Corvus Tower System Review
It’s been three weeks now since my Raven Audio Corvus Tower System speakers arrived on a pallet delivered to my driveway, and I can no longer suppress the urge to express my thoughts about them.
Before I do that however, for some context I would like to provide a bit of my Raven Audio experience.
I have previously posted about my Blackhawk MK3 Integrated and CeLest’ Towers purchases on the Raven Audio product pages and/or forums. If you were to read those posts it wouldn’t take long to figure out I am a huge Raven Audio fan. In half a year or so I’ve gone from not knowing anything about the company to a complete fanboy. And why is that, one might ask. The answer is they have delivered, via my Blackhawk and Corvus, the quality of sound reproduction I have been dreaming of for years, but never really believed I could afford. And get this, they not only hyped these products, daring us audiophiles to test and compare for 45 days etc, they delivered on the hype! Now to be sure, the Corvus, being individually built to order, don’t come with the same 45 day trial, so I was taking a leap of faith investing in the them. But given the fact the Blackhawk and CeLest’s both met or exceeded my expectations, it was a very confident leap, and well rewarded. As I hope to explain below, where I talk about what I am hearing.
Now, back to where I left off -
After a ten week wait, delayed a few weeks due to the virus, they had finally come, and was I ever excited to get a chance to hear what I had read and heard about from my friends at Raven Audio.
I had concerns about getting them in and set up due to their heft, and their gorgeous piano black finish, which is the primary reason for the normally 6-8 week build time. Fortunately I live in a single story house and was able to borrow my neighbor’s dolly, so getting them into my living room was easy. The next step was getting them unboxed and set up. When I opened the boxes I noticed the speakers were wrapped in classy black cloth to protect their beautiful Steinway quality finish. Truth is the pictures online don’t do them justice, and I find them to look quite elegant with the grilles on. The Corvus Towers consist of MTM monitors (46 lbs) stacked on top of active bass modules (70 lbs). I had been instructed by James Connell, the incredibly talented designer of Raven’s speakers, as to the most efficient way to place the monitors on top of the 30” high bass modules, but the task was still a little daunting given my age and build. However my wonderful wife was able to pitch in and help me get them off the floor and guided onto the bass modules - piece of cake :). Positioning them was simplified by the fact they were replacing a pair of Raven’s CeLest’ Towers, which have a very similar footprint. I had taken pics of where the CeLest’s were positioned and started out with the Corvus in the same places. I adjusted them a little and they haven’t moved since. Once I had them positioned I proceeded to hook them up with the various Raven cables that came with them. Power cords were included with the bass modules and I bought the speaker cables for the monitors and interconnects for the bass units. If you’ve never seen the Raven Audio cables they are works of art in and of themselves and are an unbelievable bargain, especially given their build quality and transparency.
The real question of course is how do they sound? Beautiful finish and typical Raven build quality in the end don’t count for a whole lot, other than possibly to our wives, as compared to their musical reproduction.
I would like to state that trying to put into words what can only truly be understood from experience is a difficult task, one that makes me appreciate the talents of the professional audio reviewers. For me it is at best an approximation, or circumlocution, to borrow a grammatical term. With that understood, following is my best shot at describing the amazing music emanating from the Corvus Towers.
First let me say that I like to play my music with the volume turned up some. This allows the Corvus to really open up, which they do in a spectacular way. I am not sure about the dB level but for those who have one of the Avian amps the setting is around 9 o’clock on my Blackhawk.
