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Reviewers: Srajan Ebaen
Source: Zanden Audio Model 2000P/5000S; Ancient Audio Lektor Prime
Preamp/Integrated: Melody I2A3; Supratek Cabernet Dual; Onix SP3; ModWright SL-36.5 [on review], Almarro A318B [on review]; Coda XSi Limited [on review]
Amp: 2 x Audiosector Patek SE; Yamamoto A-08S; FirstWatt F3 & F1; Eastern Electric M-520
Speakers: Zu Audio Definition Pro in custom lacquer; Anthony Gallo Acoustics Ref 3.1; Mark & Daniel Ruby with matching stands; WLM Monitor Diva, Duo 12, Pre/Passive and Bass Controls; Zu Audio Druid Credenza

Cables: Crystal Cable Ultra loom; Zanden Audio proprietary I²S cable; Zu Cable Varial, Gede, Libtech and Ibis; Stealth Audio Cable Indra, MetaCarbon & NanoFiber; SilverFi interconnects; Crystal Cable Reference power cords; double cryo'd Acrolink with Furutech UK plug between wall and transformer;
Stands: 2 x Grand Prix Audio Monaco Modular 4-tier
Powerline conditioning: 2 x Walker Audio Velocitor S fed from custom AudioSector 1.5KV Plitron step-down transformer with balanced power output option; smaller AudioSector Plitron balanced power step-down transformer on headphone system (Raysonic CDP, Wyetech Jade, FirstWatt F1, AKG K-1000s)
Sundry accessories: GPA Formula Carbon/Kevlar shelf for transport; GPA Apex footers underneath stand, DAC and amp; Walker Audio Extreme SST on all connections; Walker Audio Vivid CD cleaner; Walker Audio Reference HDLs; Furutech RD-2 CD demagnetizer; Nanotech Nespa Pro
Room size: 16' w x 21' d x 9' h in short-wall setup, with openly adjoining 15' x 35' living room

Review Component Retail: $6,500/pr

DeVore to the nines
Make no mistake.
Brooklynite John DeVore makes very ordinary loudspeakers. Ordinary? Let's look to beauty and fitness for examples. Bee-stung collagen lips; 6-pack abs; gravity-defying silicone breasts; Venice Beach steroid lats. Not! It's only after such silly enhancements have betrayed their ugly shadows that ordinariness is embraced with profound appreciation. It's when you see former bodybuilding champs undergo heart surgery while suffering stretch marks and joint pain for good measure. When ultra-fit runners get knee replacements from black-top pounding. When elegant dancers suffer bum hips. When breast implants leak or shift. When facial tucks begin to look painfully false. It's when you witness the countless damages demanded by short-lived improvements that normal and ordinary begin to look more and more juicy. That's when normal demonstrates its very own charms. While those virtues are less glamorous, they're lasting. They're maintainable. They're livable day in, day out. They aren't loud and flashy. They're quiet and natural. Real.

That's where, in the world of loudspeaker choices, DeVore Fidelity arrives. It's when you've outgrown your fascination with exotic tweeter diaphragms, bad-ass woofer diameters, compound cabinetry and all the other de rigeur items of the glamorous speaker world. Sizzle and boom, hype and artifice - anything hifi-ish and show-offish are the wrong reasons to go DeVore. This small outfit operating out of Brooklyn's Navy Yard is about real people. Forget the Chers and Michael Jacksons with their obsessions over plastic perfections.

John DeVore and his Vietnamese wife Mai live in a typical NYC walk-up apartment. It's comfy and small. When he designs speakers, John necessarily designs them in this environment first, then he beta-tests elsewhere to insure that performance also translates for bigger spaces. That's why even his flagship Silverback Reference below retains very sane and friendly dimensions. DeVores are get out of the way speakers in more ways than one. They get out of the way cosmetically, domestically and musically.

The Gibbon Eight and Super Eight are straightahead two-way towers, both a measly 34 inches short. The souped-up of the two incorporates lessons learned from development of the big Silverback Reference. Despite the Super Eight being DeVore's best compact 2-way, the fiscal jump from it to the Silverback always mandated an eventual model that would bridge the considerable gap between $4,000/pr and $15,000/pr. The $6,500 2.5-way Gibbon Nines are such a model. Perhaps it even leaves room for future Super Nines with composite cabinetry as the flagship employs? That's still well more than twice as expensive. Marketing men view lineups as rungs of a ladder with precisely spaced price jumps. They spot enough of a gap between the new Nines and Silverbacks to warrant yet another model. If not two. "Good grief," thinks John DeVore.

