The Devore Fidelity Orangutan Reference

Why travel all the way from New York City to Munich to hear (and see) a loudspeaker made in Brooklyn? Because it's easier to get from the Munich High End press room to the Devore Fidelity listening room here than it is to get from Manhattan's upper west side to the Brooklyn Naval Yard, where the Devore Orangutan Reference loudspeakers are made.

I first heard a prototype of what would be come the O/Ref a couple of years ago at least; at that time the Reference was a very different beast, housed in a single rectangular box, much like the O/96 but, because of its brass fittings, even better looking. The most obvious evolution is that there now are two boxes for each channel. One box, dubbed the Ref A, looks much like the other speakers in the Orangutan line except for the brass fixtures (including brass ports on the Ref A) and the presence of an extra driver: a super tweeter. Also, the final (?) version's top-down profile—both boxes—is an irregular pentagon—the back is no longer parallel to the front baffle but includes two panels that meet at an angle. Devore told me that the main, O/Ref/A box has a sensitivity of 98dB/W/m.

The second box—O/Ref/B—is the bass unit, with two 11" woofers on the front baffle and a 700W analog amplifier inside. The two boxes are connected by a flat umbilical long enough to allow the bass unit be pushed back out of the way, perhaps into a corner. Unusually, the bass unit takes its input not from the preamp but directly from of the Ref A—which is to say, it further amplifies the bass part of the already amplified signal. The O/Ref/B bass unit has a very high input impedance, which preserves (via the voltage) the character of the loudspeaker/amplifier interaction while reducing the current.

Devore Fidelity has long manufactured products that, by high-end audio standards at least, are quite affordable. The Orangutan Reference, though, ups the ante considerably. The room sheet for the DeVore room at Munich lists the estimated price of the O/Ref at €90,000. John Devore told me that that the estimated U.S. price—the actual price will depend on options including the wood finish—is $85,000 for the four-box system.

The cabling in the room, by Tellurium, was priced proportionately: the Q Statement speaker cable at €12,900 for a 3-meter pair; Statement interconnects at €5500 / pair; €8600 worth of power cables. Electronics were by Audiomat, including the Solfege Reference amplifier (€7990 €) and the Maestro Reference DAC (€11,000), and the turntable and tonearm were by Frank Schroeder (€8000). The MC cartridge was a Dynavector XV1-T, stepped up by a Consolidated Audio transformer, which must be a prototype since the cost is only estimated: €4100.

In Munich, the O/Ref system was set up firing diagonally across a nearly square room, into which Devore had jammed a variety of organic soundproofing including some house plants; the inevitable room resonances were tamed, not killed. I've owned a pair of Devore Fidelity speakers for more than a decade, and I've listened extensively to two others in my own system, so I've got a good fix on the "DeVore sound:" warm and inviting, with good resolution but also rich, relaxed, comfortable bass. It's an excellent sound—definitely a sound I can live with. Assuming I'm right about what he's aiming for, then, with this system, John may have achieved his objective. Good as it is, it's hard to imagine taking this sound much further.

jporter's picture

Proportionate is truly the only nice thing to say about that. Cheers!

RH's picture

I really have loved the Devore 0/93 and 0/96 speakers that I auditioned, and considered buying a pair. One of the things I appreciated about Devore is also what I liked about Jim Thiel. Thiel was always trying push performance, but within more "real-world" affordable parameters. That's why, aside from perhaps the Thiel 5 speakers, you didn't see Thiel making those cost-no-obect speakers, but instead rolling out "flagship" speakers like the 3.7, state-of-the-art at anywhere near their fairly affordable price.

Devore has likewise kept his products in the "real world pricing" for audiophiles.

When the reference version was announced I was excited to see how he would upgrade the O series.

Although the Orangutan Reference looks amazing, and I'd love to hear them, I admit some disappointment upon finding that Devore had decided to join the trend of "If You Have To Ask" pricing with this reference speaker, putting it far out of reach of most mortal men.

