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Manger Zerobox 109


[Italian version]

Product: Manger Zerobox 109 - bookshelf loudspeakers
Manufacturer: Manger - Germany
Approx. price: 3,250 Euro/$ (black) - 3,600 $/Euro (wood) - (prices per pair, excluding VAT and shipping)
Distributor for the USA: Manger USA
Reviewer: Lucio Cadeddu
Reviewed: July, 2001

[Manger Zerobox 109]

If you're a faithful TNT-Audio reader you should be already aware of the German HiFi Company known as Manger. Indeed, we have already published an interesting Interview with Daniela Manger and written about some Manger-equipped loudspeaker during our last Italian Top Audio Show reportage.
Hence, I hope you forgive me if I won't waste bandwidth trying to explain what Manger transducers are all about. It suffices to say I consider these drivers among the most interesting and revolutionary concepts in the history of electro-acoustic science.
For the first time, actually, one can notice a definitive departure from the common scheme and ideas on which dynamic drivers have been based for the last, say, 50 years.
The Manger driver is a fullrange transducer (80-33,000 Hz!!!) based on the physical principle of bending waves. I strongly invite you to read the mumbo-jumbo tech talk on the cited Interview or directly at the official Manger site. There you'll find graphs, numbers and everything your technically-minded ego would ever need :-)

Tech specs, manufacturing & finish

So, let's focus our attention on the loudspeaker under test. It is the Zerobox 109, the smallest speaker made by Manger, a mid-sized bookshelf that makes use of a single Manger unit matched to a 21 cm (8") custom-made Scanspeak (sub)woofer in a closed box.
Actually, the Manger transducer works till 140 Hz, where the Scanspeak woofer takes the lead till 40 Hz (@ -3 dB).
Hence, we can consider the Manger Zerobox 109 mostly a single-driver full range speaker, aided, for deeper bass, by a conventional dynamic woofer.
Here are the most relevant tech specs:

The Manger Zerobox 109 has been installed on a 55 cms speaker stand, so to have the center of the Manger unit perfectly aligned with the listener's ears. Note that this height may vary depending on your listening seat. Since Manger recommends to use only "fast" amplifiers, the Zerobox 109 has been driven by ultra-fast pure Class A solid state power amps.


[Manger Zerobox 109 - wood finish]

Before actually listening to a Manger driver equipped loudspeaker you should be prepared for a shock. Actually the listening experience has NOTHING that can be compared with conventional loudspeakers. The Manger driver belongs to a league of its own. I'll try to explain you why.

First of all, forget the kind of sound of other single-driver full range units such as Lowther etc. Totally different stuff!!! The sound of the Manger driver is incredibly smooth, perhaps the smoothest driver I've ever heard. What does this mean? Well, it means there NO trace of harshness, nor in the mid or in the high range.
The notes this speaker delivers seems made out of soft black velvet, warm and lush as one can hardly imagine. Yes, there are other warm-sounding speakers out there...but this one is different, since the unit does NOT have any roll-off in the upper highs, as it often happens.
No, the audio spectrum is fully preserved and reproduced and you can distinctly hear ANY frequency till the upper highs. Actually, I'd better call this sound smooth rather than warm.
It is a sound you can listen to for hours and hours, without any loss of detail and, surprisingly, without any listening fatigue.
Also, it is very natural and it seems the driver does not add anything of its own.

One of the friends I usually invite during tests, as soon as he entered the listening room, asked if there was someone whistling at home. Actually, it was Livingston Taylor (Chesky Records) whistling Steve Wonders's "Isn't she lovely". My friend was astonished.
It really seemed someone was actually whistling into my listening room. This is what I call "natural sound", something so real you can't easily tell it's reproduced artificially.
Hence, you can imagine how the Manger unit reproduces voices.
While listening to several different discs with female voices (above all, Gerardina Trovato who duets with Andrea Bocelli) I've had that shuddering feeling the singer was INTO my listening room.
Sibilants? Always natural and bearable.

