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Raven Design Studio Ebb Floorstanding Speaker Review

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Raven Design Studio Ebb SpeakerFinding What You Weren’t Looking For

When we first began hunting for a home shortly after getting married, my wife and I had an idea of the kind of house we wanted. As we searched one consideration led to another and instead of purchasing the home we conceptualized we ended up in a small Cape Cod, something neither of us had anticipated. It was the perfect home for a newlywed couple, affording a small enough payment while allowing sizable enough rooms to start a family. It was presented to us as the perfect family starter house, and indeed it was – we were the third couple to raise two boys in it!

When it comes to upgrading a rig it also seems one thing can lead to another. A comment is made by an acquaintance, a system is given a demo, a discount is discovered – and one’s perspective shifts. Whether at a friend’s home, a dealer showroom, or an audiophile show, a not uncommon occurrence is to arrive considering one component and leave contemplating another. When an audio system meets with our ear’s approval, the mind naturally becomes curious as to the equipment producing such a captivating sound. Almost inevitably our curiosity leads us down another path which may culminate in fascination with a component we did not anticipate.

So it was that I found myself intrigued by the Raven Studio Ebb speaker displayed in the Orca Design/Clarity Cable room at Dagogo’s first California Audio Show. This was not the first time that Raven and Clarity had shown together. At the 2010 C.E.S. Chris Owen invited me to hear a system featuring the Raven Studio Bard, a generous sized monitor fed by his cables. I was positively influenced by the experience such that I worked out a review of the cables, currently being finalized.

Nick Wingate, National Sales Manager of Raven Studio, insisted on flying out to set up the speakers. They arrived two hours before he did, and within another two we had them in their initial position; a position which was to change dramatically over time. For the next two days we built test systems, tweaked, found the supposed final position for the speakers and ran through the highlights of the design. We shared many thoughts about the speakers and interspersed here among my comments are informational tidbits from Nick, supplemented with thoughts from Kimon Belles, president and chief engineer, and Alan Hulsebus, Senior Engineer at Orca Design & Manufacturing. These gentlemen were responsive and informative to an extreme during the course of the review.

At the 2010 inaugural Dagogo show, hearing the Ebb, I perceived there was something very good happening with this relatively unknown speaker company. I say unknown, as Raven Studio is a subsidiary of Orca Design and Manufacturing, manufacturer of the increasingly popular Raven pure ribbon tweeter series. As a testament to the quality of the design, unique custom designed Raven models are used on the top models of Nola and Aerial Acoustics speaker lines. The Orca tweeters range in price from several hundred to over two thousand dollars. These are serious speaker elements!

I am happy to report that the Ebb is indeed not just a speaker with a fancy tweeter, but has consistency in quality throughout from tweeter to bottom. It is a two-way speaker; mated to the tweeter is an array of four full-range Focal 5-inch drivers rolled off inversely to the tweeter starting at the 3.5kHz point and ending at 8kHz. The crossover zone has been stretched to cover 3.5kHz to 8kHz for a smooth transition. The only driver manufacturer Raven has found to handle this demand is the Focal with its “W Sandwich”.

In the rear toward the top is another set of two identical Focal 5-inch drivers which operate out of phase to the front firing foursome. There is a pair of four way controls next to the binding posts, each of which has dual silver contacts and adjusts a discreet non-inductive power resistor. The top control influences the ribbon tweeter’s output and the bottom one attenuates the rear firing speakers. There are no indicators of the attenuation settings, such as ‘0 dB” or “-2 dB,” for either the tweeter or the rear drivers. Kimon shares, “We want people to honestly listen to determine what sounds best in their system. If we mark “0” at anechoic flat measurement some people will hesitate to experiment with adjustments and incorrectly think their speaker is either ‘bright’ or ‘dull’ depending on which setting they choose.” This is good thinking, to let the ears decide the setting rather than the eyes.

In addition, the setting for left and right speaker might not be identical due to room boundaries and furniture placement altering near field reflections. It is evident that Raven Studio wants the owner to be engaged with the setup of the speaker in a rudimentary fashion, not simply plop them down and forget the extra features.

I found that the back-firing drivers could not be completely stilled, but at the lowest setting they output so little that I would think their contribution to be negligible – at that setting one has to put an ear next to them to hear them operating. Their purpose is “…to cancel sound that leaks around the cabinet from the front [of the] speakers.” The adjustment is meant to minimize a compromise in speaker placement in terms of sound stage image and bass response. Alan explains, “Speaker placement has a big effect on the 60Hz to 120Hz bass octave band room resonance modes, so the switch can be adjusted to smooth out the room acoustic response.” Again, if the room is not symmetrical the left and right switch settings may differ, a higher end method of L/R speaker balance control.”

Experimentation with the two switches was beneficial. I found I preferred, under all circumstances, the front firing tweeter at full output. This was so despite the speaker having been tilted upward so that the tweeters fired directly toward my ears. These are such smooth, refined tweeters that I did not find them to irritate even at higher listening levels. I recalled challenges in making the ring radiator tweeters of the Von Schweikert VR-4 SR MkII behave, but the Raven ribbon, unlike its namesake, chirps quite politely. Taking them down too much in terms of output drew unwanted attention to the individual drivers of the full range arrays below them.

The practical effect of the rear drivers is to adjust the speaker such that it can sound like a typical sealed box or a dipole. When the rear drivers are defeated the acoustic space behind the speakers toward the head wall seems hollow, void of activity. One hears the energy and instruments primarily on a plane parallel to the front of the speaker. But when the rear drivers are engaged fully the cavity behind the speaker is filled in with a pleasant rearward extension of the primary wave launch. More like the sound of a dipole speaker, the soundstage is backed up several feet adding a more satisfying sense of depth.

I inspected two versions of the Ebb speaker, the first unit having some idiosyncrasies and damage from shipping which made a review impossible. During the setup process Nick and I had noted a bit of an unsettled nature to the bass, but it was difficult to put our finger on what precisely was amiss. There was unevenness or unnatural texture in the bass output which did not disappear until the rear drivers’ output was set to maximum. Whenever I returned to the lower rear driver output the uneven bass response returned. I inspected each driver and noted that when the right speaker’s rear drivers were to be operating in lower output they went silent, the cause of the unevenness in bass response.

I made the decision to put a hold on the review pending issues being addressed. Happily, Raven Studio went to work and by the time of CES 2011, the speaker was ready for review. In the process the port was moved to the back of the cabinet, following internally its curvature and exiting in a long vertical rectangular slot offset to one side. The attenuation options for the rear firing drivers increased from two to four. Binding posts were upgraded to Cardas brand with their patented single circular knob and plastic block system to lock down up to two sets of spades at a time.

This binding post system is worthy of comment, especially since it does not accept banana terminations. It seems that in order to remove the Cardas jumpers included one has to remove the knob and plastic block assembly. Then the jumpers can be slipped off the positive and negative speaker post terminals. As I did so the terminal posts moved. They actually slipped in and out several millimeters freely. At first, I thought this was a flaw in the design or damage, but upon researching it on the Cardas site found it is touted as an advancement. Cardas insists that by eschewing threads, the posts contribute to higher fidelity. Once the speaker cables were in position and the posts locked there were no issues. However, I believe this is the kind of device a less careful person could damage. I can see someone pushing in the binding post poles such that they disappear, or trying to tug on them. There’s always someone yanking on a loose part and breaks it; don’t let it be you!

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