DeVore Fidelity Gibbon X loudspeaker Page 2

After extensive experimentation—aided by John DeVore, who visited twice to help me set them up—the Xes ended up 9' 7" apart, center to center, and 7–9' from the front wall (footnote 2). Firing directly down the length of the room, the left speaker had abundant space, but the right was only a couple of feet from a record shelf. I could hear that asymmetry in the soundstaging, but the soundstages of appropriately spacious recordings still manifested not just beyond the speakers but past the sidewall.

I tend to move my listening seat around—it's a lightweight IKEA chair—but did most of my listening to the Xes with my ears 10–11' from each speaker's tweeter and, with their spikes adjusted so that the speakers were aimed slightly down, my ears approximately on the tweeter axes. Toe-in, I found, had less impact on the Xes' tonal balance than it's had with most speakers I've heard in this room. I ended up with the Xes facing straight ahead, no toe-in at all—which was John DeVore's original recommendation.

Differences in the sounds of power amplifiers were easily audible through the Gibbon X. I love the Pass Laboratories XA60.8 monoblocks, which I glowingly reviewed in the December 2017 issue—and not (or not only) because they glow such a beautiful blue. The Xes' sound had many virtues as driven by the Passes, but I got a fuller sound with my PS Audio BHK 300 monoblocks. This surprised me—I tend to attribute much of amplifier sound to such measurable parameters as current capability and output impedance and the interaction of these parameters with the loudspeaker, and the X should be an easy load. I mentioned this to DeVore. "Amplifiers just sound different," he said.

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X marks the spot
My Gibbon Nines have a polite high end and modest bass extension; their main virtue is their ability to convey the textures and timbres of instruments. In my Follow-Up on the Nines, I wrote that they sound "woody." That "woody" character brings out the wood and rosin in the sounds of stringed instruments and the buzz in trumpets, saxophones, and bass clarinets in the kinds of music I most often listen to: chamber music and small-ensemble acoustic jazz.

The Orangutan O/96, on which I wrote a Follow-Up in the September 2017 issue, is less reticent than the Nines, but its in-room top-end balance is still well south of what most objectivists, for what it's worth, would consider neutral (footnote 3). That balance gives the Nines more abundant bass and a punchier, more dynamic sound.

The Gibbon X is a different animal. It did not sound reticent or especially warm. I heard the X as a bid for neutrality. It had considerably more energy in the higher frequencies than other DeVore speakers I've listened to, and though its bass went deeper, it was leaner. It gave up some, if not quite all, of that special DeVore character, but gave back much in return.

The X's dynamics could literally startle. I watched that happen twice to visitors while the Xes were here, and experienced it myself on several occasions with loud, especially percussive sounds in quiet passages of orchestral music: a bass drum's whomp, a wood block's thwack. I've found this pretty rare; for whatever technical reason, many loudspeakers seem to compress such extreme dynamics, which makes listening more comfortable but not as exciting.

The X also demonstrated startling realism well beyond what my Nines, for all their musicality, are capable of—indeed, at certain moments with very good recordings, beyond what I'd previously experienced in my home.

The DeVore Nine has, as I've already said, a "woody" coloration; I heard something similar in the O/96. This coloration causes all but low male voices to sound slightly hooded. There was no such coloration with the X—all voices sounded open.

If there's any woman living who's destined to join the pantheon of female jazz singers—Billie, Ella, Sarah, Nina—it's Cécile McLorin Salvant. Salvant has range, accurate pitch, versatility, humor, sincerity, and musical expressiveness—and adds to all those qualities a youthfulness and vulnerability that the recorded legacies of those other singers, for all their mastery, mostly lack. On her new album, The Window (16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC from CD, Mack Avenue MAC 1132), Salvant sings with intimacy in intimate moments, humor in funny moments, and always with absolute command—with the young Sullivan Fortner as technically and musically accomplished partner on piano and organ. Through the Xes, McLorin's voice was unhooded and lifelike, and Fortner's piano was crisp and percussive, with an appropriate balance of body and transient attack.