What about the bass and mid-bass then? Well, the woofer starts its job below 140 Hz and its task is a tough one, since it has to match the speed and smoothness of the Manger unit. For this reason the designers have decided for a closed box as - normally - this solution gives faster and tighter bass (compared with bass reflex. Not always true, though).
Actually, the woofer succeeds delivering smooth bass though it is not as fast as it should be, especially below 100 Hz. The unit - clearly - can't perform exactly like the Manger driver, hence, while you get the required and expected smootheness, you loose some speed.
Also, below 100 Hz, the bass appears a bit confused and out of control (strange, for a closed box!).
The claimed frequency response is correct and the Zerobox 109 goes down till 40 Hz with ease...though its response drops vertically (again, it's strange for a closed box) and the deepest notes of the pipe organ (30 Hz or so) are still audible though seriously attenuated. Perhaps two smaller woofers would have performed better (i.e. quicker).


First of all, let me remark the claimed max SPL is 104 dB/1 meter. Is it enough? Well, that depends on the size of the listening room and on the listener's personal taste.
104 dB/1 meter means you can get peaks that hardly exceed 100 dB, when you're seated a couple of meters far from the speakers, as it happens in medium-sized listening rooms.
To me, 100 dB's (peak) are NOT enough for the realistic reproduction of a drum kit or a rock band, for example. Normally, I listen at higher SPL's. Actually, this means nothing to you, as probably you use to listen at lower levels.
Having said this, let me try to explain the dynamical behaviour of these speakers. The Manger driver is extremely fast though its natural lack of any kind of edginess makes it sound apparently slower than it actually is.
The speakers can, indeed, sound punchy (especially in the bass) but don't except sheer violence as they always remains smooth and mellow. Actually, the performance with walls-shaking rock music lacks liveliness. For example, the live version of "She's got the jack" (by AC/DC) seems played by a band of old retired bluesmen :-)
Not to mention Prodigy, Morcheeba, Tricky, Chemical Brothers and bands like these. With the Mangers they all seem lazy, bored and well-educated :-)
Not so with classical Music and jazz (especially with small ensembles) where the Manger Zerobox 109's express their innate sense of realism.
In the microdynamics department, the Mangers perform quite well. Their sound is precise and transparent, any variation gets caught and offered gently to the listener's ear.

3D soundstage

The Manger driver seems quite sensitive to positioning and toe-in. Small variations can produce quite large differences. I'd recommend only a small amount of toe-in, otherwise you're going to loose too much high frequency information.
This means that, in order to get the wide soundstage these speakers are able to create, you should spend more than a couple of minutes to find the "sweet-spot".
The Manger Zerobox 109 are not so sensitive to position as some electrostatic panels, for example, still you have to play with the boxes a little for maximum performance.
The Manger unit should be "in axis" with the listener's ears or slightly above, in order to get a natural height of the soundstage.
Once you've found a good compromise, these Zerobox 109's are able to disappear, building a 3D image which is wide, precise and very, very natural.
Once again, the sense of realism these Manger drivers have in spades, pops up and makes the listening experience natural and very, very relaxing. You won't find yourself investigating or seeking for details into the soundstage, rather enjoying the feeling of "being there" any good recording can create.
The worst recordings, those made by criminal sound engineers, show all their artificiosity. For, consider the Manger Zerobox 109 are mostly used as studio monitors by some famous pro's so they are able to let you pick up any mistake done during the recording process.

Some advice

Manger suggests using QED Qudos loudspeaker cables. This is pretty low-end stuff, better suited with entry-level HiFi systems. Actually, I'd suggest something better to avoid masking the excellent qualities of the Manger driver.
For example, pure silver cables or high-end designs like top-of-the-line Van den Hul stuff. Even the top of the line Supra speakers cable, the Ply 3.4 S, can be a good choice. I wouldn't recommend warm or dark sounding cables, because the Manger Zerobox 109's certainly don't need to be tamed in the mid-high range.
The speakers are quite heavy and large, so choose the speaker stands accordingly. I'd suggest something heavy and solid, with a large footprint.
When considering the right amp for these speakers, don't forget Manger suggests very fast amps, so solid state stuff is almost a must. I wouldn't suggest low-powered mellow-sounding tube amps for various reasons. First of all, the Manger Zerobox 109 is already smooth and warm, such a amplifier would be too much of a good thing.
Secondly, these speakers have a low impedance (nominal: 4 Ohm) and not so high sensitivity (at 88 dB/w/m), hence you need quite large amounts of power to make them dance as they should.
Finally, an advice for Home Theater nuts: a shielded version is available. On the non-shielded version (my test sample) the magnets of the drivers seem to be very powerful so they can harm the colors on your TV screen quite easily. If you decide to place them near a TV screen, 50 cms apart should be enough (more is better). Otherwise go for the shielded version.


