DeVore Fidelity Orangutan O/93 loudspeaker Art Dudley May 2018

Art Dudley wrote about the Orangutan O/93 in May 2018 (Vol.41 No.5):

I needed help.

My beloved Altec Flamenco loudspeakers, which evoke sweet-smelling summer nights even when not connected to an amplifier, were overpowering my new listening room—not so much sonically, but aesthetically and practically. It was difficult to open and close the windows at that end of the room, or tend a fire in the fireplace between the speakers, or vacuum the corners behind them. I made do for the first couple of months, enjoying the speakers' taut, tactile, propulsive music-making as always, but in time their physical presence began to grate: My Altecs were two outsize olives in a very small martini, and while that was fun for a while, in the long run it got old.

Their service was interrupted by the presence of the very large, very aluminum Stenheim Alumine Five speakers, which arrived in November for review: fine all-arounders, if not quite as efficient as I like—and, in any event, about six or seven times more expensive than anything I could possibly afford. (Not that reviewing is a shopping spree—although for many amateur reviewers online, it often seems that way.) And although I still own and love my ca-1959 Quad ESL, my tastes in ancillaries have, in recent years, changed to where a pair of difficult-to-drive electrostatics will probably never again be my daily drivers.

Back to square one. John Atkinson and I agreed it would be best if I retraced old steps in my new room with an altogether familiar speaker, preferably one as familiar to our readers as it is to us. I considered a number of options, including my earlier reference, Audio Note's AN-E SPe HEs, the corner placements of which would be an aesthetic boon. But then it occurred to me: Maybe I should borrow a pair of the same speaker that serves two of my best audio friends, who also happen to be fellow New York State residents and, most important, fellow Stereophile colleagues: Herb Reichert and Ken Micallef. Thus did I ask to borrow, from DeVore Fidelity, a pair of Orangutan O/93s ($8400/pair).

Apes, Evolved Readers may recall the O/93 as the smaller and less expensive of the two models in DeVore Fidelity's Orangutan line of high-efficiency two-way speakers. Like its bigger troopmate, the O/96 ($12,000/pair), the O/93 presents its driving amplifier with a benign load of higher-than-average impedance (10 ohms nominal, 8 ohms minimum)—which, combined with its specified nominal sensitivity of 93dB, permits the use of high-quality, low-power amplifiers. My 20Wpc Shindo Laboratory Haut-Brion lives for that sort of thing.

The O/93 was introduced at the end of 2012, about a year and a half after the O/96 made its debut, and uses the same SEAS 1" silk-dome tweeter, loaded with the same shallow horn. Its 10" paper-cone woofer, designed by John DeVore and also built by SEAS, is a simpler version of the one in the O/96. As DeVore told me in February, "The '93 woofers were designed alongside the '96 woofers—which is why the '93s came out as soon as they did. We were actually on the final prototype of the '93 woofer when the '96s hit the market." As DeVore explained, the smaller speaker's woofer has a "simplified" voice-coil—it's also a shorter voice-coil—and a smaller magnet, resulting in lower sensitivity than the O/96's. DeVore says he spent considerable time "tweaking the [O/93's] coil so that it would behave as closely as possible to the '96's."

But it took more than just a simpler woofer to reduce the O/96's price by nearly $4000/pair. According to DeVore, "the cabinet was the place where I knew there was the biggest cost savings to be had. But I knew [the O/93] had to be the same height—and the drivers exactly line up: [the O/96 and the O/93] have the same listening axis. Still, the volume of the '96 cabinet is significantly bigger than the '93." DeVore says he also saves "a lot of money" by not having to supply stands with the O/93s, which are supported by 0.5"-high, permanently attached hardwood feet. (Each O/96 is supplied with a 7.5"-tall stand made of solid maple, finished in semitranslucent gloss black to match the speaker's back, sides, and top.)

Comparing the cabinet dimensions of the two Orangutans might lead one to conclude that the volume of the O/93 is about 13% smaller than the O/96, but the difference is even greater: As DeVore points out, there is unused volume at the bottom of the O/93's cabinet, just below its two rear-firing ports. To work with the smaller volume and still provide good bass extension—DeVore specifies a frequency range of 30Hz–31kHz—the O/93's woofer is designed with a lower free-air resonance than the O/96's.

Fortunately, the O/93 remains large enough to share one of the O/96's most distinctive traits: its wider-than-average front baffle. Notably, the 35.5"-tall, 10"-deep O/93 is fully 15" wide (the O/96's width is 18"). Over the past 30 or so years, domestic loudspeakers with baffles significantly wider than the drive-units attached to them have become increasingly rare, and speakers with tapered or "stepped" enclosures far more common. That this is a sign of progress has become, for many, an article of faith? encouraged by audiophiles' heightened interest in stereo imaging and soundstaging: As the frequency of a driver's output descends, the wavelength of the output increases in size, ultimately exceeding the radius of the driver's diaphragm and, consequently, dispersing in an ever-more-omnidirectional pattern. A portion of that output thus bounces off the baffle, delaying its arrival at the listener's ears and possibly blurring spatial cues. The popular cure for this effect is a baffle of minimal size.

