In the mid-2000s, I worked at a “white-shoe” law firm on Wall Street, ran with renegades, and fancied myself a writer. Fast-forward some 18 years. The firm, like many cash-flush NYC firms, has moved to midtown and I’ve moved on. Those renegades are now respected members and players in the hi-fi community. I still fancy myself a writer.
Back then, I made friends with a big-eared clique that would influence my future in hi-fi: audio writer Michael Lavorgna (currently editor at TwitteringMachines.com); NYU law professor Jules Coleman; former Stereophile deputy editor and current AudioQuest director of communications Stephen Mejias; record-industry veteran Andrew Klein; composer Dan Cooper; illustrator Jeff Wong; vacuum-coffeemachine collector and audiophile Margery Budoff, who regrettably passed in 2015; Tone Imports’ Jonathan Halpern; and DeVore Fidelity proprietor-designer John DeVore.
Members of that roving gang typically met at Steven Mishoe’s Greenwich Village hi-fi salon In Living Stereo, where new equipment from Art Audio, Cairn Audio, Conrad Johnson, Nottingham Analogue, Pathos Acoustics, Komuro, and Verity Audio was the cause of much fascination. ILS was the first US dealer for several important brands, including Leben, Shindo, and DeVore Fidelity.
A few years before, DeVore Fidelity had set up shop in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, the 220-year-old, 225-acre industrial site along the Brooklyn waterfront owned since the early 1970s by the city of New York. Formerly the birthplace of the USS Arizona and USS Connecticut, in the very early 2000s the Navy Yard was a collapsed, wrecked, rancid ruin. I loved the corroding behemoth: the colossal decomposing construction sheds, disintegrating ’50s-era machinery rotting into (probably) contaminated earth, the ghost signs and ghost buildings that held many secrets, the decrepit nearby seaman’s bars. Here was a major part of New York’s and the America’s manufacturing and maritime history left to die many years ago like Captain Scott on the South Pole and now, slowly, starting to revive. DeVore’s new Navy Yard facility is where our gang decamped.
Not long after moving in, DeVore built his famous Monkeyhaus, a listening room and manufacturing center where this clan listened intently to music in the central listening room as, in the adjacent factory space during these off-hours events, booze was imbibed, cigars smoked, and pizza inhaled. Old Coot and LuluBear, the factory cats, kept an eye out for shenanigans. All genres of music were encouraged, as long as they were played on vinyl, often played through prototype amplifiers and speakers and John DeVore’s Frankenstein turntable assembled from parts by Eminent Technology, Empire, Roksan, SME, VPI, and Well Tempered.
After hearing DeVore’s Gibbon 7.1 in 2005, I reviewed that speaker for 6 Moons. I bought a pair of Gibbon Super 8s later that year, awarding them “Best of 2005” at 6 Moons. In 2007, I reviewed and bought a pair of Gibbon Nines and reviewed the standmount Gibbon 3XL, awarding it a Blue Moon Award. I purchased a pair of Orangutan O/93s, followed by Orangutan O/96s. I have a long and positive history with DeVore Fidelity products and their designer, which made me keen to try his latest creation, the Orangutan O/baby ($5700/pair).
As you’d expect from its name, the O/baby is smaller than the other, older Orangutans, but it’s bigger than you might think, standing 14.75″ wide, 9.75″ deep, and 35″ tall when sitting on its custom, dedicated highchair (aka speaker stand). Each O/baby weighs about 40lb, a heavy baby. Key parts include a 0.75″ horn-loaded textile-dome tweeter from Denmark’s Vifa and a 7″ SEAS paper woofer from Norway, both made to DeVore’s specifications. John is always tight-lipped regarding his crossover designs (and crossover points), but he will yack copiously about the tweeter and woofer implementation.
