Fern and Roby, ModWright Instruments, Black Cat Cable | CAF 2019

I know I’ve been blathering on and on about Fern & Roby lately–the review of the $9500/pair Raven loudspeakers appeared just before the 2019 Capital Audiofest, Eric Franklin and I featured out tour of the factory in the last issue of The Occasional, and I’ll be attending the opening of their showroom in Richmond VA just before Thanksgiving. I also snagged a couple of their unique products at CAF for review–the gorgeous equipment rack you see in these photos, and their now-famous brass record weight. If Christopher Hildebrand of Fern and Roby approves, I’d love to review one of his beautiful turntables in the near future as well.

Tenacious Sound
Capital Audiofest 2019 brought to you in part by Tenacious Sound.
Verdant Audio
Capital Audiofest 2019 brought to you in part by Verdant Audio!

There’s one reason for this enthusiasm for Fern and Roby, and that’s it right there…enthusiasm. To me, this gear looks great, sounds great, and as I mentioned in my Raven review these are lifestyle products that bond with you and your sensibilities. I get excited when I see this gear, especially in my home.

In this room, however, Fern and Roby introduced a new twist–ModWright Instruments. Outside of the review period for the Ravens, I’ve only heard Fern and Roby matched with Linear Tube Audio amplification, which is a synergistic match that Christopher recommends for his clients. (He also recommends Black Cat Cable as well, which was present throughout the system.) In fact, Fern & Roby had a second room at CAF that featured the smaller Raven II loudspeakers and LTA–more on that later. But Fern & Roby has been choosing the ModWright Instruments phono stages for quite some time, so it was only a matter of time before Dan Wright came up with something very special to complement the Fern & Roby gear…the Ai325 300B integrated.

The Ai325, which was offered at an introductory price of $9995, uses 300Bs in a push-pull Class AB configuration for around 25 watts per channel. (The Ravens, of course, are highly-efficient at 94 dB.) The overall sound was a little different than when Fern & Roby pairs with LTA, but I’m not going to compare which one is better. It’s a slightly different presentation–LTA is pure and immediate, while the ModWright is bigger and more authoritative. Both amps combos allow the relaxed and open sound of the Ravens to come through.

The rest of the system included Fern & Roby’s Tredegar turntable with Schroder arm ($16,500), ModWright SW 9.0 phono stage ($2900) and Soundsmith MI/MC Star cartridge ($1995). Dan also brought one of his modded Pioneer CD players, but I didn’t get to hear it. Christopher Hildebrand added another new item to the system on the second day of the show–a custom-made extension piece for a 12″ tonearm to be used with the Tredegar. With this wooden block in place, the sound in the Fern & Roby and Modwright Instruments room clearly jumped up to another level with deeper bass and a warmer balance–close to what I experienced while the Ravens were guests in my home.

I kept thinking, man I miss these speakers. Also, I’d love to spend more time with the amp.