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Thursday, September 14, 2017

Audiophile Review!
Raven Audio Osprey
Integrated Tube Amplifier:
“A Modern/Classic 6L6 Valve Amp”


Brevis...
Price $4,595
Likes: classic tube tone, attractive look
Dislikes: a little bit pricey for 30 watts
Wow Factor: perfect for stand speakers
More info: Raven Audio Osprey


by John Gatski
  Tube hi-fi amplifiers never go out of favor, and even today, they come in a plethora of configurations, sizes and power levels. I have listened to countless tube amps over the last 25 years from Rogue Audio’s finest to old Macs and Marantz's — and everything in between.
  Newcomer Raven Audio, manufactured in Texas is emerging as a player in the tube amp niche with a number of nice amps that pay homage to the old days, but also offer modern features, such as remote, IEC power cord and auto bias.
  Case in point is the $4,595, manufactured in USA, 30-watt Raven Audio Osprey, an amp that reminds you of the early 1960s integrateds with its open-chassis, prominent front-mounted tubes and covered transformers.
  Via a 6L6 push-pull output circuit, the Osprey puts out an ample 30-watts per channel CLASS AB. Its tube complement also includes a 12AT7 - 2EA for the preamplifier stage, 12AT7 - 2EA for the power amp first stage and a 12AU7 - 2EA - phase inverter/driver.

Features
  The Osprey’s build quality is exemplary with tidy circuit boards, chassis made out of carbon steel (main cabinet) and aircraft-grade aluminum (faceplate and preamplifier tube plate). The handles are manufactured out of solid aluminum, and the knobs are machined out of aircraft-grade aluminum as well. Overall, the Osprey is an attractive amp that should please the eyes of any hi-fi enthusiast. It comes in two colors: jade and pearl white. I had several audiophiles over when I had the jade amp in demo, and they commented how cool it looked.


  Like old Mac MC30s, the Raven Osprey is perfect for stand speakers; the Legacy Studio HDs and the Amphions really shined  — with a spot-on bass/treble balance and a golden, sparkling top end.

  Besides the 6L6GC output tube complement, supplied with Russian-made tubes, the Osprey receives the royal treatment in internal parts including RavenCap – Silver Foil; PTFE high-quality audio capacitors and Alps Black Motorized 20 k ohm volume potentiometer.
  The amp is housed in a partial, open-chassis (tube) and an enclosed compartment for the power transformers located in the rear. The front controls are simply laid out on the front panel: power knob, volume control and source selector.
  As far as the circuit, the Class A/B auto-biased system is designed to work with  the 6L6GC spec tubes. The auto bias take care of the bias, as long as the tubes are matched quads.


Easy connection and plenty of them


  Raven President Dave Thomson said the amp is designed for 6L6 (G, B or A) output tubes as well 5881 or KT 66s —  even 7581As for a "little extra kick." Older 6l6WBT tubes, however, are not recommended because of the higher plate voltage required by the tube.
  The back panel contains six pairs of unbalanced RCA inputs, and 4 and 8 ohm speaker binding posts. The IEC power cord is a bonafide 14 gauge wire made in France.
  From a design standpoint, the Raven Osprey is a modern update of the classic 6l6GC design of say the old Mac amps of the early 1960s. Tube watts often seem fuller and louder than solid state watts, and the Osprey has got plenty of oomph with just 30 watts. Thomson said Osprey is a “highly souped-up, highly customized, much more powerful version of the company's Blackhawk LE Integrated.” All Raven amps are made in Trinity, Texas

The set up
  I installed the Raven Audio Osprey in my primary audiophile room, and plenty of different speakers were on hand for testing with the tube amp. Raven says the amp performs best with speakers with 90 db+ sensitivity, though I drove the MartinLogans with no problem, though their powered sub means the Osprey saw a lighter bottom-end load.
  Speakers included my MartinLogan Montis, a pair of Legacy Studio HD’s, Westlake LC8.1s and a pair of the Finland-produced Amphion. All of the latter speakers are nearfield,  stand speakers.
  Source gear included Oppo BDP-205 universal player, and several DACs: the  Oppo Sonica DAC, Benchmark DAC3 HGC and Mytek BrooklynI also auditioned the Osprey for LP record playback, utilizing a Parasound Zphono with a VPI Player TT and Hanna high-output moving coil.
  Wireworld Eclipse cables were used for speakers, analog and digital connections. Essential Sound Products Essence Pro II power cables, power strip connected the components to the AC.

