REVIEW: Raven Audio Blackhawk Integrated, Soniquil Cables....


So, I decided to give the Raven Audio Blackhawk a second shot of making it into my audio den.

Some of you may recall that this past summer I ordered a Raven Audio Blackhawk and that I was very excited about getting this integrated amp and that James Connell from Raven was going to personally deliver it to me, and that I posted that here at Agon.

Well James delivered it (I had to meet him at a mall but that is okay) and I brought it home to set it up in my system. Well Bryant at the factory packed my Blackhawk out with defective tubes and when I fired it up well smoke came out of the thing. I emailed Bryant and James and they said they would check it out, so I packed it up and met up with James at the same mall and he took it back. Never once did they ask what I wanted to do or tried to keep me happy.

So, the next day an Agoner asked me how the Blackhawk was working out and I posted what happened. Well over night my phone is blowing up with text messages from James and they were none too kind. Dave then proceeded to lambaste me and brought up another issue I had with my CeLest Towers. (yes, they have an issue with system controls and QC processes. As a MSME in an industry where if we send the wrong part trains derail and aircraft fall out the sky, I am critical of these short comings especially when they are so simple to fix but are repeated (at least with me). I had even written a review and it is posted on the Raven Audio website and here at Audiogon.com about my experience with the CeLest, but I digress.

To be clear I was a Raven Audio fan boy. Even more than Millercarbon, but Dave’s post and James text messages tarnished their image and created doubt about their “Great Company”. Heck I spent close $10K with these guys in one summer and answer a question on Agon and get lambasted by the Principals of this company. I tout how great their CeLest speakers are and their cables (they are top shelf stuff) every chance I get. I think these products are some of the most underrated in our community.

Well I cannot lie I really wanted to get a Blackhawk, but I was not going to give Raven Audio another dime of my money. So, what to do?

Simple buy a used one and give it a go, and that is what I did. Found a Blackhawk MKIII on Agon for $$ well a steal and hooked it up in my system.

Well Raven Audio has an excellent product in the form of their Blackhawk MKII. The stock tubes that came in the unit were great and buying used yes, they are quite well burned in. So I did order some new tubes and plan on doing some rolling (thetubestore.com).

My system:

Raven Audio CeLest Towers.

Raven Audio Blackhawk MKIII with stock tubes.

Raven Audio Soniquil Power Cables.

Raven Audio Soniquil Speaker Cables (yes, they are cables).

Raven Audio Soniquil RCA and XLR Interconnects.

Moon by Simaudio 280D Streaming DAC/DSD (awesome clarity).

Thorens TD145 Beautiful restored TD145 with Curly Maple Plinth with Walnut inlay. Tonearm rewired with Cardas tonearm wire, new Thorens belt, Brand new Nagaoka MP200 cartridge. New RCA Jacks, IEC power jack. Sounds wonderful.

Icon Audio PS2 MM TUBE Phono Amp. Dedicated MI/MM phono stage that sounds fantastic.

Okay so to the point the review.

The Blackhawk is of substantial build quality and this integrated will stand the test of time. Stock tubes were in good condition and I downloaded the Raven Blackhawk user’s manual for the Raven website. Tube installation is straight forward and had I not been shipped defective tubes on the original order … I digress.

So, once I had everything hooked up it was time to spin up a record or two or three.

I spun up Miles Davis Bitches Brew sat back and was lifted into the music. The soundstage was vast and detailed, I felt as if I was at the Green Mill on Broadway in Chicago listening to Miles in 1970.

Next up was a low quality poorly engineered album by the only band that matters The Sex Pistols. Yep sounded just as shitty on this rig as it did on ever since I bought this album in 1977 but Never Mind the Bullock’s just flat out rocks and so did the Blackhawk.

I moved over to my digital section and ran a couple of CD through the system. Queens Of The Stone Age, R. Robin Trower Long Misty Days, Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, Live in Cuba. The Raven Blackhawk did not miss a beat, fast responsive bass, great balanced mids and high end. Just wonderful to listen to.

