DeVore Fidelity Gibbon 3XL loudspeaker

Forty years ago, when I first had money enough to buy serious [ahem] consumer audio, there were a few good turntables available, from Thorens, Garrard, Ariston, some others. Today is the golden age of turntables: ask Mikey, if not antiquarian Artie. And loudspeakers! In 1970, models were few, and most were mediocre. Today, you can have a great loudspeaker for a song.

It wouldn't be a speaker from DeVore Fidelity, though. They're priced above budget level, but they offer quality that would have been inconceivable four decades ago: style, fit, finish, sound.

A former retail hi-fi salesman in Manhattan, John DeVore established DeVore Fidelity as a serious company at the end of 2000. As far as the monkey business goes, John told me that there are anthropologists and primatologists in his family. Does that mean zookeepers? Thank Darwin I didn't monkey more, DeVore.

"I built my first pair of Gibbon speakers in 1995 for a friend and painted them black," he told me. "They were fun and lively and playful sounding, so I named them the Gibbons. Then, when I turned my attention to starting a company and creating a speaker line, the name kind of stuck. I named my flagship speakers the Silverback. I've got a model called the Orangutan ready to be born." (I suggested the spelling Edgar Allan Poe used to identify the murderous monkey in his tale "The Murders in the Rue Morgue": ourang-outang.)

John established DeVore Fidelity at the end of 2000—so, in 2010, he's an example of the survival of the fittest. He's housed in the old Brooklyn Navy Yard, just off the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. Brooklyn is almost a hotbed of hi-fi manufacturing: it's home to Lamm Industries, Grado Labs, Ohm Acoustics, and earlier, both Alón (now Nola) and Anthony Gallo Acoustics. Something in the air—or water. Ask John Atkinson or Robert Baird or Wes Phillips or Fred Kaplan or Jeff Wong—they all live there. Or my wife, Marina, sometimes known as Broooklynskaya, whom I met, pace Corey Greenberg, not on the Internet, but on Ocean Parkway (and married 17 years ago on Brighton Beach).

"There have to be more speaker companies than anything else in hi-fi," John DeVore admitted to me. Crowded field—who needs another speaker company? "In the late 1990s, while I was still working as a retail hi-fi salesman, I saw speaker design going a techie direction that I didn't like. It was not just sound, but aesthetics, too. Speaker manufacturers were getting away from real-wood veneers. Then there were the 'high-tech' speaker-driver materials. Metal domes were reaching their peak."

A Freudian slip?

"There were even metal-cone midrange drivers. I wanted to go in a different direction, starting with real-wood boxes that weren't overly dramatic looking, that would blend into real homes and comfortable surroundings."

Easy on the eye, easy on the ear—John didn't say so, but you get the gist. This is the way a lot of hi-fi still is: made to measure, as it were, and made for marketing. It's about "commerce," as one amplifier manufacturer told me, off the record. Again, John didn't say this, but hinted at it. "With us," he said, "you are getting something that is hand-built, which is increasingly rare, and built in the US by Americans, which is getting rare, too."

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Well, yes. No Chinese drivers, but the Gibbon 3XL's cabinet is made mostly of solid bamboo, which, as any panda (if not ape) can tell you, comes from China. That cabinet is 15.25" (387mm) high by 7.3" (186mm) wide by 10.88" (276mm) deep, and weighs 18 lbs (8.2kg). The woofer comes from SEAS, in Norway. The tweeter? We'll get to that in a moment.

The DeVore Gibbon 3XL is very different from the original Gibbon 3, whose drive-units were no longer available—retails for $3700/pair plus $595 for the almost obligatory matching stands, which are 26" high and also made of bamboo. Its sensitivity is specified as 90dB/2.83V/m—rather high for a small monitor speaker. The impedance is given as 8 ohms—a "very flat" 8 ohms, according to John, and never dropping below 7.4 ohms.

Again, unusual. In this respect, the Gibbon 3XL is similar to many French speaker designs: high sensitivity, easy on an amplifier. The sound is European, too; but we'll get to that, too, in a minute. The frequency response is given as 45Hz–40kHz. John could have taken the bass lower . . . or bumped up the mid- to upper bass, a common trick of speaker designers to fool folks into hearing more bass than they actually are. It's all illusion, anyway.

