A black and walnut color scheme has dominated my listening room since the pandemic began. I haven’t attempted to resist it very well, the carpet matches the drapes – so to speak. The TV stand matches the blinds, which matches with the wood paneling which usually matches with the reference speakers. At the time of delivery for the Fern and Roby Raven III review sample, those references were still the Sonus Faber Olympica Nova III – a bit more speaker than the Ravens to be sure, at least in terms of physical size and cost. But the new set of speakers entering through the doorway did in fact keep the scheme alive, with a full black front baffle and some stellar woodwork in walnut along the sides, top and bottom of the cabinetry.
Unpacking the Raven III is quite a straightforward affair and the speakers themselves only weigh in at a manageable 48 lbs each. Upon unboxing, my partner and I sat down together for a quick listen. Viewing the Raven 3s for the first time, she asked if they were a new pair of Zu Audio speakers. This assumption does hold some merit, and one might see why the correlation was made. Both brands generally utilize a single full range driver and mid century modern sensibilities in the industrial designs. The Raven III is slightly smaller than your typical entry level Zu Omen however, and there seems to be a fairly wide deviation in the tonal structure that each designer was heading for. More on that later.
The front baffle is made of Richlite, a material manufactured when sheets of paper are stacked up and saturated with a phenolic resin, then heated and pressurized. Sides, top and bottom are solid walnut, a real rarity in both furniture and cabinet design. I’ve always said the simple looks of well constructed 90 degree angle boxes agree quite well with me, as I believe it does with others. It is very rare that I will read about a hater of this type of aesthetic approach for speakers, most people see to really appreciate the simplicity of it all.
I have also adopted a quick tap test to the usual series of tasks I put forth to the subjects of review, applying a strong knock to the top of each cabinet. The resonances can tell an interesting tale of the damping, density and general innards of a speaker. For the Fern and Roby Raven III, it was a solid pingback, although the same test on the SF Novas came back with less vibration overall, a more inert sensation. Back on the Ravens, one could also hear the slight ring of metal, likely from the driver harness. Where the real wrinkle comes is if gains in this arena make any real difference, because if a dead cabinet wins in resolution, this was not the case for Raven Vs Nova. Perhaps as a bit of a surprise, the F&R drivers turned out to be far more detailed than the SF towers in many respects.
Contributing to this high fidelity retrieval is a SEAS full range driver with serious efficiencies when it comes to power (94 dB, 8 ohms). The company website isn’t bashful about the origin story of these drivers, and the pairing makes for easy friends with less powerful tube amplifier topologies. Playing through the NAIM Uniti Star class A/B, the drivers had little issue handling strong volume levels and required a nominal turn of the dial to really get humming. Perhaps a slight mismatch in terms of cost, even the budget friendly Schiit Aegirs in mono block form performed admirably as a match for the more expensive floorstanders. The transparency of the SEAS driver did tend to be a little less forgiving to amplification, allowing one to really hear the nuance of the amplifier and its overall effect on the chain even more. The overall tone leans into audiophile sensibilities, but is still distinctly hifi in its approach. It’s the drivers that you wish your parents all-in-one cabinets from the 70s had in them.
Quite a few of the speakers I have collected over the years tend to splay the music about the room – big, wide and open sound. Sometimes this happens at the expense of cohesiveness. I like big, I like open, but when I first fired up the Raven 3s, they reminded me that detail and transparency to source can be such a wondrous thing. While the Sonus Faber Olympica Nova III may have first appeared with a wider soundstage, the pronounced resolution of the Fern and Roby Raven III allowed for a much deeper, dimensional feel to the music. Things really just snapped into focus in a way that I wasn’t really expecting, or had heard in the listening room space in a while. It is also a reminder that any given speaker probably can’t be all things to all people. The more directional, focused delivery may seem like a given at the $8.5k range of loudspeakers, but in reality there are many different flavors at every pricepoint. This flavor will undoubtedly appeal to many an audiophile, vinyl lover, and maybe even the occasional hipster looking to spruce up a downtown loft with a talk piece. For those more musically motivated, the results don’t’ disappoint.
The full range SEAS driver does an exceptional job of controlling the high end without a crossover or even another driver to help assist in the duties. There was a noticeable shift in the high frequency response from the SFON3 tweeters, which brought high hats and crash cymbals to front more, just by a hair. While I’ve always enjoyed the largeness of these 4 driver towers, the Raven 3’s approach made me questions the correctness of the upper registers. I was very pleased with the extension and listenability from this area, a very nice balance of articulation and smoothness to the tonal structure. Mid tones are usually where full range drivers excel best, and the Raven III did not disappoint when it came to recreating the human voice, strings, guitar or piano. High levels of detail transparency were once again the mainstay takeaway from the test tracks as I ran through the paces. There was a slight lean into the source material, as if vinyl and tubes would also excel in the environment. The Fern and Roby Raven III put out what you put into them, they aren’t quite as forgiving as lesser, muddier speakers may be. It steps you up into the front quite easily, if the groove, tape or bits allow it. As for the low end, some of the smaller versions of Fern And Roby speakers have required a separate sub for a full scale presentation. It might just be the price of entry for a more compact size, based around a full range driver. The 3s address this head on, providing more strength and volume in that direction, and allow for bass to be felt, but not at inflated, teeth-rattling levels. It is a fair balance with the mids and treble, neither blowing you out of the water, nor leaving you high and dry. It is articulate as well, but not nearly as a standout quality as the mid-treble presentation of the rest of the band. Think thump, minus all those tin cans rattling in the back.
There is something so classic about a walnut-encased full-range driver loudspeaker. The Fern And Roby Raven III tap into a look and sound that will appeal to many. It does forgo some of the typical audiophile exterior for a more mid century vibe, but sonically it is so much more than a simple talking piece. It does a fair amount of talking all itself. Midband resolution and a relaxed yet refined delivery produce a good vibe, along with an easy-to-like tonality that harkens back to hifi days of yore. The 94 dB efficiency will allow it to tap into even more old school tech like low-wattage tube amplification. It’s a stellar package that highlights a nice evolution for the brand. Well done.
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