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Reviewer: Ken Micallef
Digital Source: McIntosh MVP 861 universal player, McCormack UDP-1 universal player
Analog Source: Kuzma Stabi/Kuzma Stogi turntable/arm combo
Preamp: Shindo Monbrison
Amp: BAT VK-75 (equipped with Tungsol and Raytheon VT-231s, RCA 5692s)
Speakers: DeVore Fidelity 7.1 [in for review], DeVore Fidelity Gibbon 8 [on loan]; Gallo Ref 3 [on follow-up review]
Cables: Stealth PGSX and 3D ICs, 3MLT Hybrid speaker cables [in for review]; Auditorium A23 speaker cables [on loan], Crystal Cables Micro ICs and Micro speaker cables [in for review]
Stands: Salamander 5.0 rack, 2" Mapleshade platforms (8" x 15" x 2"), Blue Circle custom amp stand (for BAT)
Powerline conditioning: BPT Model BP-3.5 Signature Ultra Isolator for digital components and turntable, JPS Kaptovator and JPS Power AC power cords, Shunyata Black Mamba and Anaconda Vx Powersnake
Sundry accessories: Mapleshade Surefoot and Heavyfoot brass points and IsoBlocks; 8 x) RPG ProFoam damping panels/ceiling treatment, Mapleshade Ionoclast for static cling, HALO-O Tube Dampers
Room size: 24' x 12' with 10-13' sloped ceiling, short-wall setup
Review component retail: $3,000/pr

Even if you're not a regular 6moons reader, you would by now be having to live under a rock out in the Utah badlands or in a van down by the river to remain unaware of John DeVore and his line of Brooklyn born-and-bred DeVore Fidelity speakers. Sure, brother Jules Coleman has sung his praises over DeVore's statement Silverback References as has master conjunto, bottle washer and publishing maestro Srajan Ebaen with his review of the Gibbon 8 floorstanders. But for just a moment, forget about those guys. Don't leave our site, of course, but forget about them and listen to these audio gurus, who spill their ink untainted by any 6moons affiliation:
  • Stereophile's Michael Fremer: "John DeVore's Gibbon Super 8 loudspeakers made some of the best music I heard at CES regardless of price."
  • MSNBC's Gary Krakow: "John (DeVore) has created something very, very special.'

Or, if you only believe net zines (who could blame you), Greg Weaver in Positive Feedback wrote, "The diminutive DeVore Fidelity Gibbon Super 8 [was part of] one of the most palpable and engaging systems I heard this year. Big, fast, detailed bass. Clear, clean, articulate treble. Palpable, believable, and in-the-room midrange voices."

So let me push my cat out of the bag: the DeVore Fidelity Gibbon 7.1s, which stand sentinel-like with their narrow footprint and tall stature, are the most tonally pure, articulate, dynamic and transparent bookshelf speakers I have yet heard. Coming into my crowded listening space after owning small monitors from B&W, Revel, Proac, Spendor and Epos, the 7.1s left me dumbstruck and downright horny for CDs. Every familiar CD revealed greater clarity and new levels of insight through the 7.1s, from '60s Brazilian to Norah Jones' Feels Like Home to the Great Jazz Trio's Someday My Prince Will Come, from SACD remasters of Scheherazade and Zoot Sims to banging dance tracks by Lemon Jelly. Though the 7.1s lack the bass of a floorstander or even boom-boom bass masquerading as true bass (hello Proac 1.5s), their ability to not only reveal every CD in its own singular sonic venue and recording locale, but to do so with unswerving transparency, focus and energetic delivery place them in a league of their own just like their larger siblings. The small monitors I have owned, while typically focus and imaging champs, have always made their liabilities known over time. The 7.1s have been in-house for a few months and while they never fail to impress, their sound is typically comfortable, natural and non-fatiguing. Benefiting from beautiful cabinets and a variety of veneers (American Cherry or Black Ash), the 7.1s feature Cardas binding posts round back, a top-of-the-cabinet port up front with a driver compliment that reveals DeVore's envelope-extending designs. The 7.1s use a V-array midrange configuration, reportedly run at a very constant 8 ohms, spec'd out at 45Hz-25kHz @ 90dB/W sensitivity, with dimensions of 7.6" x 19" x 10" HxWxD.

Conversing with DeVore
To learn more about these dynamo-humming $3,000/pr speakers, I fired off a few questions to John DeVore.

Is the tweeter unique to the 7.1?

The tweeter, like all the drivers in this speaker, is custom-made in Europe to our specs for this model. The capacitors are European as well but every other part of every speaker we build is made in the US.

Your website states that the 7.1 midrange is similar to that in the Silverback. How so?

Similar qualities, different specifics. The Gibbon 7.1 mid is smaller than the Silverback unit and has a shielded motor (the 7.1 is completely video-shielded).