The price may certainly reflect costs/development/labor etc. I'm no business major so I'm pleading ignorance. But it's also hard to shake the feeling that the price, like many other flagship speakers, reflects something of the new "They won't take it as a serious flagship speaker if we don't make the price high enough" business model, apparently employed in pricing many of the most expensive speakers. (As some insiders have told us before, explaining the race-to-the-stratosphere in the prices of the top models from many high end companies).

Ah well...nice to look at anyway.

Jim Austin's picture
RH, thanks for the note. The O/Ref system is indeed expensive. To me though it reflects a rather natural progression for a successful speaker designer, to eventually push toward a price-no-object speaker: What can I do with a blank slate and no budget constraints? I know that much of what he's done is pricey to produce. Of course I haven't seen John's books, but I suspect the price is more or less proportionate in terms of the cost-of-materials-to-retail-price ratio. Which does of course still mean a considerably higher bottom-line profit for each loudspeaker. In any case--no resentment from me about John's desire to explore this terrain. John has made it clear during the time I've known him that he's got a sound in his head and his goal is to produce it in the real world; when it's right, he knows it. While I obviously cannot know what's in his head, I just think he's achieved that now--apart, perhaps, for some insignificant tinkering around the edges. When writing these show posts, one often posts before being quite sure what one is trying to say, so here's what I think I was pushing toward: If JD continues in this field--and I surely hope he will--he'll need a new direction. I look forward to seeing where his passion for sound takes him. Jim
tonykaz's picture

Unless we compare equivalents.

How about comparing a $90,000 Transducer System to a BMW Autobahn Cruising M5? ( since you're in das Faterland )


a row of 4 Brand New Kia Souls with 10 year Warrantees.

If my writing is "Tongue in Cheek" , Mr. Devore's latest offering price is certainly more so.

I have empathy for Print Writers & Reviewers nowadays....

Tony in transit

ps. I can submit an Automotive Equivalent : A New Set of Tyres for a Bugatti costs $90,000 ( can only be purchased as a Set, no single tire sale is possible in the Bugatti System )

defgibbon's picture

While what you describe, from a consumer's perspective, is legitimate. With $90k you can buy a set of O/Reference speakers, or a BMW M5. From a profit and sales-structure perspective however, this is very misleading. BMW sells around 350,000 5-series cars per year, every year. I would be very pleased to sell 2 pairs of O/Refs per year, but might not. So we have at least a factor of 175,000(!) times difference in volume.

Second, related to these vastly difference sales numbers, auto dealers average between 1-2 percent net profits on sales(!) and manufacturers net about 5-6 percent profit. This works because of the high-volume of car sales in general, but no HiFi manufacturers or retailers could possibly stay in business on these paper-thin margins, because the HiFi market simply isn't large enough.

tonykaz's picture

You are so very right-correct-accurate.

I'll also consider you to be a Crazy Risk Taker if you own a HighEnd Retail Store like the one I owned ( Esoteric Audio in Farmington Frills, Michigan ).

Having agreed with your reasoning, I'd like to present the Consumers view from the General Motors Transportation Industry perspective : Men will never see $90,000 Value Levels intrinsic to Loudspeakers.

Status Levels ? , maybe but Loudspeakers can't be seen like a Gold ROLEX at a Business Meeting.

Higher Authority Values ? Who is the High Authority in High End Today ?? I'll submit Dave Wasserman, Steve G, HR, Andy Singer, Paul McGowan. We don't have an established Higher Authority or anyone Nearly Authentic enough to Qualify as our Established Higher Authority. High End needs a POPE. We still need HP ! dammit. Closest we ever got is JA. ( JA was all the higher authority that I ever needed -- I don't need no dam Pope!!! )

Even "reduce to the ridiculous" doesn't work with Loudspeakers : $90,000 spread out over two years is only $123 per Day of listening. See, it's ultra pricy bang for the buck or Not good value for money.

