A Chat With EveAnna Manley on Audio Products Manufacturing and Opportunities for Young Pros

By Mr. Bonzai | June 11, 2024

If you’d like a glimpse into an audio products manufacturing company, look no further than this Bonzai Beat chat with EveAnna Manley, president of Manley Laboratories. Based in Chino, California, Manley Labs produces recording, mixing, mastering and playback equipment. Manley says a whole team of people makes these products come to life — from production line workers to electrical engineers, every person has a part to play behind the scenes. Hear what she has to say about the benefits of vacuum tube technology, different jobs within the manufacturing and music products industry, what makes a great employee — plus what’s on her playlist and where she finds her favorite tacos.


MrB: Welcome to the Bonzai Beat. I'm Mr. Bonzai. And my very special guest today is EveAnna Manley. Hello there, dear.

EveAnna Manley: Hi, what's up Bonzai.

MrB: I'm gonna tell folks about you a little bit. Under the leadership and vision of EveAnna Manley of Manley Labs, they’ve created and built some of the finest studio equipment and high-end home audio components over the last few decades. Studios across the world count on these mostly tube-based EQs, compressors, microphones, preamps and other little goodies. So it's quite a story. And here she is, she's with us today.

We'd like to address some of the younger people connected to NAMM who are interested in learning about the types of companies and career paths in the music products industry. We'd like to address their interests. In a nutshell, can you describe what your products are and who your customers are?

Jobs Titles Working in the Audio Products Manufacturing Field

Database Management/Database Administrator
Electrical Engineer
Machinist/Machine Operator
Marketing Specialist
Production Engineer
Production Line Worker
Quality Control Technician
Sales Representative
Stock Control/Inventory Control Specialist
Warehouse Manager

EveAnna Manley: Anyone with a pulse and a couple of bucks. What we manufacture at Manley Labs are primarily vacuum tube-based audio products in the audiophile space like power amplifiers and preamplifiers and phono stages and things like that for playback in the house. And then our biggest sector of production is for recording studio equipment such as microphones, equalizers, preamps, compressors, and all kinds of things that you need in the recording studio. So we serve two markets worldwide. The Manley brand’s been around since 1988.

MrB: Impressive. Just as a sideline, why is the tube so important? It's a piece of gear that I remember as a kid. You can even find a tube tester in the local convenience store supermarket. We don't see that anymore in our usual daily lives. But I know for sure that it's such an important part of the sound that people are trying to get in the recording studio today or in their home studio. What's the deal with the tube?

EveAnna Manley: Well, as we like to say, tubes rule.

We like working with vacuum tube technology for their musicality and their high headroom and high fidelity and because they sound wonderful.

Of course, you probably know vacuum tubes in guitar amplifiers where they use their graceful overload characteristics to clip gently and gracefully and sound awesome. That's a little different application than what we're trying to do when we're trying to reproduce audio faithfully. In that case, we're relying on the vacuum tubes and inherent linearity. And you can use them in a wide range of operation put it that way. So they're very forgiving devices to use, but we like them for their excellent fidelity.

MrB: Dig it. Yeah, I love them too. Your factory is in Chino, California.

EveAnna Manley: That's right, that's Chino, not China. That's just one letter different.

MrB: Yeah. That leads me to this next question. Why does American-based manufacturing matter?

EveAnna Manley: I think it's because it gives the community a local taxpayer base. I've got 30 or so employees and we pay them to work, and they’ve all purchased houses, and then they're paying into the local community tax rolls and supporting the schools and the roads and so on. It comes from the community that way.

Additionally, because we rely on many local vendors such as our powder coaters, and anodizers and sheet metal and CNC milling facilities that are right nearby, in fact, one of them's in the same office park we're in so we could just walk over there and pick up our parts. It's all their employees who are also supporting the local community. And that's what's supposed to be making America strong and fabulous is by providing all that activity here for American manufacturing.

Not to say that we don't buy certain things overseas, because there are some things such as vacuum tubes that are just not really available American-made anymore. So there's a balance, but when you look inside a Manley unit, hopefully you'll see the preponderance of dollars that came from our local community. And that's going to be primarily the labor and the chassis work. Because that's going to be the most expensive in the transformers of course, we want those in-house too. But the expensive parts you're going to see made in America and pretty local to our factory.