The audition
  To get a sense of the Osprey's stereo imaging and transient impressions, I first hooked to the MartinLogan Montis. Since the bass is handled inside the Montis via a self powered acoustic suspension 10-inch woofer, the Osprey was not driving below 300 Hz. But it allowed me to first hear how the tube amp handles the critical midrange and treble.
  Playing the DMP SACD of Steve Davis  — Thought About You, which has fantastic percussion. I found the Osprey’s top end to be warm, yet seductive. It relayed the brash cymbal splash with that pleasing tube smoothness. Not quite as fast as say my Pass XA-30 Class MOSFET amp, but I thoroughly enjoyed the tone.

Raven amp assembly at U.S. factory

  And, by the way, the Osprey did the MLs proud. The imaging is huge via the dipole electrostatics, and the amp does a nice job putting the sonic info across the speaker plane.
  As good as the supplied tubes sounded, I popped in a matched set of Yugoslav-manufactured JJ 6L6GCs and found that the Osprey became even more transient rich and slightly faster on cymbals, pianos and such. I liked the increased accuracy I heard with that tube complement.
  On the Joshua BellTchaikovsky: Violin Concerto in D SACD, the JJ tubes opened up the harmonics on the violin versus the factory-made tubes more velvety signature. I liked the amp with those JJ tubes, but I also tried a 1990s matched quad of Svetlana 6L6GCs, which had an identical tone to the JJ’s.
  With the top end sounding pretty darn good, I switched off to a set of Pass SR-1, three-way towers with the amp now driving the entire speaker. Though not the most sensitive of transducers, the Pass speaker ramped up to a loud enough level, if required, But more importantly, it showed that the Osprey's bass performance was quite good.
  The Raven’s bass was full, but not slow through the Pass towers, and the upper end was musically smooth with strong dimension to 5 kHz and above. The Pass tower speakers revealed that the Osprey had a classic tube tonality and balance but with good dynamics.

Perfect for stand speakers
  The best balance of sound I got out of the Osprey was with stand speakers, such as the Westlake LC8.1 (8-inch woofer/1-inch tweeter), Legacy Studio HD (6-inch woofer/ribbon tweeter) and the Amphion Argon3S (5-inch woofer, 1-inch tweeter).
  Like old Mac MC30s, the Raven Osprey is perfect for stand speakers; the Legacy Studio HDs and the Amphions really shined  — with a spot-on bass/treble balance and a golden, sparkling top end.
  The Tuck and PattiWith Love CD from 2003 is a beautifully mic’d vocal and guitar recording that showcases Patty's complex vocal tones, while Tuck’s modified Gibson L5 jazz guitar plays incredible solo and rhythm runs that are so fleshed out and full. The CD, as played through the Osprey and Legacy Studio HDs, was very musical to use a well worn phrase. That voice/guitar cohesion shined via the Raven — with a slight rounding of the percussive guitar picking that made it easy to listen to.
  On the Amphion Argon3S’s, I liked my tried and true audiophile test tracks. The title track from the Warren BernhardtSo Real SACD. As mentioned many times in my reviews, the drum cymbal recording is among the best I have ever heard. The Amphions are very accurate little speakers, and the Osprey pushes through the essence of the brushes and snare rim shots with a slightly reserved character that fits the speaker perfectly.

 Although there are plenty of tube amps out there that range in prices from the hundreds to the many thousands of dollars, the Raven Audio Osprey is a good choice for a low-powered, tube integrated for small-room listening. Vinyl fans, hi-res audio aficionados and those who just like the glow of the valve, will like this amp.