How does the V-array midrange configuration work? It would seem to interfere with imaging since the speakers aren't mirror-imaged.

The Gibbon 7.1 was designed to have universal placement capability, so the tweeter is centered on the front baffle whether the V-array is configured for vertical or horizontal placement. This enables the user to have any mix of vertical and horizontal 7.1s and still enjoy seamless integration. The geometry of the tweeter and midrange never changes so every Gibbon 7.1 will have the same dispersion characteristics.

Are the speakers constructed of MDF? At what thickness?

The Gibbon 7.1s are built of a mixture of materials with different densities for different panels. All flat external panels are of 3/4" thickness but the separate internal midrange enclosure is injection-molded and has no parallel surfaces. The box of the 7.1 is made of MDF but uses two different blends that have different densities/weights and thus different resonances.

Crossover details?

The crossover uses the DeVore Fidelity Gibbon circuit and has very high parts quality. We use polypropylene film caps, proprietary silver/copper/Teflon hookup wire and the DeF SVDX (Suspended Vibration Damped X-over) where the entire crossover assembly is isolated from the vibrating speaker cabinet with a suspension and encapsulated in a non-resonant Vibraflex to completely eliminate coil and capacitor resonance. There are no resistors in the entire circuit. All drivers were designed with identical sensitivity to not require notch filters or Zobel networks to behave. It is also the easiest LCR to drive, being a true 8-ohm speaker that never drops below 6 ohms.

How high should the speakers be placed off the ground for optimal listening?

The optimal listening axis should put the listener's ear at about tweeter height or an inch or so higher. This is the same whether the speaker is configured vertically of horizontally. From there the listener can experiment with different heights since the tonality can be adjusted slightly with listening axis and toe-in alteration.

To toe-in or not?

Th 7.1s are designed to be completely toed in but deviations thereof are a function of customer preference and room interactions

Break-in period?

All Gibbons can use about 200 hours of break-in but will behave properly after only about 24 hours.

What does this model share with other speakers in your line?

The Gibbon 7.1 shares all its technology with the rest of the Gibbon line as well as certain elements with the Silverback Reference. All DeVore Fidelity speakers use small-diameter treated-cloth dome tweeters for extended response (to 30kHz in the 7.1). The 7.1's ¾ inch tweeter is made of a treated textile and loads into a self-enclosed chamber. The Gibbon 7.1's 5" polypropylene midrange with phase plug uses a similar curve profile as the woofers in the Gibbon 8s and Super 8s and the midrange of the Silverback Reference. All four drivers use a phase plug to improve dispersion in the crossover region and increase thermal stability. This lends them a similar timbre and tonality and allows them to be integrated easily into a multi-channel Gibbon or Silverback system. The 6½" woofer is also made of polypropylene and extends response to 42Hz.

Any other pertinent factoids?

The Gibbon 7.1 is the smallest high-quality, three-way, vertical array LCR speaker currently on the market and will fit in any standard equipment rack. It is also deliberately front-ported for additional placement flexibility. It is designed for both maximum performance and flexibility. It has been in production for two years.

The Sound of Fury
Before I got down to serious listening (for some of us, all listening is serious listening), DeVore brought over a third 7.1 for a brief home theater evaluation. I own a cheapo Sony 5.1 system complete with subwoofer and five tiny-tot speakers but adding the 7.1s created a dramatic sense of realism that made me understand why some -- I guess most these days -- are so damn fanatical about home theater. First, we watched excerpts from King Arthur, the new version based on "recent archeological finds". Yeah sure. The movie is cut from the Gladiator mold but its sound is top notch, with every sword-swooshing-out-of-the-scabbard beheading, war cry and severed limb dished up with exactitude and "you are there" bloodletting thrill. Geez, I almost splattered myself. The film's background music also took on new dynamics, depth and weight. Later that evening, I felt a spell of romance coming on, brought to me courtesy of the fine French film The Girl From Paris. A fanciful tale with swelling strings and not much else, the film brought out the 7.1's warmish character but only because the soundtrack is warm. The DeVores are extremely lucid and transparent. Whatever goes in is bound to be exposed for good or bad. If you have $4,500 for front and center channel home theater speaker duties, the 7.1s should be first up on your audition list.

