Considering a Raven Audio Blackhawk Integrated for Tannoy Sterlings

I recently purchased a pair of Tannoy Sterling speakers. Rated 91dB sensitive which do not drop below 5 ohms impedance. My room I about 12' x 15' x 8.5'. It is treated with absorption panels to my liking. 

I am currently driving the Sterlings with a BEL 1001 MK5 SS amp (50wpc), itself driven by an Aric Audio Special all tube preamp. System is digital based with an Audio Mirror Tubadour III DAC fed by Mac Mini or CD transport. 

The system sounds wonderful, however I am looking to simplify, and have not experienced tubes in the power amplifier stage. The Blackhawk is 20wpc. I auditioned the Sterlings with a Luxman 20wpc class A SS amplifier. That amp drove them very well in a room volume greater than my room. I am aware that Raven Audio allows a 45 day trial period with loss of shipping only if one wished to return the integrated. 

 I find the Tannoys to have a certain warmth that I enjoy. Not thinking that I need any more provided by an amplifier. Love the 'bloom' and 'air' around notes, soundstaging, and imaging provided by tubes.

Obviously, given the trial period I could audition the pairing in my own room. I am just looking for thoughts from members herein, some that own Raven or Tannoy. Thanks in advance. 

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@mesch Have you called Raven? Might be interesting to talk with them.

Also: what would you say the closest competitors are? Octave v40? VAC? Very curious.
You want bloom and air, soundstaging and imaging without any added warmth. You will find what you want with Raven. I’ve narrowed my search down, and its been a long one, two years at least, to a Raven Blackhawk or Reflection. No indications anywhere that a Blackhawk will not give you everything you want.

I wouldn’t worry about the power. In my system I now have Moabs but I’ve been running Talon Khorus with 50 wpc tube amps for decades. The Khorus are supposed to be 92dB, and I could play them real loud in my 17x24 room. Real loud. Not nearly as loud as the 98dB Moabs but plenty loud.

Watts are not watts. They are not created equal. Those 50w tube amps were equivalent to some very good 150w SS, and I have no doubt the Blackhawks 20 is equivalent to my 50.

There’s only a few Raven owners here, willgolf might chime in he’s had quite a lot of experience with them. Picked his brain and ears real good in my search. I’m sure he will heartily endorse them too. 

Second hilde to call and talk with Dave. The man knows his tubes, has a huge selection, and should be able to set you up pretty good once he knows your taste in sound. 
I have a Blackhawk MK3 driving the 91db Raven Audio Corvus Tower speakers and they are a match made in heaven. Before the Corvus I had a set of Salk SS8’s rated at 86db and the BH did just as well with them. I highly recommend the company and their products. 
I have the Blackhawk LE with a pair of Nola Boxer S1 speakers and am completely satisfied after having the a Cayin integrated, Rogue Cronus, Cary/AES AE-25 and Cary Sli-80 F1. The Raven is in a different league, better sounding than any of those others, trouble-free, easy on tubes and it lets you in on the fantastic customer service from Dave Thomson. There is other great gear out there but I don't think you can go wrong with any of the Raven amps.
I have experienced the Blackhawk and owned the Raven Reflection MK2.  First off the amps have more power than the associated quoted figures and would drive your Tannoy's with ease.  Second, the customer service is one of the best I have experiences.  Third, Dave Thomson, one of the owners has the market basket of some of the rarest and best sounding tube collection in the world.  You definitely owe it to yourself to at least call Dave at Raven to listen to his thoughts.  Fourth, you will truly love the sound.  Call Dave!!!
You want bloom and air, soundstaging and imaging without any added warmth. You will find what you want with Raven.

Just curious if you've auditioned a Raven amp?


Regarding the comment about "bloom and air" etc without added warmth -- I suppose what I'm curious about, MC, if you could elaborate, is how this characteristic is somehow endemic to the Raven equipment, above and beyond the tubes people choose? In other words, people who choose the Raven and *want* a bit more warmth could, if they wish, roll the tubes and get that warmth, right? And those who have other gear beside Raven that is too warm could roll the tubes and get rid of that warmth, too, right?

To put that question more briefly,

What is it about Raven gear that is able to deliver the qualities listed above and beyond the tubes (chosen for their contributing characteristics)?

I ask this in earnestness, because I know tubes can profoundly affect the sound but once they're subtracted from the equation, what is it that you find so optimal about the Raven gear? I suspect this answer will help a lot of people, including the OP.

I would take that one with a grain of salt! How about you?
I posted this question to MC on another thread about the Raven amp that he raves about and this was his response.
Have you used this Raven amp that you always recommend? Why do you think it is so special over many other amps that are on the market?

