were boards. However now there are options that come from Mana Clamps, Mana Mark 2 tables and multiple levels of glass.

As a simple guideline:

  • An old Mana Stage (or Frame or Mana amp rack) = 1 level
  • A new Mark 2 Mana Stage (or Frame) = 2 levels
  • A Mana Clamp applied to a HiFi component = 2-4 levels (it varies)
  • Use of a sheet of glass instead of a board = 1 additional level
Naim XPS on glass and board levels

Clamp on power supply (is 3 levels) + 4 Mark 1 tables (is 4 levels) + 3 glass levels (is 3 more levels) + 0 for the boards = 3+4+3+0 = 10 levels. No wonder the Norwegian troll looks so happy.

General guidelines for setting up Mana-based systems

“Source first”. (The “Sauce Before Meat” rule.) For your first Mana tables or clamps give it to the source (streamer, CD or turntable).

“Don’t forget the speakers”. As well as adding tables to the sources and amps, add them to the speakers. Speakers include magnetic coils to drive the cones, and circuit boards to split the signal between the different drivers. The vibrations can be considerable.

2:1 start-point. If adding multiple levels, the power amps and power supplies seem to need a similar number of levels to the source, preamps and speakers about half the number of levels. (This is rough – there are many exceptions.)

Demarcation for the shakers. I’ve found it better to have two amp racks, one for HiFi with external power supplies (or very small power supplies), and the other for items with heavy power supplies. The difference was significant.

Glass before board. When using glass instead of boards, go for the top levels first.

Amp racks vs standalone. When there is an amp rack with multiple items, is it the same as the items standing alone? I’ve done some tests around here, and the results are variable.

Patience. It takes time and concentration to set up a stack of Mana tables and the HiFi on it. If you get tired, you are likely to make mistakes. With HiFi, some mistakes can be very expensive to repair.

  • Amp racks with solid state electronics or ones with small power supplies seem to work well on racks.
  • There are some HiFi components with larger power supplies that can also be added to racks without significantly degrading the other components.
  • But for amp racks with heavy power supplies, they can shake gentler components.

Specific problems

Glassy sound. When the top component has a Mana Clamp, using glass under it may result in a sharp (glassy) sound for the high notes. I heard this when I had a Naim 250 here. I’m also aware of reports of people experiencing it from CDs. The solution appears to be to use a board for either the top level or a second level, then use glass for everything else. (Presumption, the board is needed to absorb low-frequency vibrations, such as a 50-60Hz transformer or rotating disc.)

Booming. Sometimes when I’ve added a layer or two of Mana, I hear booming (bass thudding). It’s especially noticeable when going from the listening room where the music follows down the corridor and around corners. I tended to blame the speakers because they made the sound. However the problem generally turned out to be a need for more levels under the source – the speakers were merely reproducing the junk that was sent to them.

Speaker distortion. If you hear it, turn the volume down – you could be damaging your speakers (repairable) and your hearing (not repairable). It’s probably coming from one or more problems in the rest of the HiFi chain and (as with booming) the speakers are dutifully trying to reproduce what they’ve been given.

Reduced benefit. When adding an extra level, if the improvement is only just detectable then something is wrong. It may not be tuned properly, or the component may be maxed out on Mana. I remove the level and use it elsewhere. But this is temporary: if everything else gets extra levels, the reticent component is likely to also need one.

Fuzzy recordings. Some recordings are inherently lacking in detail, for one or more reasons. The damage is done. But at the better end of a Mana system, even very old recordings can retain enough musicality to be entertaining.

Strange sounds. No, these are not bad recordings (except where microphones were set wrong). It’s the HiFi system failing to reproduce it correctly.

Tips for maintaining a Mana-based system

When a Mana stack goes out of tune, the sound quality drops. It may be a slow change. It’s easily found by tapping all four corners of the board or glass near the spike – the sounds should match, even when at the bottom of a stack of tables.

Mana-based systems can develop problems. They are readily fixable:

Boards start to bend, especially when the stack above is heavy. (It’s noticeable when taking a stack apart.) Generally they adapt a new shape, however any glass levels above them go out of tune – resting on 3 spikes instead of 4. That requires re-assembly and retuning.

Deep holes in the boards. It comes from very heavy stacks. The holes don’t seem to affect the sound quality if used at the bottom of stacks. However care is needed when reusing them in a new stack to ensure the holes realign with the table above.

Wooden floors move, which means everything above them can get out of tune. (Advice: don’t put a stone slab under the tables in the hope of getting stability. I tried, and the sound became dull and sometimes unpleasant.)

Gremlins. They creep in to listen to the music when you’re out of the house. Unfortunately they sometimes knock the levels and you find glass is no longer tuned correctly. Solution: retune the tables and expel the gremlins.

Chipped glass. Chips on the corners can be covered with tape to avoid cutting yourself.

Indentations in glass, from spikes – I tend to put the spikes back into the holes and retune.

Dust. This does not affect the sound. Spray with a bacterial spray or very mild detergent solution, then use a soft cloth or feather duster.

Related articles

The Mana Clamp – for a far superior contact with Mana tables than the feet supplied by manufacturers

New Mark 2 Sound Stage and Sound Frame – doubling the performance improvement, and looking better

The Rise of Glass – once you start using the Mana Clamp (or speakers on spikes) then there are some amazing things that can be done by swapping the boards for more levels of glass

The Sounds of Mana – what to listen for, and how to balance the upgrades.