World Premiere Review!
Raven Audio Silhouette MK 2 Reference Preamplifier With MM Phono Stage
A wonderful vacuum tube stereo preamplifier with the joys of tube swapping too!
review should be considered a continuation of the review of the Raven Reflection
Mk 2 integrated amplifier that appeared in Enjoy
the Music.com in September 2016. Since that time there has been an
unfortunate series of natural climate related events that necessitated their
move to a new manufacturing facility.
I touched on this same theme when reviewing the companion
Raven Audio Reflection MK 2; it's about cutting corners. Nowadays you may find
many expensive analog audio devices incorporating digital power supplies, but
why? After all, linear power supplies do the same thing. You can pick up a
catalog from a number of on line manufactures and order an inexpensive
ready-made off the shelf digital power supply, one of hundreds of different
types. Some of them in an effort to sound more linear (continuous) the designers
increase the switching / sampling rate higher, to approximate radio frequencies.
(Read: Noise and shielding). With this
option does everything come down to money and profit? You can bet the
house on it.
Some People Care
Over a space of forty three years I keep coming back to
tube audio. It is there where we can still find smaller companies and a few
people (like me) with hot solder burns on their hands. It seems to me Raven
Audio a Texas Company is one of those companies that care. In part my
conclusions are based on the fact that I can't find any corners that were cut in
order to produce this Raven MK 2 preamplifier. To illustrate, Raven Audio builds
their components in Texas and hand solders their amplifiers with point to point
Teflon insulated wire. In addition Raven Audio developed and makes a separate
line of state of the art Film Capacitors for sale to other manufacturers. At the
top of the Raven line of Reference components. The CEO Dave Thomson provides
from his own stash a selection of to die for near impossible to get no longer
made rare vacuum tubes. This exotic mix of audio tubes includes three
manufacturers I've heard of but never actually seen. There are three sets of
spare tubes; among these are pairs of original, Tungsram, Brimar, and Valvo
manufactured miniature dual triodes.
The Silhouette MK 2 preamplifier is $15,995 and is CNC milled
from a solid billet of aircraft grade aluminum as is the transformers cover on
the top of the chassis. The remote control is also milled aluminum but with just
two buttons that control volume up or down. The preamplifier measures 19.4"
x 11.5" x 8.5" (WxDxH) and weigh 47 pounds. The MK 2 uses a total of
ten vacuum tubes they are: OA3, 6SN7, 6B4G, 5Y3 two 12AT7, one 6922, and three
12AX7 tubes dedicated to the phono amplifier. . A less expensive line level
version Silhouette preamplifier is available without the three 12AX7 tube phono
stage. The front panel has three large control knobs. Left to right they are,
Power, on /off, ALPS motor driven Volume control, and a Source selection knob.
The Source selector switches between four unbalanced (RCA) positions. Three are
line level inputs and the fourth is the unbalanced input for the Moving Magnet
phono amplifier stage. Consequently at the back chassis are five sets of RCA
jacks with one pair serving as an output to a power amplifier. And last two
additional pairs of XLR jacks are intended for a balanced preamplifier input and
an output to a power amplifier. There also an industry standard IEC power cord
socket, plus chassis grounding stud for the phono stage amplification. There are
two missing features that I wish the Silhouette MK 2 had. Both could be
incorporated as functions of the remote control. The first would be a mute
function and the second would be the expanded ability to switch between the four
Note: The amplifier literature states that the designers found
no difference in sound quality
between balanced and unbalanced connections. As a consequence the four input and
output XLR jacks are optional. Of these the third XLR ground wire is made common
to the negative leg thereby forming an unbalanced wiring configuration. And in
keeping with that this MK 2 audition was accomplished with a one meter pair of
unbalanced Analysis Statement Silver cables from the preamplifier to my Sanders
ESL power amplifier.
My ethics are such that it is always my goal to capture and
describe the essential character / sound of a review component separately and
independently from the components of that make up the remainder of my review
system. Simple logic really, because if you don't have a reference system then
how would you rally know how a component sounds? Upon tuning on the Raven Audio
Silhouette MK 2 reference preamplifier with MM phono stage there's a 30 second
power on delay as the tubes heat up. During this period there is a small
blinking blue LED on the line select knob. It stops blinking when the amplifier
is up to operating temperature.