A youtube video from the manufacturer! What’s up with that?
I have a stellar record when it comes to figuring out what is good based on reviews and comments. Read willgolf, he had a Reflection MkII. Then watch this
Thanks all for your experience!

I have called Raven, talked to Jim, not Dave, and discussed the Blackhawk and selection of tubes for the input and driver stages. I have not auditioned it. Would love to however I live in southern Illinois and am not aware of a close dealer. Given the 45 day trial and the general consensus provided herein I have this top on my list for what I am looking for. High value, well built, great service, point to point wired, and made in USA.

I am in no hurry on this as I am still getting familiar with the Sterlings and the Aric/BEL combo delivers. I will keep everyone posted as to my decision. 

As an aside, I will add that I did hear a pair of Devore O/93s driven by a Line Magnetic 845 integrated (also 20wpc) and believe that amp would mate very well with the Sterlings. Just not as comfortable with the service aspect, as it is not made in the USA. 



I didn’t wanna crash the Raven party so I held off to my recommendation. Since you mentioned Line Magnetic, I would encourage you to look into Leben CX600 - 32W. I own one of their preamp and (also own Canterbury’s) can say unequivocally that CX600 or CX600X will be a great match for your Stirlings. The CX600 offers a superb balance of musicality and sonics, it’s very reliable and beautifully crafted. Once you hear Leben, you will stop looking elsewhere.

There is one available on USAM...I suggest you make a move on it, won’t last very long.
Thanks donvito, your post came in as I was writing mine. I watched the video, much food for thought. Seems I was wrong about the point to point wiring. The board was impressive. Some statements, especially those making comparisons to other amps, a little over the top. 

Hide45, you posed an interesting question. I yes the tubes used drive much of the sound character from tube amplification. Also the output transformers, or lack of (OTLs), and iImplementation of the circuit as well. I don't believe 'bloom', 'air', 'warmth' or any other sound characteristic descriptor is endemic to any amplifier. 

I don’t believe ’bloom’, ’air’, ’warmth’ or any other sound characteristic descriptor is endemic to any amplifier.

That’s what I’ve gathered, too, but I’m a newbie. If those are *not* endemic, then the question becomes "What matters most?" -- and you listed a few criteria (build quality, service, etc.). And Raven may have that above other makes (for the money) or not. But it would not be how the amp sounds, ironically, that makes the biggest difference.


" As an aside, I will add that I did hear a pair of Devore O/93s driven by a Line Magnetic 845 integrated (also 20wpc) and believe that amp would mate very well with the Sterlings. Just not as comfortable with the service aspect, as it is not made in the USA."

For what it is worth , I have had the LM 518IA (now called 845IA) for 4 or so years, very well built and I have had no functional/reliability issues with it.

One item that is very important to me when selecting audio components is how comfortable I am I with the brand, reputation, and service.  Of course it goes without saying that sound is absolutely critical and a given.  I have traveled the country attending audio shows, going to dealers to listen to many amps and speakers. Yes, there are many tube amps that are very good.  

After an exhaustive search many years ago I took a chance on Dave Thomson and Raven audio.  I demand a lot of attention when buying expensive audio equipment.  I've been to many audio stores where they wanted to sell you Macintosh or audio research but you were just a number. That was never the case with Raven audio. I watched a YouTube video above and what Dave says is true. He will do anything  to make you happy and you enjoy your music.

I have called him at 10:45 PM at night and he answered the phone. He has no problem talking to you for as long as you want to provide you as much information as you want before making any decisions.  At the end of the day this kind of personal service is why I went with Raven. I was truly amazed at the sound of my reflection. So even if you don't buy or test drive a raven just call Dave  and listen to what he has to say.

I am not a shill for Raven but after owning one for four years I can tell you the quality, sound and the look of my reflection was outstanding for me.
As you have an Aric pre, why not check in with Aric?
Yes @mesch , why not an Aric amp,too?
Willgolf, I, like you, am concerned about vender reputation and service. I have watched the video and am impressed with Raven's product and attention to detail. Should I go the integrated route the Raven Blackhawk remains my top candidate. With the 45 day trial period ability to audition in my own home/system, not much to lose. I am stuck in a quandary, integrated vs. separates.

Facten, don't the LM518 and LM845 use different output tubes? I have no doubt your amp sounds exceptional.  The LM845 did. I have made the decision I am going to stick with USA made. 

Noromance, I have every intention to discuss with Aric my quandary regarding integrated vs. separates. Aric is very easy to talk with. At the moment he does't make an integrated.  I am very happy with his Special preamp and have explored his amp offerings.

