I first took closer notice of Fern & Roby earlier this year after seeing a segment on the company during one of my frequent “How It’s Made” marathons on the Discovery Channel.
While the series usually spotlights manufacturers that make common consumer items such as clocks, hard-drives and automobile engines, this particular report focused on a Virginia-based furniture company that had decided to put its engineering know-how and experienced craftsmen to work on a high-end turntable.
The business was Fern & Roby. The product the show documented being made involved Fern & Roby artisans hand-casting a 70-pound iron plinth and a 35-pound brass platter. The workers finished and joined the pieces, then attached a rubber belt, a premium tonearm from Frank Schröder and a Soundsmith or Denon cartridge. The firm called its creation the Tredegar turntable ($10,500).
Seeing workers also sawing salvaged pine and other fine woods to make stunning rustic-yet-contemporary furniture, as well as putting their talents to work on speakers featuring the same materials, I was fascinated.
After Fern & Roby appeared on the list of exhibitors at this summer’s Capital Audiofest, I shot a quick “check them out!” email to Part-Time Audiophile publisher Scot Hull, who was scheduled to attend. Turns out he had first written about the company in 2014. Not much gets past our chief (well, except for the occasional writer’s invoice).
Finally, I got a chance to audition a Fern & Roby turntable myself at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, where the firm was sharing a room with Voxative of Germany.
Fern & Roby was showing its Montrose Heirloom turntable ($8,500 with tonearm and cartridge), a trickle-down model from the Tredegar. The Montrose Heirloom has the same brass platter, but is not quite the beast overall that its bigger brother is.
The company also displayed its least-expensive table, also called the Montrose ($4,950 without the Heirloom upgrade). This base model doesn’t have the heroic castings of the other two vinyl-spinners, but its platter does have round brass inserts to ensure it’s plenty weighty, and the same degree of care is put into its production.
The Montrose also includes such features as an exposed bubble level and leveling feet, and the tonearm overhang adjustment is integrated into the armboard for easy calibration.
I listened to the Montrose feeding a system mainly from Voxative, including its 9.87 speakers ($39,990 as shown), T211 tube integrated amplifier ($17,900), Ampeggio speaker cable ($5,375 for 3.5 meters) and Ampeggio interconnects ($3,570 for 1.5 meters).
The Voxative speaker’s design was just as intriguing as Fern & Roby’s turntables. The 9.87 features an 8-inch, full-range, field-coil equipped cone (with an efficiency of 105 decibels!) positioned at the top of a tall tower. That single driver, however, is augmented by two Neodymium woofers (99 dB efficient) which are powered by two built-in, 250-watt class AB plate amps.
This dipole woofer section has an adjustable crossover that runs up to 120 Hz. The whole system has a frequency response of 20-20,000 Hz.
The 9.87 also is unusual in that it allows customers to upgrade the full-range driver. The one used in the sample displayed at RMAF was the midpoint of the three cones offered, There is a lower-end model that drops the speaker price to $29,900 and a premium driver that pushes the tag to $49,900.
I auditioned the system with Van Morrison’s “Moondance.” The first thing that struck me was that the sound was remarkably cohesive, balanced and detailed. Dipole woofer designs sometimes trade speed for depth, but the 9.87 was able to do both, producing a full, but tight, bottom end.
Van’s patented, bluesy wail can get edgy on some speakers. Here, however, he sounded expressive and dynamic, but not harsh. Sibilants also were under control.
In absolute terms, the mid-price driver in this pair of 9.87s sounded slightly tilted-up, but not overly bright. Detail was good and there was little grain to be heard. Pacing and pitch also were first-rate, with the speakers likely being aided by the Montrose turntable.
Fern & Roby and Voxative are two companies that value innovation and craftsmanship in this day of me-too gear and outsourced manufacturing. The result is products the firms and their employees are very proud of. You could be, too.