DeVore Fidelity Orangutan O/93 loudspeaker
John once worked at a hi-fi retailer in lower Manhattan. Now, as president and chief designer of DeVore Fidelity, he manufactures loudspeakers across the bridge, in the former Brooklyn Navy Yard. I talked with John the other day about his new speaker, the Orangutan O/93.
John makes two Orangutans, both floorstanders: the O/96, with a sensitivity specified as 96dB, over which Art Dudley went ape, in the December 2012 issue. Artie has made the O/96 his reference loudspeaker. It goes for $12,000/pair, stands included.
Now there's the new, smaller Orangutan O/93, specified at 93dB. It retails for $8400/pair with a front baffle in fiddleback mahogany veneer (other veneers are available).
Like the veneers used on violins and other stringed instruments, John explained. I'd quote him, but my interview tape got tangled in my RadioShack TCR-100 telephone cassette recorderthe same model Linda Tripp used to tape and trip up Monica Lewinsky (footnote 1). Fortunately, I was able to dig up the gist of what John had said.
Both Orangutan models are for those who like little amps but don't like giant speakers; eg, the horns favored by many fans of single-ended-triode (SET) tube amps. But sensitivity is only the half of it, John told me on that tangled tape. High impedance matters just as much. It hovers around 1012 ohms, DeVore said, or something close to it; nor does it drop below 8 ohms. That makes the speakers very tube-friendly.
It could also make the speakers more friendly to some smaller solid-state amps. One manufacturer of solid-state electronics told me that when you optimize an amp to drive 8 ohm speakers, it might not do so well into a 4 ohm load. And vice versa. Tube amplifiers typically solve the problem by offering both 8 and 4 ohm taps off the secondary winding of the output transformers. Another approach is to optimize an amplifier into a 5 or 6 ohm load, the idea being that many, if not most, speakers with a nominal impedance of 8 ohms do drop that low at certain frequencies.
Yet another match for the Orangutansthe great ape and his little brothermight be an OTL amplifier from Atma-Sphere (OTL stands for output-transformerless).
During the 1950s and '60s, John DeVore reminded me, there was more variation in speaker impedances. There were 10 and 12 ohm speakers, 15 and 16 ohm speakers.
Making loudspeakers tube-friendly hasn't been on the agenda of most speaker makers since the mid-1960s. Speakers have become increasingly tube-unfriendly. I recall several respectable speaker makers telling me, in the 1980s and '90s, that amplifiers didn't matter very muchjust buy the biggest bang for the buck. More watts = more wallop. The mantra of many loudspeaker manufacturers becameand still is"Power is cheap."
I remember one loudspeaker manufacturer who showed off his new crossover at a press conference at the Consumer Electronics Show. That was the high point of his presentation: a crossover so big, so complex that it sounded its best only when strapped to a monster Mark Levinson or Krell amp. Surveying the situation, the late Paul Klipsch famously said, "What this country needs is a good 5W amplifier."
If you own a good 5W amp, it might drive the larger, more sensitive Orangutan O/96. I'm less sure about 3.5W.
My Sun Audio SV-2A3 tubed amplifier was less than an ideal match for the Orangutan O/93: the beast needed more power for its 10" paper-cone woofer to deliver its promised outstanding bass responsedown to 30Hz, according to zookeeper DeVore (and up to 31kHz).
How much power could the DeVores devour? I tried my Unison Research Simply Italy integrated tube amplifier. This well-named amp has just two tubes per channel: a 12AU7 (ECC82) input/driver tube, and an EL34 output tube running in single-ended pentode. Part of why single-ended tube amps sound so good is that most of them use only a single output tube per channel.
Anyway, back to progress.
Speaker crossovers became more complicated. So what if they devoured power? What mattered was a flat frequency response on Julian Hirsch's or Len Feldman's test bench. Speaker manufacturers aped one another: Complex crossovers. Metal-dome tweeters. Metal-cone midranges. As Stephen Mejias likes to say, "Yikes!" I named a new audiophile disease: metal-dome tweeteritis.
The Orangutan O/93 measures 35.5" high by 15" wide by only 10" deep. No stands needed. No spikes, eitherjust small wooden feet, like a chair. John DeVore likens his speakers to fine furniture. My wife, Marina, loves their appearance. I do, too.
Almost all of my favorite speakers have been two-way, with a single crossover frequency where the bass/midrange driver hands over to the tweeter. The late Henry Kloss (of AR, KLH, Advent) said that it was tough enough to get one crossover point right, never mind two.
Back in the 1960s, many speakers had a 10" or even a 12" woofer. Then manufacturers began to narrow the cabinets and wire in parallel two, three, even four smaller woofers. Speaker cabinets became less squat, more skinny, better suited to nearfield listening. The idea was to spread a wide soundstage by placing the speakers well out into the room. I enjoy nearfield listening when the room permits it, but our living room doesn't. And it's a very good room for sound.