The Corvus, following in the footsteps of the Raven amps, provide amazing detail. This detail is not as much a clinical accuracy as it is a clarity in the vocals and instruments. The Blackhawk provided more of this than the SS it replaced, and the CeLest’s took another step forward when they replaced my prior speakers, and now the Corvus have taken this to a whole new level, one I would never have thought possible. I experience this in multiple ways. The lyrics are clearer and therefore more understandable, not smeared as is the case with lesser amps and speakers. This is invaluable to me because much of what I listen to includes some kind of story, albeit of the poetic kind, and understanding the story in a song helps me to more closely connect with the song, which in turn makes for, in my case at least, a more enjoyable musical experience. An example of this might help. Ruth Moody has a very melodic but soft voice, it also tends to roll off a lot, especially at the ends of words or verses. This can make for a frustrating experience at times as I strain to decipher what she is saying. One of the songs I have used to evaluate my system in this regard is Make a Change, which is on her These Wilder Things CD. Even though I know the lyrics to this song I can still have trouble actually making out some of the words, and this was especially the case before I started acquiring Raven gear. With the Corvus, I can make out close to, if not every, word, and also catch the minute vocal inflections that are there as well. Another example that is a little different in its effect on my listening experience is the song Night Walker, by Ray Bonneville. This song is about the thoughts that run through the mind of the singer as he watches a person who walks by each night on the street below. When I listened to the song last night, with the lights off, I was transported to the scene and into the singer’s mind’s eye, catching every nuance of Ray’s singing and playing. It’s like I was present there with them, and this in a way I really had never been before. It was just surreal.
The clarity I mentioned also shows up in low level detail. By this I mean the subtle sounds that often reside in the background, such as soft brushes on drums, triangles, low volume harmonicas, etc., each in its proper space and identifiable by its unique sonic properties.
While there is much more that I could write with regard to the subject of detail, I should probably move on.
I think mid bass would be a good topic to discuss next because it is a frequency range where the Corvus are simply spectacular. For purposes of this discussion by mid bass I mean the frequencies where instruments like tom tom and floor tom drums, and the lower frequencies of guitars, reside. The drums in this range are powerful, real and full of depth. I could listen to them for hours because they convey deep and resonant tones that I never get tired of hearing. The beauty and impact of them just can’t be translated into words, they just have to be heard to be appreciated. Actually the reproduction of all things percussion is clear, precise and perfectly integrated into the sound stage, appearing in various places and adding their special sounds to the presentation as a whole. Similar to the drums, forays into the lower guitar frequencies reveal a rich, expressive tonality, and a depth that is really unmatched by anything I have ever heard. Songs can get boring after awhile if listened to a lot, but as with the drums, I never seem to get tired of the guitar tones I hear from the Corvus.
What about the bass itself? Well if we’re talking bass we should start with the bass modules themselves. You can find the specs for them online but the specs can’t convey their beauty and workmanship. Everything about them exudes quality in construction and design. They mate perfectly with the monitors physically, and are designed to be adaptable to your room. They are time aligned with the monitors and therefore phase is not an issue. And they can be adjusted volume wise to match the monitors and your own tastes, plus they can be customized by Raven to smooth out peaks and valleys in bass caused by room acoustics, placement etc. The result of course is bass to die for. In my system the bass integrates perfectly with the upper frequencies, resulting in a seamless, balanced presentation. The bass is accurate, controlled and deep, both in frequency and in space. There is not even a hint of boom or toneless thud. The deep rumbles are there when called for, note slides are heard and you can follow the bassist as he or she moves up and down the scales. In a nutshell when you combine the bass and mid bass you have a lower end presentation that is alive, musical and dynamic. I will give you an example of a song that highlights what I have been trying to convey about the bass. The song is Northern Skies. It is by Dido and is on her Safe Trip Home Album. This song has a recurring bass theme throughout its entirety. I believe it includes both string and drum bass, but may be all drum, I am just not sure. Anyway there are multiples levels of bass, some of which are very subtle. I had listened to Northern Skies before with other speakers, but it could get boring after awhile, sounding the same. But as I was listening to it with the Corvus I noticed there are multiple layers of bass going on that suddenly made it much more interesting.