  The Westlake LC8.1’s really stood out when playing the limited LP release of The Isao Suzuki QuartetBlow Up, a 1970s audiophile Jazz LP favorite that consists of upright bass, drums and piano, re-released a few years ago in a half speed, special vinyl. The treble-rich, analog tape source recording, as played via the bang-for-the-buck Hana cartridge and VPI Player TT, hit its stride with the Osprey. The Westlake's soft-dome tweeter ease on cymbals and bright piano textures helped to balance it all out.
  And the Osprey’s spacious stereo width and depth, with the 6L6’s warmth intact, was readily apparent. The Parasound phono pre is not expensive, but it did a  fine job with the Hana cartridge and a great sounding record.
  On harder, denser Pop music and heavy Rock, I am not always a fan of vintage tube amp tone. It can sound really mushed on lesser amps. But the Osprey surprised me on some older, analog-sourced Rock and Roll.
  The 24/192 remaster of NirvanaIn Utero sounded surprisingly detailed and fleshed out, considering all the electric "fuzz" from Kurt Cobain’s guitar. Classic Black Sabbath in 24/96 (Vol. 4, for example,) also was not as thick as I thought it would be through the Osprey. Tony Inomi's Gibson guitar riffs and rock hard solos kicked butt.
  Classic country music revealed an ear-friendly richness via the Osprey. Waylon JenningsHonky Tonk Heroes 24/96 RCA reissue (from HDtracks), for example, really sounded good through the Osprey/Legacy Studio HD tandem. Ralph Mooney’s edgy steel guitar gets tamed a bit via the tube stage, making it more listenable at higher levels. Love that jangle of Waylon's Telecaster.

Trying different tubes
  I should point out that Raven sent me a bunch of extra signal tubes, vintage NOS including Telefunkens, etc. I did not think they made as much difference as did switching output tubes. In my opinion, when a properly designed, signal tube is mated to the proper circuit, even a Chinese tube can sound good. I usually judge signal tubes by how noisy they are. The supplied tubes were pretty quite and, thus, I was happy.


The pearl white Osprey

  Raven President Dave Thomson does believe that different tubes can have a subtle effect on the tone, and he is a big fan of NOS USA and European tubes. He recommends experimenting with various brands of signal tubes. “Feel free to experiment and depending on your speakers, the cables, etc. you will be able to find something that you like better than all others.”
  Regarding his penchant for seeking out the perfect tube, Thomson added: “And this is one of the main reasons tube amps are so darn much fun!”
  Overall, I had no problems with the Raven Audio Osprey, no extraneous noises, excessive hiss or hum. Once I dialed in my choice for output tubes, I was golden. The remote control worked perfectly, it was easy to connect banana plug speaker cables, and, most importantly,  the Osprey had a musical charm when sitting down to listen — just like my original mid-1960s Macintosh MC275.

The verdict
  Though there are plenty of tube amps out there that range in prices from the hundreds to the many thousands of dollars, the Raven Audio Osprey is a good choice for a low-powered, tube integrated for small-room listening. Vinyl fans, hi-res audio aficionados and those who just like the glow of the valve, will like this amp.


  It ain’t cheap at nearly $4,600, but it is a fine stereo tube integrated amplifier, nonetheless, that looks as good as it sounds. Because of its combination of tube sonics, user versatility, attractive appearance and USA build, EAN is giving it a Stellar Sound Award.

   John Gatski has been evaluating consumer, audiophile, home cinema and professional audio gear since 1988. In 1995, he created Pro Audio Review, and he has written for Audio, Laserviews, Enjoy The Music, The Audiophile Voice, High Performance Review, Radio World and TV Technology. Everything Audio Network is based in Kensington, Md. Articles on this site are the copyright of the ©Everything Audio Network. Any unauthorized use, via print or Internet, without written permission is prohibited. John Gatski can be reached via email: everything.audio@verizon.net

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Audiophile Review!
Bryston 14B3 Stereo Amplifier:
“Accuracy Ramps Up a Notch,
Same Massive Power Delivery”

