My turntable is one of those things that really has to be seen in person to be believed. Or comprehended. It’s incredible.
At almost $20k retail, what with all the motors and motor controller upgrades to take the Raven AC to the full AC-3 status, the ‘table is the single most imposing element on the rack. All those pulleys and motors makes my rare visitor pull back and hesitate. A look of puzzlement crosses their face. “That’s a turntable?” they say, their voice rising on that last syllable. It’s incredulity. They can’t believe it. It’s a turntable, yes, but like none you’ve likely ever seen before. And at first sight, it’s gonna do things to your head. Subtle, weird, scrambling things.
If you know anything about high end audio, you’re likely to see the ‘table and hear the price tag and then promptly throw up in your mouth a little. That’s fair. It’s really expensive. And it’s rather unusual looking. Copper and steel and all that black black black everywhere. It’s imposing. It’s intimidating, even.
But everyone wants to touch it. Eventually, with encouragement, they do so. Maybe just a quick touch. And if there’s that lingering over whatever surface, well, it’s really hard to blame them for that. It’s that kind of piece. Touchable. Compulsively so.
Let me take a moment as say that this is, by far, the nicest, most bespoke, piece of audio gear I have — and have ever had — the pleasure and honor of owning. Every surface screams cost and care and meticulousness. You just know, without being told, that what you’re looking at and touching so tentatively and repetitively (my precious …) has a rather dear cost to it. Someone, you just know it deep down, someone took a lot of time to put this together. This is machined, not merely manufactured. Gear heads be warned. You’re gonna want to … do things … to a table like this.
Like use it. And, not surprisingly, this is where you “get it”. What it is that an audiophile waxes poetic about, when they wander over into that fever-dream. It’s this table and the sound it can make. Yes, the sound the table can make. You’ve never heard something so smooth. So easy. So utterly relaxed. So musical.
I think it’s entirely reasonable to sink $10k-$15k on a cartridge for a table of this caliber. Seriously. Since you’ve already gone off the deep end, with both feet first and a big ass boat anchor greedily clutched in your sweaty little hands, then you’re entirely already lost to reason and reasonability. You’re a nutter. $20k for a turntable? Are you mad? Okay, check that — obviously you are. So, why not go whole hog? Why not, indeed? At this point, it seems entirely reasonable. I mean — look at this thing! This is the table that can do justice to that semi-latent urge to collapse into utter hedonism. This is the table that can show you. Transport you.
I feel like I’m in a Calgon commercial.
So, why’d I opt for a $4k Ortofon PW cartridge? Well, it’s bloody outstanding and is entirely comfortable on a table 5x it’s cost. Really. I’ve never heard dynamics like this. The speed, accuracy, tracking and gorgeous textures coming out of this pickup are nothing short of astounding. Enough so that Reason — you know, that whimpering dog you kicked to the curb when you bought the table — can snap off a relieved bark or two before you become entirely and permanently deaf to it’s calls. Sure, I could have gone with an Allaerts or the top-of-the-line Dynavector, and sure, I’d have been able to tell them apart. And sure, they’d have sounded better, too. But not much better. Not enough better.
I opted for the tonearm, too. The Raven 10.5 tonearm is totally in keeping with the table it sits over. Black and silver. Finely machined. Incredible action and (as far as such things go) relatively easy to set up and get right. Took me an hour and everything was more or less in place. Resetting the azimuth was the trickiest bit (that took about 3 days to get “right enough”), but do us both a favor and don’t fiddle with this unless you know it’s off. Mine was perfect out of the box, but you know, I just had to twist all the knobs ….
The anti-skate mechanism is a magnet — set and forget, baby. Set and forget. No more swinging weights! This entire tonearm looks and feels like a Swiss watch. All the bits are “just so” and you just know it when everything locks into place.
Speaking of weights, the action on this guy (above) is like playing with the very finest tools. There’s satisfaction just in touching them and assembling them is entirely obscene. The solid, heavy weight of it in your hand. The feel of the metal as it slides perfectly into place. Twist. Twist. Twist. There’s no chance for error. Everything is under control. Just a little more. Ahhh. Perfect.
Like this VTA adjuster that comes with the Raven tonearm. The feel is s – o – o – o smooth. And the action is steady and gentle. Firm. The control is absurdly precise. Got a record playing? No worries. Not only is the needle not going to jump as you push the ass of your cartridge up and down, but you can actually hear it when the VTA locks in. Oh, so smooth. Is it wrong to think “delicious”? Maybe. But it was pleasurable to touch and play with this mechanism. [sigh]. I think I need a cigarette.
The motors are just as dense and heavy and precisely machined as you could imagine they’d be. Unfortunately, this is where the complexity appears to creep in — at least visually. You need space for these suckers, obviously, and that could be a problem. I mean, there are three of them. But once in place and configured, they’re silent and they just work. It’s eerie. Hit the “On” button on the controller and everything just works. Silently. Smoothly. Think “Bentley” not “Ferrari” and you have an idea of how my mind was processing all this.
The motor controller with those perfect little buttons … why can’t everyone be this meticulous? It’s like the buttons in a BMW. Even the buttons are better in BMW. And here, yes, it’s the same smooth action and finely machined surfaces that are carried over into the buttons and selectors. “On” takes the ‘table up to 33 rpms. Hitting the “45” button takes it to … er, well … 45 rpms. Hitting “On” again turns the motors off. The “Up”, “Down” and “Store” are for setting the speed with a strobe. Once set, the speed is locked with “Store” — and there’s no detectable drift day after day, week after week, month after month …. Did I mention how solid this turntable is? Holy cow. That is heirloom quality folks.
A note about the three motors and the upgraded controller. In a single-motor unit, speed is more variable as that single motor is susceptible to all manner of electrical and mechanical “errors” that speed up and slow down the spinning of the platter. A high-mass platter helps quite a bit as, once in motion, these errors would have to be significant to cause the platter speed to alter. But with three motors instead of one, the little local motor-induced errors are overridden by the other two motors — change now requires almost a system-level failure to have any impact on the spinning of the platter. What does this mean? Rock solid performance. Imperturbable calm. PRAT out the ass. If the recording has it, that table will pull it out and put it on display. Then, it’s a matter of the cartridge and tonearm … and phono preamp, preamp, amp and speakers …. But get the base right, the very source, that first interface, and all good can flow. Fail there and the best you can do is pick up pieces.
The TW Acustic turntable. Absolutely the finest piece of engineering to hit my home. I am humbled by its presence in my system and I count myself one of the very luckiest to have been able to find a home for it.
So much for the “objective” review. Ah, who cares? The damn thing is perfect.