To close out I put Holst the Planets on the TD145 to seal the deal! I found that I was listening to the music not the gear.

Yes, the Raven Blackhawk has earned a spot in my listening room. Yes, it is a wonderful tube integrated amp and yes, it is mostly made in the USA.

Though I may not care for James tact or the jib of Dave’s sail I will say they are building some high-quality audio gear.

I also want to thank Raven Audio for initially shipping defective tubes and not trying to reconcile. If you had I would not have been so determined to get a Blackhawk and review it (hoping for validation) and you saved me thousands by sending me to “THE U$ED MARKET”, but I would have paid $$$$ Thousands more for this quality and sound.

No really Dave, James and Bryant thanks for building a quality product and one day you will be a “Great American Company.

Enjoy and Listen to the Music not the GEAR! BUY A RAVEN!


2aca97a8 aae6 4577 8233 a9eab9757e80skypunk
So the moral of the story I guess, they can't all be Keith Herron. ;) 

Seriously though thanks for the follow-up. Not to discount your experience but people are only human and so as long as we don't hear more stories like yours maybe we can look on the bright side which is they make one hell of a good amp. "Yeah, when they work" I guess you would say, after your experience. ;)   

At this very moment I have Will Lenn messaging me about Raven. Its no secret I was hoping to have a Reflection by now, and that is still the plan, it is just an awful lot of money, for me anyway! So NMT, "needs more time" as they say in the technical analysis world of charting.  

I spun up Miles Davis Bitches Brew sat back and was lifted into the music. The soundstage was vast and detailed, I felt as if I was at the Green Mill on Broadway in Chicago listening to Miles in 1970. 

To steal the line from Jerry Maguire, "You had me at lifted into the music."


Listening to King Crimson right now on the Blackhawk. Feel like Fripp is in my listening room like 1977 @ the Parkwest. 
skypunk sorry to hear your struggles but glad you finally have the amp you wanted and even better it's as good as you had hoped! I commented on your system love the plinth on your Thorens would love to see a better pic of your speakers. Happy New Year!
Is this the current Blackhawk MkIII or the earlier MkII?
@jond will upload some tomorrow... Happy New Year!
@skypunk,

No dog in the fight yet I appreciate your post! 
Yes, I also saw the Blackhawk MkIII that was for sale. I seriously thought about it but I'm doing good with what I currently have, for the time being...
Thanks for the review :-)
@lak thanks for snoozing on it. Great deal and a great piece of audio equipment. 
Your gear looks the bit too!

Thanks and Happy New Year!
@skypunk; I was wondering what the difference in music would be with the Blackhawk MkIII vs an Allnic T-1500, or CJ Classic Sixty SE or Luxman590 AXII? I have no idea?
Customer service is very important to me. There's only one hifi store in my city and I have never had one good experience there even when I was just window shopping. I've given them a 'second chance' over and over and nothing changes. I know an acquaintance that works there and told him about the service and he keeps saying 'things will change' but they never do. So I travel to a store about 80 miles away and leave completely satisfied with my purchases.
@lak no Idea. Never owned a Luxman have listened to them and they are nice. When I was looking (and bought) several Moon integrated and separates Lux was in the mix. Ultimately bought a 240i then the 390/440 separates.

Had a Macintosh MA252 for two weeks was okay at best.

I still have a Pathos Classic One MK3 and it is a very very very close second to the Blackhawk. Has some features I wish the Blackhawk had and has a great soundstage being a hybrid (tube pre). 
@bluorion I feel your pain. Living in Dallas we have some great audio shops and some real turds too.

Not holding a grudge with Raven and COVID did make a climate harder for service levels. Felt this in my business but we can not make mistakes shipping defects or wrong components cause people will die. Guess I carry this to an extreme and expect the same no matter who the vendor is.

If you fly in any aircraft (fixed or rotor) ride a train or drive a truck or car be glad there are a-holes like me out there. 
Geez lak, anything would sound good with that Teres feeding it! 😍

Thanks skypunk, there's been some older ones sell for a lot less and so when you said you saved "thousands" made me wonder if you got one of the earlier/older versions. 