The most arresting experience I had with the Gibbon X, though—and where that startling realism came in—was with another, earlier Salvant album: For One to Love (16/44.1 FLAC from CD, Mack Avenue MAC 1095). At some point during "The Trolley Song," when I wasn't paying close attention, Salvant paid me a visit. She was inside the recording, as usual—then, without warning, she stepped out into my room, between and just behind the speakers. I looked up, startled by the realism, and finding that she wasn't actually physically there, smiled, shook my head, and went on with whatever I was doing.

Good as they are, I don't think this would have happened with any previous DeVore loudspeaker.

The Xes also re-created recording venues convincingly. An illustration was the long drum solo by Sonship Theus that begins about halfway through "The Dark Tree," from Horace Tapscott's piano-trio album Live at Lobero, Vol.1 (16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC from CD, Nimbus West NS 2370 C): tons of impact, delicate cymbals, no added noise, all the ambience you could desire. Another was Bosnian singer Amira Medunjanin's album Ascending, with the Trondheim Soloists—a true multicultural collaboration of Balkan folksinger with Norwegian classical ensemble that was released on a Croatian label a while ago and is now available in the US (16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC from CD, Town Hill Colony THC001). It's that rare recording that captures both space and vocal texture very well, and the Gibbon Xes put both on display.

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DeVore speakers have always imaged well, but the Xes imaged better than other DeVores I've heard, and exceptionally well in absolute terms. Musical images floated free of the enclosures with great stability and corporeality. With rowdy studio recordings, sounds flashed everywhere, out to the sides and above my head. The images projected by the Xes were also tall, with some vertical separation of sounds. Soundstages were deep—though perhaps not quite as deep and evocative as those carved out by Alta Audio's Hestia Titanium, a bigger, heavier, more expensive speaker with a dipole configuration in the midrange—and dipoles specialize in soundstage depth.

I'm sure that many factors contributed to these qualities of dynamism, realism, and excellent imaging, but I'm convinced that a major factor was the Gibbon X's frequency balance. The speakers produced, as I've said, more high-frequency energy than, say, my Gibbon Nines or the Orangutan O/96es. Yet I heard no extra sibilance. Well-recorded cymbals sounded sweet, not harsh. If there's a downside to the more generous high-frequency energy, it's that the X left little room for errors of audio engineering. Bright recordings sounded bright.

The series of descending bass warble tones on Stereophile's first Test CD (Stereophile STPH002-2) revealed that, subjectively, the Gibbon Xes began to lose some volume around 40Hz, but still produced musically meaningful output at 25Hz, and audible output, even at reasonable listening levels, to as low as 20Hz. Their bass resolution was good to very good, but ultimate bass resolution has never been part of a DeVore design brief; if it were, John DeVore wouldn't let the cabinet vibrate the way he does. He's always seemed to prefer a particular bass sound: a blend of modern and old-school, modern and comfortable—or such is my impression. As he told me at the Gibbon X launch, it has to sound right to him.

The Gibbon X's bass didn't sound much like the Orangutan O/96's bass, but it did have a similar sort of "comfortable" quality. That quality was brilliant with small-ensemble jazz—plucked double basses sounded wonderfully natural—and it sounded good with everything. But when I listened analytically to enough different kinds of music, I occasionally noticed a loss of definition—as in, for example, the plucked double basses in Mahler's Symphony 2, with Benjamin Zander conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus (24/192 ALAC, Linn CKD 452), or the softly recorded bass notes in Bruce Dunlap's "Threedledum" on the Stereophile Test CD.

Conclusions
DeVore Fidelity's Gibbon X is, to me, a Class A performer—highly recommended, with a caveat I'd offer with any recommendation of an expensive, ambitious, full-range loudspeaker: It requires careful matching. Before you buy, make sure it works in your system and your room.



Footnote 2: There's a bay-window-ish cutout in the front wall, so one speaker was closer to that wall than the other.

