4 into 1 or 3 into 2 audiophile source selector. Too clever and very useful!
Have you ever wanted to compare two (or more!) sets of interconnects or listen to the difference between a couple of preamps or a few CD players or be your own armchair reviewer? How about you guys with the Manley Steelhead? You have one line input available and have to keep swapping cables when you want to listen to your CD or tuner? Hey, or would you like to go backwards and have one source drive either this or that? And why has no one ever commercially offered a real high-end audiophile thing to do this job?
What you need is a simple A-->B Source switcher, and that's what the Manley SKIPJACK is, and more. But behind the deceptively simple facia is some incredibly clever and thoughtful engineering. It's a small box, and it seems too simple, but there is a lot to tell you about this new unit. Please bear with me...
A little history. Learning from past experience
We have been building little switch boxes for years which we use at the factory or in our listening systems to compare two different things. When we are evaluating new designs, these utility boxes can quickly and conveniently switch between two different circuits either on the test bench or in a playback system in order to compare A vs. B. Our earliest rinky-dink plastic in-house switchboxes were just a couple of RCAs wired to a toggle switch. A few problems with this approach:
1) Toggle switches produce an audible click because the contact is not make-before-break.
2) You get a lot of high frequency leakage across small toggle switches which destroys your imaging cues.
3) You need to use long cables running back and forth between you and the gear in order to switch from your listening position while listening so now you're listening to long cables.
4) Usually you run out of available poles to be able to also switch grounds which leaves you with potential ground loops from all the RCAs being permanently tied together.
5) Little flimsy plastic boxes get pulled all over the place by those gigantic hifi cables and they just won't sit where you tell them to!
The next step. Drawing from our Pro Studio designs
Borrowing technology we designed into many custom Mastering Consoles built for the most discerning clients we have ever run across, we brought our little research lab switchboxes to the next level. I call Mastering Engineers "Professional Audiophiles." These guys put the finishing touches on an album and make the final decisions on how it should sound before it goes to pressing. To be able to do this well, they need a highly precise listening environment, expertly built room acoustics, durable and reliable equipment, and an absolutely transparent sounding monitoring/playback chain.
The heart of a Mastering Studio is the Mastering Console which provides switching and inserts for the processing equipment and performs all the source selection and monitoring functions for the playback chain. Think of it as a humongous hifi preamp with more switches, knobs, and inserts than you have ever seen on any hifi preamp.
In the old days we used to build these consoles entirely passively but with the ever-evolving complexity of trying to do all this switching not just for two channels, but two channels balanced (two times everything), and then now 5.1 Surround (six times everything), and then 5.1 Surround balanced (twelve times everything), we began looking seriously into relays and we found some excellent ones.
It ain't just the Relays, it's how you use them
A few secrets to making relays truly outperform conventional switching first include choosing the right part for the job. Contact material choices, construction specifications, listening tests, and years of experience with these relays doing 24/7/365 workhorse duty in studios around the world have led us to our fave relay choices for audio switching. Another trick we employ is doubling up of the relay contacts for maximum signal integrity.
It's logical. Isn't it?
While you can use conventional toggle or push-button switches to send the control voltages to the relays to energize or de-energize the coils that hold the contacts open or closed, with some simple logic circuits you can make these relays do more advanced functions. But then as your feature wish list grows longer, your parts count gets higher and by the time you're done with it you have almost built a discrete computer.
Enter the amazing PIC chip and Jerry's clever software programming
We stumbled onto a very clever one-chip solution as to how to drive many relays and indicator LEDs in the advanced manner we wanted to. It is a multi-input/output device that we program with software code to do whatever we want it to do. Eeeeks! Isn't that a microprocessor? Yes it is, but more cool is it turns itself off when it isn't hearing commands and so it won't make any noise that can infect your audio. Now with software programming instead of timing capacitors we can tell this driver chip how long and when we want the relays to make their connections, say, for example to make absolutely silent transitions, or we can write code to put the Skipjack into A-B-X mode where it selects A, then B, then either A or B randomly to really test your listening skills. Lots of clever stuff can be done with this technology, and we're doing it all here in the SKIPJACK.
Location. Location. Location.
