A single knuckle wrap on the top of the walnut box will let you know that the casing is a solid piece of work. While the mid century modern hipster-friendly looks might deter some, this reviewer finds the looks of the Raven II bookshelf by Fern & Roby fresh, friendly a perfect fit for its intended use.
Website and marketing copy don’t shy away from the “bookshelf” designation either. No self correcting “it’s a stand mount” has ever been uttered by designer and Fern & Roby founder Christopher Hildebrand in my talks with him. It’s important to contemplate the intent for this product, in order to clearly see how it reaches the intended goals or falls short. Within this wrapper, the Raven II ($5,750/pair) excels into a direction that not many audiophile products dare tread, and certainly not at this pricepoint.
Fern & Roby Raven II Bookshelf Review
The Audio-Head exploration into the Raven II review starts with pulling it out of the box and taking a good look at the build quality and aesthetic choices made. This is a bit easier said than done for this reviewer, as the combined shipping weight for both speakers rounds up to nearly an even 100 lbs. With this study weight supporting the speaker, the build isn’t really one that comes into question. Initial impressions draw much inspiration from companies like Zu Audio, which also feature simple exterior lines and full range drivers. One of the main deviations from that pool house however, is the sealed enclosure.
Christopher is deliberate with his marketing imagery in this regard as well. It can be placed in a bookshelf. In fact, much like the Klipsch Cornwall of old, the Raven II can be used against a wall or tucked neatly into a corner to help enhance some of the lower regions of the frequency response. Those looking for a more out-in-the room experience might find more salvation with the Fern And Roby Raven I, whose ported cabinet and larger size set it apart from the more selective approach of the II.
From my time with the speaker, the rated efficiency of the 94 dB with 8 ohms of impedance is no joke. It takes very little to get a listenable volume with the Raven IIs, much to the joy of any tube amplifier enthusiast. Fern & Roby offer a HiFi #1 complete system that takes full advantage of the LTA Z10 Integrated. Designed around a ZOTL circuit pushing a mere 12 watts (into 8 ohms) from a pair of EL-84 power tubes, a conservative listening level for a small study comes through at only a mere “4” out of 100 on the digital volume screen. In fact, one could argue that volume steps are a bit jumpy at low listening levels with the Raven II, however, I have never known any audiophile ever to listen at these type of background levels so rest assured you will be safe from any inconvenience in this regard. That’s not to say that the speaker is a perfect pairing for any amplifier. Some of the transducers inherent translation led to unusual results for some mismatched amplifiers, but in the end we found a solid, mutually agreeable partnership with a pair of Schiit Audio Aegier in dual mono with a Freya+ Pre (on the budget side) and a very hifi marriage with the LTA Z10e Integrated ($6,950). Indeed, much of the LTA and F&R magic comes from the attributes I associate with the high end. It is not just all about a fun tone, but rather tangible dynamics and razor sharp focus. Now don’t get me wrong, the Raven II does have a fun tone to it. Not necessarily an overly colored one, but something you could very much see decorating the airwaves of an office filled with the scents of leatherbound books or rich mahogany. It is classy, articulate and non-offensive. The voicing offers touches of the paper cone material laced in its construct, but the plethora of information passed along from the mids and treble is truly the stuff that makes up the upper registers of this hobby.
As for the low end, the situation is not as bleak as one might think. According to the product page the bass frequencies start to thin around “mid 60’s with a gentle 3 db slope”. How this translates to listening carries over as some thump and bump, but not a ton of overall teeth-rattling low end reach. The exit is smooth and not unnatural however, also manages to side step the trappings of one note bass problems that can sometimes plague bass recreations.
In direct comparisons to the QLN Signature 3 ($7k) and the Von Schweikert Unifield 2 Mk. III ($11k) my notes reflect an observation of “most addictive tonality”. While the Raven II did not corner the ported QLNs on the low end, imaging was tighter and more informative in the treble section. Listening to Billie Eilish’s vocals on everything I wanted, her lyrics seemed to hover in the space between the speakers with clearer edging and definition. The Von Schweikert Unifield 2 put the imaging to task, but at nearly twice the price. If you prefer more mid-high information than your average box speakers, then the Raven II might just be your cup of tea. When considering the LTA Z10 combo, the pairing made for the tightest image out of all the synergies deemed reasonable. The simplicity of the full range driver may give it a slight advantage in more ways than one, but surely a single point source doesn’t hurt the focus much either.
Also not to be overlooked is the robust sense of start-and-stop, loud-to-soft range of the Seas driver. It was perhaps the first thing I noticed when I plugged them in, and remains a standout characteristic for the pair – even after hours of critical listening. Guitars pop out, vocals reach toward you and the whole presentation attacks in a manner which mimics real life closer than probably 99.99% of loudspeakers produced in any given year.
The real proposition for the Raven II lies around the idea that they are a true bookshelf style speaker and in that regard, they are most successful – maybe the most successful. A bookshelf would be so lucky to house these well-crafted speakers in a horizontal position. Its hifi in a truly small space. For what they are, they provide. Plenty of snap, detail and fidelity to spare from a single driver. The casework is a delight and a highlight. They fit the bill and then some. A pairing with the hand-selected LTA Z10 is also recommended, especially with those who call for a premium on space. Partnered with the Z10 integrated good tonal structure is fleshed out without too much compromise anywhere else, and imaging is holographically maximized. It’s a tight little combination in more ways than one.
More info: Fern & Roby Raven II
This is part 2 of our Fern & Roby Raven II review. If you would like to hear more about the loudspeaker’s background (including a interview with designer Christopher Hildebrand) you can find that here: Raven II Review – Part 1