One thought regarding that quandary is that with my Aric pre I could deploy either a SS or a tube amp at my discretion depending on speaker in use. The Aric pre has very low output impedance for a tube pre and variable gain, thus making it compatible with many amplifiers.  
Hi Hide45, good morning! As you can see from the post I made while you were typing I remain in a quandary regarding amplification. One that I am lucky to have, as I so enjoy this hobby and I now have the resources to delve deeper into. 
@mesch " Facten, don’t the LM518 and LM845 use different output tubes? I have no doubt your amp sounds exceptional. The LM845 did. "

They are the same, 845 output tubes and the rest of the tube compliment is also the same. , just the name of the amp changed from 518 to 845.

If you are going to talk to Aric unlike his pure power amps his Transcend amp has a volume pot

@mesch Ah, right -- the integrated vs. separates is the issue which is addressed by Raven but not by Aric. Missed that. Oops!

As you might have seen from my other posts, I got an integrated, used, to supplement my tube setup -- but it's an all solid state integrated, and if I was trying to simplify, I'd not be satisfied with it. I'd want an integrated that included tubes (either all or hybrid).
You want bloom and air, soundstaging and imaging without any added warmth. You will find what you want with Raven.

Just curious if you've auditioned a Raven amp?


@ozzy62 Mesch said he called Raven. Isn't that a response to MC's post? What is not clear is why those qualities are particular to the hardware of Raven rather than the tubes involved. As I pointed out, there may be other reasons Raven is a good choice, but it's not because their amps produce qualities in the sound that other similar amps can produce, given the right tubes, conditions, etc.

You misunderstood. The question was directed at miller since he described the qualities of the Raven amp, I asked him if he had heard it.

Had nothing to do with Mesch.
@facten  Yes, I am very familiar with Aric's website and talked to him about the Transcend amplifier. Aric's approach was to allow use direct with sources not having volume control. It is not the same as having a true preamp or integrated.

Hide45, while I agree that tube rolling can modify the sound of an tube amp, I am not comfortable with the belief that one could tube roll an amp that is designed for use with EL34s as output tubes to sound like one designed for 845s. I could be wrong.
I am not comfortable with the belief that one could tube roll an amp that is designed for use with EL34s as output tubes to sound like one designed for 845s. I could be wrong. 

Indeed correct. I have owned the Line Magnetic 518ia and many EL34 amps. They do not sound the same by any stretch.


Understand mesch, didn’t know if you had seen it on his site, or if it might work for you. All the best !
@lalitk Sorry I didn't get back to you. No need to worry about crashing. I have seen however not heard the Leben integrateds. Yes the 600x should be one of the integrated I consider, Point to point, solid built, and nice feature set. It uses the same output tubes as the Raven. As new it is quite more expensive. The first thing i must do is get past my quandary. 

Oh, after second visit to the Raven site I come to know that the Raven is not point to point wired. The board used is quite impressive however. 
Search “Leben tube chart” to get an idea of how flexible it can be. Beautiful amp. 
Thanks bjesien, I have checked out Leben and it seems to have quite a feature set. Also like the flex with different 'classes' of tubes. 
If you are still looking for input, I am very happy with my Raven Blackhawk.  In addition to conveying a greater sense of realism than I have experienced, it plays just as loudly as my previous 100wpc Rogue  amp. 
That will probably be a nice sounding combo for most practical purposes though from what I read about those Tannoys not quite enough horsepower there to drive them to the max.
It uses the same output tubes as the Raven. As new it is quite more expensive. The first thing i must do is get past my quandary. 
Tube type is one of the least crucial parts of a tube amp. Audiophiles however are incredibly superficial shallow thinkers. They see a tube, it can be pulled out and changed, they sound different, wow it must be the tubes! When in reality if there's one component makes the most difference its the transformers. But its not just one component. Its the whole thing.

Oh, after second visit to the Raven site I come to know that the Raven is not point to point wired. The board used is quite impressive however.

Yes and that is yet another thing that is good to have but in no way determines quality. Point to point is no guarantee of quality simply because the solder used and the quality of the soldering can easily result in worse performance than a well-built circuit board. 

Raven uses incredibly well-built circuit boards. Dave is so obsessed with sound quality he even uses three different types of solder (as well as three different types of high end resistors) in order to avoid too much of one thing resulting in a sonic signature. Find me another manufacturer who goes to these lengths. Seriously. If there is one, I would like to know about it.   

Have you seen this? Chock full of awesome details.

Also read the recent review of the one who had a Prima Luna, Raven, and I believe it was a Mac for home audition. The Raven combined the best of what the others did well, and took it all to another level. If you really think tube rolling is so important then get an Osprey and call Dave, he can tell you how to set it up to run just about anything. Plus he has an awesome selection of NOS tubes.  

