World Premiere Review!
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pounded, weak and weary, with a tap, tap, tapping on a darkened QWERTY. With many a quaint and curious tome proffered, still there must follow even more....
I'm in a hollow state of mind right now as I review the Raven Audio Reflection MK2 integrated amplifier. Vacuum Tubes make a lot of sense to me, why? Let's take a look at a now reality. You could pick up a manufactures catalog and order all of the electronic audio components you would need. You can buy a solid state amplifier printed circuit board already stuffed with parts. So what do you need, 50 Watts or maybe 100 Watts per channel, take your pick. Next, you can dial up Amazon and select one of the companies that make a line of switching power supplies to power your design they will save you some money. It's not a problem; just apply a little dab of solder here and there.
So you can shop online at the electronics supermarket and buy components right off the shelf. But in the process something very valuable gets lost. Instead, let's picture some old geezer with a green eye shade hunched over a chassis holding a smoking soldering iron. What in the world is he doing? Well so happens he is removing two polyester film capacitors because he did not like the way they sound. The point I'm trying to make is that the birth a stereo amplifier used to be a trial and error creative art.
Many years ago Vladimir Lamm founder, director and designer of Lamm Audio in Brooklyn, New York, described that same development process to me. It seems to me what little is left of that fanatic attention to detail resides with our hot bottle brethren. Granted, it is never good to generalize and sweep anyone under the rug. However I did find supporting evidence when I unpacked the Raven Audio Reflection MK2 Integrated Amplifier. So now let's visit tubeland.
The Raven Has Landed
When I unpacked the Raven Amplifier I discovered clues indicating an advanced and committed tubular centric mind at work. Let me not get to far ahead. Out of the box the Raven is by my estimation a very impressive 74 pounds of black anodized aluminum. It is of a CNC (Computer Numerically Controlled) milled billet construction built to a very high standard. That 74 pounds of machined aluminum required that I get help lifting it onto my equipment rack.
Built like an armored car and point to point hand wired, the Raven Audio Reflection MK2 integrated amplifier has a price tag of $10,995 and is actually on-par for a a truly excellent quality high-end audio unit of this caliber. The form factor comprises a basic / traditional open chassis design. The front panel has three large control knobs. From the left they are a power switch a volume control and a five position source selector. When powered on the front panel has a tiny illuminated red LED just above the power switch. The volume control has the same small LED but it is fixed on the knob itself indicating its position. The source selector knob when it is turned illuminates one of five red LEDs placed directly on the front panel.
Around back there are five component inputs. Three are RCA jacks and two are XLR inputs. The speaker binding posts total six, three for the left channel and three for the right channel. Each side provides cable connections for 8 and 4 Ohm speakers. And of course there is the usual IEC power cord socket and fuse.
Included with the Raven Audio Reflection MK2 integrated amplifier is a basic remote control that only has two buttons for up or down volume settings. And wrapped in green bubble wrap there were thirteen miniature triode vacuum tubes. Additionally there were four Russian Svetlana 6550 Power Pentodes supplied with the amplifier. Now the amplifier requires seven miniature dual triodes. The tubes are two 12AT7 preamplifier stage, two 12AT7 first stage power amplifier two 12AU7 phase splitter/driver, and one 6DJ8 cathode follower. It's probably Dave Thompson who sent two spare 6414 mini triodes a type unknown to me. When I say unknown that means not found in the last #25 RCA Receiving Tube Manual or in SAMS #21 Tube Substitution Handbook. The two 6414 tubes had a drawing on the boxes of a heart and the words "Black Plate", "Great Tubes". That 6DJ8 cathode follower tube just happens to be one of the most sought after and rare Amperex Bugle Boy mini triodes ever made. All of the triode tubes seemed to be previously used and vintage.
This is what I have been trying to tell you Audiopals. Evidence shows someone is very knowledgeable and gives a damn about the sound of this amplifier. Obviously that person has hand selected each tube and placed them were they can best be heard. At this juncture I get to remind of you one aspect of glass audio and the reason they still exist more than one hundred years later. [Years ago when your TV went on the fritz Dad would pull out a few tubes and take them to the local hardware store or to the drug store. One by one he would dial up the tube settings from the tube testers roll chart. When he found the bad tube a store clerk with a key would unlock the cabinet under the tube tester and hand him a replacement tube. Cost, about three or four bucks for the replacement tube.] Every tube in the Raven amplifier contributes to the sound that you hear. And there are thousands of different tube combinations that are possible.
So you have the ability to change the sound to match your music preferences with the Raven Audio Reflection MK2 integrated amplifier. This is especially true with the Reflection MK2 because It has adaptive auto-bias. It allows you to use any of seven popular types of Pentode power tubes. You could choose: EL34, 6550, KT88, KT90, KT100, KT120, and KT150. They all sound slightly different and they can paint a different stereo image with different dynamic contrasts. This amplifiers output mode of operation is classified as an A/B Ultralinear. The Raven out-put power will vary from 40 to 60 Watts Per Channel depending on the type of Pentodes used.
The Raven Speaks
What the hell is that you ask? Well audiopals its when all those little micro tonal overtones place wood and flesh on the performers who are now standing on a three dimensional stage. One really easy way to dial up those qualities is to play my Peggy Lee CD, the song is Fever. This is a Woman singing, not like the current wave of treble pitched one octave post pubescent females just out of their training bras. (The quality the nuances of a human voice remains my primary reference.) When Ms. Lee sings you can sense the sexy sensual sound of a woman that's lived a little. Something similar smacks you up side your head when you listen to a Billy Holiday CD or a recording of Joni Mitchell's last CD cover of "I could drink a case of you." Mitchell's voice deeper now with a rasping edge betraying all her years of hard living.. But she is still a great singer, her timing and her phrasing remains intact, and as you listen your senses will transport you to her hard long ago years.
A Rare Bird
As I listened to the song "All-Right" you can hear the back ground singers tracks. Clear to hear were individual voices that were separated by space and timing clues. The singers' voices contained reverberant echoes overlaid by a second delayed echo but both remained separate and clearly each would start and stop at different times. I could for the first time pick out most of the individual backup singers on an album played so many times before. But the hardest thing to describe to you is the envelope of air, like a dimensional halo that formed in the space between my speakers. Because of this I can better understand the way this album was mixed down from separate tracks.
At this point I think something has to be done to fix the digital part of my system. This has been a memorable musical moment it will be a sad day to see the Raven Audio Reflection MK2 integrated amplifier leave. Yes it is $10,995, but by comparison in today's currency value, this is an upper mid-priced high-end tube amplifier. Most certainly you will enjoy it for many years to come. Buy it? Wish I could.
Remember to enjoy the music and from me Semper Hi-Fi.