Manufacturing and finish.
My test sample had the black satin finish (see the first pic on this page), very "pro" looking. The drivers are black too, so living room (and WAF) friendliness is a tad low.
The various wood finishes are way better and strongly suggested, unless you have a recording studio instead of a living room :-)
Anyway, the black satin finish doesn't welcome fingerprints and it seems to attract dirt like a powerful magnet. The quality of the manufacturing is good, considering the list price. My test sample was a quite used one so I can't comment any further.

Love or hate 'em. These speakers are so different from the rest that it is hard to compare them with the competition. Some audiophiles will hate them for the extra-smooth, warm and ultra-mellow performance, others may simply fall in love with 'em.
Personal tastes aside, I find these speakers very interesting for jazz, classical and light pop Music, though definitely not recommended for rock/hip-hop/metal/dub/drum & bass, R & B fans. They simply lack the aggressiveness required for this Music.
Also, consider the max SPL (104 dB/1 meter) could be NOT enough if you like high sound pressure levels (to understand what I mean by "high pressure" levels, please refer to my test of the RadioShack Digital SPL meter.

Finally, this revolutionary technology doesn't come cheap. Indeed, considering VAT and shipping, 4,000 $/Euro per pair for a mid-sized bookshelf with a 19 mm-thin MDF cabinet and a black finish is a LOT of money. Consider this is the same list price (at least in the US) for a pair of Thiel CS 3.6 floorstanders.


The Manger driver is a revolution, period. If you want to listen to something really NEW and totally different from the rest, you can't miss to test these speakers. They are a truly flattering experience that can easily make you reconsider the way you listen to Music at home.
Not your regular cup of tea, perhaps, but a must if you're searching for a smooth, warm and gentle performer that will make you totally forget the "listening fatigue".

You may want to know Manger also makes an interesting audiophile CD test (follow the link to read my review).

Manger products are available through authorized dealers. If a distributor/dealer isn't available in your Country, Manger products can be bought factory direct (E-mail manger-msw@t-online.de for details).

© Copyright 2001 Lucio Cadeddu - http://www.tnt-audio.com

Manufacturer's comment

A big "thank you" goes to the folks at TNT-Audio for their support and to Lucio Cadeddu for his excellent review on the MANGER Zerobox 109 loudspeakers.
Lucio accurately, and eloquently, pointed out the Manger's excellence and superiority in delivering a "new" listening experience. Yes, audiophiles are in for a real "shock," as Lucio put it, when they experience the Mangers for the first time.
Gone are the days of "listening fatigue" and mid- to upper-range sonic annoyances, especially for connoisseurs of fine jazz, classical, or medium to light rock... the Mangers are the gateway to audio heaven.

I would now like to address a couple of issues regarding the Zerobox 109's bass response. As Lucio mentioned, the Zerobox 109 is a monitor-sized loudspeaker whose bass response, like with all monitors, can be lacking on certain music (like the AC/DC song). With these types of recordings, speakers with an overloading bass response are more suitable.
By their nature, monitors cannot deliver the level of bass response that their bigger brothers (floor-standing models) can. The laws of physics will simply not allow it. But that's okay. Because what a well-designed monitor like the Zerobox 109 will deliver, that most of the big boys can't, is imaging out the kazoo!
This is one reason why monitors, in general, have been so popular with many audiophiles over the years. Although the bass response in the Zerobox 109 is considered excellent by today's standards, and quite satisfactory for listening to a myriad of music, many audiophiles have integrated a good subwoofer with the Zerobox 109s, giving them the best of both worlds... small-box imaging with large-box sound, all at a very affordable price.

We encourage music listeners who especially enjoy good vocals to audition a pair of Zerobox 109s, paying close attention to the sonic qualities of the Manger sound transducer, itself. The level of clarity and realism will, again, "shock" even the most ardent audiophile. Lucio said it best... "The Manger driver is a revolution, period".
Daniela Manger, Chief Engineer, and the team at Manger Products.

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