There's no need to be in a quandary, its just not that close a call.
Mapman, regarding the horsepower issue I do appreciate your concern. Based on my experience, I believe with the Sterlings my room size will set the max volume level prior to the power limits of a solid 20wpc class A SS amplifier or a tube one. I could be wrong, especially concerning dynamics.

My quandary resides in the choice between separates and integrated, flexibility vs. simplicity. I have a great tube preamp and SS amplifier. Might like to also own a tube amplifier. 

I'd go for the Raven amp if I was shopping mesch.  45 day trial period....what an opportunity to see for yourself instead of hearsay.  If I didn't have such a great pairing with my Stirling GR's with my Music Reference RM10 Mk II - that's the one I'd try.  I have plenty of power with the RM10 light loaded on 4 ohm taps which is about 30 wpc.
The Raven remains on my short list should I purchase an integrated.

I have also been talking to Aric regarding his Transcend amplifier. I can have it configured with one less gain stage reducing the sensitivity to make better use of the gain in my Aric Special preamp.
Aric looks like a great choice - hardwired point to point etc.  A heirloom type amp.  Love to hear that setup.
Yes, that is one attraction for me. I purchase my preamp from Aric as a demo offered here on AG. One of the better moves I have made. 

With single ownership companies like Aric Audio one can build a relationship with with the owner. For me building relationships in this hobby provides as much satisfaction as the hobby itself. 
I recently purchased the Aric Audio Motherlode II tube preamp after an audition period and I could not be happier, both with the preamp and with my dealings with the company.  Aric, the owner and builder, is great to work with and I think he would build you an amp that would be perfect for you. I, too, am using Tannoy speakers.
As a recent owner of the Raven Audio Nighthawk MK3, I have to say the amp and company has exceeded all my expectations. So refreshing to deal with a group of people that are so dedicated to their customers and products.
   Yes they have a 45 day return policy, but what is hardly mentioned is the 1 year Trade Up. Get an Nighthawk etc,  love what you have but want to experience more? Send back in like new condition and receive full credit toward the Blackhawk, Osprey or other amp models.
   Just another plus for Raven..
Jake, yes I remain in communication with Aric. Looking to purchase one of his amps. Still debating how I want him to configure it to my system. Congrats on your purchase of the Motherload. 
Rcbike, I agree that Raven has a great company philosophy. And great products. 

do let us know how you like the raven when you have it in... you are one of the folks who post regularly in a down to earth classy no hype no b-s way, so you opinion carries a lot of weight in my eyes

raven seems to have a vocal, loyal following, am sure they are excellent and the company behind it is smallish but not too small

others mentioned, leben, aric, are no doubt also outstanding... i would add linear tube audio (a more ’crystal clear’ alternative to the juicy lush tube sound) and audio mirror (vlad’s set45 is wonderful sounding, full of bloom)

good luck have fun, and please report back!
Aric and his gear are top notch! My Motherlode is the only piece of gear that has not been switched or upgraded since it found its place in my system.
I owned a Raven Reflection MK2 integrated amp.  I never ever needed to turn the power on past 11am. I had KT 150 tubes in it and with Dave Thomson's help I did a lot of tube swapping for different musical moods and tastes.  Raven is an awesome Company.  By the way they easily drove my Sonus Faber Amati Tradition Homage speakers!
@willgolf - I’m assuming you don’t have the Reflection anymore? What did you replace it with if you don’t mind me asking? I have a Blackhawk and it does respond to tube rolling quite well.
Jjss49, thanks for the kind words. I have decided to hold on making changes to my amplification.  Plan on keeping my Aric Audio preamp and Bell 1001 Mk5 for now. Likely purchase a tube amplifier from Aric down the road. 
Well, I thought I might provide an update to my decision regarding amplification within my system. I have decided to stick with separates, will keep my Aric tube pre, sold my BEL amp (possibly a mistake) and purchased a Pass XA25. In the future I intend to purchase Aric's Transcend tube amplifier thus having both SS and a tube amplification to play with. 

As my dedicated audio room is not of high volume, ~1500 sq.ft., I don't believe I am in need of many watts, just clean current and speakers of reasonable sensitivity.

Thanks to all!

 I know you were following my thread on Raven. I decided to go with an Aric Super KT88 150 SE. I spoke with Aric a while back when I was preamp shopping but ultimately ended up with a Sachs pre. But I have followed his work and always wanted to try one of his amps. So I guess I get to do that now.


Can you give your impressions of the Pass XA25, maybe versus the BEL?  I have thought about purchasing one every now and then.  Thanks in advance.