But just as any large surface—big baffle, big stand, even big wall—supports the dispersion and thus the audibility, from the listener's seat, of a woofer's lowest frequencies, so, too, are a tweeter's lowest frequencies supported by a baffle of appropriate size.

But by supporting the dispersion and thus the audibility, from the listener's seat, of a given driver's output down to the lowest frequencies within its range, a wide-baffled speaker is a more efficient speaker, all else being equal. And where the driver in question is a tweeter, a wider baffle can result in a speaker that not only produces a greater volume of sound per watt, but that better supports those tones associated with impact, drama, momentum, and a sense of physicality or body in music playback.

And that's what I heard from my review pair of O/93s (footnote 1)—which, after a day or two of experimenting, wound up about 50" from my room's front wall, with the left speaker 28" from its side wall and the right speaker a little over 31" from its own side wall, all dimensions measured from the centers of the front baffles. The O/93s were toed-in toward the central listening area, moderately but not drastically.

With "Ecclusiastics," from Charles Mingus's Oh Yeah (LP, Atlantic 1377), the sense of touch from Mingus's piano—especially his enthusiastically played trills—was conveyed without strain, and each note from Doug Watkins's double bass had a well-defined tactile pluck to go with its plum-colored tone. Equally fine were the feel of the marimba in the title song of Captain Beefheart's The Spotlight Kid (LP, Reprise MS 2050), and the piano-driven momentum of the band as a whole in "Click Clack." And on her 1967 collection French Songs, which contains works by Ravel, Chausson, and Delage (LP, L'Oiseau-Lyre SOL 298), mezzo-soprano Dame Janet Baker was simply there, between the speakers and notably in front of a no-less-substantial piano and other instruments of the Melos Ensemble of London, directed by Bernard Keeffe, her voice not at all ravaged by the sort of electromechanical disembodiment that, sadly, some audiophiles take for granted.

Those qualities didn't come at the expense of bandwidth or neutrality—or even of spatial performance, as proven by that Janet Baker record: In Ravel's Trois Poèmes de Stéphane Mallarmé, two clarinets, two flutes, and a string quartet took their places alongside the piano, solidly and positioned with what I consider a realistic degree of precision. And Baker's voice was its uncolored self, without excessive richness or other timbral skewings that I could hear.

The O/93s were also well balanced, from top to bottom of the audioband, and graced with just a touch of warmth, audible as a slight enhancement of saturation in some timbral colors—well-recorded saxophones didn't sound colored, just a bit more saxy than through comparatively drier, more austere speakers—and a similarly slight blunting of clatter on raucous records. On Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Time (LP, Decca 74896, footnote 2), the recorded sound of which is fine if unflinching, the playing of banjoist Lamar Grier (David's dad) was appropriately wiry without inducing pain (as it does through those room-domineering Altecs), while the double-bass playing of James Monroe (Bill's son) was appropriately weighty. Most important, the O/93s' freedom from temporal distortion and overall mush made it clear that Grier was taking his cues not from the bass but from bandleader Monroe's mandolin.

Well-recorded piano music, such as Wilhelm Kempff's 1980 recording of selections from both books of J.S. Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier (LP, Deutsche Grammophon 2531 299), revealed no response irregularities, only prodigious musical flow, a fine sense of touch, and sparing—and consistently poetically effective—flexibility of tempos. And big recordings of big music, such as an almost peerlessly brilliant reissue of Bruckner's Symphony 8, performed by Carl Schuricht and the Vienna Philharmonic (LP, EMI/Electric Recording Company ASD 602), had satisfying amounts of physicality, drama, and scale through the Orangutans, which also gave nearly full weight to the kettledrums: I lacked for nothing.

The DeVore Orangutan O/93 is not a 1930s-era Western Electric full-range horn system, plucked from a cinema and plunked into a domestic setting, nor is it even a trimmed-and-tamed 1960s-era domestic horn such as my own Altec Flamencos. If you want the absolute greatest possible impact, drama, and out-and-out thrills available from recorded music, you'll need one of those two. But you'll also need lots of room, lots of tolerance for colorations and bandwidth limitations and noises, lots of luck finding and transporting them, and, in the case of the vintage Western gear and suchlike, lots and lots of money. Yes, there is madder music and stronger drink—and the O/93 experience is indeed drink, not heroin. But to those who value the content of a musical message over the ability to hear where in the room that message is coming from, it's far better stuff than most everyone else is making.—Art Dudley

Footnote 1: You can listen to the DeVore O/93s in Jana Dagdagan's video here, which was recorded with binaural sound.

Footnote 2: This very recommendable album documents a lineup that spent a lot more time on the road than in the recording studio. Fully three of the musicians on the album were from the northeast, and one—fiddler Richard Greene, who would go on to form the band Seatrain—was only 24 when these tracks were recorded.

DeVore Fidelity
Brooklyn Navy Yard, 63 Flushing Avenue, Unit 259
Brooklyn, NY 11205
(718) 855-9999

Bruceov's picture

Why is this just a B rated speaker?