I asked for more information, starting with the drivers.

The 5.5" midrange/woofer is made by SEAS, as mentioned, and John said it was custom-designed for DeVore Fidelity, not simply taken off a shelf. The diameter of this driver evolved with the size of the speaker cabinet. The cone material is doped paper with a real rubber surround. John said he likes to use "natural" materials whenever possible.

The tweeter seems unusual, starting with its diameter: 0.75" (19mm) instead of the more usual 1.1" (28mm). The driver was originally developed for DeVore's flagship Silverback speaker, which retails for $16,800/pair and was reviewed by Michael Fremer in March 2006. Do you get a lot of the same sound in the Gibbon 3XL for about one-fourth the price? I haven't heard the Silverback, but it appears so. Nor is the tweeter an off-the-shelf model.

"It was developed for us by a small German company," John told me.

Does this company have a name?

"I'd rather not say."

I went ape. Oh, come on, John. It must be the posthumously eponymous firm of Dr. Kurt Müller GmbH Co. KG, near DÅsseldorf—right, John? I know of no other "small German company" that could fit the role.

Dr. Müller makes speaker-driver components for many speaker manufacturers, including Audio Physic. The company's existence is hardly a state secret; almost every speaker manufacturer in the world must know of them. I mentioned them in my review of the Audio Physic Spark III in the July 2001 Stereophile (Vol.24 No.7), when I first encountered ring-radiator tweeters. I'm not clear on whether Dr. Müller supplies finished driver assemblies. John DeVore might care to say more in a "Manufacturer's Comment." Bitte.

"It's pretty unusual to get a tweeter under 28mm wide," John told me. The problem is that the break-up behavior of a 28mm soft dome "makes it difficult to go above 20kHz without peaks or breakup . . . We've actually nailed 40kHz."

As it turns out, there are two reasons to prefer a 19mm tweeter: extended frequency response and better dispersion. "We get about an octave more even dispersion than we would with a 28mm tweeter," John said. "The tweeter doesn't start beaming until much higher."

John DeVore said that the tweeter has an "enormous" double-magnet structure behind it, inside a "carefully tuned" kammer, or chamber. Achtung! John warns that the exposed tweeter is easily damaged.

Dear reader, I warn you: Some greasy-fingered audiophile pal could poke it. Be careful who your cronies are. Perhaps the Gibbon tweeter should be caged. Ha!

I asked about the Gibbon 3XL's crossover. Once again, I was greeted by King Kong . . . or Mighty Joe Young: I was stonewalled. John DeVore: "As a rule, I don't describe the crossover points or technology of my designs. Though it doesn't easily fall into the typical slope description (first, second, third, etc.), it's a variant of the crossover circuit I devised first for those original Gibbons back in 1995. For that reason, I call the circuit (and the overall methodology I use) Gibbon."

Gibbon. Gibberish. Most speaker makers are more than happy to talk about their crossovers. Some, like Focal and Opera, provide white papers with exhaustive descriptions. Any competent speaker designer should be able to remove and reverse-engineer DeVore's crossover.

But John does have a point. The crossover is but one thing to take into consideration when designing a speaker: "The Gibbon methodology really means that, during the entire design process, all the elements (drivers, cabinets/tuning, crossovers, listening axis, etc.) are evolved together. Every change to a parameter in one element affects all the others. Everything works in concert—nothing should have to be corrected or compensated for. This is one of the reasons I use the driver materials I use: paper, silk, poly; they are far better behaved in a system, with a more even impedance and better damping of mechanical breakup modes.

"Anything untoward the driver is going to do it does gently. A metal 5.5" woofer would have a horrendous 'oilcan' breakup mode at the top of its response, while the hand-coated paper 5.5" woofer in the 3XL doesn't. That's already going to be easier on an amplifier connected to it. Additionally, that breakup mode doesn't have to be 'corrected' (notched out) in the crossover, again keeping the impedance smooth and the amplifier happy."

Splendor in the grass
Except for its front baffle, the cabinet of the DeVore Fidelity Gibbon 3XL is solid bamboo. Think bamboo and you might think tacky porch furniture or panda's lunch. This is nothing of the sort—but it's not wood. Bamboo is a grass, and, like other grasses, it grows fast. It's almost infinitely renewable, which provides hope for pandas—if they haven't already eaten all the bamboo set to ship to the former Brooklyn Navy Yard.