Silver Bryston 14B3 Everything Audio Network

Brevis...
Price $10,795
Likes: ultra accuracy, big power
Dislikes: amp heft requires two people
Wow Factor: no speaker is too daunting
More info: Bryston 14B3

by John Gatski
  I have been reviewing Bryston amps since the 1990s. One of my favorites has always been the big 14B-SSTII model, a dual-mono stereo, single-chassis version of the Bryston 7B monoblocks. I was so impressed by the amp’s sonic neutrality that I purchased the review sample of the 14B-SSTII in 2003 and have faithfully used it for almost every speaker review I have done, plus hours of listening for ultra hi-res playback. It is that good.
  With the Bryston, I never had to worry about its pairing with any speakers, and having the big B in the system meant no amp coloration. I could focus on the other components and enjoy the utmost detail of hi-res music playback.  So my 14B-SSTII has been in constant use all the years, and I never really thought about replacing it.
  But along comes the new Bryston 14B3 Cubed Series, reviewed here. About the same power, and although I did not think that Bryston could improve on the sonic character, by golly, it does sound a bit fresher, a tick up in stereo imaging and ease of listening.

Features
  Priced at $10,795 retail, the Bryston 14B3 dual-channel (stereo) amplifier, the stereo flagship of the new Cubed Series, is basically two 7B3’s, which have been combined in a dual-mono modular design and has the power to drive any speaker from modest towers to "impossible" loads of exotic loudspeakers; the powerful stereo amp is rated at 600 watts into 8Ω; a whopping 900 watts into 4Ω. Distortion is less than .05 percent along its power bandwidth, which extends to 100 kHz.
  The new 14B3 has got the power slam, but relays an increased sense of detail refinement, smoothness, imaging and upper-end air over the SSTII series. It sounds fresher, more concise than the old amp.

  As you would expect, damping factor is impressive: greater than 300 at 20Hz (8Ω), and signal to noise is -120 dB with balanced input. This amp is made for real hi-res music. According to Bryston, the Cube amp line embodies the “first to last watt” philosophy. A significant part of the design criteria for the new Cubed amplifiers was to develop amplifiers that would maintain an ideal power curve through the “first and last watt” including noise floor and distortion.

All watts matter
  According to Bryston’s white paper on the new amps, “most amplifiers exhibit a power curve whereby the best noise floor, drive capability and distortion are maintained from about 1/3 power and up. The new Bryston Cubed series maintain their ideal power curve right from the first watt to the last watt. Think of it like a torque curve in a car. The sweet spot or the torque curve has been expanded.”
  Bryston says that achieving this “first-to-last-watt” fidelity and clarity is the result of multiple design approaches. First is the elimination of low-level crossover, or zero-crossing, artifacts.  According to Bryston, most Class AB amplifiers have sufficient bias to prevent primary crossover distortion, but another type of crossover artifact, “secondary crossover distortion,” is the result of insufficient speed in the driver transistors.
Bryston 14B3 Inside Everything Audio Network
Dig those massive power transformers

  Bryston utilizes fast drivers to prevent the secondary crossover distortion, but more important is Bryston's proprietary Quad Complementary Output design, which is said “to vastly reduce the capacitance seen by the driver transistors, virtually eliminating storage delay in the output stage that could contribute to nonlinearities in the zero-crossing region.”
  Another key improvement in the Cubed Series is Bryston's continuing effort to reduce low-level noise. The clarity of Bryston's design is enhanced at low-listening levels by pushing the noise floor far below the signal level, improving the “silence between the notes” and enhancing the clarity of the music at low power levels.
  Finally, Bryston has focused on reducing distortion at all levels, especially at high frequencies. Bryston amplifiers show  remarkably 'flat' THD-with-frequency curves, showing almost no tendency to increase distortion as frequency rises. This has the effect of reducing overall “haze,” helping to pull the quietest passages out of the background.
  Bryston VP James Tanner also noted other contributors to the 14B3’s low-level audio clarity, including power-supply design  which improves the placement-in-space and focus of the sonic “image.” “We think the overall result is an unprecedented degree of clarity and freedom from artificiality,” Tanner said, “especially noticeable at lower levels — in comparison with other designs, but continuing to even the highest outputs.”
  The B3 Cubed Series also includes several other amps including the 135wpc 2.5B3, the 300wpc 4B3, previously mentioned 7B3 monoblocks, the 1,000wpc 28B3 and various models in Bryston’s professional range. They are all made in the Bryston factory in Canada. And yes, they still have that 20 year warranty.

