I have a soft spot... ok, anyone who's reached my point in life has a great many formerly firm spots that are now soft - but for our purposes let's confine this conversation to my soft spot for two-way loudspeakers. What can I say except that the logic of a well-made two has innate appeal for me? Sure, we all have dreams of the theoretically perfect single, point-source driver, with response from 10 cycles to 50,000 cycles. And one that comes in a cabinet that looks great, is easy to place and as long as we're dreaming costs less than lunch for two at the Golden Arches. Back in the real world, where physics is not one of the faith-based sciences and we have to deal with issues like mass, impedance, air and structural rigidity, the dream of a full-range one-way begins to fall apart. Make that single driver light enough to be able to recreate all that air surrounding a piccolo and it lacks the size and stiffness necessary to move enough air in your room to make that 32-foot organ note crush your innards. And, if you opt for the electrostatic or planar approach, be prepared to spend lots of dollars to get close to the ideal as it takes a fair amount of power, control and size to approximate a full-range driver.
On the other hand, three, four and more-way loudspeakers make sense from the perspective of being able to divvy up the frequency spectrum and optimize each driver for their slice. But getting all those drivers to play well together has a flaw that can be summed up in one, singularly evil word crossover. Of course it is possible to design a crossover able to handle the intricate chaos of sensitivity, impedance and frequency response, and you can find or have built drivers whose tonal qualities compliment each other across the entire audio spectrum, but the resultant loudspeaker will, just as with that stat or planar, cost a whole lot of money before it approaches the sound quality of a two-way done right.
And that brings me back to the joys of the two-way. It's easier to mate drivers. It has only one crossover point so designing it, though hard to begin with is easier than with a more complicated driver array, plus the less complicated crossover absorbs less energy making it a friendlier and more efficient load for the amplifier. A well-designed two-way also has just enough space for the two drivers to be optimized for their particular bits of the frequency spectrum while still getting close to full range sound. And, perhaps most importantly, it means the designer's budget can go on fewer and hence better parts.
Hold on a second... looking back I see where a major source of my love for two-ways comes from. The costs of doing a great one-way or 3 or more way raises the entry price tremendously while a great two-way design, one that makes just a few, well-selected compromises, can have greater range and impact than a one-way whilst retaining a coherence that even the best multi-way loudspeakers struggle to attain. So, perhaps it is not just the philosophical side of me that likes two-ways, but my Scrooge side as well. Whatever the reason, when I hear a good two-way I want to review it, and when I heard both the buzz and the actual sound the Devore Fidelity Gibbon Super 8s were generating at the 2005 edition of the Rocky Mountain AudioFest, I asked for a crack at it. John Devore agreed, and so here we are.
From Modest Sized Boxes...
The SUPER and the gibbon 8 share an identical 34 inches high, 8.125 inches wide and 12 inches deep frame but the gibbon 8 is front-ported where the SUPER has a rear port as well as more massive internal bracing. The gibbon 8 is rated down to 35Hz, one more cycle than the SUPER at 36Hz, and while the standard 8 has an exceptional top end rating of 30kHz, the SUPER 8 extends the ceiling all the way out to 40kHz. While these are impressive specs considering the room-friendly size of both the gibbon 8 and the SUPER 8, the heart of the loudspeaker lies in two other specs.
Drivers are a 0.75-inch silk soft dome tweeter and 6.5-inch polypropylene midrange/woofer. With an 8 Ohm nominal impedance and a 7.1 ohm minimum, the SUPER 8 presents an very easy to drive load, which is more than just an benefit for low-wattage tubed amplifiers (as we shall see further down the page). Add in a 90dB/W/m sensitivity rating and you have a loudspeaker, at least on paper, that defines what Devore Fidelity is all about easy to drive, sensitive, bloody near full-range loudspeakers. Oh yeah, with a retail of $4000 (a grand more two-tone Walnut/Birdseye maple), in audiogeek terms they are also loudspeakers that are even sort of affordable. Of course, the spec that matters most when listening to any audio equipment is how fast it can make your heart beat so let's get to that right after the...