What this Loudspeaker is : a major drain on a Devore Dealer's Cash reserve . Devore's Actual Market is the Dealer not the Dealer's customers.

Hence, I'm disappointed in Devore. He lost me. ( not that he was close to landing me )

Tony in transit

RH's picture

This is why I pleaded ignorance on the actual economics of creating/selling such a speaker.

As I mentioned before, I have seen Devore Fidelity as one of the "good guys" in the industry in terms of price/performance, and keeping things reachable by the (somewhat) average audiophile. And I still do. It was just a surprise to see such a leap in price with the new model.

The problem from the consumer's viewpoint is that high end audio pricing is a mystery.

The sky-rocketing prices of the top echelon of speakers seems essentially inscrutable from our viewpoint, and we also have stories from people inside the business saying to speaker manufacturers: "A certain customer base of mine won't look at your speakers unless they cost a certain amount." It's hard to know where perception in setting price and economics overlap, or depart.

So it's all a black box to us.

In any case, the Devore speakers are easily among my favorite and I'd love to hear those reference speakers at a show one day. They look gorgeous and I'm sure whoever ends up with a pair will be very lucky.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

There are several $100k and over speakers mentioned in these Munich audio show reports ....... So, it is all is relative :-) ..........

tonykaz's picture

Relative ???, Who's Relatives are you referring to ?

Tony in transit

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Theory of relativity :-) ...........

JBLMVBC's picture

Bronze casts, AlNiCo honest drivers yet with a small voice coil diameter, bronze ring surrounding some regular dome tweeter etc... At $85k a pair, with the amps, this makes little sense compared to top professional drivers, horns and real super tweeters.
But they get good press and the wood looks good...
Watching the video of Mr Atkinson's dissertation during which he presented the evolution of his reference systems, I was baffled by how one could remotely discourse about low frequency quality listening through some 8" pan of a driver hosted in a so called high end speaker while not even using a high quality 15" professional driver as a reference on the subject.
But hey, each on his own.

JBLMVBC's picture

"Unusually, the bass unit takes its input not from the preamp but directly from of the Ref A—which is to say, it further amplifies the bass part of the already amplified signal."

Hence the 87dB/w/m SEAS driver used with a passive (about extra 3dB) can end up at a 98dB/w/m sensitivity.
Controlling this kind of long excursion driver heavy moving mass (excursion advertised in the website) can be challenging and result in a certain style of basses.
There is no doubt, the drivers used here are of high quality. One however can also decipher the promote from the facts when it comes to AlNiCo versus ferrite given how professional driver manufacturers have tweaked their magnetic circuit when firm such as JBL switched over 30 y ago. Here again, pros experience and durability has proven their point.
In the end the sound of dome midranges and tweeter are specific and very discernible from pro compression drivers.

mdac356's picture

Totally agree with the "By any professional standard post". These speakers, and the technology employed, does not seem competitive with other speakers in the $85K price range.

At that price, among other things, I would have liked/expected to see at minimum, a servo controlled sub.

michaelavorgna's picture

...when you think you know more than you know. But I suppose this is what makes the comments section so...entertaining.

JBLMVBC's picture

... care to elaborate?

hrboucher's picture

I’m saddened by this article about Devore’s $85,000 speaker system. Saddened because Mr. DeVore has apparently succumbed to greed over music.

filmfresser's picture

I'm puzzled by the response to these speakers. DeVore Fidelity is taking a chance releasing these speakers into the market. They clearly invested time and R&D money into the product and he wants to make a profit doing it? The nerve.

Reading through the show report, I noticed dozens of products with price tags that should create an equal amount of disappointment; including stupid prices for cables (if you think you need $10,000 speaker cables you're suffering from other issues) and power conditioners that cost more than some systems.

