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Reviewer: Jules Coleman
Sources: Well-Tempered Reference/Well-Tempered Arm/ Roksan Shiraz cartridge; Shindo-Garrard 301/Shindo Mersault RF-773 12" arm/Shindo modified Ortofon SPU classic cartridge; Exemplar/Denon DVD 2900 Universal player
Preamplifier: Shindo Catherine (dual mono, all tube full function with step-up transformer); Auditorium 23 step-up transformer for Denon 103
Amplifiers: Shindo WE 300B Ltd. monoblock; Cr Development Artemis Gold monoblock
Speakers: DeVore Fidelity Silverback Reference [for review]; Horning Agathon Ultimates
Cables: Stealth Indra, M-21 (female/female balanced for Shindo electronics); Shindo silver (female/female balanced); Audience Au24; Audience Au24 phono cable for EMT cartridge; Extreme Phono phono cable; Stealth Hybrid MLT speaker cable; Auditorium 23 speaker cable; Audience Au24 speaker cable; Stealth M-7, van den Hul Mainstream and Shunyata Python [on loan] power cords
Power Conditioner: BPT 3.5 Signature; Shindo Mr. T
Equipment Rack: 2 x Harmonic Resolution Systems M1R; HRS amplifier isolation bases
Room size: 30' w x 18' x 9'

Review Component Pricing: $14,000/pr

The New Benchmark in Dynamic Loudspeakers
Ever wonder what has become of the playmates and classmates of your youth? What about the kid who used to walk around packing not just one but two slide rules? Everybody was certain he'd become an engineer. And the kid who debated every point on every issue with absolutely anyone within earshot? He's got to be a lawyer by now; no way anyone could keep him from a courtroom. How 'bout the kid who, from the moment he woke up to the moment he went to sleep appeared to be engaged in a conversation with himself that was only interrupted occasionally when others entered, then left (their presence, if he took notice of it at all, never amounting to much more than a prop in his self-to-self conversation)? No doubt he's a politician by now - or a Televangelist.

What about that kid who memorized every batting average of every player on the Brooklyn Dodgers, played ball until after dark every night in season and out; who went from school to the gym to play basketball 'til ten at night during the winter, then home for just enough homework to get by? He gave up the dream shared with his father -- of turning major league baseball player -- and became a university professor who listens to sports talk radio and calls his brothers and kids on a daily basis to discuss the fortunes of his beloved sports teams and criticize the manager's and general manager's every move. And, he reviews audio equipment. You just never know, do you?

But what about that kid who used to listen to his mother play piano, professionally with various members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra? The kid who used to lie down under the piano and listen to his mother play for hours on end: that kid. Whatever happened to him?

Well, he picked up an instrument or two -- drums and bass to be exact -- went to the Rhode Island School of Design (following in the footsteps no doubt of the Talking Heads' original cast of characters), has continued to play music professionally as a drummer in several bands; and about 17 years ago started designing and building loudspeakers. That kid became John DeVore, chief designer and president of DeVore Fidelity and among the very few genuinely creative geniuses of loudspeaker design here in the United States. And if life is fair, he will soon be recognized internationally as well as nationally for his work.

John DeVore cuts quite an imposing figure. He's tall (at least 6'6"), slender and projects a youthful image that belies his many years of experience as a professional musician, speaker (and nascent turntable) designer and toiler in two of New York's most well- known audio salons: Stereo Exchange and Sound by Singer. DeVore knows his way around audio, music and design. With twelve years in the biz, seventeen or so in actual construction and design and a life literally at the feet of music and its power, John DeVore may be a relatively new name to high end audio but he is by no means new to it. And much like the man himself, the Silverback Reference's tall, slender and elegant posture gives no immediate indication of their extraordinary sophistication or their nearly flawless and natural way with music.

Until recently, the DeVore line of loudspeakers included two monitors (the Gibbon 3 and 7.1, both designed primarily for use in home theater and smaller rooms), and the small floorstanding, award-winning Gibbon 8 that was his breakthrough product. A new speaker is the Gibbon Super 8, roughly the size of the Gibbon 8 but incorporating the tweeter as well as some of the advanced technology of the Silverback Reference. It is scheduled to be unveiled at the upcoming CES in Las Vegas [see right].