MrB: That's really good. Totally good. Especially supporting the local schools and stuff like that. I mean, that could be the source of your future employees.

EveAnna Manley: Well, yeah, I mean, hey, I grew up in school as a band geek and ended up in the music industry. And I hope that the active band people in the Chino high schools also end up in the music industry as well.

Actually one of my employees, two of their daughters, were really active in their high school band in Chino, and they have both worked at Manley Labs. One of them's moved on, but the other one is doing order taking and also working building microphones as well. So band geeks, come see me.

MrB: Cool. Well, you're the president. But you started out on the bottom rungs of the ladder, actually learning how to solder and do strict manual labor. What did you learn during those early days on the line?

EveAnna Manley: The first thing I learned was my fancy Ivy League education had not taught me how to solder and definitely had not taught me Spanish yet. That was the last class I took at college. I had studied French; wrong language for Southern California.

So the first thing is that I needed to learn Spanish because my coworkers were all predominantly from Mexico originally. And we happen to be a Mexican shop, you could say we have a lot of folks that were born, or their parents were born in Mexico. We just happen to be based upon a lot of Central American and Mexican guys and we're family, man, we've all grown up together.

So that first year in 1989 when I joined the production team at the first company, the first thing I had to learn was communication, for sure. I had also learned to be humble and realize that my coworkers knew how to do these tasks, wiring and soldering and so on, and I did not so I needed to defer to them and listen and learn how to do things exactly the way that was required. I picked up how to assemble and how to wire.

“I think that's what makes somebody a really valuable employee is when you've got ideas, and you might offer some different perspective or suggestions.”

But also I brought some insight from my high school and college summer jobs, which were kind of focused on business systems. I didn't really recognize it at the time. But I was just always about trying to solve problems that I saw around me. So at the time, it was kind of like, you'd have to self kit your parts. So they'd say, hey, go build 25 of those boards. So you go to the bins, and like, okay, I think I need eight resistors, here, oh, shoot, there's only five. At the time, there was no purchasing or inventory system. So that was one thing that I contributed to the company back then.

And this is before a lot of computers and so on. I think there was one computer in the building running DOS. And so I created a paper system to be able to track inventory with bin cards, and I created a purchasing system for the company at the time, on paper, which later migrated to Excel and later into different, you know, like FileMaker databases and later into other ERP systems.

ERP is basically the back end of what runs your company like inventory control and purchasing behaviors, keeping things in stock and scheduling and so on.

So that's one thing I contributed from an early age was business systems, how they run things in the company.

Now, a young person these days that would enter some manufacturing company to learn how to build equipment or test equipment, they probably have those systems already worked out these days. But there's always opportunity for young people to draw upon their experience or their novel insight to improve things around any company, any studio anywhere you work.

I think that's what makes somebody a really valuable employee is when you've got ideas, and you might offer some different perspective or suggestions. Maybe people are very complacent or used to what they have, but maybe you've got a better idea, like, Hey, have you thought about doing this? I think that's what makes you a valuable employee, if you've got something to contribute.

MrB: I'm impressed the way you in your little place in the company you were still thinking big about things that involved the whole picture. And that's so important for moving in big directions like that. I'm also impressed the way that the structure of your company and other companies in your area kind of exemplify the American way of progress. Embracing talent. Wherever it comes from, when it's in your hometown, or home state. I think that's very important too, maybe more now than ever.

Let's say, there's some young people watching this and they're going well, this is interesting, what could I do? What are two positions in your operation that are maybe different from each other? That would tell people how they might have an entry level if they wanted to work at your company?

EveAnna Manley: Many summers we’ll hire young people for temporary stock control or inventory control jobs. And that was one of my first jobs in life. When I was a sophomore in high school, I performed a physical inventory for my whole high school campus.

It was a 200-acre campus with many buildings. They gave me keys to the entire campus and said go into every room in every building and write down everything of value in every room, and then you're gonna come and enter all that stuff into a very rudimentary, early 80s computer system.

