$5,000 includes one composite armboard (but no arm), Millennium platter mat,
integral motor and external motor controller
Price as tested (not including arm and cartridge) $5,500
The joke goes like this: Three audio reviewers are attending the funeral of a dearly departed colleague. The reviewer from TAS gazes dourly into the casket and says, “You know, when my friends look into my casket, I want them to say ‘He was a great man who contributed to the cultural development of society and mankind”. The reviewer from 6moons ads, “I want them to be able to say “He was a man devoted to his family and helped others at every opportunity”
The reviewer from Stereomojo looks at the other two and replies, “If I happen to be in a casket and someone sees me in it, I want them to be able to say, ‘HEY LOOK! He's writing a review in there! He’s not DEAD!”
Yeah, we try to think differently, but what does that have to do with a turntable review?
Of all the many reviews Stereomojo has published or has in the pipeline, this, by far, has been the one about which we have received the most emails. Partly because this is one of our "World's First Reviews" and partly because this table is extremely "hot" and subject of much conversation worldwide. Most emails start out with “I’m thinking about buying a table…” or “WHEN are you going to publish the Raven One review!!!??” We have also received many like this; “I just bought a Raven One and am curious about what you think about it…”. The later have all come from overseas, mostly Europe and the Pacific Rim where this table has been a hot seller for some time.
To most publications, that would signal, “Damn, I better get this review out FAST to get more traffic so I can get more advertisers and charge them more!”. To me it says, “Dang, I better take extra time with this review to make sure we get it absolutely RIGHT.”
And so we did, as you will see.
TW ACUSTIC – THE STORY
As you might surmise from the spelling of “Acustic”, this is a German company, the brainchild of Thomas Woschnick, 42, who lives and builds his tables in Herne, Germany. “Every part of the table is built here”, he told me with a good dose of pride in his voice during a 30 minute overseas phone call. “I’m an electronic engineer and for ten years I have been a teacher in technical high school. Twenty years ago I had my first turntable and when I listened to it, it made me think about changing things to make it sound better”.
Like Dan Wright of Modwright, Vinnie Rossi of Red Wine and Dave Wilson of Wilson Audio among many others, Thomas started by modding things for himself which led to modding things, in this case turntables, for friends. He experimented with different bearings, many different materials and electronic designs. He was so successful that word spread and about 10 years later he began building his own tables.
“The big thing is the motor which is designed by me. I experimented with many different designs and programmed the chip which controls the speed digitally”, he continued. “Speed control is very important”.
I led him on a bit by saying, “Thomas, many people don’t understand why a turntable motor is so important. It doesn’t touch the table and it produces no music on it’s own. It’s only connected to the platter by a small belt. Why is a motor so important”?
He replied very energetically, “Just go to a live concert and listen to a band or a small classical ensemble. Each note has it’s own speed and dynamic. A ‘swing out time’. (I think he meant a rise time). “Swing out time for me is absolutely important. If you have a motor that can produce absolute speed and run like a watch, and a bearing and platter that can hold the speed given to it by the motor, you have this swing out time (how the note resolves and the time in which the note unfolds naturally). Most turntables are able to hold a voice for maybe half a second, but the Raven can hold the tone for maybe half a second longer. My speed controller chip gets feedback from the platter many times per revolution and knows exactly where the platter is and how fast it is turning so the motor can make many adjustments per second. The platter speed error is limited to two nanoseconds per minute. The old tables like Denon, Nakamichi and Technics had this speed control. My idea was to build a table that had the same or better speed control like the old direct drive tables."
“Ahh! Very interesting”, I said, knowing that there is a resurgence in some quarters of vintage direct drive tables.
“And body,” he charged on passionately. “An instrument or voice must have body. And the table must produce all the bass that is on the record. And emotion. A turntable must be able to deliver the emotion of a performance. That is very important to me”.
“And how did you accomplish this with the Raven One”?
“Trial and error. It’s not good enough to let a computer and measurements tell you what works best. You must try it. You must LISTEN to it. I listened to many, many different materials over 10 years to see what sounded the best. For example, the belt. This is not just a rubber belt. I listened to maybe a hundred different materials for the belt and this one is very special. It is only made for me.”