Footnote 3: See fig.6 here.

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COMMENTS
Bogolu Haranath's picture

Wonder how the 'Spinorama' graphs would look like of this speaker? :-) .......

Axiom05's picture

My guess is that it would not look particularly good.

Kal Rubinson's picture

Some of the info can be gleaned from JA's graphs.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

I know ...... It looks somewhat similar to 'speaker C' :-) .........

... or may be, 'weird' frequency response is the proper description :-) .......

RH's picture

Ha! ^^^^ "Nice one centurion. Like it, like it"...;-)

david_I's picture

So the Gibbon Xs are at the same price point as the Monitor Audio Platinum 300 II. As well as some Focal speakers. I'd be curious to read about a comparison.

jonmeier59@gmail.com's picture

A question for Jim Austin: I see that you own a Leben CS-600 integrated amplifier in the Associated Equipment section of the review. Did you try that amp with the Gibbon X? (I know this is one of the amps that Devore has shown the Gibbon with at shows.) If so, what were your impressions and how did it compare with the Pass and the PS Audio?

doak's picture

Is it the “presence region suckout” that makes its sound so appealing?

Long-time listener's picture

God-awful ugly measurements!

(Although, having said that, if everything else measures well, a tasteful presence-region dip is ALWAYS welcome here, after all the over-aggressive sounding speakers I've heard that measure completely flat through that region.)

Jason P Jackson's picture

Lower midrange/Upper bass? You mean the "power range"? BAH! We don't do that these days. It ruins the imaging.

hb72's picture

@ John Atkinson: I am a keen reader of your measurement section, but of course I am well aware, that pleasure taken from listening via certain equipment and measurements of same equipment are not exactly the same thing nor fully correlating, but need to be put into relationship i.e. understood (the hard work!).
Thus I really wonder about the somewhat unusual disparity in the relationship of measurement vs percieved sound quality & joy of these speakers. Any findings/comments here?

tx for comment,

cheers
hb

Indydan's picture

I'm obviously not JA, but maybe this article he wrote will answer your question.

https://www.stereophile.com/content/tale-two-speakers

Lorton's picture

There is a difference between comparing the sound of 2 well-engineered products, to a speaker like the DeVore, which does not seems to take any engineering into any account. It is hard to imagine why would anyone choose to build such a speaker on purpose.

hb72's picture

have you heard the speakers yourself?

Lorton's picture

Of course I did. All the Devore loudspeakers sound to me like they measure; quite badly. But, there is always going to be someone who would like what they hear, so what?

RH's picture

Lorton wrote: "But, there is always going to be someone who would like what they hear, so what?"

Well, for one thing, you just answered your own previous puzzlement when you wrote:

"It is hard to imagine why would anyone choose to build such a speaker on purpose."

Can you imagine a reason for building such a speaker now? :)

Lorton's picture

Nope, still can’t.
These are two different subjects (from two separate posts). One has to do with objective assessments (JA measurements), the other is subjective.

RH's picture

Lorton,

"Nope, still can’t."

Really? I find that odd, since the answer is pretty obvious.

You talked about comparing "well engineered" speakers to the Devores and concluded: "It is hard to imagine why would anyone choose to build such a speaker on purpose."

Ok, I guess you could use some help in the imagination department.

You admitted that some people will like the sound of the Devore speakers, right?

That's obviously a reason someone would choose to build such a speaker!

If you are selling speakers, and you come up with a design that some significant number of customers will like...however it measures...THAT'S OBVIOUSLY a rational reason to build such a speaker.

In fact, most speaker designers build the type of speaker THEY LIKE to begin with. John Devore has explained before that he plays a wide range of his favorite music on any of his designs, and they have to pass his own "I like it" test before he considers the job finished. So if a speaker designer likes a certain sound, is aiming for that sound, achieves that sound, and finds a paying audience for that sound...all those amount to good reasons someone would deliberately design such a loudspeaker.

Right?

