Raven Nighthawk tube rolling.
Retirement found me in a smaller city, a smaller home and trying to put together a (budget) audio system for the first time in 20 years. Full disclosure: I am addicted to tubes, have nearly 30 years in the audio industry and for much of my adult life owned Audio Research separates. And, don’t even start to tell me how today’s new Class-D amplifiers sound just as good as tubes!
My system building had already seen me buy and sell two very well reviewed tube integrated amplifiers (both made in China). To me, they lacked the tube sound I was looking for. I was about to throw in the towel when I ran across Raven Audio mentioned on one of the forums. I had never heard of them.
I visited the Raven Audio website and ended up ordering a Nighthawk MK3.1 integrated under their 45-day in-home trial. It was love at first listen. Here was the lush tube midrange I was looking for. This amp had a spacious soundstage and was detailed without being bright. It also had a really tight bottom end (for a tube amp). No, it wasn’t quite as transparent or holographic as my $10,000 Audio Research separates but it had the same sonic texture.
That was in August of 2021. I have listened to that amp every day for the last two years and it has never failed to engaged me and get my toes tapping.
About a month ago, I wrote Dave Thomson, Raven Audio’s founder and asked him if I could get just a tad closer to that illusive, super transparent, holographic midrange by swapping a few tubes. Dave’s reply shocked me. He told me he had a tube upgrade package that would put my Nighthawk in the sonic neighborhood of any $10,000 amplifier in the marketplace and, to prove it, he would send me this retube kit for me to listen to. I took him up on his offer.
A few days later, a package arrived with hand matched pairs of tubes from Dave’s private stash of vintage tubes. These included German Siemens medical grade, British Phillips Mullard and GE black plate tubes for the low-level stages and Shuguang output tubes. I popped these in my Nighthawk and probably listened ten minutes before reaching for my checkbook to write Dave a check. To say I was gob smacked would be an understatement! Every part of the audio spectrum was improved. I got my super holographic midrange that made me feel that I could reach out and touch the musicians plus a deeper, tighter, punchier bass than I have ever heard from my little amp and a super detailed high end without any hint of edge or glare.
I now have over 100 hours on these tubes and they just get better. I hope this thread encourages anyone thinking about tube amplification to give the Raven amplifiers a listen and, if you are already a Nighthawk/Blackhawk owner and want to take your amplifier to the next level, drop Dave a line and ask about his tube upgrade kits.