At 8.5" W x 14.5" D x 38" H, the Nine is only marginally bigger than the 8 and Super 8. It's 4 inches taller, less than half an inch wider and 2.5 inches deeper. It weighs a very manageable 58 lbs. It's the efficiency rating that grew the most. It's 91dB whereas the 8 and Super 8 are 88 and 90dB respectively. The most obvious novelty of the Nine of course is its single sidefiring woofer, half the vertically opposed artillery of the Silverbacks. Maintaining the front-mounted mid/woofer on top with the offset 3/4" soft dome tweeter below familiar from the two older Gibbon towers, the extra woofer of the Nine's 2.5-way concept places it inwards if the tweeters are set up wide, outwards if the tweeters are set up narrow. DeVore's setup at CES 2007 favored the woofers-in, tweeters-out orientation.

Back to the real-people theme. Low-frequency extension for both Eights was spec'd at 35 and 36Hz respectively. The Nines are 32Hz. On paper, that hardly seems to justify the greater expense and additional fire power. Ah, but remember that the natural habitat for these Gibbons is the medium-sized space. There room lift will create enough acoustic augmentation to turn anything more delivered by the speaker itself into mud ville or boom town. That added woofer is there for greater weight and impact - more bass quality rather than more quantity. Yes, you should expect just a bit more quantity also but that was not the primary objective. The primary objective was a good portion of Silverback Reference performance in a listening space too small for the big boys - and for smaller wallets. Downscaling. Realsizing. Ordinarisation. Real people stuff.

While on scale, consider the CES 2007. John DeVore is 6'5" tall. His dwarfing the Nine could be deceiving. Jonathan Halpern of Tone Imports however is a chap of average height. Essentially, two Nines stacked one atop the other equal one 6-foot tall gent. That's demure for a statement speaker. Considering Michael Fremer's effusive praise for the Silverback Reference in Stereophile and Jules Coleman's preceding award for it in these pages, the notion of comparable performance from the Nines -- in a smaller space while perhaps avoiding death-defying aural stunts (you know the kind of silly demo soundtracks I refer to) -- is a rather attractive proposition for many I should think.

Opening this review with the theme of ordinariness was no fluke then. It's a term and concept operative with the Nines on multiple levels, certainly physical stature and attributes. In the bigger scheme of the DeVore line, don't expect any dramatic
breakthroughs or novelties. All DeVores follow the same sonic path. The Gibbon Eight and Super Eight predecessors are mature, dialed and tweaked designs. Especially the Super Eight leaves no wiggle room for improvements by reasonable means, i.e. while staying with its price. How to weave an additional driver and concomitant crossover point into that proven recipe without screwing up its famed 2-way coherence? How to demonstrably and justifiably add something substantial and worthwhile without really enlarging the cabinet? Such were the questions that must have faced the designer with his honey-I-shrunk-the-Silverbacks project. It seems fair to assume that he was in no hurry. He could only release the Nines if they indeed would justify their existence by being markedly better than the Super Eights. Ultimately, the Silverback will of course play louder and make more bass. You'd also expect its composite panels and tapered side walls to minimize cabinet talk especially under higher SPLs to play cleaner and resolve deeper. You'd finally expect greater separation power from a true 3-way. But what if you don't have the real estate and hence loudness requirements for such expanded capabilities? What if you don't really listen to complex bombast most of the time? Why pay for something you'll never exploit? It'd be like 4-wheel drive in a climate where it barely rains, never snows and you never ever leave the smooth tarmac.

John DeVore is used to not getting review loaners back. The majority of reviewers purportedly end up buying them. That's telling not because reviewers hear better. They simply hear more. They go through far more hardware in the process of their work than standard consumers. Nothing eliminates hype and feverish misconceptions as thoroughly as exposure to product after product after product, year in and year out. Exposure is the great equalizer. For something to truly stick relies not on tricks and games. It requires a wholesome naturalness which you want to wake up to day after day. That of course means that during a short-term audition, the razzlers and dazzlers of the genre will speak louder. It's only when you take those jive talkers home that their effects wear thin. Then you wish for less hype and more substance. Nobody knows this better than John DeVore. He used to work as an audio salesman at Sound by Singer and Stereo Exchange. It's very much to his credit that he doesn't play to this sales floor dynamic even though it could cost him transactions especially with the less experienced but motivated shoppers. They are the most likely to fall for cheap demo tricks.