Obligatory Gear List
...Come Immodest Sounds
For example, when I spun Chris Whitley's Rocket House [ATO ATO0003] the audacity of the musical combinations find in tracks like To Joy (Revolution of the Innocents), which combines scratching, banjo and electronica, came through with such clarity of line, tonality and space that rather than sound contrived they were simply inevitable. To expand on that a bit, another track from Rocket House, Chain, uses a short, droning, circular, top-heavy guitar figure to setup a repeating pattern that is played off against a deep, skittering drum beat. As Whitley's voice pierces the mix, his resonator guitar lurks in the background and keyboards occasionally peek through. And, as the lyrics allude to the those things we pass from generation to generation, Trixie, Whitley's 14 year old daughter, sings through an electronic haze, "Round and around, it goes round". Each piece of this song occupies separate sonic territory, from deep bass to mid-treble, and while a lesser loudspeaker a three, four or more way perhaps may be able to highlight the nuances of each instrument, it takes a superb loudspeaker to do that while simultaneously stitching the entire piece into a single, organic whole. Which the gibbon SUPER 8 does perfectly. (By the way, Rocket House is my pick for the most overlooked album of the first half of this decade. Pick it up now and thank me later.)
Moving to something denser and full range, I spend a lot of time listening to Tchaikovsky, especially the 6th Symphony. As a kid my parents forbade all music but classical on Sundays. So, when I had a paper route I would get up before everyone, put on the headphones, spin the 6th and fold my papers. I could usually do the job in the length of the opening movement and then, after delivering the morning blues, I'd return to listen to the rest (yes, even as kid I was a geek). Anyway, after a lifetime of listening to the Pathetique I repeatedly return to a recording of it released in my birth year the 1961 Mravinsky\Leningrad Philharmonic DG release [along with the 4th and 5th Symphonies on DG 419 745-2]. If I remember correctly, the old Penguin Guide gives this recording a rosette but if they don't, that's their error. The stage is not wide, but it is quite deep and the recording is wonderfully clear while the playing is passionate perfection. Through the Devores the brass of the Leningrad Philharmonic is resonant, brilliant, martial and commanding while the strings gracefully bound and soar. Tympani have massive weight and yet reveal a detailed tonality as well. And though the stage is somewhat narrow, images on it were full-blooded, firmly anchored to the stage and very real. Lastly, dynamic swings especially those found at the mid-point of the opening movement were a solid kick to the gut.
Speaking of, I use the Jeff Buckley tune, The Last Goodbye, from his 1994 classic Grace [Columbia CK 57328] and its opening guitar/bass/drum/cymbals for a lovely test of micro-dynamics. Building from a quiet lead the song adds instruments, taking on volume right up to the cymbal splash about 25 seconds in. Though in absolute terms the volume shifts are not that large, there is a lot of room here and each pluck, poke and pound is given space. Recreating this right requires a loudspeaker to stop and start a thousand times a second and I have yet to hear any big driver array get this spot on. Of course few two-ways get it right either, fortunately the gibbon SUPER 8 is one of those rare ones that does. And getting this right is one of those pure magic things as opening the micro-dynamic window wide lets the music out in full, flowing, natural form.
And turning to pure magic, listening to The Cowboy Junkies, The Trinity Session [Classic Compact Disc RTHCD8568], with the Art Audio Carissa, First Sound Presence Statement, Blue Circle BC501 and Cardas wiring throughout the system was as close to a Star Trek transporter as I have experienced in my present listening room. Now this may sound like a good thing, but since I have a thing for Margo Timmons my wife, at first, was less than happy (she should be glad I wasn't playing Jane Siberry's Temple). To allay her feelings, after I invited her into the room and introduced her to the band, we sat in Church of the Holy Trinity in Toronto for the next 53 minutes. Exaggeration? Of course but not by much. Take the end of Misguided Angel for example. The song, which plays out more as a duet between Margo's voice and her brother Michael's guitar rather than her brother John who actually does sing backup, ends with the entire band dropping to darkness while placing Margo right-center pledging her love until death. Michael's funeral guitar hard left, followed by the rest of the band giving a solemn amen, answers her vow. The halo of sound cast by the church stays perfectly in size, allowing pinpoint placement of each musician. Yep, it was pure magic.