“Vifa makes the dome/coil/magnet assembly of the tweeter, which I originally designed for the supertweeter in the O/Reference,” DeVore said. “During the COVID slowdown, I started tinkering with the idea of a least-expensive Orangutan speaker model. This led to using the supertweeter mechanism from the O/Reference minus all its pricey bronze mounts and horn. In order for Vifa to make those tweeters for us, we had to order 1000. Even in my wildest dreams, I am never going to sell 500 pairs of O/Reference, so let’s do some repurposing! I redesigned the horn profile to work lower in frequency, as a tweeter instead of a supertweeter, and machined that horn right into the front baffle to save on manufacturing cost.”
What’s custom about the O/baby’s 7″ SEAS woofer? “Everything,” DeVore said. “Only the cast chassis is an off-the-shelf part. The cone is made from the same German paper as the rest of the Orangutan woofers. Unlike the other O/woofers, the O/baby woofer does not have a phase plug; instead it has a rigid paper dustcap. The voicecoil is similar to those on the other O/woofers but wound for 8 ohms instead of 1012 ohms to make it a more universal impedance load for amplifiers.”
The drivers are positioned close together at the top of the cabinet and intended to fire directly at your ears, so toe them in and arrange them so that you can just see the tops of the cabinets, although, within limits, listening height isn’t critical. “I mount the tweeter as close to the woofer in all my designs. … Getting the treble and upper-midrange drivers close together generally means the tonal balance will change less as the listener moves around, all else being equal. The fact that the drivers are so close in the O/baby means the listener can be closer to the speaker, as close as 1.52′, compared to the minimum 6.5′ required by the O/93 and O/96.”
The internal wiring, DeVore told me, is “a combination of the same aerated-Tefloninsulated silver/copper wire I designed for the rest of our models and a classic Western Electricstyle twisted pair for the woofer.” The binding posts are machined from brass and gold-plated.
The O/baby closely resembles the larger Orangutan speakers. Needless to say, the resemblance isn’t skin-deepyet the route from those earlier Os to the O/baby wasn’t as straight as you might presume. “I didn’t start out to make a miniature O/96. The micr/O”a 10″ sealed cube using the same drivers as the O/baby”was the original concept,” DeVore said. “That project was inspired by a pair of speakers I threw together to appease an employee complaining that she had no good sound out in the assembly area. This sparked the concept of a new, more affordable ‘O’ model. Working with SEAS, as always, I sent them designs for all manner of 7″ and 8.5″ woofer variants to prototype, using whizzer-cones, phase-plugs, lossy dustcaps, etc. When that little 7″ with the hard-paper dust cap arrived, I loved the look right away. After burning them in, running full measurements, and playing with some simulations, I realized that not only were these the likely solution for the sealed cube; they would also fully blossom in a bass-reflex [speaker] tuned like a mini O/96. Thus the O/baby was born, and the new speaker project turned out to be twins!”
The front baffle of the O/baby’s cabinetmade, with the custom stands, by Anthony Abbate’s Box Furniture Co.consists of a 0.75″-thick birch-ply slab veneered with gorgeous white oak. The stands are handmade, with no fasteners, also from white oak to match the baffle. The box is finished in catalyzed (two-component) polyurethane. Mounted on its optional stand, the O/baby reminds me of an Arts & Crafts house: The gently splayed legs give the speaker a homey yet regal appearance.
Were sacrifices required to develop a smaller, cheaper ape? Of course. “Compared to the O/96, the O/baby cabinets are much less expensive to make and ‘finish,'” DeVore said. “The cabinets are made from a high-recycled-content MDF made in Europe with black pigment mixed into the pulp to make the material itself have that charcoal gray color. While this is far more expensive than standard MDF, it ends up saving costs in production, as there is no veneering the panels and no staining. We just clearcoat the gray material to get the finished product.” Functionally, “the smaller woofer is less expensive and requires a smaller internal volume to work optimally,” DeVore said. The O/baby is not as sensitive as the bigger Orangutan speakers, and it won’t play as loud.
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63 Flushing Ave., Unit 259, Building 280, Suite 510
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