Make the connection
  As an amplifier, the 14B3’s rear panel is simply laid out. Balanced XLR and single-ended RCA jack connections, speaker binding posts, remote operation connection and two-stage gain switch, 23 dB or 29 dB, input selector switch, remote power connection, main power switch and a status light. The 14B3 pro version also has rotary attenuators. For easier  movement, the rear also has rack handles.

Back Panel Bryston 14B3 Everything Audio Network
All the connections a stereo amp needs

  The new Cubed series have also been redesigned aesthetically with a modern look that is not as rectangular looking as the old series. The left and right side rounded indentations give it a slicker look with the rack handles overlaying each side. The 14B3 comes in black and silver finishes. They can also be ordered with a 17-inch or 19-inch  faceplate configuration. As you would expect for a massive power stereo Class A/B amp, it is quite heavy: about 90 pounds. In lifting and moving the new amp, it seemed a bit heavier than the old 14B-SSTII.

The set up
  I paired up the Bryston 14B3 with a variety of speakers including a pair of Pass Labs Tower SR-2s. Westlake Tower 5s (review upcoming) and two MartinLogan models: the new Impression and my Montis.
  The playback system included Oppo BDP-205 universal player, Benchmark DAC-3 HGC, a Mytek Brooklyn DAC, Clear Audio Emotion turntable/Benz MC cartridge, Rogue Audio RP-5 all-tube preamplifier (for the phono stage), and my tried and true CODA line preamp. Other amps on hand included Pass Labs X350.8, the Bryston 14B-SSTII and a Rogue Audio Medusas Class D/tube amp.
  All interconnects were done with the Wireworld Eclipse line of analog, digital, USB and speaker cables. Power was routed through the Essential Sound Products Essence Reference II power cords and power strip.

The audition
  First up were some of my favorite jazz tracks in hi-res, played through the MartinLogan Montis. Since the Montis have their own powered woofers, I was mainly listening for the air, detail smoothness and music realism conveyance via the hi-res tracks.
  On the Warren BernhardtSo Real SACD, as played on the Oppo BDP-205 with its new ESS Sabre DAC Pro chip, I immediately heard an immense soundfield with the jazz piano, drums and bass. Great clarity of the upper-register Steinway piano notes and cymbal brushes. What I didn’t hear was amp coloration; my favorite Bryston attribute is its sonic neutrality. There is no amp flavor at all. The MLs and upstream components all worked together to give that openness and studio dynamic that I hear in real music. The 14B3 just relayed it.
  Switching over to the older 14B that neutral character was still there, but the new amp revealed a bit more refined smoothness. The older amp seems a smidgen sharper in the high midrange when playing at low levels. Maybe because it is 14 years old, it needs a refresh, but I definitely preferred the 14B3 to the SST-II.

  On the 2006 Telarc SuperBass Recorded Live At Scullers, Ray Brown Christian McBride and John Clayton, the Pass speakers' bottom end got a big work out with the three maestro class bassists digging deep. Immersive, chunky full, room filling bass, without a subwoofer, that the Bryston kept in check with extended bottom end.

  I listened to another dozen or so SACDs and hi-res downloads, and my conclusion pretty much held up through all the MartinLogan listening. The amp gets out of the way and allows those magic electrostatic panels to shine.
  Moving on to the Pass SR-2s with 12-inch woofers, I could now test the bass caliber of the 14B3. Listening to the Flim And The BB’s — Tricycle SACD, another DMP recording of yore, the kick drum slam was fast, tight — with no slow bloom in the midbass. Ditto with several organ recordings that were made with pipe organs with huge bass pipes, down into the low 20 Hz range. The speakers could not quite get that low, but down to 28 Hz, the Towers relayed out a very tight organ bottom end.
  On the 2006 Telarc SuperBass Recorded Live At Scullers, Ray Brown Christian McBride and John Clayton, the Pass speakers' bottom end got a big work out with the three maestro class bassists digging deep. Immersive, chunky full, room filling bass, without a subwoofer, that the Bryston kept in check with extended bottom end. Wow! Did this recording kick ass.
  On the new Westlake Tower 5s, the Bryston was a total complement to the Westlake’s accurate voice response. The 5-inch woofers don’t deliver the thunderous low end of a subwoofer, but there is plenty of bass for most music and the speakers’ lack of midrange and low treble coloration made listening sessions a pleasure through a great amp.

