RMAF 2017: Fern & Roby, Linear Tube Audio, and Black Cat Cable

Montrose turntables by Fern & Roby.

Some rooms at hifi-audio shows are infused with synergy. Every component in the set-up works flawlessly with every other component in the signal path. Some call this a curated system – one that is built from time, research, and experience with many manufacturers. Knowing what amplifier works perfectly with what speaker, which tonearm with which turntable, understanding the properties of tubes or cables, and being able to choose those that can add a touch of warmth, timbral accuracy or transparency borders on the religious in its orthodoxy. This is why systems which achieve it are often referred to as ‘the holy grail’ in high-fidelity circles: that moment when every link in the sonic chain is utterly sympathetic, and one no longer has to live life on the audiophile merry-go-round of buying, and selling gear. I thought of all this while spending time in the Linear Tube Audio, and Fern & Roby room at RMAF in Denver recently.

Linear Tube Audio ZOTL10 MK II amplifier.
Noble-RMAF-2017 940 x 300
RMAF 2017 coverage is proudly sponsored by Noble Audio.

The two men responsible for the system that was in situ were Christopher Hildebrand of Fern & Roby, and Mark Schneider of Linear Tube Audio. In an inspired choice, Chris Sommovigo’s bespoke Black Cat Cable had been chosen to tie everything together, and a gorgeous pair of DeVore Fidelity O/93 loudspeakers completed the tableaux. Having spent some time with Hildebrand recently at his factory in Virginia, I knew of his quest for perfection in everything he tackles professionally, and after speaking with Schneider at the Denver Marriott Tech Centre during the show, that same focus was apparent in him too. So what happens when you get two passionate, audiophile engineers together with their respective gear at a hifi show? You get a fantastic musical-playback experience without any of the bells, and whistles that some rooms push on you. there was no sales pitch here, no Diana Krall or Jennifer Warne in heavy rotation on the turntables (although I did hear an early UK pressing of Pink Floyd’s The Wall twice here over the weekend, for which . was grateful).

Fern & Roby Maverick Phono Preamplifier with balanced MC input stage.
Liner Tube Audio ZOTL40 MK II Power Amplifier.

I shouldn’t say it was all music though, Schneider did discuss the (zero) output-transformerless topology of his amps, and preamps briefly (based on amplifier legend David Berning’s designs), and Hildebrand did show-off his new phono stage that can go from being integrated in the chassis of his Montrose turntable, to a freestanding unit in literally seconds. Hildebrand also discussed how he was working with Schneider on all-new chassis designs for the LTA lineup, which will be unveiled soon. But this was merely educating me to what was going on in the room, no dark arts here, just practical research & development over many years in the pursuit of sonic excellence. I say that because the sonics were excellent, and ticked-off all the boxes I carry around in my head when it comes to high fidelity: timbral accuracy, true tone, balanced frequency response with the upper registers seamlessly blending through the midrange, and bottom end, and an ever changing sound stage from recording to recording, because that is the province of the source, not the system. A system merely allows you to spatially experience what the recording engineers captured. this was a feel-good room with not only audio synergy, but in personality as well.

–Rafe Arnott

Equipment featured in room:

Fern & Roby:

  • Montrose Turntable with On-board Maverick phono preamplifier (with our uni-pivot tonearm is $5,450 USD)
  • Isolation feet $160 USD & the F&R LP weight $110 USD
  • Soundsmith Paua – Low output – Moving Iron cartridge: $3,999.95 USD
  • Montrose Heirloom Turntable (with solid bronze 35 pound reference platter) with Schröder CB tonearm $12,500 USD *Montrose Heirloom with F&R uni-pivot retails for $8,500 USD
  •  Shown with Soundsmith Sussuro – Low output – Moving Iron cartridge: $4,999.99 USD
  •  Maverick Phono preamplifier: $650 USD
  •  Record mat: Herbie’s 3mm ($60 each)

 Linear Tube Audio:

  • MicroZOTL 2.0 (preamplifier) $2,100 USD
  •  ZOTL10 power amp: $3,200 USD

 Devore Fidelity:

  •  Orangutan O/93 loudspeakers: $8,500 USD/pair

 Black Cat Cable:

  • Airwave Interconnects (with LOVECRAFT RCA) – 3.0mpr: $750 USD each
    1 x Airwave Interconnects  (with LOVECRAFT RCA) – 10.0mpr: $1,800 USD each
  • 1 x a. Silverheart MK. II Speaker Cable – 3.0mpr / XOX BANANAS for $600.00 USD each


  •  AudioQuest Niagara 1000 Power conditioner: $1000
  • AudioQuest NRG 1000 NRG power cable: $1000

About Rafe Arnott 389 Articles
Editor of InnerFidelity and AudioStream

1 Comment

  1. I use the MicroZOTL2 as a preamp in a strange configuration. My system goes mostly through Schiit’s $250 (Mimby) Modi Multibit (Vizio TV and all its inputs, Xbox One S {X on release}, PS4 Pro, Nintendo Switch, Laptop (hundreds of CDs ripped), all through HDMI, to TV, optical out to Mimby.

    I have the Schiit Eitr for my cell phone music, which can make it easy for friends to interact with all my music. Also gives me the ability to have sports on, as an example, and listen to music. I have an old LG V20 that is dedicated to it. That’s S/PDF to Mimby. Eitr is an awesome product! Sounds amazing using the phone as a DAP.

    I’ve recently gotten into Vinyl, and ordered the Schiit Mani with a few other things. I didn’t buy my U-Turn Audio, fully upgraded to Ortophon 2M Blue, white plinth with acrylic platter table until a month ago. I’m blown away with it. I’m a complete noob to Vinyl, but my God does it sound insane good. I checked the tracking pressure once I set it up, and it was just about perfect. U-Turn sets everything up for the choices you make. Basically just unbox, plug into the wall and preamp, and start playing records. I have a few Beatles remastered albums (Sgt Peppers, White Album, Help!), Which are all stunning. I own them on the remastered CDs as well. I prefer Vinyl, there’s just something romantic about it. I enjoy cleaning the records, the stylus, and being super careful to not touch the playing service while putting them away. Beastie Boys- Paul’s Boutique I have started playing a lot recently. It sounds unreal. I forgot how great this album was. Digital is too easy to skip around, change artists every song. I buy albums I truly love front to back. The needle drops once per side. Love it.

    I use the Schiit Saga as a pre-preamp as it has 5 inputs, a tube stage, and volume control. This feeds the MicroZOTL2 which is set at 70% usually, into Schiit Vidar, which feeds 200W/channel into my 4 ohm Vienna Acoustics Mozart Grands.

    This setup is just awesome. Saga does passthrough as well, but I find the tube stage actually improves the sound. I have NOS tubes in my MicroZOTL2, but couldn’t tell you which set. Now that I have everything in place, I want to tube roll.

    The MicroZOTL2 was my headphone amp, but when my AVR went, I replaced it with Saga and Vidar. I already owned Mimby and MZ2. Linear Tube Audio offered to upgrade my older style model to the new one, with remote control and a 3rd input, for $440ish?!?. Very good price IMO, but they actually encouraged me to give the Saga a chance. They used one in their office. I came up with the insane connection to use the MZ2 with the Saga, which has worked awesome.

    Linear Tube Audio was a pleasure to deal with. The MicroZOTL2 is an insanely good piece of equipment. Schiit and U-Turn are American companies, who source as much as possible, parts from American companies. Because they sell direct to the consumer, you’re getting a ton of value from them. If they were sold traditionally at high end stores, they’d cost at least double.

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