In 2008, a pair of DeVore Fidelity’s Gibbon Nine loudspeakers arrived at my home for a Follow-Up review. Within weeks, I wrote a check for them. That put me in good company: Several other reviewers who reviewed the Nines also bought their review pairs.
Ten years later, the Gibbon Nines are still my main speakers. That’s the longest I’ve ever kept a pair of speakers in my main system, not counting the Polk Audio 7Bs I bought in 1980, when I was 16.
In 2012—four years after buying the Nines and 32 years after buying the 7Bs—I caught wind of an apparent successor, the Gibbon X (X as in 10). Assuming that a Gibbon X would provide that Gibbon Nine sound but more of it, I arranged to review it as soon as the design was finalized and the speaker was in production.
Here’s something I respect about DeVore Fidelity and other boutique audio companies: They focus more on their craft than on market expedience. Their release schedules are dictated not by the market but by when a new component is ready. It took three more years for DeVore to finish the Gibbon X, during which time it continued to evolve. By the time the production X was released, in late 2015, it was radically different from the 2012 version. Indeed, designer John DeVore‘s very ambitions for it had changed.
The first time I (briefly) heard the Gibbon X was in December 2015, at a launch event at DeVore dealer In Living Stereo, in New York’s Greenwich Village. The Xes, I wrote, approach the DeVore house sound “from the modern side of the orbit’s arc, with ample deep bass, plenty of air and sparkle, a tall and deep soundstage, and imaging well outside the speakers, while still managing to remain earthy and coherent.” It turned out that that impression wasn’t far off.
The Island of Dr. DeVore
At the Monkeyhaus—founder and designer John DeVore’s office, factory, and laboratory in the Brooklyn Navy Yard—lineages get mixed up. Gibbons sire Orangutans, which beget newer, bigger Gibbons, as the shop’s inscrutable felines look on.
While the Gibbon X was in development, DeVore created the Orangutan series—first the O/96 ($12,000/pair), then the similar but more affordable O/93 ($8400/pair). At that launch event, DeVore told me that, although they’re very different in appearance and execution, the O/93 was the Gibbon Nine’s true successor, with similar sonic ambitions and a price just a bit higher than the Nine’s (footnote 1). Gibbon begat Orangutan.
Meanwhile, DeVore discontinued the biggest ape in his zoo, the Silverback Reference, which Michael Fremer reviewed in 2006. DeVore’s hill now had no king.
Also meanwhile, the Gibbon X was spending time in the weight room. By the time it was released, at $15,890/pair, it was a big speaker, successor not to the Nine but to the Silverback, to which it’s similar in size, weight, and sound: full-range, uncompromising, unapologetic, revealing. Gorilla begets Gibbon—the latter technically not even one of the great apes—and the Gibbon becomes top dog. Except for the weird sex, it could be a Disney film.
The Gibbon X’s genealogy may be confusing, but a close look and listen make it clear who its real father is: John DeVore. Like its daddy, it’s tall: 46″ in spiked heels (not that JD wears spiked heels). According to the speaker’s published specifications, the X is sensitive (91.5dB/W/m) and an easy load (nominal impedance: 8.5 ohms). Design-wise, it combines an old-school aesthetic with environmentally friendly materials—not hemp cones with granola surrounds, but paper, metal, and rubber—with engineering detail and a subjective approach to sonics.
At the launch event, DeVore told me about his process. “It’s literally this: I’m sitting down and I play all my favorite records, and it either sounds right, or it sounds wrong and I have to keep working.” Survival of the fittest, with JD as daddy or god. Call it guided evolution.
Like other DeVore speakers, the Gibbon X has an enclosure made of wood, with a (renewable) bamboo outer shell and front and rear panels of glossily painted MDF. But the bamboo box you see is not the speaker’s main mechanical structure: inside those pretty panels is a complex enclosure made of plywood and divided into four chambers.
The recessed, slightly horn-loaded tweeter is suspended, for mechanical isolation, in its own solid block of wood, with a thicker-than-usual (and heavier) front plate made of the zinc alloy Zamak to shift the center of mass toward the baffle for more effective suspension, hence greater isolation, hence improved tweeter performance.
Of the X’s drivers, the tweeter is the most radical departure. “My concept was a hybrid of the older Silverback tweeter and the Orangutan tweeter,” DeVore told me. He wanted to combine the Silverback’s speed and extension with the Orangutan’s dynamic range and low distortion. “I was able to really optimize the top couple of octaves of the dome, coil, and motor, and then gently horn-load the lower range to bring it down to the midrange with a dynamic range much more in sync with the 7″ midrange cone.” The resulting loudspeaker is “much more seamless and alive” than the Silverback was, “with a greater sense that the details presented are fully integrated with the other drivers to paint a far more vivid image of the recording.”
The midrange cone fires from a triangular top chamber isolated from the lower chambers by a thick layer of plywood, which provides structural integrity and damps vibrations in the walls of the box. In the chamber below are two opposite-firing 9″ woofers. The woofers and midrange “are direct evolutions of the corresponding drivers in the Silverback Reference,” DeVore told me. The woofers are mounted directly to the speaker’s internal plywood structure, not to the exterior bamboo walls. Such a woofer configuration—in phase, opposite-firing—can increase output by as much as 6dB due to a combination of magnetic and acoustical effects, while reducing cabinet motion.
This chamber is divided from the one below it by another rigid, horizontal plywood crosspiece, positioned to damp vibrations in the side panels but penetrated by holes that permit vibrating air to pass through. In this, the third chamber down, the main plywood structure has no outer walls—just the pretty bamboo you see from the outside. The bamboo is allowed to vibrate. Each sidewall is tuned differently, DeVore told me, by treating its inner surface with vibration-modifying materials.
The fourth and lowest chamber, which contains two rear-firing ports tuned to somewhere in the lower 30Hz range, is again rigid, with inner plywood and outer walls all around.
Frequencies and phenotypes
As I moved the Gibbon Xes around my listening room, I learned that they love space. Moving an X away from the wall lets the sound relax and stretch out. The sounds these speakers produce should fill any space you put them in, no matter how large.
My listening room isn’t small—32′ long by 24′ at its widest—but the space must be shared with other activities of daily living: live music (a piano with occasional visiting string players), dining (a 5′-long table with chairs), reading and entertaining visitors (sofas, tables, more chairs), and thinking (many book and record shelves). The stereo system is confined to a corner in an area roughly 18′ square—but of course, the pressure waves the speakers produce are free to propagate through the entire space.
Footnote 1: DeVore has since released the Super Nine, which resembles the Nine both sonically and visually.