The very first thing you will hear is an exaggerated tube
sound; with the music sounding a little too warm with a bit of augmented
bass too. From among the extra sets of tubes supplied with the preamplifier I
swapped the two Valvo line stage dual triode tubes and substituted two Tungsram
12AT7 black plates in the front row of the line stage positions (3 and 4). The
result was a bit more speed and extension up top where dog whistle frequencies
live. Somewhat better but still unmistakably tube sound. Even with broken in
vintage tubes it takes about 20 minutes for the MK 2 to fully wake up. At that
time the one note bass levels disappear and are replaced by a myriad of far more
subtle harmonies. The result after everything settles down is the modern sound
of tubes. That is the sound that I prefer. Knife edged transient attack is
something I associate mostly with solid-state digital devices. The digital stop
and start function even with higher bit rate devices. It does not allow for the
time it takes for the complex interleaved tonal structures of music to decay
naturally. The difference between the two becomes more apparent listening to
something like the acoustic sound of a close mic'ed Cello. If you were sitting
right next to that cello, you would feel the halo of air reverberating and
surrounding the cello's wooden body. And you would hear the wood vibrating. It
is a visceral wave front that impacts and sends vibrations to the surface of
your skin. With a superbly captured close up recording the Silhouette MK 2 can
get you there. The Silhouette Mk 2 conveys the overtones, timber and harmonic
structures of the living event.
The Sound Of Vinyl
I saved the best for last; Raven Audio's Silhouette MK 2
optional phono preamplifier. The phono stage is designed for a high output
moving magnet (MM) cartridges. The default cartridge loading is not adjustable
and is fixed at 47kOhms. To do full justice to the preamplifier I purchased a
new high output 0.5 mV limited edition Ortofon Silver moving magnet cartridge. I
ran it for a while to let it break in. As is my ethic I do not list the records
I sampled because you most certainly don't own the same recordings.
The MM phono stage of the Silhouette Mk 2 sounds even more
like classic tubes. I did note a slight lack of high frequency extension. As a
consequence it does imply a warmer treble. But understand, nothing is actually
missing from the treble frequencies. This turns out to be a happy trade off. For
it lends a warmer life like harmonic envelope to the sound of a human voice.
There may be some person who can tell when a violin is a half note off. But my
reference is the sound of a human voice this is something I know very well.
Because of this I prefer to listen to a female vocalist. A perfect example might
by Peggy Lee singing "Fever". It
is here that subtle tonal inflections convey human emotions. The MK 2 paints the
sound of a human voice and gives it meaning. That same tubular quality allowed
me to hear some lower volume bass overtones that I never heard before. These are
sub harmonics that are masked and ride along under the louder fundamental
I wish I could keep the Raven Silhouette MK2, but it is out of
my reach. To me a natural sounding wide open sound stage is first and foremost
on a list of must haves. I will remember the wonderful wide dimensional sound
that fills my room. It is expensive, but it is so very hard to return to a
lesser land of mere mediocrity.
Remember to Enjoy The Music and from me...
SOTA Sapphire turntable with Grado laboratory reference tone
arm, Ortofon Silver MM cartridge.
Sony UHP-U1 Universal Disc player.
Music Hall upsampling DAC 25.3 with headphone amplifier,
Yamaha WXC-5 Wi-Fi Blue tooth receiver.
Sanders ESL power Amplifier
Aurum Cantus V30M, Mark Daniels Omni Harmonizer tweeters.
Kimber Kable 12tc 11 ft. And a Kimber Kable 8TC 18" to tweeter
Monster Reference 4 pairs, two-0.5 meter, 1 meter and 1.5 meters, Nordost Red Dawn 1meter, Audioquest Cinnamon XLR 1 meter.
Chord Silver Siren 1 meter, Homemade Teflon RCA 1 meter,
Autobahn 0.5 meter digital
Wire World 10 gauge IEC line cord, Power Cords: Kaplan Cables
12 gauge IEC