The current MkIII are according to Will Lenn very close to the Elite Series, ie Reflection MkII. The Elite Series like the Reflection, Raven has not revised them in some years. The Reflection is due for at least a revision to MkIII, but may wind up being enough to merit a whole new name. Part of the reason I am waiting is to see what happens there.

In terms of sound quality I have no doubt you are in it now up to your ears!

The Blackhawk is supposed to be a much higher quality four step powder coat finish than the Nighthawk. You probably never had them both to compare but what do you think about the look and feel of your Blackhawk? 
@millercarbon The MKIII is built like a tank...no really solid construction. The fit and finish are excellent and would look and sound great in most any system.

Solid build quality and fantastic sound quality!

As far as the deal was concerned the guy selling it must have needed $$$$ should have sold for at least a G note more than it did. 
Spent 1/4 of the savings at the Tubestore.com for schitz and giggles. 
Wow. Congratulations. Killer deal!
@skypunk, I agree you scored big time. Enjoy ;-)
I have learned that what or when you write or text something in a public forum can sometimes be perceived wrong by the parties involved.  For me, it is better to go to the source first to solve problems then putting it in an open forum that can really harm a business.  Just saying.  Peace out.  
I got my Blackhawk Mk 3.1 in November. I was after skypunk on the list. 

After your issue, it was a while before I finally got mine. Bought cables and tubes.

Not an issue at any time. Great build and sound quality. 
@toyman 
Glad you had no issues and I am sure every manufacturer of this type of product has issues.

I am happy so far though my Pathos Classic One is on standby, it rivals the Blackhawk in sound quality and is dead silent. 
Think I maybe talking myself out of un-retiring the Pathos...

Poor service from Raven Audio.

I was researching audio equipment and contacted Raven Audio. I spoke to James Connell. I told him the products in which I was interested and asked him if Raven offered a Military Discount. He stated that he would offer a 5% discount. At the time I was stationed overseas and could not have the items shipped to my location but assured him of my interest and that I would purchase the units when I returned stateside. Upon my return to the U.S. I contacted James and stated that I remained interested in the Celest towers, but that they were now out of my price range after their recent price increase. Jim stated that he had some Celest bookshelves which were coming available and that he had a first-run pair which he could sell to me for $1,999. We even video chatted so that I could see the speakers for myself. Jim stated that the speakers would not be ready for at least another two weeks, as he had to have them photographed for their website. He asked that I follow-up with him in about two weeks. At the end of our conversation, I confirmed the prices and details of the package verbally. After our conversation, I sent James a follow-up e-mail with a detailed itemization. Jim acknowledged my e-mail twice, and never attempted to correct the information.  This is an exact cut and paste of the itemized breakdown I emailed James.


- Blackhawk integrated with a $300 discount

- New Celest bookshelves at $1,999

- Upgraded tubes in Blackhawk (you had mentioned the JANs in front, Brimars in middle, and I think GE in the back)

- Power cable

- Speaker cable

- RCA cable


Again, James acknowledged this e-mail twice and made no attempt to correct any of the information.

Per his instructions, I contacted James two weeks later by e-mail to ask if the speakers were ready to ship. James responded that they would be ready to ship in two more weeks and asked that I call him directly to “catch up briefly.” I called and texted James numerous times over the next week with no answer or response. He finally answered my phone call a week later. I was excited when he answered and expected a pleasant conversation that consisted of him taking my credit card information and telling me how much I was going to enjoy the set-up. Instead, James opened with, “I am not going to lose money on speakers.” He went on that he had a bad feeling about this deal as I had haggled him on price. I responded that I had not haggled on price, I had asked about a Military discount and expected him to honor the price he had provided me. He stated that he would not, and that since I did not have it in writing the contract was nonbinding. I respectfully corrected James that in Texas, the state in which he operates, a verbal contract is legally binding. This infuriated him, and he proceeded to try and lecture me on being grateful for the “favor” he was doing me by offering a Military discount. I quickly rebutted that he was doing me no “favor” but was instead extending a courtesy to me and every other servicemember with a discounted price. He would hear none of it and continued with his ramblings about how I should be more grateful to him for having a Military discount. The fact that this company thinks that I or any customer, military or not, should feel a debt of gratitude to them is preposterous and, quite frankly, offensive.

