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CAF 2018: Fern & Roby, Linear Tube Audio, Black Cat Cable; ring in a new era










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Fern & Roby take us on a journey into the wide open bandwidth, while Linear Tube Audio rings in a new era for tube integrated amplifiers, Black Cat Cable crosses our path.

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The Story

Sunday at an audio show is always a little bit slower, a little more relaxed, and a whole lot more “are we done yet?” Many of us on the press side are tying up loose ends, or returning to our favourite rooms to squeeze in another listen. I on the other hand am still clamoring to hear everything I can. Still, I share in the audio show fatigue that settles in on everyone, in that regard I am not special. To say the least, my pump is not primed for hearing something and liking it, in fact, my metaphorical listening well is near dry.

Having the feeling that I had not covered enough, heard enough, or made my way to be as social as I could — I pop into the Fern & Roby room to see Chris Hildebrand (founder of Fern & Roby). It’s late in the day, and the show is nearing end, but I know I can work in a listen or two, with the new speakers from Fern & Roby and the new LTA Z10 integrated.

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First off, I’m sucker-punched by a gloriously welcoming sound as I enter the room. I see a turntable spinning, and I take note of the Hana EL cartridge. It draws me in. Then to make things better (or worse) I’m not so subtly seduced by the walnut legs on a pair of floorstanding Raven speakers. These are the new full-range Ravens I had heard so much about throughout the weekend. They live up to the heirloom quality look and build that mingles closely to the Fern & Roby name. Outfitted with a single eight-inch full-range alnico magnet driver, music flows across the room in gentle waves.

Equally alluring as the sound is the new LTA Z10, which required closer inspection to really appreciate the outward design of the chassis. Partnering with Fern & Roby on the design, the trademark Fern & Roby elements of clean lines and simple straightforward layout are present. Along with the rustic colors and tones we’ve come to expect from a Chris Hildebrand design.

The new Linear Tube Audio Z10 integrated marries an improved version of the ZOTL 10 power amplifier with an Berning designed preamplifier, along with an LTA control system and phono preamp. Power is rated at 10 wpc into 8-ohms, and 12 wpc into 4-ohms — but don’t be fooled by these power ratings. Tube amplifiers can deliver much higher power than solid state amps with the same power rating, this LTA Z10 can drive a 90db (and above) sensitivity loudspeaker to thundering levels.

The Sound

As far as whizzer-coned wide-band loudspeakers go, none I’ve experienced sound like the new one from Fern & Roby. Remarkably smooth and grain-free on the top end to my ears, especially when taking into consideration the driver cone material, and history surrounding such driver designs. Mid-range flourished across the room both wide and tall in an inviting way. As witnessed a many times, by people entering the room and deciding right away that investigating this sound was worthwhile. Bass was fast and tuneful, not surprisingly so, but as I expected it to be. Bass was deeper and controlled than I expected. Especially for such a large exhibit room and only ten to twelve watts per channel of amplification. “Low distortion and high speed” sum up my listening notes.

I don’t really get excited about loudspeakers like I used to, but the Raven floorstander really does get my heart going.

Overall, the sound was beyond charming and full of life. Despite the sometimes cold hotel setting, the system imbued the room with a sense of natural warmth, comfort, and security.

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The System

Fern & Roby

– The Montrose Heirloom Turntable w/ Uni-Pivot Tonearm – $9,500 USD

– Ravens Loudspeakers – $7,500 USD

– Ravens Bookshelf Loudspeakers – $4,500 USD

– Walnut Amp Stand – $225 ea USD

– Isolation Feet – $45 ea USD

– Brass Record Weight – $95 ea USD

Excel Sound Corporation (Japan)

– Hana EL Phono Cartridge (Elliptical tip, Low output) – $475 USD

Linear Tube Audio

– Z10 Integrated Amplifier w/ Maverick Phono Preamp – $4,950 USD

Black Cat Cable

– Coppertone RCA (1.5m) – $249 pr USD

– Coppertone Speaker (5m) – $599 pr USD

PS Audio

– DirectStream P20 Power Plant – $9,999 USD

AudioQuest

– NRG 4 AC Power Cable (3m) – $499 USD