“What is special about it, Thomas?”
“It’s a special compound made only for me and now many, many companies buy this belt from me.”
Thomas is not the only one who knows how important a motor is. Just ask Chris Brady of Teres about turntable motors and “cogging”. You’ll get a half-hour treatise on the subject. Or ask A.J. Conti of Basis about the importance of the belt material and design. He will talk your ear off. And you will learn much from all these guys that will amaze you. We used to talk about wow and flutter, but it turns out the human ear and brain is capable of detecting incredibly small amounts of speed and pitch variation. When you think about it, that is how we determine the direction and distance of a sound, so interpreting it and decoding it is a huge calculation that our brains must make in real time. In a turntable, it makes the difference between very clear and precise reproduction and that which is muddy or cloudy.
In amplifiers, speed (slew rate among others) can also have a huge impact. Case in point is the new Luminance KTS-150 I have in for review at the moment. Fastest amp on the market. But it doesn't sound "fast" per se, it just sounds - and I'll use I term I loath to utter, but it fits - awesome.
"In developing the "Raven One", our goal was to be able to offer our customers a compact turntable, whilst simultaneously bringing the technology and build quality of the universally respected "Raven AC" to a more affordable price sector."
The Raven One uses the trickle down theory, in this case trickling down from the statement Raven AC (above) which has been reviewed in Germany (where there are many more brands of turntables available). The conclusion was, "There is nothing better". I have heard the big Raven AC, which I affectionately call "The Mothership", at several shows and I would have to concur that the AC is among the very best, even at competitor prices up to $100,000. For example, "The Mothership" sounded significantly better than the $45,000 Continuum at the same show.
Amazingly, the smaller sibling Raven One can also be outfitted with TWO tonearms and THREE motors, pictured here with two arms and 2 optional solid bronze arm boards at $500 each. And, as you can see, The One has much more in common with The Mothership than differences. Picking up the Raven One is like picking up an anvil. It feels so dense that perhaps they could have named it the "Black Hole".
Total weight is 47 pounds
Dimensions: 16" deep x 18' wide
Just handling the parts is a marvelous experience. They feel like the overbuilt craftsmanship of a big Mercedes or Lexus. From the massive bearing to the fine millwork on the plinth and platter, the table just radiates quality. "Tolerances greater than 1/100mm are not acceptable for us", says Thomas. "Every single part is quality checked before it moves on. We run each bearing for 48 hours and then check it for perfection before we even think about using it in the table".
Look at that bearing. One could use it to play horse shoes.
I tried to get Thomas to divulge a bit more about the materials he used in other structures, but he very adroitly avoided answering directly. I suppose if I had spent over ten years creating and listening carefully to hundreds of different materials, composites and mixtures of them, I would be rather secretive, too.
I asked my wife Linda what she thought of the Raven's looks and her first response was, "It's kind of sexy. Very clean lines and curves, not boxy at all, and best of all, it doesn't take up loads of space. Very attractive, yet not overbearing. Classy. I like it."
Believing that a designer's favorite music genres have a direct influence on how he voices his product, I asked Thomas about his preferences. “I love classical music. It starts with Mozart. I love piano music. I also love old rock and roll. I started playing guitar when I was a very young child”. When I asked if he a favorite band or artist, he immediately said, “Eric Clapton”, followed closely by Muddy Waters. He loves female vocals, especially Ella Fitzgerald. “She has a voice like I never heard before. And I also like AC-DC”! That caught me off guard. “I grew up with this kind of music and went to many concerts”. I wonder how many turntable designers are into Mozart, Ella and AC-DC.
“THUS QUOTH THE RAVEN…”
Included in the price of the table is a Millennium platter mat that features two different sides; a solid, carbon fiber side and one with a felt insert on the other. I did not spend a great deal of time switching sides, but the shiny side seems to render a bit more detail and a slightly brighter sound while the felt gives you a bit more of a laid back, softer presentation. While the difference is not night and day to me at least, it may play an important role in your system. It is certainly nice to have the choice - something you don't find very often on any priced turntable.