The DeVore 7.1s revealed the separate recording space and singular acoustics of every CD I played through them. Older discs like John Scofield's Electric Outlet [Grammavision GRCD 8405] sounded somewhat shut-in and one-dimensional. Ditto for Bossa In Italy [GDM Music 2029], a collection of Brazilian bossa interpreted by Italian soundtrack composers from the '60s and '70s. But anything truly well recorded like Norah Jones' Feels Like Home [Blue Note 7243 5 84800] or the RCA Living Stereo SACD remaster of Fritz Reiner's Scheherazade [BMG 82876 66377-2] absolutely lurched out of the 7.1s with nearly live dynamics. With accuracy as their theme, the 7.1s were fast, detailed and articulate and I could never isolate one part of the speaker's spectrum that was out of whack with its component parts. Coherence was first rate. With no exaggerated bass or amorphous treble and as tonally truthful a midrange as I have heard, the 7.1s drew me into every CD I played. The 7.1s revealed the hot nature of the McIntosh MVP861 player and by contrast, the darker and weightier presentation of the McCormack UD 1. And while they may not have the amount, depth and scale of bass wallop one might expect with a floorstander, the 7.1s' low end was a coherent part of their soundstage and downright ample when the source material allowed. As these are stand-mounted monitors, the overall soundstage was not as broad as either the Gallo Ref 3s I recently reviewed or the Gibbon 8s DeVore brought in for comparison.

Though they sell for only $150 more, I much preferred the 7.1s to the Gibbon 8s. Playing the 8s for a while, I expected the 7.1s to simply be a scaled-down version of the 8s' sound: warm, with good articulation and imaging, exceptionally smooth bass to mid to treble presentation, a bit soft overall and most of all, musical. The 8s never called attention to themselves. They simply made good music. So I was shocked when I hooked up the 7.1s. Their dynamics alone sent me reeling. Then I became enthralled with their portrayal of the different characteristics of each and every disc put to them. They pulled this delicious audio trick disc after disc, time after time.

One of the best words to describe the 7.1s is immediacy. That came to the fore on jazz pianist Leslie Pintchik's exceptional SACD So Glad To Be Here [Ambient Records CD-003], a trio outing with percussionist Satoshi Takeishi whose unusual assortment of hand drums, ice bells and cosmic doodads perform rhythmic voodoo over the pianist's darting, melodic lines. The two musicians' performances stung like a bee via the DeVores, every shift and shimmer a jolt to the senses. The Norah Jones disc sounded wonderfully immediate and present as well, the 7.1s helping to reveal all the close-mic'd, flatly treated, no-effects glory of the sultry singer's voice. Extremely well focused and dead center in the soundstage, the instruments floated around her voice like spirits. The DeVores also reproduced the semi-bombast of Elvin Jones' football stadium-sized drum kit on the Great Jazz Trio's Someday My Prince Will Come [Eighty Eights VRCL 18815], with bass and piano slightly recessed in comparison to Elvin's awesome rattle and roll. Elvin's kit is all over the soundstage here, giving you a clear clue as to the engineer's goal: to put the listener's head right in the middle of Elvin's roaring set rolls and cymbal glances. Lemon Jelly's [XL Recordings 05845] offered a different combination of perspectives, from sampled vocals to synth bass to acoustic instruments and vocals. Surprisingly, the bass was as deep and fulsome as one could ask for, the 7.1s again pulling off their trick of revealing the singular recorded space and acoustics of every disc. That was a hardier task with Lemon Jelly's DJ tricks, the pair sampling sources from LPs spanning decades but again, the 7.1s revealed the character of each sample, sound and instrument.

The Monkey Speaks
The DeVore Fidelity Gibbon 7.1s are special speakers indeed and without peer as a bookshelf monitor in my opinion. They allowed each disc to come alive for good or bad and their immaculate coherence made each listening session a hunt for audio treasures old and new. If there's a downside to the 7.1s, it would be that their extreme transparency might highlight inferior gear farther up the signal chain. Using an old CD player? Expect the 7.1s to expose its full dose of nasty jitter. Using a pitched-up solid-state amp or preamp? Fully expect the 7.1s to crack your skull open with ear-shattering sounds. But if your system is already synergistic -- as I believe mine is -- the 7.1s will reveal your music collection in all its glory, be it club jazz or stadium Rock'n'Roll. And once the 7.1s are dialed in, you may not even wish for or need a subwoofer to supplement their 42Hz bass response. That leaves only the music, front and center. Highly recommended.
DeVore Fidelity comments:
First I would like to thank Ken for taking the time to thoroughly put the Gibbon 7.1s through their paces and understand and describe what they are all about in his always enjoyable way. I also want to give both Ken and 6moons credit for having the open-mindedness to review a multi-channel music and home theater speaker in a two-channel system. Though intended for multi-purpose use, they were designed just like all the other speakers in our line: with music in mind.

Lastly, I would like to express my gratitude to Srajan for giving an unknown little speaker company its first big review with the original Gibbon 8s (back when 6moons and DeVore Fidelity were quite a bit smaller) and sending us down this great and exciting road with a lot more horsepower. Keep up the great work, guys.

John DeVore
President, Chief Designer, DeVore Fidelity
Manufacturer's website