If a company wants to target a very small segment of the market (just like car companies do) who are only interested in $$$$$ components, that's a business decision that will either pan out or fail. It doesn't affect you personally.

Hopefully, DeVore will also offer something new that more people can afford. Once again...their decision to make.

Selective audiophile anger is fun to watch.

litle Ben's picture

The only thing these speakers can be used for is as a bedside table and for storing bedding. The description given on the website is incredibly funny.

defgibbon's picture

I've generally avoided comment sections and forums over the years, and I don't see that ending anytime soon; but since I've already commented on the HiFi vs car analogy above I thought I'd respond one more time to address the understandable questions that people like RH have regarding the price of the O/Ref system.

The Reference project began six years ago, as a response to customers' asking for an even better O/96. Many directions were explored, including big 15-inch versions, open-baffle versions, and multiple-driver versions. AlNiCo was an ingredient early on, as was bronze.

The final four-box configuration took shape (ha!) as I realized that the only way to side-step the conflict of keeping the speaker a two-way for easiest drivability and increasing transparency was to (gently) reduce the excursions of the main 10" driver. Moving the bottom octave out of the main cabinet allowed a true optimization of the main driver for 40Hz and up, and a drastic reduction in cabinet vibration.

The bronze chassis and horns have required the largest upfront investment by far. These are cast in Indiana and machined in Virginia before coming to us in Brooklyn for final prep before being sent to Norway for assembly into our drivers. The casting process is the most efficient way to manufacture these parts, producing 90-95 percent less waste than machining out of a solid block of material the way most small-scale production is done. It requires far more investment up front however, as patterns and molds must be made for the molten bronze. Well worth it for the sonic and aesthetic benefits I believe.

AlNiCo (Aluminum Nickel Cobalt) magnets were the industry standard for decades before ferrite magnets took over due to far lower cost. It's possible to find nearly any size or shape of ferrite magnet as an off-the-shelf option when building drivers. Not so with AlNiCo. These magnets must be made to order, and the steel parts that make up the rest of the motor are all individually machined rather than stamped out by the 1000s. But there is no question that AlNiCo sounds and performs better, with far lower harmonic distortion through the midrange in the main 10" driver.

There are many other costly elements to the O/Ref system that I won't go into here, but suffice to say that the retail price was calculated using the standard cost formula, as with all our models. The enormous cost of development was not included in this formula, and so even at $80-90,000 a pair, the O/Ref will never be profitable for us on its own. All or our upfront investment was made with the intent to use much of the technology in other lower-priced models. The bronze parts are the most obvious, since we will be able to build other drivers on the same chassis and horns with minimal modifications.

Circling back to customer demand: the O/Ref system is exactly NOT what they were looking for. None were expecting four cabinets or the high price tag. As a cynical, greed-driven project, the O/Ref is a complete disaster. We could have pre-sold plenty of an "O" model at $20-30,000 to waiting customers, but I chose not to go that route. I wanted to know what the absolute limits were, and so kept pushing for six years and the result is the speaker system above. I'm very proud of the O/Ref, and believe it to be a truly reference product. At Munich to a large extent, and more so in our listening room here in Brooklyn and at a couple of other locations, the O/Ref has produced the most incredible reproduced music experiences I've ever had. In the context of the "Ultra-Fi" speakers it competes with, it's an absolute steal. I don't know if we'll sell many—of course I hope we do—but in the big picture, the O/Ref is what it needed to be, and it will lead to more affordable models to come.

-John Devore

RH's picture

Thank you for the insight you've provided on the reference speakers.
They certainly don't sound like a get-rich-quick affair. I don't think Devore Fidelity has to justify the cost of a reference speaker any more than another company, but you have been a refreshingly forthright figure in the manufacturing landscape, and I appreciate your letting us in on the manufacturing concerns of a product like the Orangutan Reference speakers.

I wouldn't doubt they punch higher than their price too. I've preferred the regular "O" series speakers to competitors costing significantly more money.