John Atkinson's picture
Bruceov wrote:
Why is this just a B rated speaker?

Our ratings are the results of a poll of the magazine's reviewers and editors. With some products, there is a greater consensus than with others.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

a.wayne's picture

Any measured data planned John ..... ?

grantray's picture

It's gotten runner-up for speaker of the year a few times, but I've noticed the way speakers are classified in the Recommended list hasn't been consistent, either. I have a pair of O/93s, and they're amazing. I don't think what a magazine classifies them as is a final judgement on quality by any means. Much like good booze, or fine wine, I treat these kinds of classifications more like guidelines, with a heavy dose of salt. I personally like the Devores better than Magicos, not because the O/93 is inherently better, it's just a very different kind of sound. And one that's well suited to my taste.

Bruceov's picture

Why is the KEF LS 50 speaker an A rated component. I know which one I would rather have.

Staxguy's picture

There's something about the ports of the Devore O/93 Loudspeaker that can't help but get me thinking about the Flamenco Box...

Not that the box is the same, but take a look at the Graham Audio LS5/9 Loudspeaker.

They talk about BBC Engineering, but don't tell me that those BBC Engineers didn't just take a slighly smaller than 18 1⁄2"H × 11 1⁄4"W × 11 1⁄4"D cajon (talk about cajons) and add drivers to make it a 11" x 18" x 10.75" speaker. :)

Speaking of which, I'd really like to know how these loudspeakers handle some Gypsy Jazz? :)

Cabinet wise, of course the reminiscence of the O/93 is Audio Note UK AN/E, which is a Snell design? :)

Of the Devores, I think the Gibbon X is really charming!

Nice to see the O/93 used with tube amplification. An Audio Note Japan Ongaku would likely make a wonderful compliment.

Herb Reichert's picture

is their speciality

volvic's picture

Have only heard their smaller monitors...years ago at shows and rather liked them. I think the cabinetry is awesome, and always nice to see local guy doing well.

grantray's picture

Is this just an online update on the reviews concerning the O/93 from older articles that were ran in 2014 and 2015? Or is there supposed to be something new that I'm not catching?

John Atkinson's picture
grantray wrote:
Is this just an online update on the reviews concerning the O/93 from older articles that were ran in 2014 and 2015?

Yes, this is Sam's original review, which had not previously been reprinted on our website, plus Herb Reichert's more recent comments so that all our coverage can be found in the same place.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

RH's picture

John Atkinson,

I wonder if the sense of a suck out or discontinuity Herb mentions might come from sitting closer than ideal to the 0/93s?

I noticed in auditioning them (several times) that they really did alter their character when changing listening distance. They really "snapped in to focus" tonally and imaging-wise once I hit about 8 feet from the speaker, which I believe is the minimum distance recommended by Devore. If I sat closer, the balance started getting somewhat mellow, a bit more discontinuous. In moving closer - e.g. 7 feet or closer - even if the speakers were toed in more toward me to try to maintain the high frequency balance, the speakers still didn't have the focus, air and snap they did once I retreated back to 8 feet and beyond.

Having seen the video of Herb's space, it suggests he must sit fairly close to his speakers.

(BTW, like some of your reviewers, I love the sound of the Devore O series. They have a chunky, rich sound that gives more body to voices and instruments than many other slender designs, IMO).

Anon2's picture

I am glad that our reviewers have discovered free streaming. It's not the highest of hi-rez. But there are no monthly fees, logins, and all the rest.

To boot, there are almost 9 years of archived programs to be had here. I only wish that BBC Radio 3 would not require PC users to turn the volume almost up to the max to hear the "Lunchtime Concert."

After trying the BSO and BBC Radio 3, try Radio Clasica, Radio Nacional de Espana. There's more on offer each day than a person could listen to in a 24-hour day. The "Grandes Ciclos" program, hosted by Eva Sandoval, is already into its second week of a survey over the life and works of Satie.

pbarach's picture

When I taught fifth grade social studies long ago, DeVore's work was the basis of a unit on baboon society. The kids and I learned to imitate the various baboon calls. Never try them in a crowded theater!

Marcelo Gustavo's picture

The tweeter used in the O/93 appears to be a Morel soft dome and not a SEAS unit.

anomaly7's picture

Damn, that Fiddelback Mahogany is gooood looking.

johnnythunder's picture

eagerly anticipated revelations. I look forward to them like I used to look forward to Manny Farber's film reviews in The New Republic (and other publications) back in the day. I don't think people really appreciate his artistry of turning the sounds of reproduced music and his feelings about the impact of those sounds into expressive evocations as sublime as the music itself.

rschryer's picture

Stop beating around the bush, man! Do you or don't you like Herb's reviews?? :-)

RH's picture

THANK YOU John Atkinson for publishing these measurements!

I've been in interested in the Devore O speakers, especially the 0/93s, and it's helpful to be able to correlate measurements somewhat with my own impressions.

gpdavis2's picture

JA - did you ever get over to Herb's to listen to confirm the suck-out? Inquiring minds and all that.