Both of the O/93's driversthat 10" paper-cone bass/midrange driver and parts of the 1" soft-dome tweeterare made by SEAS, of Norway, and customized for DeVore Fidelity. John DeVore describes the tweeter as "gently horn-loaded." He remains cagey about the crossover, and at which frequency the tweeter takes over. He does say that the crossover is "minimal," and that the interior of each cabinet is not overstuffed.
The O/93's fiddleback mahogany veneer covers plywood that comprises "about a dozen layers" of Baltic birch." The veneers of the left and right speakers are mirror images of each another. The sides, back, and top are veneered in maple and finished in high-gloss, piano-black lacquer. They are made from a combination of Baltic birch plywood and MDF.
It's rare to see cabinetry this professional and this beautiful in any loudspeaker, even those selling for ridiculously high prices. I recall the great floorstanding radios of my childhoodthe RCA, Philco, and Westinghouse models of the 1930s that were still working into the '40s and '50s.
I asked John about the cabinet, with its wide front and shallow depth. (Drat! I wish that tape hadn't tangled. Here's the gist.)
The wide front baffle is dictated by the 10" woofer, he said.
But doesn't that degrade imaging? Don't you need a narrow baffle to focus?
It's good for projecting sound out into the room, John shot back. It's truea narrow front baffle can stifle the sound. It's equivalent to a loss of speaker sensitivity.
The speaker is designed to work well in real-world listening rooms, John told me; it needs enough room for the sound to project and the drivers' outputs to blend. John doesn't recommend nearfield listeningwhich is great for our living room, where I have to listen from 12' away, with the speakers slightly toed in. These speakers are not meant to be pushed back into room corners.
I used a Musical Fidelity M1CDT CD transport into MF's new V90-DAC. For "serious" streaming, I used my MacBook Air (2013) into the V90-DAC's asynchronous USB input via a Cardas Clear USB cable. For background listening, I used a Bluetooth connection from my laptop or iPhone via the Arcam rBlink Bluetooth receiver's S/PDIF output into the V90-DAC. Either way, I got superlative results.
I love it! Free audio streams, on demand, from BBC Radio 3 and the Boston Symphony Channel, which you can find at Classical New England (WCRB). The BSO archives broadcast concerts going back more than a year. BBC 3 makes concerts available for a week.
I began with my Sun Audio SV-2A3 amplifier and a Purest Sound Systems passive "preamp." The midrange tonality was ravishing, but there wasn't enough bass. And this speaker does do bass. Different 2A3 output tubes might have helped. Maybe the ape's drive-units weren't fully run in. More likely, 3.5W just isn't enough.
I switched over to my LFD LE IV solid-state integrated and got solider sound. Along the way, I tried the NAD D 3020 integrated and the Croft Phono Integrated, which, respectively, so delighted SM and AD but rattled John Atkinson's cage. Me? I'm being cagey about the Croft, like John DeVore with his secret crossover.
My results with the Unison Research Simply Italy integrated amp were so superb that I didn't try anything else after it. The Simply Italy is rated to deliver "approximately" 12W into 6 ohms. But the O/93 presents an amp with 10 ohms. John DeVore told me not to worrya dozen watts was more than enough to satisfy the Orangutan's appetite and deliver strong, tight bass. (I preferred the Unison's higher, 5dB feedback setting.) Roll out those kettle drums. Turn up Tchaikovsky.
More than most loudspeakers, the Orangutan O/93s brought me closer to live, especially with concert recordings, and even over the Internet. Other speakers sound, er, too tame in comparison. Not that I'm suggesting that the Orangutans lacked humanity or that they were savage. But they were savage when the music demanded it. Few other speakers, in my experience, are as great at reproducing brass instruments.
The treble was sweet and extended, as you might expect with a soft-dome tweeter from SEAS. The sound wasn't edgy or etched.
In our living room, the O/93s created a deep, wide soundstage with excellent center fill. But, yes, I've heard more soundstage depth and image specificity. Do you worry about these when you attend a concert? I don't. I'm happy when the music blends, when it projects to fills the whole room, not half of it.
I asked John about which amplifiers his customers were using. Mostly low-powered tube jobs, he told me, including some SETs. (He conceded that, yes, 3.5W might not be enough.) Other customers are using solid-state, which reminds me that there are some very fine low-powered solid-state amps out there, some of them running in pure class-A.
I wish I had a Sugden integrated to reach for. Or a Bedini 25/25 power amp. Or one of Nelson Pass's designs. I wish I had my Advent receiver!
Meanwhile, the Orangutan O/93s thrived on tubed amps, and on SETs in particular. I thrived, too. I enjoyed the full weight of orchestral music. I also enjoyed the immediacy of various instruments, especially the brass. This Orangutan wasn't afraid to bite . . . when he should. But I don't mean to suggest that his sound was in any way uncivilized.Sam Tellig
Footnote 1: Check out this story to bone up on what went down.