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Reviewer: Mike Healey
Source: Audio Refinement CD player, Bel Canto Design DAC2, Technics turntable
Preamp/Integrated: Audio Refinement Complete integrated, BVaudio P1 preamplifier
Amp: BVaudio PA300 stereo amplifier
Speakers: Vienna Acoustics Haydn, Mark & Daniel Ruby Maximus Monitor loudspeaker [for review], REL R-305 subwoofer [for review]
Cables: Analysis Plus Oval 12 speaker cables, Analysis Plus Oval One interconnects, Analysis Plus Digital Oval, 2 x Audio Magic Xstream power cables, 2 x Shunyata Research DiamondBack power cables, 2 x Audio Magic Xstream loudspeaker cables
Stands: Sumiko Foster & Lowell Standards, StudioTech Ultra 5-shelf audio rack
Powerline conditioning: Shunyata Guardian 4-HT
Sundry accessories: Cardas Signature RCA caps, BVaudio SR-1, Sound Refiner, EquaRack footers [set of six for review]
Room size: 11' x 17' with 9' vaulted ceilings
Review component retail: $1995/pair, grilles are available on request for an additional $35/pair
We have all heard of audiophiles who change their systems fairly regularly. I am using the masculine pronoun because this is the behavior of typical playboys. They have a few recordings they enjoy listening to but most of the time is spent listening for something different – something new. Like a playboy constantly looking for different women to date, these audiophiles seem to collect equipment like trophies. There's nothing wrong with gear hopping (switching out components annually), but what about the people looking for Mr. (or Mrs.) Right? Are there any people who want a system for life? I mean that in a good way, not as a prison sentence. How will you know when the time is right to lay down your cards, cash in your chips and retire with your honey to an island in the pacific?

Reviewers have to analyze and rationalize why a reader might want to purchase a product like a match making service for audiophile lonely hearts. However, a reviewer can't peer into the heart of each reader to know what will musically push his or her buttons. So we have to bare our own hearts and describe what we like. Right now, I am grinning like a cat that swallowed a parakeet. Today's review subject pushed all the right buttons for me. Not just as a reviewer but as a human being (some reviewers are, you know).

The DeVore Fidelity Gibbon 3 loudspeakers could be passed over by audio playboys looking for new equipment instead of equipment to live with. The price is not shocking enough and the appearance is attractive without resorting to piano-gloss glitz. The Gibbon 3 loudspeakers are a two-way ported box loudspeaker with a 1" silk dome tweeter and a 4.5" hand-coated paper mid-woofer driver. Sensitivity is 86dB and impedance is 8 ohms. Earlier versions had two small ports in front. The model now includes a single port in the back of each speaker (although the front ports are still an option for those who need to place the speakers on bookshelves). John DeVore also told me that the Gibbon 3 cabinets have been re-tuned and the crossover updated with tricks learned during development of the Silverback and Super 8 loudspeakers. The beautiful Cherry finish is standard for the Gibbon 3. The review samples had a very attractive cherry veneer on every side of the cabinet. Dimensions are 12.5" high x 6.5" wide x 9.5" deep. The speakers are very solid and well-built but lighter than my reference bookshelf speakers. This was only slightly problematic in that the Gibbon 3s did not stick to the rubber mat on the top of my Foster and Lowell speaker stands. I had to be careful to hold the speaker and the top of the stands when toeing-in so as not to drop the boxes or impale my feet with the carpet spikes on the stands.

The single pair of Cardas speaker connectors are macho chunks of solid copper and must cost a pretty penny but are worth it when you consider that the more common loudspeaker connectors in this league are gold-plate-over-brass, not the best conductor. Grilles are available and then magnetically attach to small pieces of iron embedded underneath the veneer. However, I was not impressed with their visual appearance and their audio performance was poor. The speakers are attractive enough without them.

The brief literature shipping with the Gibbon 3s suggests that they can be driven by tube amplification since their power rating is between 10-100 watts. I do not have any tube equipment but the 3s were easy to drive with my 50wpc integrated amp while enjoying the extra juice of the BVaudio PA-300 amplifier. The frequency response is 45Hz to 30kHz. For a bookshelf speaker with a 4.5" mid/woofer, 45Hz is pretty low so I expected them to swing with Jazz and Rock, not just chamber music.

The Gibbons climbed right atop my Foster and Lowell speaker
stands and settled into position 2.5 feet from the rear wall and 3 feet from the side walls. Compared to where I usually place the Vienna Acoustics Haydns, that's a little closer together and a little closer to the rear wall. The Gibbon 3s also liked toe-in –- more than I use with my own speakers -– so the drivers pointed directly towards the listening position.