First, though it can recreate the ambiance of the Church of the Holy Trinity on the Cowboy Junkies album, the Super would not be my choice to fill the actual church with sound. I have heard that John Devore designed the SUPER as his personal loudspeaker for his New York City apartment. Even if apocryphal, the story has the ring of truth. My listening room is 14 feet by 23 feet by 8 feet and opens to other rooms so the Devores see a space larger than the typical NYC living room, but is still not a massive space. The SUPER does fill my room, but when I took the loudspeakers to a friend's house, who has an 18 by 28 by 10 foot room bass impact suffered and at times the rest of the spectrum sounded forced as well. So, small to mid-sized rooms please.
Second, I completely believe the 36Hz spec. I heard full, tuneful and accurate bass into the upper 30s, but real deep bass was MIA, as you should expect with any ported design.
And third, while astounding for what they do, when compared to the absolute cutting edge of what loudspeakers can do the Devores give up just a touch of the deep, inner resolution that products like the latest version of the Merlin VSM can deliver. The good news is that the differences are pretty subtle and most take a side-by-side listening session to uncover.
As for what the Devore does wrong, well that is an even shorter list. With many hundreds of listening hours behind me I pondered this and came up with one thing. All loudspeakers, in fact all audio components have a sonic character. Some, like Magnepans, are slightly quick and see-though, giving a lighter than real sound. Others, like Ayre amplifiers, are ever so soft up top and end up a bit rounder, fuller sounding than real life. The SUPER has a personality too, one I would call plainspoken. While bloody revealing of a recording, the SUPER does not shout out flaws, instead it notes them and moves on simply and matter of fact. Conversely, it does not take a middling recording and add any zing to it. While this does not sound like much of a problem, because the SUPERS are so revealing, you need to take this into consideration when using partnering components. I found that clear, linear and "honest" components worked best with the SUPER, but that the smallest touch of added life here and there was a good thing. So, the Art Audio Carissa worked best with Cardas Neutral Reference wiring rather than the Golden Reference I usually use the result was too smooth and tubey. The Blue Circle BC501 DAC, which has just a touch of added sparkle, at least as compared to the slightly sober Berendsen CD1, also loved the Neutral Reference, while the German player liked Audio Magic and especially Stereovox cabling with the Devores.
Surprisingly, this mix and matching experiment led me to find a unexpected strength of the SUPERs. I have had a 150-watt solid-state amplifier laying around here for a while. It was originally submitted for a review but the manufacturer pulled the product before it got too much press and left the review sample behind. It is built, if there were such a thing, like a Swiss tank; rugged and with meticulous attention to detail. Under the right circumstances the amplifier sounded wonderful fast, clean, detailed, massive stage and without any real flaws. But at other times it was all bright, thin and metallic. But driving, or rather barely driving the remarkable easy load of the SUPERs, the amplifier opened up and sang with a pure, seamless voice. This led to me trying other, easy to drive loudspeakers with the amplifier and they too made it sound from very good to great. So, before any of you solid-state fans look at the specs of the gibbon SUPER 8 and write it off as a for tubed only loudspeaker, give them a try. The flat, high-impedance and high-sensitivity load allows any amplifier topology to work at its best.
Frequency Response: 36Hz to 40kHz
Driver: 0.75-inch silk dome tweeter, 6.5 polypropylene woofer
Impendence: 8 Ohms
Dimensions: 34 x 8.125 x 12 (HxWxD in inches)
Price: $4000 per pair