It was to establish an asset database for insurance purposes. So suppose that building over there burned down, they would have a list of everything that was valuable in that building they could submit to the insurance company to claim. I had to count how many desks were in there, if there was a pull-down map or calculator or some machine or something more valuable than that.

But today, that's the kind of thing that we always need help to do a stock recount. Because sometimes your inventory levels get kind of out of whack if somebody forgot to check out some parts or whatever. And so it's usually once a year, you have to do a complete recount of every little screw and resistor and chassis and transformer that's sitting in the inventory section. It's very important to control the build cost and know if we're short on something or if we have too many of something, we need to slow down the future purchasing of that.

But stock control and inventory control is one of those summer jobs that could be also interesting for a young person because they can start to learn about what is this? Oh, it's a resistor. Well, how do I know what value it is? Well, you can measure it with a meter. Or you can learn how to read the color code to learn what the value of that resistor is. And what's this thing? Oh, that's an electrolytic capacitor. Why is it different from this other capacitor? Well, here's why.

You can learn about electronic components, you can get your feet inside a working company and learn all those back end sometimes kind of boring things that makes a company work. That's one example.

Another possibility for a summer internship might also be on the production line. Here's how you use this wire stripper, here's how you tin some wires; go make 50 of these wire harnesses. You can learn how to work with your hands and start understanding how solder flows and how to make stuff. So that's kind of fun. It's like an introduction to electronics. And then your curiosity can take you from there.

MrB: Yeah, this would be good. I think some young people may be thinking maybe there's something I can do in the music products or pro audio world that would have a future.

EveAnna Manley: Every audio manufacturing company has some kind of inventory and stock control going on. And these days, how accurate that is, is also feeding, like our webstore we have a parts store tubesrule.com where you can go and buy a spare tube, or if you need to buy some more fuses, or you want to buy a T-shirt or something like that, well, the quantity of what's in that store is hooked into our databases, and you just have to be able to control all that stuff on the computer, which is database management, inventory management, and all that stuff. But every company's got something like that going on. It's like how do you know if you're, if you're out of T-shirts, and you gotta order some more T-shirts? It's all that database management.

MrB: Well, your company stays ahead of the game by constantly evolving. So how do you keep that cutting-edge evident in the operation within your building?

EveAnna Manley: Technology is a huge part of that.

I've always been a nerd. And then when I got my first personal computer, I learned DOS and all kinds of shit in the back end of all that. I love geeking out with connecting systems and the ability to have that device communicate with that database or something like that. I'm always attending the University of YouTube and learning new things … web hooks and automations and that sort of stuff.

I've written a lot of routines and codes and automations using our FileMaker databases where I've coded that stuff to spit out a list of all our products with the current build cost of every one of them and that hits me every Sunday night, you know what I mean?

I get all these reports that I've generated that hit me at the end of every month that I use to update our inventory levels and asset values in the accounting programs, for example. The technology of integrations, I think, is what I'm trying to express, I really dig exploring that stuff. It's a little nerdy and a little geeky, but it's kind of fun.

MrB: It's so important. And I just thought there might be some other manufacturers tuning into this program today and going, Oh, my God, I'm not doing this right.

“There's a lot of marketing opportunities in the music industry, in the manufacturing sector, to make videos, to write ad copy, to write owner's manuals, to publish websites, product photography, make videos.”

EveAnna Manley: I've got some peer manufacturer friends that don't have schematics even in PDF form. They just have paper schematics still. So companies exist all over the spectrum of technology. Some companies are run very old school, and other companies are trying to embrace modern technology and database systems and so on. So that's where I'm at.

MrB: Back to the young people watching this. What's your advice? Looking from here to maybe five years from now? Where are the opportunities for entering into to this type of industry? And looking to the future a little bit for people that are wondering is there some place for me, what would your advice be in that direction?

EveAnna Manley: Unless you're a EE (electrical engineer) and want to get into technical design or engineering work, let's exclude that for the moment, that's a different topic. But if you're a normal band geek like I was in school, and I was studying music, but I was good with my hands. And I was really good at math and sciences and so on, and I was able to absorb engineering and technical things easily. For you today, we've touched upon some nerdy jobs inside a company, like you could be building something, you could be working in the office, you could also be on the outside on the sales end of things. Like if you really like the products a lot and you love using them in your studio, there's opportunity in the sales world for all these companies to represent the products and talk to people about them and try to sell them and try to market them.