On cheap tricks -- tongue in cheek mind you -- here they are a 0.75" hand-treated silk dome tweeter with extension to 40kHz, a 6.5" polypropylene mid/woofer with inverted rubber surround and bullnosed phase plug and the same unit as 100Hz-and-below auxiliary woofer with recessed flat-mounted grill, all built to DeVore's specifications by apparently Seas and previously proven in the Silverback Reference. Within the hi-tech exotic material mind so prevalent today and constantly fed by the marketing spin doctors, there's nothing to impress your friends or even yourself with. Nor will the Gibbon crossover decoupled from the enclosure. Its designer refuses to describe it in any detail. What we've got is simply a small twin-ported speaker with apparently regular drivers and a standard rectangular cabinet without compound angles or snazzy boat hull curvatures. There's middle-of-the-road bass specs and a not insubstantial price tag. Not apparent from any of this is valve friendliness aka benign load behavior. That's important to John DeVore who enjoys tube amps and routinely demonstrates with Shindo and Leben electronics from Japan. Those are imported by his friend Jonathan Halpern who also works part-time for NYC dealer In Living Stereo where DeVore speakers are sold.

Jules Coleman ran his DeVore Silverbacks with Shindo 300B amps, Michael Lavorgna runs his DeVore Super Eights with a Red Wine Audio Signature 30 or Shindo Cortese. Moon man Ken Micallef runs his Super Eights with an Art Audio Diavolo, Todd Warnke reviewed his pair for ETM on an Art Audio Carissa. It's this evidence from the field more than paper specs that tell the story. DeVore speakers, though not endowed with the high sensitivities often equated with especially lower-power SETs, are nonetheless perfect candidates for 10wpc+ valve amps as long as your system's overall gain structure produces the desired SPLs. By the time you've got 20 watts on tap as my Melody Valve HiFi I2A3 and Eastern Electric M520s deliver, you're in phat city. The trick to that is linear impedance and phase. Those are two ordinary and anything but glamorous aspects of speaker design which DeVore is nonetheless very adamant about.

As a happy DeVore owner and resident of the wider NYC metro area, Michael Lavorgna became one of many beta-testing stations for the designer when the Nines-to-be were clad in raw MDF and woofer location and orientation still were a moving target. Using Michael's personal pair of Super Eights to reference the system/room sound, John DeVore could then come to useful conclusions about the Nines playing an unfamiliar environment.

At the time, the incarnation Michael experienced sported a reversed woofer on the front baffle, with the rear wave resistively loaded by dense foam. Michael also heard a subsequent iteration with the woofer on the side, crossover points unchanged. He reported significant and surprising sonic improvements merely from repositioning the driver. This prototype, like many not shown (with down, up- or rear-firing woofers forward or inverted, side-firing in four different locations, as frontal d'Appolito array), ended up firewood - par for the course of the kind of speaker design that doesn't model everything by computer but also relies on extensive real-world testing.

The designer explained his process further: "Development is done in eight different rooms around the New York City area including two spaces at the office/factory, my and my cabinet maker's living rooms and the listening rooms of several good friends, then, in addition, the various soundrooms at my two local dealers In Living Stereo and Sound By Singer."

A very important element of this arrangement is that all of these listening spaces have either Super 8s or Silverbacks in residence (the stores of course might have both) so there is always a reference touchstone available that I am intimately familiar with. Initial testing of cabinets is done in the most neutral space (at the factory, in a very large open space with very high ceilings) where details are worked out before the prototypes hit the road. I try to spread out the listening sessions as evenly as possible in these different environments to avoid tuning a design to a specific room. As each new candidate makes the rounds, it is listened to with the gear at hand and moved all around the room to get a sense of how it relates to the space. It's then compared very carefully with the resident speaker (Super 8s or Silverbacks) to see what it brings to the table and to make sure we're not sacrificing anything in the pursuit of something else. On some trips, there might be two new prototype revisions that are compared to each other and to the reference. Once the cabinet is signed off on, the final fine-tuning is done at the factory and in my living room, followed by a last round of listening in the various rooms, again comparing with the references."

On the subject of the twin rear ports, John DeVore added that "the two ports are tuned to very different frequencies to help make the Nines far easier to place in a room. Not only are the two ports separated by more than a foot, they are energizing the room at different frequencies, thus spreading the effects of room boundaries instead of compounding them in one place and at one frequency. Room energies are far more even as you move about the space because the Nines avoid the piled-up standing wave issues of most other speakers."