Maybe *you* wouldn't design a speaker that way, because you have different goals and criteria. But you weren't asking about you; you were wondering why anyone ELSE would design such a speaker. If someone else has different taste, different criteria and goals, then it's entirely explicable and rational they would design to meet those goals.

Is that clear enough I hope?

(Some people seem to have trouble thinking beyond their own goals; if "I" wouldn't do that...it doesn't make sense anyone else has reasons to do it...")

Lorton's picture

Designing a good speaker, one that will cost $15K, should require a basic understanding of the science involved (and it is not philosophy). For example; what can possibly be the point of using multiple drivers that cancel each other at the output (due to poor XO implementation)??
If you don’t want to hear the full output of your speakers, in the Devore case is anything between 100Hz-500Hz, and 2KHz-4KHz, then just don’t have any drivers playing at these ranges (I bet you some will like that as well). Will be cheaper, and will, at least, look like you meant to do that ;)

RH's picture

I dunno; must be that it achieved the sound he liked. Check the manufacturer's comment and you'll see he's aware of the way his speakers would measure, could have addressed it, but gave his reason why he didn't bother.

Another manufacturer may not have used drivers and crossovers the same way, and hence ended up with a more textbook response like the one that apparently you'd like to see. However, that would change the sound of the speaker, and it clearly wasn't what JD was going for. So it seems more deliberate design choices vs lack of knowledge.

michaelavorgna's picture

I'll agree with JA's findings:

A couple of years ago, DeVore Fidelity's John DeVore gave me a ride from Brooklyn, where we both live, to Michael Lavorgna's place, in New Jersey. John was delivering a preproduction pair of his Gibbon X loudspeakers for Michael to set up in his then-new listening room, and I'd tagged along to give them a listen (footnote 1). Michael's room and system sounded superb, and I made a mental note that when the Gibbon X went into production, we should review it.

Seems to me that "superb" sounding is a design goal for every manufacturer of hifi gear and John DeVore has clearly hit the mark with the X.

Happy Listening,

Michael Lavorgna
Editor, twitteringmachines.com

Bogolu Haranath's picture

May be you (ML) could review the new Elac Navis active, self-powered floor-standers, $4,000/pair, and compare them to Gibbon X? ......... Elac Navis don't need any power-amp(s) :-)...........

michaelavorgna's picture

...you were to include a number of different amplifiers for the DeVore's since the speakers on their own don't sound like anything ;-)

Cheers,

Michael Lavorgna
Editor, twitteringmachines.com

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Ok ....... Don't compare Navis to DeVores ........ You (ML) could just review the Navis floor-standers and tell us what you think :-) .........

michaelavorgna's picture

...of reviewing 4 pair of active speakers and one all-in-one. This will keep me busy for a while.

Cheers,

Michael Lavorgna
Editor, twitteringmachines.com

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Great ...... Active speakers, with or without external EQ/DSP is the future ..... Some active, self-powered subwoofers are already doing it :-) .........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

We may have to wait for a while for A.I enabled loudspeakers :-) ........

michaelavorgna's picture

...most intelligence is artificial.

Ba-da-boom.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Siri, Alexa and Cortana are not sure about Socrates saying that :-) ..........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

"A.I will be the best or worst thing for humanity" ......... Elon Musk :-) .........

hb72's picture

tx, Indydan!!!

Bogolu Haranath's picture

If we didn't have all these measurements, we would not know about all these deliberate design choices. Thank you again JA :-) .........

dial's picture

Almost 16 000 $ for a pair of loudspeakers. Almost same price as the Coincident. Many firms seem to be attracted by woodworking.

Bertie Bucket's picture

Yeah, yeah, measures crap and sound great? You want some oil with those fries?

Rothwea's picture

I spent 2 years hunting for a speaker that sounded great with tube amps. That search ended with the Gibbon X. The most engaging listen in my room, on my system and with my music. Audio magic when paired with an Audio Research REF 75SE. Measurements are useful but hearing is believing.

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