The arm that was provided with the Raven is an S-Shaped affair made by Jelco, based on the ubiquitous Koestsu/Audioquest. There are thousands of them on as many tables all over the world. It is a good basic arm. “We wanted to make an arm available at a very reasonable price to get people started with the Raven and still keep the cost low. We think the Jelco is a good starting point and, just like the rest of the table, is fully upgradeable. We have other arms such as the Dynavector and Graham Phantom available which we can include in a package price if that is more what our customers want”, said Jeffrey Catalano, the very good-natured, knowledgeable and helpful owner of Highwater Sound who distributes the TW Acustic line in North America.
When I first got the table, I set the arm up very carefully and things were going well, but I happen to need to go to the east coast of Florida, so I called a turntable dealer I know over there and asked if he would check my setup and give me his opinion of the Raven. He is one of the nation’s biggest Nottingham dealers and sells several other brands as well and is an “expert” at arm setup since he’s been doing it for 20 years, and I wanted to make sure the setup was perfect. At the last minute, just to be extra careful, I took the arm off as well as the platter for the 3 hour drive.
Like a brain surgeon who had just opened a skull, Howard began inspecting the table closely right off the bat. “Hmm..it’s so heavy. Extremely well built. The bearing is impeccable. Great design. Ah..the spindle is decoupled from the bearing. Very unusual and very good design.”. He kept on for some time, mumbling admiring comments I could barely make out. Finally he rendered his opinion - “Brilliant!”. then he asked how much it sells for. When I told him, he had an incredulous look on his face. “No way. You can’t build a table like this for that kind of money. I’ve built a couple of tables myself and I know it can’t be done. And this is made in Germany? No way. How many dealers do they have?”
“They’re sold direct”, I replied.
“Ohhh”, he growled. “That accounts for part of it”. Then he went into a five-minute tirade of the evils of bypassing retailers – like him. And his additional dealer markup.
I don’t know about you, but that told me a lot about the overall quality and value of the Raven One.
I spent several weeks listening to the table as it, the arm, cable and cart burned in. After a couple hundred hours, it was obvious that the Raven was something very special, but it seemed to me like it was moaning, “Please! Unleash me! Give me a real arm I can work with and let show you what I can really do”! Honestly, it was like driving a Ferrari in an LA traffic jam. It just wanted to get out and go. I reported this to Jeffrey who told me I was right, the table would sound much better with a better arm, but suggested I try a better tone arm cable first because the one that came with the Jelco was not very good. I didn’t have one on hand that would fit so I called up Colleen Cardas who suggested the Cardas Neutral Reference. Since I often use Cardas Neutral Reference IC’s in both XLR and RCA, I knew there would not be an issue with compatibility or synergy. It took a couple of weeks to get since they had to build it and, of course, that meant another couple hundred hours or so of break in for the new cable. I used my Frybaby by Jim Hagerman to cut down the time substantially, but that still meant a delay in the review process as the Raven sat forlornly in a corner while I worked on other reviews.
Jeffrey was right. There was a substantial improvement with the Cardas, but still the Raven seemed frustrated, which meant I was, too. I wanted to get the best performance possible for this review, and any review for that matter.
My older Linn arm, Moerch 12 incher and assortment of Regas didn’t seem appropriate and I had wanted for some time to acquire a new State of the Art arm worthy of the great tables I had lined up for reviews in the future, as well as this one. I wanted something that was not too fussy to set up, use and align and had VTA that was adjustable on the fly. It also needed to be as good as anything out there and have a high level of compatibility with the largest selection of tables. My first thought as far as overall sound quality was Schroeder, but he is backed up for two years with orders . (Isn't it amazing that in this "digital age", a tone-arm maker is back-ordered for two years!) I looked at Triplanar but was told that it worked great on some tables but not on others for some reason.
From the outset, Jeffrey had suggested either a Dynavector or the new Graham Phantom, with a lean towards the Graham. So I’m looking at a $4,500 arm. As I have now come to know over a period of months and countless phone calls, emails and face to face conversations at various audio shows, Jeffery Catalano knows his stuff and is as straight as a Graham armwand with his advice, recommendations and opinions. The Phantom was ordered.
