Recently, I had a conversation with a group of my most serious audiophile and music-loving friends regarding the next generation of high-end designers who would shape the products of the future. From where would these creative and talented designers come? After spending over four months reviewing the $7,500 Birch Acoustics floor-standing Raven speaker, I now know that 24-year-old Patrick Schrack, owner of Birch Acoustics, will be a member of this new wave of creative and talented designers. Both Schrack and Birch Acoustics are located in Omaha, Nebraska, right in the heartland of America.
The Raven's dimensions are 42 inches high by nine inches wide by 11.5 inches deep. Each speaker weighs 35 pounds. The Raven's frequency range is listed as 40 Hz to 20 kHz. Its sensitivity is over 95 dB, and it has flat eight-ohm impedance. You could effortlessly drive the Raven with a two- or three-watt amplifier. Each speaker is built of hundreds of rings of birch wood layered on top of each other. Because of its pleasing musical tonality, birch wood has been used for millennia in musical instruments. In the milled-out interior of the Raven is an acoustic diffuser, eliminating the need for dampening materials that could negatively affect the speaker's high frequencies. The exterior of the Raven has sloping curves that reduce any standing waves.
Each Raven speaker has four full-range paper drivers, measuring five inches each. Schrack tested over 24 highly-regarded OEM companies' drivers until he found the driver that offered the desired tonality, full-range extension, and dynamics. Since each driver is full-range, there is no crossover network, which lends to the purity and continuity of sound that the Raven delivers. By eliminating any crossover network and only using full-range drivers, both time coherence and single-source imaging are achieved in the Raven.
On the back of the Raven is a set of very high-quality connections designed by Schrack, which can accept either bare wires or spade connectors. The Raven is shipped with a wooden T-shaped stand that allows you to control the front-to-back angle of the speaker to obtain the optimum performance in your system. The appearance and finish of the Ravens are exceptional. This speaker is not what I would consider "audio bling"; however, the level of craftsmanship and woodworking is very apparent and at a reference level.
Joe Chambers' Urban Grooves album (441 Records), which contains very powerful macro-dynamics, along with well-recorded vibraphone and marimba, can test a speaker's ability to produce punch/dynamics. Additionally, it can test to see if the speaker can reproduce the true timbres/tone and high-end air of those mallet-driven instruments. The Raven speakers rendered all of these details effortlessly and with beautiful tonality. Even though this is a small-footprint speaker, it can really move air for big dynamics, allowing the kick of the music to be felt and heard.
I wanted to hear what the Raven would do with small-scale music, in terms of how much air and image density the speaker could produce, along with the size and layering of the soundstage. The album I used was Live at the Village Vanguard (Concord Jazz) by guitarist Jim Hall and bass player Ron Carter. The acoustic space and ambience of this live recording could be clearly heard through the Raven speakers because of their transparency and virtually nonexistent noise floor. Hall's guitar and Carter's bass fiddle were the right height and size and had a high level of image density.
Next, I selected a big-band recording to evaluate the Raven's ability to portray a large soundstage with a full brass section. The cut I used was "Oh! Look at Me Now" by the Waverly Seven album Yo! Bobby (Anzic Records). The Raven developed pinpoint imaging and a large and realistic soundstage, appearing to have each player of the brass section located where he or she belonged.
Read about the high points and low points of the Raven loudspeaker on Page 2.
• The Raven is based on a very creative and sonically successful design that is simultaneously both simple and complex.
• The speaker's build quality, including both drivers and baffles, along with its fit and finish, are at a very high level of craftsmanship.
• It can be driven by virtually any amplifier on the market today.
• The Raven offers beautiful, natural timbres and seamless top-to-bottom continuity.
• The Raven would fit into either a high-end home theater system or a two-channel rig because of its pinpoint imaging, tonal purity, and excellent dynamics, which would work for both movie scores and music.
• Like all reference-level speakers, the Raven is so revealing that, if any upstream gear is not up to the task, you will hear its shortcomings.
• The Raven Speaker uses only full-range drivers and is quite amazing at being able to reproduce the full spectrum of music. However, it offers just slightly less air at the highest frequencies, compared with speakers that use ribbon or air-motion transformer drivers.
Competition and Comparison
Two competitively priced speakers with which I have had direct listening experience are the Legacy Focus SE (valued at $9,200) and the Adam Audio Classic Column Mk3 (valued at $7,000). Of these two speakers, I prefer the Adam Audio Classic Column Mk3 over the Legacy Focus SE in the areas of timbres/tone and overall transparency and micro details. However, neither speaker comes close to offering the pinpoint imaging, total top-to-bottom continuity, and natural rendering of timbres that the Raven produces.
It is always fun and a true pleasure for me to discover new pieces of gear that are manufactured by dedicated, creative designers. The Raven Speakers offer beautiful tonality, excellent imaging and soundstaging, and a continuity/seamlessness only found in designs that use full-range drivers and eliminate any crossover network. This design can have limitations, such as restricted dynamic range and volume levels, as well as being attenuated in the highest frequencies. The Raven Speakers have all the virtues of a full-range design without any restrictions on dynamic range or ultimate dB levels. These speakers slightly (let me emphasize slightly) give up a little extension and air on the highest frequencies when compared with speakers I have listened to for years that use the finest ribbon and air-motion transformers in much more costly designs.
The Raven Speaker offers reference-level performance and lacks very little in overall music production. It is small enough to fit into virtually any room a
nd can be driven by any amplifier you have in your system. I recommend putting Birch Acoustics' Raven Speaker on your audition list if you are looking for a floor-standing model in this price bracket.