I have chosen to live my life by a certain set of ethos, among them honor and integrity. I do my upmost to support businesses which uphold these values. Raven Audio falls completely short of that bar. Instead, they employ unscrupulous business practices by misquoting prices and then lack the integrity to honor them. Worse, they then try to blame the customer for their own ethical shortcomings. In the end, I chose to take my business elsewhere and suggest you do the same.

Sorry to hear of your experience.
Find it odd you Joined today and posted this today?
So did you pay them a dime?
If not move on the deal fell through.
You know, I wasn’t able to get a discount either. But I didn’t devote an hour to finding a website to join just to write a diatribe about it. I just said oh well, and got on with it.

But that’s just me. Not everyone is expected to live by my standards of ethics, obviously.
If the facts as he stated them are true then it seems he is focused on a question of ethics, obviously
To me and people like me, ethics matter. The way in which James comported himself was dishonorable and reflects poorly on him and his company. I think it is important for consumers to be made aware of companies employing unscrupulous business tactics, in order for them to make a more informed purchasing decisions. At the end of the day, James did in fact to me a "favor," he showed me his true character and those of Raven Audio before I made a purchase.
Correction- the way you CLAIM James comported himself.

A perfectly justifiable way of viewing this is some guy who thought because he served in the military made him entitled to a discount got so sore when he couldn’t get one he wouldn’t let it go and still can’t.

Get over it. The more you complain the smaller you get. And for future reference a main virtue of military service is that it is selfless devotion to country. The minute you try and use it to get special consideration FOR YOURSELF you give up all rights to claim selfless devotion. I don’t make the rules, but I do have enough ethics on the ball to know they exist.
Where in what he stated did he demand a discount? He stated that he asked if there was a discount, many businesses offer military discounts therefore there is no harm in him or any service member asking the question. He stated that he was offered one on the amp, stated that he was offered special pricing on a pair of speakers, stated that he communicated a confirmation email of his understanding of the deal, stated that the email was acknowledged twice, stated that the deal he thought was agreed to was subsequently abrogated. Is this how this all transpired? The only ones that can answer that are the ones directly involved in the transaction. That said, based upon his characterization of the facts makes it equally perfectly justifiable to view him as a guy with no sense of entitlement, and simply a guy upset that a deal he thought was committed to went awry .
Okay so we all can agree based on a few posts in this forum that the folks at Raven can be a bit moody, and can welch on a deal.



Where in what anyone stated did anyone say anybody demanded anything? The first time the word "demand" appears is facten making it up out of thin air! While doing it in a way that creates the false impression someone did say it.  

Okay so we can all agree the folks on this forum get a bit moody and are prone to fail at reading comprehension. Situation normal.  
It doesn’t get any better than this. A guy pretending he has an idea of what "selfless devotion" means as it relates to a serviceman.

Here is a hint, it does not relate to Raven, Tekton, Townshend footers or any other inanimate piece of audio equipment that you have devoted all your hours to on this forum.
You’re correct I mistakenly said demand when you claimed entitlement; my bad. Points remains the same even with restating to "Where in what he stated did he claim he was entitled to a discount". Reading comprehension, maybe it’s you with a lack of it .And, you're the one who created a false impression that he felt entitled. Try not overreacting when someone makes a criticism of one of your fanboy companies - that is situation normal.


Service runs far deeper than any trivial discount asked for or “ welched “ on. Yes, how shall we discount agent orange ? A decorated FAC putting rockets down on a napalm treeline. The VA said his early dementia…as a consequence….. Like King blowhard who likened his singles time in NYC to serving in Nam , you can expect the same lack of wisdom out of team Raven PR.