Once again, the Raven sat brooding as I wondered if this review was “…nevermore”.
“THUS QUOTH THE RAVEN…”
I used several phono sections with the Raven One: The Roksan Caspian Reference - at about $2,600 it's very under rated, the new Whest Two and phono sections in several preamps and integrateds.The transparent quality of the Raven One made it easy to evaluate the sound of the phono pre's. The Roksan was used for most of the review along with a Dynavector DV-XX2MKII moving coil; about a $2,000 cartridge. It was ensconced on my Stillpoints XXL rack. Amps and preamps from Richard Dolan, Cary, Nightingale, Halcro, Lyngdorf, Jolida, Art Audio and Audiospace all made appearances (and all reviewed or under review here). Speakers were the Sasons, Cain & Cain Single Bens, AV123 Strata Mini, Gemme Audio and currently the MaxHemps from Omega. Speaker Cables were Kimber's fabulous top of the line Selects.
We will review the Phantom and Dynavector separately in the future, but suffice it to say that setup was a breeze, even compared to the Jelco. The Phantom comes with a proprietary cart alignment tool that makes ultra precise alignment a no brainer even for me. The Raven was licking its beak the moment it saw the Phantom box.
All I can say is the months of waiting and the outlay of bucks was more than worth it. The Raven was singing like an Italian canary on steroids. Upon all initial listening sessions, I try very hard to turn off the emotional side of my brain and go into strictly analytical mode, but the unbridled musicality and passion the Raven exudes made that nigh impossible. The first thing that leaps out at you is the Raven’s speed. I’m not talking about platter speed, that was right on (But easily adjustable if need be); I’m talking about the ability to capture the initial edge of a note, whether it is plucked, struck, bowed, sung or blown. The Raven serves them up effortlessly, imparting a sense of liveness and immediacy that makes music sound like music.
One of the first LPs on the heavy platter was the LA4’s wonderful “Pavane Pour Une Infante Defunte” - (East Wind 30P4-1002). It’s pretty expensive now if you can find one and for good reason; It’s a Japanese Direct-to-disk LP that features four of jazz’s greatest: BUD SHANK - alto sax & flute, the late LAURINDO ALMEIDA – guitar, also lost to us now, the great RAY BROWN - bass and SHELLY MANNE on drums. Exquisite music and an equally compelling recording. Almeida’s guitar was crisp and sounded very live even thought this was a studio gig. Mr. Manne’s drums were equally rendered with his genius snare drum and cymbal work. His brushes were portrayed in living detail, delivering that soft metallic on drumhead that is so difficult to reproduce accurately. One often just hears a hissing sound that could be steam escaping from a bad pipe in the studio, but not with the One. A very good example of how speed plays an important role.
Ray’s bass was full bodied and fully fleshed out from top to bottom, making it easy to focus on his impeccable timing and pitch. Shank’s lusty yet sensitive alto was profound and engrossing in the fast and slow charts.
Speaking of slow, Ravel’s “Pavane Pour Une Infante Defunte” or “Slow, stately dance for a dead child” has been one of my favorite pieces since the Cincinnati Symphony performed it at my University in ’73. The melody and unique harmonies were captivating and so moving that it has never been forgotten. I’ve performed my adaptation in piano concerts and during pre-ceremony preludes on pipe organ at weddings. To me, this version is by far one of the best interpretations in any genre. The guys capture the delicate somberness yet illumination as it transitions between major and minor cadences and mixed emotional responses they elicit. The One conveyed the sad/happy/delicate emotions in the score just as I remember that live performance.
To arrive at the best possible evaluation of the One's sound, I wanted to use LPs with which I was very familiar. I must have been retrogressing to “college 1973” because next up was Stan Kenton’s “7.5 On The Richter Scale” on his Creative World label, recorded in that year. This is special because our Jazz Department brought him is as an adjudicator to work with the various jazz bands and ensembles during one of our music festivals. He brought a pretty good drummer with him whose name I wasn’t familiar with at the time – Peter Erskine! I was playing in Stageband A, (a “big band”) so we got to play some of Mr. Kenton’s charts he brought, with him conducting, some of which appear on this album. I later learned Stan played piano on this LP, so I was playing his part. Yikes!