Oh by the way, given what you’ve read so far, you may be wondering if I am going to have anything negative to say about these speakers. They must have some weakness, right? Well the closest thing I can think of, and this is pretty darn minor, is that given their height to width ratio, you would probably not want rambunctious kids or animals around them, because they could be susceptible to being knocked over from the side. Oh, and at first blush, especially in pictures, they can seem somewhat plain. However, in person they are anything but plain, or unattractive. In fact I absolutely love the way they look in my room. As far as the sound goes, the fact is I can’t seem to find a weakness, not to say that other’s couldn’t. There is no perfect speaker and people have different tastes.
I haven’t mentioned treble and midrange yet. Let me just say the vocals and instruments sound so real you would think you are in the room with the artists. Many of the same things I said about the quality of the bass/mid bass of course hold true here as well. Listening to Eva Cassidy’s Autumn Leaves the other day it was like I was with her there at Blues Alley. Her pure, beautiful, expressive voice and her wonderful guitar strumming were again the best I have ever heard them, plus they are big and deep spatially as well. When I listen to Grand Funk Railroad’s I’m Your Captain, from their Closer to Home album (a great song from the 70’s with wonderful bass and multiple movements), I hear these amazing ocean wave sounds - what an unexpected treat!
The final subjects I would like to discuss are soundstage and imaging, then speed and dynamics.
The Raven amps are known for their ability to present a three dimensional soundstage. I had experienced this to a certain degree before I acquired the Corvus. Whatever I did experience has been increased exponentially with the Corvus. The 3D I experience is both within the sound of certain instruments, especially drums, and in space around the voices and instruments. These singers and instruments are identifiable left and right, but also in a front to back sense. For example, there is a really interesting track by Kim Richey on her Rise CD titled Electric Green. It is a duet and I get the sense that one of the singers is in front of the other. I don’t get that on every song but it is very distinct on that one. There are a ton of other songs I have played with them that have great imaging and depth, with multiple instruments at different depths and placement on the soundstage. Sometimes as I’m listening there is so much going on in so many places it just really blows my mind and I say to myself, I CANNOT BELIEVE how good this sounds - I wish more people could hear this! I also need to mention the width and fullness of the soundstage. The soundstage of course varies with each song, but with some songs the soundstage goes from the outside of one speaker and runs continually across and to the outside of the other speaker. The best example of this is the No Doubt song Hey Baby, which is on their Rock Steady album. It is a flat out insane track, especially with this setup. The vertical soundstage is sizeable as well, with the sweet spot at, above and below eye level, and wide.
The last thing I want to mention is the speed and dynamics of these speakers. On Raven’s Corvus product page they state the speakers have Lightning Fast Response, which contributes to greater accuracy. I pick up on this a lot. In fact I was listening to a piano piece and was struck by how quick this one particular note ended after the silencing pedal was pushed. The stop was fast and total. The speed and accompanying clarity are also demonstrated with drums in that no matter how fast the drum strikes, they are always individually identifiable and separated from one another. Lastly, these speakers are incredibly dynamic. Though they sound wonderful at lower volume, when I turn them up a little they seem to just COME ALIVE with rich, multilayered and beautiful sound.
Well I feel like I’ve just conveyed the proverbial tip of the iceberg when it comes to how the Corvus Towers sound, but at least you now have the perspective of someone not connected with Raven that owns a pair.
In conclusion I would like to encourage anyone who is the least bit interested in this level of speaker, or are just curious to find out for yourself what the hype is all about, to find a way to audition them. I am getting this amazing sound with a 4K, 20 Watt, tube integrated. And the nice thing is you can start with the monitors and add the bass modules later.
If you are interested in hearing mine, I live in the Phoenix area, and you can contact me through Raven.
Amp: Raven Audio Blackhawk Integrated Tube Amp
Speakers: Raven Audio Corvus Tower System
DAC: Lampizator Atlantic
Music Server: Antipodes DX2
Power Conditioner: Wells Audio Looking Glass
Cables: Raven Audio, Audience, Danacable
Rack: Core Audio Designs