Round two his brother - Army Intel, decorated, purple heart, Nam, often worked two jobs Fuller Brush, etc. Always asked for any discount, put his daughter thru Harvard. Paid a heavy price. Gone. His white stone at Mira Mar, not so far from his brother…

countless others…..
@erangel thank you for your service and sacrifice. Grace and peace on your musical and life journey 

IF i can help w anything, just reach out.

Jim
Jim (@tomic601), Thank you for your kind words and especially for your stories of selfless service and sacrifice to our country.  A salute to you Sir.
If anyone deserves a discount in this country, it is our men and women in uniform (veterans or active duty). And yes, they’re entitled to a discount, and a lot more. That’s the least we can do for someone who actually puts his or her life on the line to protect ours … and they get peanuts in return. 
By the way, @erangel — Raven makes good products but they’re hardly the best or competitive in the market. You should also look into Quicksilver for you amp needs and Fritz speakers. Fritz Carbon speakers will give any speakers a run for their money. If you can bump up your budget, Fritz Carrera BE are an amazing deal. 
If this didn’t happen the way the military veteran claims it did, why doesn’t Raven come on here themselves and clarify?

If it did, sorry Raven, you lost a potential customer. 
For now I’ll choose to believe the military vet 
Post removed 

Hey everyone, this is James Connell with Raven Audio. Firstly, I want everyone to know that Raven Audio is extremely pro-Military. Both of Dave Thompson’s (Raven Audio Founder) parents were military. My father was Airforce, my uncle was as well, and many of my extended family members are and were in the Military. Two of my closest lifelong friends were Arm and Navy. As many know I have been involved in music production my whole life, but I have also owned a television production firm as well. About ten years ago I hosted a dinner in Dallas honoring WWII veterans and prior to that filmed them telling their stories. This was one of the most meaningful things I feel like I have ever done. If anyone is interested, message me and I will send you links to these wonderful men’s stories I produced. I am delving into this information because I want everyone out there to know how much I personally love and respect the military and people who have served.


As a company, Raven Audio gets many solicitations every day via email and phone for all sorts of scams. Occasionally, the stories are by claimed Military members. I am in a constant state of hyperawareness of these issues because we are bombarded every day and week with various scams. Having said that, I do believe that Erik was most likely representing himself as serving in the Military even though through all the communications he offered no proof of it. This communication was over a several-month period. I never at any point told him we would not honor the discount on the amplifier. The problem was over a new speaker that we are coming out with that I wanted to be a surprise to the public. We have had several versions of the prototype. When we first spoke, I mentioned I could sell him the prototype for s specific price. A couple of months passed before Erik called me. During that time we rethought the speaker. The first version was a small bookshelf. We wound up with a larger bookshelf that we believe is more marketable because it has enough authoritative low bass to not need a subwoofer. When Erik called me a week ago and said he was ready to go, and mentioned the prices I could not sell him the newer version for the price quoted two months before. That is how this got started, It was not until after the call that I put it all together in my own mind. I deal with twenty to fifty customer phone calls per week and we discuss many things. Many people talk about buying and then do not call me for several months and I have to be reminded of what we talked about. Sometimes things change during those spans of time and we are not able to do what we could have done when I made the original offer. When Erik sent me an email listing out what we had talked about, I was simply acknowledging that what I had told him initially was true. When he called me last week, the conversation went sideways when he told me he was a lawyer and gave me a lecture on a verbal contract and then threatened to smear us on social media. Within a day I was getting emails from fake email accounts accusing me of being a “Liberal Activist” and dishonoring military veterans. I then started getting emails showing long diatribes being posted on all our videos on YouTube, of course, I deleted them because I feel like this is a ridiculous and dishonorable way to handle this situation. If Erik would have simply taken my phone calls the evening that this happened, I was prepared to sell him the speakers at our loss after thinking it through because once I put myself in his position, I could understand why he was frustrated. I still will sell him the amp with the discount and the original smaller bookshelf speakers that we discussed and I showed him via FaceTime a couple of months ago. I am open to suggestions.

Erik, If you want to have a reset, call me and we can put this behind ourselves and work something out to make you happy.

All the best,
James