  If you are looking for amplifier honesty and the ability to drive any speaker in the largest of rooms, or just like the power reserve on hand in your modest listening area, the 14B3 is one to consider.

  Case in point was the Tsuyoshi Yamamoto TrioMidnight Sugar SACD (Three Blind Mice) with a juicy upright bass, piano and drums. On some amp/speaker combos, the high-register  piano amplitude can be hard on the ears when played loudly, but the Westlake/Bryston tandem delivered the loud notes without me reaching for the volume. Well done.
  On classical music, I really enjoyed a recently discovered SACD: The two Sergei Prokofiev Concertos as played by Arabella Steinbacker, accompanied by the Russian National Orchestra. This 2012 violin/orchestra performance is not only beautifully played but the rich, harmonics-filled tone of the vintage Stradivarius is amazingly life like. And the Bryston delivered it that way, without any stridency in the violin reproduction.

Rocking the Bryston
  I played a dozen or so pop recordings including the Michael JacksonThriller SACD, Daft PunkRandom Access Memories HD Tracks hi-res download, and the remix/remaster of the 50th Anniversary BeatlesSgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band LP, played on a VPI Player Turntable with a dandy MC cartridge from HANA.
  As with any other genre that I played through the Bryston, the 14B3 handled it all without a fuss. MJ’s "Bille Jean" bass lines and kick drum really showcased the amps ultra-quick bass extension. The Sgt. Pepper remix is highlighted by a much better stereo image with proper instrument balance and air. The 14B3 rendered such tracks as “Day In the Life” and “Lovely Rita” with a perfect blend of vocal and instrument layers that revealed what an expert remix and remaster can do for an old recording.

Black Bryston 14B3 Everything Audio Network
Of course, 14B3 Cubed also comes in black

  The old 14B-SSTII, in comparison had the same basic audio signature, but it was slightly courser. Again my old amp is 14 years old with hundreds of hours on it, the basic sound signature is close, but I preferred the new one.
  In comparison to the other designs mentioned, the Bryston 14B3, I believe, is still one of top analog amplifiers for accuracy. Though lower power, the more expensive Class D Veritas is right up there as is the lower power Benchmark ABH2 bipolar. The tube front end Class D Rogue Audio, at a couple hundred watts also evokes music with a high degree of realness and taut bass as well, though it can sound somewhat bright with some speakers. The MOSFET Pass X350.8 is slightly less analytical; with a breath of warmness that can offset digital coldness, but it has gobs of layering and detail reproduction on the ML’s.

Exceptional specs

  Overall, I had no complaints with the Bryston 14B3. A bit heavy as you would predict for a full, dual-mono power supply heavy watter that can put out 900 watts per channel. The amp ain’t cheap at $10,795, but high price is the norm when it comes to North American-manufactured audiophile amps. 
  
The verdict
  I did not believe that the Bryston 14B-SSTII amplifier could be improved upon: the 14B has always been a bastion of neutrality with gobs of power and bipolar-output bass quickness that squeezes out the last ounce of detail.
  However, the new 14B3 has got that power slam, but relays an increased sense of detail refinement, smoothness, imaging and upper end air over the SSTII series. It sounds fresher, more concise than the old amp — especially with hi-res music, such as DSD 5.6, and 24/352 PCM.
  In our opinion, the new Bryston 14B3 Cube stereo amplifier is most certainly an Everything Audio Network Stellar Sound Award winner and a candidate for amp of the year. If you are looking for amplifier honesty and the ability to drive any speaker in the largest of rooms, or just like the power reserve on hand in your modest listening area, this is one to consider.

   John Gatski has been evaluating consumer, audiophile, home cinema and professional audio gear since 1988. In 1995, he created Pro Audio Review, and he has written for Audio, Laserviews, Enjoy The Music, The Audiophile Voice, High Performance Review, Radio World and TV Technology. Everything Audio Network is based in Kensington, Md. Articles on this site are the copyright of the ©Everything Audio Network. Any unauthorized use, via print or Internet, without written permission is prohibited. John Gatski can be reached via email: everything.audio@verizon.net