In telling a friend about the sound of DeVore Fidelity’s Orangutan O/96s I mentioned that John DeVore had done an amazing job with the Orangutan speakers of making a modern speaker that had many of the virtues of vintage speakers. He asked what I meant by that and suggested that I write it down. So I thought that would be a good place to start the review of the DeVore Orangutan O/96s. It also gives me something to do while I’m listening to the O/96s and taking notes.
Most of the high-end audio industry, especially the mainstream companies are dominated by products that seem to be chasing the latest technologies. This not only applies to things like digital and Class D amps, but even in the world of tube amplification, analogue playback systems, and speakers. We see speakers being made whose cabinets are made of space age composites and drivers made of ceramic, diamonds, kevlar, and many other modern high tech materials.
With all this new and greatest technology there is still a devoted group of audiophiles and music lovers who love SET amps that go back in design to the 30s. They listen to music on turntables, and even listen to lots of mono recordings. There are even a good number of audiophiles who are returning to vintage products looking for a more emotionally involving sound. The good news for that group is that John DeVore has good friends who are part of that group and decided to make a modern speaker that meets those needs.
To help myself think about my friend’s question I’d like to take a little trip down memory lane of the speakers I have owned. To the best of my memory I have owned 11 different speakers in the last 33 years. In high school I owned a pair of KLH 17s which I kept until Harry Person said I needed some Double Advents. I would have probably kept the Advents longer, but not long afterwards I heard a pair of Quad ESLs; we now call them 57s.
I ended up with a stacked-set of the 57s and listened to Quads for about seven years until we moved across country to a small house. At this same time I had discovered speakers that imaged and created soundstages where instruments and vocals seemed to float in space behind the speakers. So I went through a few good speakers: Linn Kans, Vandersteen 2s, Spica Angeles, and settled for Clestion SL700s for a few years. In the end I found most of these speakers boring as could be attested to by how short a time I kept them.
Then I discovered 300B SET amps and bought a pair of Klipsch Fortes. This lead me down a new road for a few years. I have a 300B amp to this day and I moved from the Klipsch to the Audio Note E for about two years and then spent about a year with the Iknonoklast 3. Then seven years ago I settled on a pair of Teresonic Ingenium XR with Lowther DX 4 silver drivers. I have owned these for the past seven years about the same amount of time I owned the Quad 57.
From this little self-therapy session I think it is safe to say that myself and probably most everyone who has ever owned Quad 57 or Lowther seem to be in a constant hunt of how we can find speakers or improve them so that we get to keep the glorious sound but fix their shortcomings. I’ll get back to this in Part 2 of the review. By the way I’m not implying that Quad 57 and Lowther sound the same. In fact, the Teresonic speakers take the Lowther beyond what stacked Quad 57s could do. Still, they both have a magic in the midrange that draws you into the music.
I need to admit that it seems to me that the best, not all but the best, vintage speakers play music with an emotionally involving way that most modern speakers, despite all their good points seem to miss. I should point out that this doesn’t apply to full range planar speakers, but it does apply to most hybrids with cone woofers.
To me, the biggest difference between vintage and modern speakers is how the sound comes out of the speakers. Most modern speakers seem to have to work hard to get the sound out of the cabinet. It’s like it’s being pumped out in the bass and squeezed out in the midrange and treble. By contrast, whether we are talking about Altec, Lowther, RCA LC-1, Tannoy, Western Electric, or in their own different way stacked Quad 57s, the best vintage speakers seem to let the sound just flow out into the room. They don’t seem to pump or squeeze the music out. This results in a sound that produces a big, immediate, visceral sound, even though they may give up some of the frequency extremes.
The treble of the vintage speakers by comparison is rolled off, but often quite natural sounding. In the midrange where most of the music lives, the sound is more alive and forward sounding with the vintage speakers. The modern speakers have a smoother, less forward sounding midrange. This can be easily heard in how the two different kinds of speakers soundstage and image.
The best modern speakers produce a soundstage that seems to come from an imaginary line behind the speakers and extends wider than the placement of the speakers. If you can bring the speakers far enough out from the rear wall it’s actually seems that no music is coming out from the speakers, but being placed behind them. The instruments and voices seem to float in space like one of those painting of notes or singers done on black velvet.
The best vintage speakers produce a soundstage that starts at a not-so-imaginary line slightly in front of the speakers. They produce what I call a coherent soundstage. It’s three dimensional, has great scale, and while you can hear the individual instruments and voices they come at you in a more holistic sense.
If you have ever heard any of the classic Tannoys, such as the Golds or Churchills you probably experienced the beautiful tone and visceral impact these speakers create. Yes, they have their limitations in many areas, but these two things will make you wish you could get that from your system. I think at least to some extent this sound comes from the different way modern speakers produce bass.
The difference between modern audiophile bass and a vintage bass sound is really interesting. Let me just list a few ways they differ. Modern audiophile bass is supposed to be really tight, has lots of punch, and slam. Modern audiophile speakers also measure deeper but accomplish this by using multiple, smaller drivers. Which is why today’s audiophiles are always shocked that some vintage speakers with a 15-inch woofer only plays down to 40 or 50Hz.
With the best vintage speakers the bass sound is bigger, warmer, moves more air, and most of all builds a foundation that the rest of the music moves on. Vintage speakers, I assume because of bigger drivers mounted on larger baffles seem to me to move more air in the 50Hz to 100Hz area, which is an area where a lot of large instruments also move a lot of air.
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