DeVore Fidelity Orangutan O/96 loudspeaker
Loudspeakers have been commercially available for nearly a century, yet those whose drive-units are mounted to baffles of intentionally limited width didn't appear in significant numbers until the 1980s. That seems a bit strange, given that the technology to transform large boards into smaller boards has existed since the Neolithic era.
Because the audio industry never lacked the ability to make loudspeakers with narrow or chamfered fronts, one must assume that the missing ingredient was the interest in doing soand that, I believe, came fairly late in the game, and originated in the hobby's enthusiasm for the spatial effects available from multichannel recordings. Fair enough: lower-treble and midrange tones, the wavelengths of which can exceed the radial size of the drive-units that disperse them, tend to reflect from a speaker's cabinet, delaying a small portion of the output. Among the first aspects of the sound to suffer are imaging cues.
But a loudspeaker without a baffle is like a herd of sheep without a fence and a border collie: Much of what you paid for will wander away. To the audiophile with a very powerful amplifier, that wasted loudspeaker output is no big deal; on the other hand, people who prefer low-power amplifiers see those conditions as crazy. (Interestingly, the latter hobbyists are also known to bemoan the lack of tonal substance in the sounds of most modern loudspeakers; given the preponderance of cabinets that willfully fail to support the lower ranges of tweeters and midrange drivers, is that really any surprise?)
Some companies push back. Audio Note is famous for their distinctive wide-baffle, high-sensitivity AN-E speakers, which find favor with many single-ended-triode enthusiasts. Industry stalwarts Spendor and Harbeth have kept classic wide-baffle designs in their own lines. And now, America's own DeVore Fidelity has brought to market their Orangutan O/96 ($12,000/pair), a wide-baffle, high-sensitivity, full-range dynamic loudspeaker aimed squarely at the SET set.
The Orangutan O/96"96" alludes to the new model's electrical sensitivity of 96dBis a two-way dynamic loudspeaker in a bass-reflex enclosure. The cabinet measures 28.25" high by 18" wide by 12" deep, although 7/8" of that depth is accounted for by a distinctly styled baffle board of birch plywood. Two different densities of MDF are used for the remainder of the cabinet: one for the rear panel, another for the top, bottom, and sides. Designer John DeVore says of the O/96's early design work, "We built several cabinets, including some that were all plywood; this combination sounded the best." The 7.5"-tall stand, included in the price, is made from solid maple.
High-frequency tones are reproduced by a 1" silk-dome tweeter built into a shallow concave flange; the latter, in DeVore's words, is "beyond being a waveguide and just on the verge of a horn load." DeVore, who designed the tweeter in cooperation with the European company that builds it to his specs, adds that the tweeter's rear wave fires into a tuned chamber glued to the magnet.
DeVore also designed the O/96's 10" woofer, whose untreated paper cone is made by a small company in Europe; the rest of the driver is manufactured by SEAS. The woofer has a compliant surround, which DeVore says is intended to act like a foam surroundinasmuch as its behavior is linearbut with the longevity of rubber.
Two mildly flared ports on the rear panel, each 5.5" deep by 3" in diameter, but that work together as one, according to DeVore, and are tuned to a frequency in the mid-30s. The drivers themselves are said to be fairly close to one another in electrical sensitivity, the tweeter's voice-coil requiring only a bit of added mass and series resistanceneither of which qualities detracts in the least from this intentionally high-impedance design. The crossover network is based on DeVore's proprietary Gibbon circuit, which is said to waste as little power as possible. The O/96's internal wiring was chosen through careful listeningDeVore says that some of this wire is "very old-fashioned." In a recess on the bottom of the cabinet is a single pair of Cardas copper binding posts, placed there to preserve the appearance of the O/96's lovely backside.
The DeVore O/96 is a serenely, classically beautiful thing. In the same manner as the aforementioned Audio Note AN-E, its baffle presents the listener with an expansive piece of veneerlace walnut in the case of my review samples, although virtually anything else is available on requestwhile the top, bottom, sides, and back are finished with a dark-stained maple veneer. The rearmost edge of the plywood baffle is rabbeted, conferring a nice visual break in a box that might otherwise have looked a bit foursquare. The finish, on loudspeaker and stand alike, is polyester.
Setup and installation
John DeVore is steadfast on one setup aspect in particular: "I definitely did not want to design a corner-mount speaker: Virtually any room that isn't an audiophile's listening room won't have two usable corners." Indeed, the Orangutan O/96 worked best in my room when farther from the wall behind it than most loudspeakers of my experiencealthough, like my Quad ESLs, the DeVores were tolerant of modest distances from their respective sidewalls. My review pair sounded fine when the center of each baffle was 25.5" from the nearest sidewall and 71" from the wall behind the speakers.
The best spatial performance was had with the speakers toed-in directly toward the central listening position: a position that was arrived at only after a great deal of experimentation. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it took some fiddling to get the very wide O/96s to acoustically "disappear"; even at their best in that regard, the speakers made their aural presences marginally more apparent than when I listen to my Quad ESLs from an optimal location. The flip side was that the O/96s were better than average at creating a believable sense of scale with recordings of large ensembles.
For all of my listening, I relied on the DeVores' companion stands, which I enjoyed in every way. Like the O/96 enclosures themselves, the stands are elegantly simple, and I applaud DeVore's decision to forgo the usual spiked feet, a decision he says was "partly aestheticalthough I do think [the O/96s] sound best being coupled directly to the floor, even carpet." Having long ago lost my tolerance for the sonic fussiness afforded most products when they're spiked to shelf or floor, I'm inclined to agree. Incidentally, DeVore suggests that the best way to stabilize these very precisely made stands on uneven floors is with small pieces of card stock, which he demonstrated to perfection in my listening room.
Each DeVore O/96 is supplied with a removable 18" by 13" grille of black fabric, held in place with rare-earth magnets hidden within the baffle. I liked the way they look, though the speakers did sound marginally clearer, more detailed, and more open without them.
Looking through my listening notes, I can't find word of a single record that wasn't extremely engaging through these speakers. From Mott the Hoople's Mad Shadows (LP, Atlantic SD 8272) to the great John Eliot Gardiner recording (with the Monteverdi Orchestra and Choir) of Purcell's Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary (LP, Erato STU 70911) to The David Grisman Rounder Album (LP, Rounder 0069), the Orangutan O/96s served them all with clarity, color, impact, drama, and scale.