If you think of Kenton in his old 1940’s recordings days, these charts are a big departure. They're very contemporary, with titles like “Live and Let Die” and “Zarathustra Revisted” – his take on the Strauss 2001 Space Odyssey movie theme. He autographed and wrote a personal message on a copy. Well, these charts and cuts absolutely smoke! It’s a very “in your face”, close–miked recording with very little room sound and just a little artificial reverb, I think. It sounds as if you are standing right in front of the band at the mercy of the thunderous brass and percussion attacks. Playing this immediately took me to those live sessions like never before. Stan knew how to swing, too – which is something that is only successful with perfect timing, whether played live or played back. Just because music is written in swing style, doesn’t mean it really swings if the person playing it doesn’t have that “feel” in his soul. This LP revealed that the Raven has soul out its ya-ya – whatever that is; I just made it up.
It also revealed the table’s immense dynamic capabilities. Every crack of Erskine’s snare and blast of the torrid trumpets was cracked and blasted right back at me with nothing left between the grooves. Yowza!
Continuing the jazz theme, I put on a 200 gram reissue of Duke Ellington’s” Jazz in Orbit” sent for review by Scot Markwell at Classic Records. If you already know about this recording, but can’t find or afford an original copy, blame our own Mike “Musikmike” Peskin for it since he discovered this previously unheralded LP years ago. Amazing he could discover anything among his 10,000 LP collection! Just listening to the first side put this LP in my personal TOP TEN LPs of all time. The timbers are amazing and the soundstage is enormous with well defined layers spread out well beyond and to the rear of the speakers. Musically and sonically, this sounds as if it could have been produced last week. Well, musically at least, and the Raven documented all of it. Even if you don’t particularly like jazz, you should pick this up from Classic. It’s phenomenal. It took all my will power to send this to MusikMike to review since he’s the world’s authority on this one and has several original copies. You didn’t play on this one in ’73, too, didya? – publisher
No, I didn’t, smart mouth. And shut...UP! This IS the publisher! – publisher
But classical. Ah classical. Could the Raven do with orchestral instruments what it did with jazz? Out came RCA LSC2225, a 1s/1s I bought at Goodwill otherwise known as Witches' Brew. This is also a recording on everybody’s top LP list by Alexander Gibson and the New Symphony Orchestra Of London – a Shaded Dog among Shaded Dogs. On a lesser table, the harmonics are so rich that it can sound too bright, but not here. The stealthy black table laid it out immaculately on Arnold's Overture to "Tam O'Shanter" and Moussorgsky/Rimsky-Korsakoff's “A Night On Bare (Bald) Mountain”. Absolutely breathtaking. Classic Records also has a great 200 gram issue of this one.
Another sunless canine came out after that, this time Munch’s “A Stereo Spectacular” featuring Saint-Sean’s “Symphony #3” (Organ) on LSC-2341, another of my few 1s/1s pressings. This is one of my favorite orchestra pieces and I have it on every important label, I think, as well as CD and SACD. The composer did a masterful job of orchestrating this with varying colors and dynamic swells and hits. The soundstage is ginormous and when the organ comes in with all stops at full throat, it never ceases to give me chills. And no, publisher, I’ve never played this one, either - publisher
The Raven convinced me that even the SACD is no match for it – its organic (pun intended) lushness and impact much more musical than the digital versions. Not always the case, by the way, but it is here.
BRING ON THE WOMEN
Thomas’ specific design goal included female vocals as a priority. Linda Ronstadt, Maria Muldaur, Joni Mitchell, Kate Bush, Karen Carpenter, Aretha, Tracy Chapman and others left no doubt in my mind that Thomas hit a grand slam there. Whether soft whispers by Kate or Tracy or full-diaphragmed gospel and blues style belting via Aretha and Maria, the One conveyed their artistry and immaculate phrasing, their heart and soul near flawlessly.
Female vocals? Check.