There are printed circuit boards to hold the jacks and relays and parts down somewhere but no audio travels over any PCB traces in the SKIPJACK. The entire audio path is hand wired point-to-point for total transparency. We use a silver core audiophile wire inside and there's only about an inch and a half of wire injected into the signal path that you will listen through. While most people claim they can hear the difference between cables, I have to doubt anyone can really hear sonic effects of two RCA connections, doubled up relay contacts and a couple inches of very low capacitance silver wire. My design goal here is to provide a real audiophile grade and totally transparent switcher. I can't hear this box in or out of circuit. Maybe you have better hearing than I do... in any case, you won't find better to do this job.
In a pickle?
Switching on the SKIPJACK can be done on the front panel via the illuminated buttons. This is good for source selection say, to add up to 4 more inputs to your Steelhead, or other preamplifiers, amplifiers or whatever you need more inputs for. In addition, for comparative switching duties, say for cable shootouts or other A-B (or A-B-C-D) evaluations, the SKIPJACK comes with a 25 foot cable remote "pickle switch" so you can sit in your listening chair and switch between A and B without having to get up. Switch away! And the LED in the pickle remote lights up so you can remember which input you are one without having to look away over at the front panel display of the main SKIPJACK unit.
But wait! There's more: we also will (someday) offer a combo RF/IR remote for the SKIPJACK that can be purchased separately. The Radio Frequency remote can travel through walls and doesn't have to be pointed at the SKIPJACK to control it. With this, you can hide the SKIPJACK back behind your equipment rack if you need to. We also plan for Infra Red transmission too so you can integrate this SKIPJACK remote with your existing programmable remotes, such as a PRONTO or other learning remotes you might have.
It doesn't care. If you want to come in through the output with, say your CD Player and then select whether it will drive your living room amplifiers or your bedroom system, go for it. There's even modes for allowing BOTH A and B to be selected at the same time if you want to use the SKIPJACK as a giant Y-Cable/splitter box. Yeah, really! You can set it up as a 2 into 3 or 3 into 2 box where "D" becomes another "X".
Gang 'em up!
Hey what if you want to add, for instance, a Home Theater Bypass function to your main stereo preamplifier? If you use the 3 into 2 mode where "D" becomes another output you can have your any of your 3 sources (A-B-C) either drive output "D" which might be your pristine stereo high-end preamplifier for conventional stereo hifi playback or output "X" which could be your surround processor for multi-channel playback. You could use another SKIPJACK to work together on the inputs of your main two channel L and R amplifiers and select either the L&R outputs from your Hifi Stereo Preamplifier or the main L&R outputs from your HT Surround Processor! Use the pickle remote cable access on both SKIPJACKs to link them up so they switch at the same time! Or use the optional wireless remote. Too cool, huh?
A little HEFT:
Another consideration designed into the SKIPJACK is making it weigh something. Too many audiophile cables are fat and huge and their weight would pull a flimsier switchbox off your shelf. We screwed a big hunk o' steel into the bottom of the SKIPJACK chassis to be able to counter-balance six of the most chunky overweight cables you can plug into it. We really did try to think of everything.
Power to the people!
The SKIPJACK is powered up by a little 9 Volt DC wallwart. That's all it needs on the outside with our good filtration and regulation on the inside and buying one instead of us making one helps keep the cost down on Mr. SKIPJACK.
- Signal level handling: Phono or line input levels
- Switching via dual contact NAIS relays per leg per input
- Internal Wire length: six inches total; silver stranded 18 awg
- Channel separation: 116 dB 22Hz-22kHz
- Internal signal Loss: less than 1/10 db (.045 dB)
- Frequency response: DC - 200kHz ±.1 db @ 200kHz
- Signal to noise ratio: 117db
- THD: Non existing
- Power Supply: 9VDC external, 2.2A, 100 to 240VAC input, self-sensing, 50/60Hz, 74VA
- Power consumption: Maximum of 26W (4 inputs / 1 output selected)
- Power Supply Plug Diameter: 2.1mm ID, 5.5mm OD, Center Positive
- Power Cord: IEC detachable standard
- Dimensions: 7.75" deep x 7" wide x 2" tall
- Unit weight: 6 lbs.
- Shipping weight each: 9 lbs.