I didn't know bamboo—did you? It appears to make an eminently sensible—and beautiful—choice for a speaker cabinet. In any event, the Gibbon 3XL is not clad in any microthin wood veneer, and certainly not in "wood-grain" vinyl. Not that I'd want to panda to anyone, but I went bananas over the bamboo, aesthetically and sonically. There's splendor in this grass.

Not to be bamboozled, the lacquered front baffle is made of a baffling composite whose density (as opposed to mine) decreases slightly as you go toward the inside of the otherwise bamboo cabinet.

Found in the stars
I asked Signor DeVore about the (often) British obsession with biwiring speakers—like all DeVore Fidelity speakers, each Gibbon 3XL has but one pair of high-quality speaker binding posts. Obviously, one pair of posts costs less than two.

"We don't do [biwiring] in any of our models. It's more than a matter of saving money. All our speakers are star-grounded, and a biwired speaker can't be star-grounded the same way. Star-grounding the speaker itself makes an enormous difference in terms of coherence and a sense of effortlessness and ease."

I asked John about the matching bamboo stand—again, grass, not wood. The stand has a front baffle that reminds me of the "beard" that Wilson Audio Specialties originally offered for their WATT speaker. The "beard" improved the sound of the original WATT, arguably even more than the Puppy did.

As you can see from the photo, the Gibbon 3XLs appear to float in air on their cantilevered stands. They sounded that way, too: floating in air. Apes in air, if you will.

Care and feeding
In his "Care and Feeding Guide" (the owner's manual), John DeVore gives some very good, straightforward advice on speaker placement that applies to other speakers, too:

Set Up 1 is very similar to a speaker placement recommended by Audio Physic: the speakers are halfway into the room, the listening chair as close to the back wall as possible. This position tends to work well in my 18' L by 13' W listening room, but success depends on tweeter dispersion and how well the drivers' outputs integrate. With some tweeters, beaming can become a problem.

COMPANY INFO
DeVore Fidelity
Brooklyn Navy Yard
63 Flushing Ave., Unit 259, Building 280, Suite 510
Brooklyn, NY 11205
(718) 855-9999
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COMMENTS
mrkaic's picture

It is a pity that measurements are not a part of this review.

Solarophile's picture

I haven't auditioned these but have heard the O/96's.

Considering the coloration of the sound from the Devore O/96's which were shown in the measurements but not reported in the review, it would be good to have JA run these through the lab.

Bruceov's picture

Why have you not reviewed the Harbeth Compact 7. It is very easy to auditions vs the Devore. The latter has very few deslers and none in my state.

John Atkinson's picture
Bruceov wrote:
Why have you not reviewed the Harbeth Compact 7?

Sam Tellig reviewed the Harbeth Compact 7ES-2 in our December 2003 issue and it was featured in "Recommended Components" for many years due to John Marks's continued advocacy. But no-one on the staff has auditioned the Harbeth for some time now.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Bruceov's picture

The 3 is different fro the 2. Different tweeter may be different woofer. Supposed to be very improved

low2midhifi's picture

The best I can do to hear the Gibbon is to watch Youtube videos of the speaker. While not a critical listening session, Youtube does give a person some rough insights into how a speaker or system sounds.

I have enjoyed the videos of the Gibbon that I have seen. I first saw one with an Antonio Forcione recording, thus starting some purchases of this guitarist's Naim label CDs into my collection. But that's another story.

I like how DeVore has recognized that many of us don't want to, or can't, spend on speakers and then have to buy amplification to suit the speakers. High sensitivity + High Impedance = Big Savings for many of us. They also get some good bass extension with such a small driver.

I enjoyed the review. We now know that the review was partially carried out in the candlelit inner sanctum of your writer, whose pad was covered a few weeks back in a memorable video. I am sure that the Gibbons, regardless of placement, and amplification, sound best in the candle light mystery of Brooklyn.

Some measurements would have been welcome, though. Perhaps the measurements are forthcoming. Keep up the good work. Perhaps there will be some simian speakers from DeVore at Axpona next month.