FLIPPING THE BIRD (RAVEN) to ROCK MUSIC
Yes, the Raven rocks, too. Scot also sent me Classic’s 200 gram reissue of Led Zep 4. Through the years I have always been on the outlook for a better original copy of this than one I already owned. I’ve actually found a couple of originals still sealed. That was all a waste of time and money, because this one kills everything I’ve ever heard of this one. The CD? Please. There is some amazing music here from the ‘ole Brits and the Raven with Mike Hobson’s (the head re-master guru at Classic) help made me appreciate it all over again and to a much greater depth. My favorite cut has always been “Black Dog”, but let me tell you something – listening to the now cliché “Stairway to Heaven” on this massive vinyl forced me to realize that the thing is truly a masterpiece when heard at its highest resolution. I gained a whole new level of respect and admiration for this diverse piece that bridged the gap between folk, rock and metal. Thanks to Mr.'s Markwell and Hobson for the privilege.
I couldn't help but ask Thomas how the much bigger AC differs sonically from the Raven One. "The AC sounds a little bit quieter more relaxed and more fine details".
I think that was a very honest answer. It may not be very good marketing hype to use the words "a little bit" for the more expensive AC, but that's precisely why I think it is honest. I've heard both tables side by side a few times and I agree with Thomas. You get a very large percentage of the sound of the AC, which many think is among the very best in the world at $11,500 base price, with the Raven One at a much smaller fraction of the price.
That's why I am buying this review sample. By the way, you may have heard that reviewers always get big discounts like 40 to 60% on everything. Not in THIS case, by a long shot. Why? I'll give you a little inside information here. It's because the mark up is very thin. Their strategy is to sell this rather new table with very little margin in order to get the product into many hands so word of mouth can kick in. It has worked in Europe and the Far East, and I'm sure it will here soon. Most European products have gone up significantly in recent months because of the Euro exchange rate. TW Acustic has not raised prices - yet, but they will have to soon, I would think. All of this just makes the Raven One a more screaming bargain that it already is.
You should know that delivery times are running about 3 months. Remember, this is a custom, hand-made table - not mass produced like many names with which you are familiar. Quality takes time. If you already have an arm, the armboard will be drilled to fit it at no extra charge.
The Raven continues “Quothing” to this day. I’ve listened to it through an endless parade of amps, preamps, speakers and other various and sundry components. It has never failed to delight, educate, illumine, reveal and seduce. The TW Acustic Raven One is, without a doubt, a reference quality table at an High-End entry level price. All of those people in Europe and the Pacific Rim knew what they were buying.
On a side note, Thomas told me he would be attending the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest in October (2007), so if you come you can talk to him yourself - and me and about 4 of Stereomojo staffers as well.
The warranty on the One is a generous 5 years. I experienced zero problems during my time with it.
If you are in the market for a turntable from $3,500 up to, say, $10,000, the TW ACUSTIC Raven One is a no brainer. At it's base price, the Raven One offers stunning performance and its versatility and numerous cost effective upgrades make it a table that can grow with you. Its ability to work well with even the most expensive arms, cartridges and phono preamps means this is a table you can own for a long, long time without worrying about obsolescence. You can stay off the expensive and frustrating buy and sell merry-go-round indefinitely and put the money you would have wasted into LPs. If your interest goes to using different arms and cartridges or if you want to get the best out of your mono and stereo LPs, its expandability to two arms is rare at this price point. Add to the mix its compact size and it's perfect for reviewers, too.
Having an honest, responsive, expert like Jeffrey Catalano to work with is not to be taken lightly. He adds value and confidence to the purchasing and upgrade process. All shipping and duties costs to the US only are included.
If you do want to upgrade in the future, I think this table will hold its resale like a Mercedes or Lexus. At present prices and currency exchange rates, this blackbird presents an excellent buying opportunity.
Post review comment from Bob Graham, maker of the Phantom arm:
Jeff Catalano forwarded your review of the Raven, and I must say the style is clever, interspaced nicely with appropriate photos... Good job and I agree - the turntable IS fabulous! - Bob Graham
Congratulations to Thomas Woschnick, TW-ACUSTIC
and Jefferey Catalano for their acheivement in bringing this superb turntable to the audio enthusiast world. We are proud present our highest award to this very worthy creation.