We're not all just building this equipment for ourselves. It's all meant to go out into the world. We need people to shepherd these products into the world. There's a lot of marketing opportunities in the music industry, in the manufacturing sector, to make videos, to write ad copy, to write owner's manuals, to publish websites, product photography, make videos. Like I might need to go to your studio and we might need to talk about how this unit works and make some sound recordings and film the knobs and that kind of thing. There's lots of marketing opportunities.

You might need to design some clever T-shirts to enhance the brand awareness of that brand. There's lots of creative things that combine computers and visual design and sonic design along with engineering that everything goes hand in hand when you're trying to bring any kind of audio product to the market.

MrB: Very good. All right, let's wrap it up pretty soon with a couple of couple of zinger questions. What kind of music do you listen to on your high-end, audiophile super duper systems?

EveAnna Manley: I have become a real lazy audiophile and I listen a lot to my system in the house. And there's usually music playing at all times. When working or just fixing stuff around the house or just relaxing.

Last night, I was listening to Kate Bush. The day before I was listening to a 60s group like The Turtles. One of my favorite DJs is a guy named Larry Grogan. He's got a show on WFMU. He plays a lot of 60s sunshine pop, which I really love. My music tastes are all over the place. If you want to see what I listened to when I'm on my motorcycle, you can go to Spotify and find me as user tubes rule. And there's a playlist called iVanimal2015. And that's what I listen to when I'm riding my motorcycle. There's about 600 songs on there and they're from everywhere around the world and from all decades and all genres and it's a wide variety of music. I guess that's the answer your question. It's a wide variety.

MrB: I think I gotta look into that myself. What's your favorite restaurant in Chino?

EveAnna Manley: My favorite restaurant in Chino would be Tacos El Rey, on Central Avenue. They make everything in there. But I always pretty much order the same thing which are a couple little street tacos, which are wonderful.

MrB: Looking at the whole history of your work and all of your products, which product comes closest to your heart as the little darling thing that you created and still love?

EveAnna Manley: You can't see it because my video’s all blurred. The Stingray behind me that's a Hi-Fi product. It uses EL84 tubes like a Vox AC-20 would have. And it's a little stereo integrated amplifier. And it has an unusual shape. And it was my first Hi-Fi design that I created on my own with my team after David Manley left the company in the 90s. And then along with that the other first product in the pro market was the VOXBOX, which you all know, I'm sure. I'm very proud of both of those products that are still in production today. My first attempts at solo design were pretty successful.

MrB: Looking to the big picture of your life and everything you've done and where you are right now, what's that secret talent that nobody really knows about?

EveAnna Manley: I guess it's the ADHD which means I can't really focus when I need to. I'm jumping all over the place but man, when I grab onto something, I'll stay up all night and work all the way through it. I totally can focus I just can't necessarily control when I can focus. That's the superpower of ADHD is when you grab that focus it's intense. And you can really use that as a superpower.

MrB: Wow. Well thank you, EveAnna Manley. We've learned a lot about the industry, about opportunity and quite a bit about you.

EveAnna Manley: Thank you very much. It was a real honor to be here today. I'll try to put the camera on focusing on the Stingray if you'd like to see it because it's automatically all blurred out behind me there.

MrB: With that we leave you with a fond adieu with a piece of gear by EveAnna Manley. That's a lot of tubes!

EveAnna Manley: To see a clearer picture, please head on over to manley.com for professional photography.

MrB: Thank you very much. Bye bye.

EveAnna Manley: Thanks, cheers!

Discover Careers in Music

Machine operators, production line workers, product design engineers, sales representatives and marketing professionals all play a part in music products manufacturing companies like Manley Labs. Visit our Careers in Music page to learn more about opportunities within the music products industry.  

About the Author

Mr. Bonzai is an award-winning photographer, author and music journalist. He has written more than 1,000 articles for outlets in the United States, Europe and Asia. His photos and articles have appeared in Rolling Stone, The New York Times, Billboard, Mix and EQ, among others. He has also published numerous books, including Studio Life, Music Smarts and Faces of Music.