Overall, the John Hardy M-1 has a very simple make up. Even if you don't have much experience with mic pres, the M-1 makes it as easy as possible to get acquainted. Each channel simply has a knob for gain level, and buttons for phantom power, high gain, and to reverse the polarity. Each also has a VU meter that measures your overall output and monitors when you peak. I don't think a manual is necessary unless you're a beginner or are having technical difficulties.
The sound of the John Hardy M-1 mic pre is just about as clean of a mic pre as I've heard. While it might not share the same amount of warmth and width that you get with a Neve pre, it definitely has its own sound to bring to the table, which is something that I'm always open to as I'm always looking for new types of sounds. The M-1 can definitely be used for any types of application, as I've generally been happy with the sound I've gotten across the board regardless of what I'm recording with it. However, I will say that I've only used it in situations where I'm looking for a clean cut sound, so it isn't like I use it on anything and everything no matter what...
A great thing about the John Hardy M-1 is that it comes in a number of different forms, making it available for both those who might only want a single channel, and those who would want a whole slew of channels. The price of these is definitely reasonable, especially if you go with the four channel model as you can save a lot of money per channel. More and more I've been checking out these more boutique type of companies, and you can really find some gems like this one amongst them. All in all, definitely a great sounding mic pre worth checking out regardless of what type of studio you've got.