I have had a few opportunities to listen to the speaker as it proceeded from prototype to production and it sounds more like a mini Silverback than a beefed-up Gibbon 8. Currently set to sell at around $4K and like all DeVore loudspeakers beautifully constructed and room and tube friendly, the Super 8 is very likely to set the standard for high-resolution, musically persuasive loudspeakers at its price point.

However good and well received the Gibbon 8s are, listening to them gives no indication of how extraordinary the Silverback Reference is. I first heard the Silverback Reference roughly a year ago in Las Vegas at the CES. Soon thereafter I heard them at In Living Stereo where I had first met the Gibbon 8s, and then again at the Stereophile Show in New York. In three very distinct and challenging rooms and paired with very different electronics, I was duly impressed but not quite in love. I heard sound that I could easily live with but not sound that I would give up my reference speakers for - let alone kill for (metaphorically speaking of course).

Here we are just a few short months later and I have fallen hard for the Silverback Reference. They are my reference dynamic loudspeakers and I would not hesitate to kill to keep them (at least metaphorically speaking and maybe more). To be completely honest, I had no idea when I agreed to review the speakers that I would be embarking on such a transformative voyage. You just never know, do you? This, then, is my audio odyssey, with apologies to Homer (not he of the Simpsons).

The Silverback Reference
The Silverback stands 47.5 inches high. At the front, they measure a bit over 8 inches wide. At the rear, they are nearly 12 inches wide. The side panels, which measure eighteen inches each, flare from front to back, eliminating parallel walls within the cabinet and giving the speakers a narrower-than-actual appearance. Frequency response is given as 20Hz-40kHz; sensitivity is reported to be 91dB at 2.83v at one meter; impedance is said to be pretty much flat at 8 ohms, with a measured minimum of 6.85 at 28Hz. Nothing in my experience with the Silverbacks suggests that these claims are not completely accurate.

The 6.5-inch polycone midrange driver employs a bullet-shaped phase plug and is placed near the speaker top, above the .75 inch treated silk dome tweeter directly below. There are two 8-inch coated-paper cone woofers in each cabinet, mounted on the speaker sides and directly opposite each other. The woofers have very large surrounds and are long-throw designs. There are two large ports at the bottom of the rear. All drivers are designed by DeVore and built according to his specifications.

The front baffle is made up of two individual panels, separated by a machined metal name badge. The upper section supports the midrange and tweeter and is made of a material DeVore calls D-MASS. This D-MASS is also apparent on the cabinet top and, I'm told, used for certain interior baffles as well. John isn't spilling the specifics of his recipe for this stuff but he describes it as a very massive and inert composite material. It looks somewhat like carbon fiber, which John says is similar yet D-MASS is far heavier.

Essentially, he builds the entire midrange enclosure and tweeter housing out of this material. This has a couple of obvious benefits. By virtue of its sheer mass and inertia, it isolates the critical midrange driver from the commotion in the bass cabinet just below. There are many examples of this thinking in the industry, often typified be the much-copied Watt-Puppy layout wherein the tweeter/mid enclosure is actually a separate unit that sits atop the bass cabinet. DeVore's approach has them unified in the same cabinet but isolated by his construction techniques and materials. So he has, in essence, created a cabinet with the benefits of two isolated units but in one integrated and aesthetically pleasing speaker. When I replaced my previous reference loudspeakers with the DeVore, my wife, the Coleman family's resident aesthetician, breathed a great sigh of relief and upon meeting John, thanked him profusely for creating a speaker that looks as good as it sounds.

With the tweeter, DeVore takes this isolation technique one step further. The tweeter is actually suspended in its own triangulated chamber that's machined out of a solid block of this material. He says it was the only way to get his tweeter to reproduce cleanly all the way up to 40kHz.

The bass cabinet takes up most of the speaker and is made up of 4 individually tuned sub-enclosures. The woofers themselves are not attached to the speaker sidewalls at all but to a separate housing mounted into the large cabinet and venting into the other chambers through tuned openings. The woofers operate in the now familiar push-push configuration first made popular by some of Audio Physic's models of a few years ago. This layout keeps the front baffle nice and narrow to benefit imaging precision. Because the woofers are facing away from each, their forces exerted on the cabinet cancel out, eliminating any rocking motion that could otherwise occur in as tall and narrow a speaker as this.