January/February 2008

DeVore Fidelity: The Nines Loudspeaker

Remember those old TV ads for Remington electric razors, the ones where the guy proclaimed he liked the razor so much, he bought the company? Well, I heard some speakers a few years ago I liked so much that I shelled out my own money—no, not for the whole company, but for a pair of the DeVore Fidelity Gibbon Super 8s ($4,000; devorefidelity.com). Then, when designer John DeVore announced he was going to introduce a slightly larger Gibbon, I began salivating and didn’t stop panting until the boxes arrived with the new model, the Nines ($6,500). Unfortunately for my salivary glands, it was over a year from that first announcement to the day UPS showed up a month or so ago.

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Gibbon Super 8 speakers
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Devore Fidelity The Nines Loudspeaker in Walnut

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Now I could take the easy way out and refer you back to my review of the Super 8s and just say, “Multiply all those good things by about one point six,” and be done with it, making my job a lot easier. But that would be doing you an injustice, and it would be unfair to these stupendous speakers.

Speakers can take up to several hundred hours of playing time to begin sounding their best. However, as soon as I had the Nines up and running, I had to call DeVore to tell him that these were the most outstanding speakers I’d ever heard in my home, a judgment made while listening with a modest nine-watt amplifier. Now I’m using all of 15 watts and the speakers sound even better still. Immediately, that first day, I noticed a very real “layering” of the sound, a precise positioning of the instruments from front to back, offering a very palpable aural perspective, a sensation I’ve rarely experienced in such a pronounced fashion. It was absolutely three-dimensional and I hadn’t even set up the speakers properly. Despite this inexact placement, they were already performing like superstars with lifelike focus, finesse and verve.

DeVore speakers are renowned for their unflinching but relaxed accuracy to the music. Nothing added, nothing subtracted, no neon lights screaming, “Listen to me! I’m a wonderful speaker. Listen to my HIGHSSSSS and my—burp!—lows.”

I have often used the phrase purity of sound when discussing DeVore, and that is what they offer, music in its purest, most unadulterated, truest-to-life form with no sign of strain or overemphasis. Velvety and seductive without being soft or muted, big and authoritative without being irritating like Popeye’s Bluto, or like Popeye himself. When music plays through these speakers, you pay attention; the music grabs you and won’t let go ... and you like it! “Do it to me!” you scream over the Dolphy LP. Oh! The pleasure seems as though it should be a mortal sin.

For the Nines, DeVore built on the design of the Super 8s with the intention of invoking some of the magic of his flagship $16,000 Silverbacks for use in smaller rooms. As it was, the Super 8s already used their big brother’s midrange driver and tweeter. By adding a side-firing woofer, he’s added a bit more bottom and gobs more body to the music. Like I said, they still possess the delicacy of the Super 8s, but with a shot of natural steroid mixed in for added strength. Not a bad thing.

Music pours out of the Nines with a grace and natural fluidity not often heard at any price. Individual instruments are far easier to delineate, even in complex instrumental textures. Female vocals, well, they’re sexier than a 1-900 call. Listening to a charming 10-inch Prestige LP of Sonny Rollins and Thelonious Monk, the timbres and dynamics were so real and vivid I completely forgot the disc was made well over 50 years ago. These DeVore speakers never let the music down, never get in its way but, rather, let the locomotion and drive possessed by the music set the pace. Nothing drags, nothing wilts. The result is like a drug: you don’t want to stop listening, you just want more and more and more. And more.

Holly Cole’s most recent effort has just been released on German vinyl and is in heavy rotation around Casa Quinn. This disc, heavily populated by some of NY’s finest, is a powerhouse of arranging, musicianship and vocal prowess. The Nines do it absolute justice and allow you to follow any and every instrument of the assembled nonet from start to finish. Nothing gets lost, everything comes out crystal clear, which is exactly as it should be, especially when discussing Cole’s unique instrument and her glides, slides and vibrato—with turns and nuances most singers only dream of. Every single detail is delivered and devoured thanks to these speakers. Through most speakers Cole is captivating, even charming. Through the Nines she is majestic, even supernatural. On “Larger Than Life,” a Cole composition, the piano trio lays a solid vamping backdrop to her silky, sultry vocal. However, nothing here is larger than life, but rather, an exact replica of the musical event placed just a few feet in front of my sofa. It’s shocking how much more of the subtlety of her styling is revealed by this system.

I could go on, but I think you get the picture. I’ve gone through more than a handful of speakers in the past 15 years or so. But the buck stops right here. Or better, the bucks stop right here. I’m not letting go of these handsome cherry wood boxes; they will stay in my living room. My jazz collection has never sounded jazzier, my 1,000 Brazilian LPs have never sounded more Brazilian. These DeVore Nines are keepers.

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