Associated Equipment:
Analogue Front End
Digital Front End
Power Conditioning
Music Hall Mambo Integrated Amplifier By Shanling Audio


Ron Nagle                                                                                 April 2004

If you are an audiophile and a reporter attending the 2004 CES in Las Vegas, you couldn’t possibly cover everything there. Even now, months after the show has ended I still marvel at the thousands of incredible grown up “boy toys” I saw. Every possible audio interest was represented, from the mundane to the, frankly, weird. Case in point, I watched as two pairs of Bang & Olufsen “space ship” style speakers battled it out over room equalization rights. These speakers generate test tones and have built in microphones, they run an acoustic room compensation program. But you cannot do two pairs at the same time, they pick up each other’s test signals and they never lock on. At the B&O press conference flashing lights and beeping sounds were bouncing back and forth like a crazed tennis match until somebody finally pulled out the plug. This year as usual I hung out mostly at the Alexis Park Hotel where the Hi-End was happening and where the best toys were. That’s also where my sore feet and me stopped in at room AP2310, to talk to an old acquaintance, the very affable Roy Hall. I think Roy has an uncanny instinct for finding the very best value for the money audio components worldwide. I would never think to pass him by. His interests always seem to run parallel to mine.

Love or Lust?

Like a proud papa, Roy showed me around his room and explained in great detail the improvements he made in his new top of the line MM-9 turntable. I was impressed. But it was his new, milled by computer control, massively made Mambo integrated amplifier that caught my eye. The shiny aluminum chassis beckoned me. I ran my fingers over its satiny cover and caressed its hot heat sinks, as a wave of audiophile lust washed over me. The finely tooled casework bespeaks quality and the inside echoes the very same qualities. Beautifully laid out and executed, the 24/96 digital upsampling circuitry is encapsulated in a separate metal module isolated and shielded from the motherboard. It uses a crystal CS8420 sample rate converter and a Burr-Brown PCM1738 DAC. The back panel has five pairs of high quality gold plated real RCA female plugs bolted to the back of the chassis. Two additional digital input connections remain; they are RCA S/PDIF and a fiber optic TOSLINK. The matching aluminum remote control steps the volume up or down as a digital display provides a numerical readout. Remotely controlled source and function selection is, Optical, S/PDIF, CD, DVD, SACD, Tuner, AUX, Mute, and On/Standby. The first two are digital inputs so it’s possible to hookup a CD player (as I did) two ways and do an A/B comparison, of digital upsampling versus analog. This is a load of fun and a great way to listen to and compare cables while you are playing a CD. My mind was awash in possibilities. Eventually I managed to regain my composure long enough to declare, “I’d like to review this amplifier!” Thankfully Roy agreed, and so it came to pass that I was joined unto it. Would it prove to only be infatuation, a pretty face, or was it possible that we were truly made for each other?

Mambo anyone?

I received a demo unit. I was told that a well-known Stereophile writer had it and it was broken in. The first time I listened it was driving my Aurum Cantus two-way very revealing ribbon tweeter monitors. The top end sound was just at the edges and bordered on analytical and cold. Curiosity compelled me to call back and ask Roy, “How long had this guy had this amplifier?” “Three weeks,” he replied. Over the next month or so that slight edginess melted away almost entirely. I find all of this very interesting. Now mind you, it can still reveal any harsh high frequency artifacts if they are present on the recording. My edginess test is the Rolling Stones Hot Rocks two disc set on abkco-96672, a CD/SACD hybrid remastering. I cannot fault the remastering or I should say restoration of these tapes. But they do show their age; edgy metal cymbals placed up front to one side dominating the SACD mix while Mick is pushed farther back in the center. I needed more information and so I moved the Mambo into my Quad ESL 63 bi-amped system, that way I could use it full range or just use it to drive the Gradient woofers. Good thing I did, the amplifier blossomed, or more accurately full range it was far better balanced from top to bottom.

With greater bass extension the emphasis was now on the midrange and that’s where this class-A design shines. Of course this is subjective but I swear I can hear that it is operating in class-A. The midrange has a natural harmonic tonal structure, it doesn’t exactly hit you between the eyes but if your mind is quiet you can hear it. It is not the same as a tube midrange, it doesn’t soften anything, and nothing is burnished in a golden glow. It will paint sharp edges if that be the case but if the recording will allow it, you can believe and be there. Weakness if any, are not very pronounced but I would have to refer to bass control. A characteristic of Mosfet solid state devices used in this design is that they only have about 25% of the bass damping factor of Bi-Polar transistors. But on the positive side Mosfet harmonic distortion is mostly even order and similar to the sound of tubes, To put it another way this type of distortion if any can coexist along with the music without damaging it. And so dear reader as you might have guessed every thing has its tradeoffs. Don’t get me wrong you can certainly do the Mambo with the Mambo there is no lack of deep bass. If that were not the case this digital 24/96 upsampling integrated amplifier might have a tendency to sound cold. In a shoot out with the $3,500 Bi-polar Krell KAV 300iL integrated amp both driving just the Gradient bass modules. I would have to say in absolute terms it’s not much of a contest the Krell controls with an iron grip. Admittedly this is totally unfair, a 50 watts per side $1,300 amp versus a 100 watt per side amp that cost 2.7 times more. Even so it serves as a lesson in just where the limits of what is possible are set. The Mambo goes deep the bass is a tad fat and it is warmer but it satisfies, it is only by comparison that any thing is lacking.


A few years ago I reviewed a stripped down minimalist $3,000 dollar Japanese DAC and Deck. It was hand made in the dark by a secret sect of blind Buddhist monks living in a cave hidden under a Shigaraki Shrine. I came away from that experience vowing never to touch anything like that again. I had found my calling; I would find good affordable gear that would let ordinary people enjoy the music they loved. I believe I have succeeded by introducing you to the Mambo. If this amplifier were home grown, made in the US I have absolutely no doubt that it would be priced around $3,000. This is a slice of the high end in an affordable pleasing package that you will long enjoy. I’m going to battle it out with my wife, this new love or a long weekend vacation in the Berkshire Hills. She just doesn’t understand the heart of an Audiophile; I can take a vacation in front of my stereo!

P.S. The Audio Advisor Catalog #WC204 features the Mambo Amplifier on page 46.
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Shanling Audio, division of Shenzhen Electronic Co. LTD.
Maximum power no distortion: 2X50Watts class A
Minimum impedance: (loudspeaker) 2 Ohms
S/N: (ratio) 101db
Frequency response: 5Hz to 100 kHz +/-1db.
Distortion, THD + Noise: 0.05%
Digital section:
PCM Upsampling to 24 bits 96 kHz
Processes all digital audio signals from 8kHz to 96kHz.
Physical Dimensions
Width 17” X 16 1/2” Deep X 5” High
Weight: 50 lbs. Packaged
Accessories: IEC power cord, Remote Control, 2 AAA Batteries. Price: $1300

For additional information contact distributor:
Music Hall 108 Station Road Great Neck, NY 11023
Tel: 516-487-3663
Fax: 516-773-3891