Swingin’ Through the Audio Jungle with DeVore’s Gibbon Super 8s

Posted on by Mike Quinn

John DeVore (www.devorefidelity.com) first came onto my radar three years back at the annual Consumer Electronics show where he was then demonstrating his Gibbon 8 loudspeaker. The following year saw the birth of his current giant, or giant killer, the absolutely stunning Silverback Reference speaker—fourteen thousand bucks and sonically worth every penny, and then some—in my opinion.

Since then, DeVore continued to monkey around with the Gibbon 8, incorporating many of the evolved design ideas from the much larger Silverback, but packaged in the same modest-sized package of the Gibbon. The resulting Gibbon Super 8 ($4,500) is the subject of our current discourse—it’s one swinging little speaker, to say the least.

DeVore, who grew up in a musical household, is a drummer, and, as I’ve stated previously regarding his speaker designs, he has, as perhaps only a drummer could, perfectly nailed the live, you-are-there sound of cymbals, a very challenging task as any audio designer will tell you.

The Super 8 is the result of DeVore’s personal goal to have most of the qualities of the Silverback, yet in a smaller box more befitting most average homes. “It’s the speaker I had to have in my living room,” he says, explaining that the Silverbacks are too large for his NYC digs. The Gibbon Super 8 consists of the midrange driver and tweeter from the big gorillas and the proven crossover circuitry from the original Gibbon, all “Super” tweaked to get the maximum sound from relatively small component parts.

Do the Super 8s successfully ape DeVore’s Kong? Absolutely, or nearly absolutely. With the exception of the deep, deep low bass, the Super 8s create the same crystal clear magic of the Silverbacks, the same spot-on imaging and soundstage, the same ability to convey pure musicality.

And that is the hook that got my attention. Very few speakers in my experience are capable of transmitting the absolute essence of music, of capturing that indefinable rightness of a live performance—micro-details and some sense of correct rhythm and timing—things most speakers just can’t transmit correctly.

Well, give me a Tarzan yodel—ahhhhhaaahhhhhhaaa—because the Super 8s are on this ape-shit in spades.

One of my favorite-ever jazz recordings is Anthony Braxton’s In the Tradition in which he grunts out Mingus and Bird tunes on his contrabass clarinet and enormous bass sax. My old LP version has some ticks and pops, but with the Gibbons, the friggin’ thing transcends the boundary of live vs. Memorex astonishingly well, due in large part to the absolute accuracy and fidelity (and I mean fidelity in the broadest possible sense) of the modest-looking DeVore boxes. If you’ve never heard “Ornithology” played on a bleating bass saxophone, well, you ain’t heard nothing. The register of the instrument is e-x-t-r-e-m-e-l-y low (down to the lowest B flat on the piano), but the DeVores keep up, cleanly sculpting each and every reedy note; other, lesser speakers sometimes bunch the notes into hard-to-delineate clusters. Tete Montoliu’s piano is fully formed, percussive and harmonically right, with a real physical shape to it, in other words, close your eyes, and it’s easy to imagine the DeVores have transported a piano into the listening room.

I’ve been on a Beatles kick of late, buying lots of discs Yoko would frown upon, and I can’t tell you where I acquired them, but let’s just say the array is spectacular, a universal treasure which should be open to all and unfortunately is not. On a mono mix of Sgt. Pepper’s, the true, original intention of the artists is presented. “Good Morning, Good Morning” shows a startling musical maturity in kids only about 25 years old, and the Super 8s convey the still-raw excitement of this track: the “hollowness” of the Hofner bass, the edginess of Lennon’s voice, the crow of the rooster! Lennon is showcased again on “Mr. Kite” in which, through the Super 8s, a delightfully clean window is opened onto an early attempt at flanging his voice, becoming a fascinating study in the development of this now-common practice. I have to say, I’ve never heard this disc in quite this way, and I’ve heard it thousands of times. The DeVores produce a level of detail which conveys the spectacular technicolor end-result the Fab Four was attempting in these early days of four-track (!) recording. The DeVores sort it all out, and lay it forth in a deliciously new, reinvigorated fashion…cool trick with a 43-year old, ultra-familiar disc.

For this review, I’ve tried to audition recordings that are often problematic for other speaker designs, recordings featuring harmonically complex instruments, or texturally complex instrumentation to demonstrate the DeVore’s ability to translate these things properly as convincing musical performances. Let it be known that the damn things passed every test.

Another difficult disc is John Handy’s masterpiece “Spanish Lady” from the Recorded Live at the Monterey Jazz Festival LP from 1965. The classic quintet features a very thick sound with drums, bass, guitar, electric violin and Handy’s alto—again, a recording that can easily confuse lesser systems. Jerry Hahn’s rich comping on guitar, Michael White’s powerful fiddling and drummer Terry Clarke’s whirlwind kit playing whip up a maelstrom of extremely hot mid-60s “avant-garde.” No, the DeVores do not tame the music, time has done that, but they do decode the tightly woven blanket of sound in a way that makes each player stand out from the mix. The Gibbons make this disc one more golden oldie to enjoy with a new found clarity.

Clarity. That is the key descriptive here. Have I made my point clear? The DeVores are a winning breed of muscular simian-ity. Hairy-hands down a winner. Regarding the bass output: not to worry, at first the speakers might seem a bit lean, but with proper placement and enough break-in, the things can really get down, but not down and dirty, rather, down and clean.

Further more, it’s worth noting that all my listening was done with a pair of 12 1/2 watt tube amps…not even 13 watts per side! Yet the Super 8s are able to create more than enough volume to hurt even my long-scared percussionist’s ear drums. John DeVore is a tube guy as am I, and has taken special care to ensure his speakers are extremely tube-friendly. I even ran my little three-watt Fi X amp through these dandy speakers to more than pleasurable levels and, again, very few “normal” speakers can do that.

No cowardly lion, the Super 8s may not be king of the jungle, the Silverbacks still deserve that title, but for more modest environs, these smaller DeVore Gibbons perform princely feats at near-pauper prices. I award them five bananas.

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