Stands between 24 and 28 inches tall are mandatory for the best sound. If you slouch in your listening chair, I recommend stands closer to 24 inches tall to keep the tweeters at ear level. DeVore Fidelity doesn't produce their own stands, probably because so many other manufacturers already do. The Foster and Lowell loudspeaker stands I have are sand-fillable steel pillars with carpet piercing spikes and a rubber mat to connect the speaker to the top plate. Plan on spending an additional $200-$500 for a solid pair of attractive loudspeaker stands. Don't compromise where your speakers are concerned.

Primate Study
When music started to play through the Gibbon 3s, I felt reacquainted with an old friend. I wasn't just hearing a really good component. I was hearing something that many state-of-the-art components miss nowadays - that vital sense of flow, as though the entire musical experience just poured out uninhibited into your listening area. The artists on the other end of the recordings had something to say so I spent the first night simply listening. Of course, the morning after revealed that the Gibbon 3 loudspeakers were not perfect. However, their musical qualities were so satisfying that it was very challenging for me to evaluate them objectively on their technical merits. Say you meet someone you immediately connect with. Conversation flows with ease and ideas are
pulled from the heavens. Do you then point out flaws in their physical nature or condemn them for their quirks? Of course not! However, this rude behavior is required of reviewers so I'll get on with it.

The Gibbon 3s can play loudly without distortion but are probably not the best choice for fans of heavy metal and some of the noisier varieties of electronic music. When I really cranked the volume for the crunchy guitars on my favorite Korn CD [Take a Look in the Mirror, Epic 33524 2003], the Gibbon 3s rendered all epithets with appropriate vitriol. However, they were missing the leading edge crash from the cymbals and the low growl from the guitars and percussion was a little lighter than I am used to hearing. Even at more sensible listening levels, the guitars didn't sizzle with the same electricity as if a guitar amp would blow at any second. The visceral impact of this recording was decreased. The pow and wow crowd should probably look elsewhere; or add a subwoofer.

However, don't let this give you the impression that these speakers are only for whispered vocals and brushes on cymbals. Several times my daughter asked me to turn the music down so she could sleep. She sleeps with her door closed. I was playing Maria Bethania at the time [Que Falta Você Me Faz Biscoito, Fino BR 571 2005], certainly a far cry from Nu-Metal! Maria's gorgeously deep singing voice was delivered with heartfelt realism. I could hear the shape of her mouth as she sang, as well as the way her singing trailed off in the acoustic space on the recording. The backing strings and sonorous piano simply added to the heady experience of the songs and the poetry of Vinicius de Moraes. I am mentioning this to make the point that the Gibbon 3s will play loud but they are not as satisfying at woo-hoo levels. The Gibbons are DeF, not deaf.

Classical music was also rendered with satisfying realism. When I played "Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor" from Bach Transcriptions [Chandos 9835 2000], I was surprised by how low the Gibbon 3s could reach. They weren't able to move enough air to make hard rock sound exciting but they delivered a surprising amount of depth from the church organ pedal notes in this transcription by Respighi. Symphonic strings sounded excellent and I could hear the bowing as the violins played cascading notes. Woodwinds sounded significantly better with the Gibbon 3 loudspeakers than with my reference speakers although the horns could have used more leading-edge bite. Micro- and macro-dynamics were excellent and solo voices and stringed instruments had terrific presence in the midrange. Violins were truthfully represented as they soothed in the lower frequencies and
soared to the heavens. The soundstage was extended just beyond the loudspeakers. The depth of the sonic image successfully gave the illusion of acoustic space as it probably exists on the recording.

The Gibbon 3s have a very truthful and neutral sound, similar to the Meadowlark Kestrels I reviewed years ago - minus the frequency extension of the floorstanding loudspeakers. The musical window is smaller but the sonic picture was just as clear. Compared with my Haydns, solo voices sounded more natural with the Gibbon 3s. Sibilants were clear without sounding spitty (over-emphasized detail) or soggy (rounded off detail). My Vienna Acoustics loudspeakers can sometimes overdo the higher frequencies. When I played The Elders Speak [Makoche 4016425 1998], the Gibbon 3s accurately represented Gourd Woman's slightly slurred consonants as she told the story of "The Woman Who Turned Herself to Stone". The male voice of Eagle Heart from the same recording sounded appropriately deep and full without becoming chesty or boomy.

The midrange of the Gibbon 3 loudspeakers was entrancing. Vocals and solo acoustic instruments sounded as detailed as if they were in the room instead of just floating between the speakers. Perhaps the more extended dynamics of my Haydn loudspeakers diminishes the effect of the midrange (which is excellent), but the Gibbon 3s sounded better in this part of the spectrum. The Gibbon 3s also sounded more truthful because I didn't hear the bump in the upper midrange that the Haydns produce to sound more forward.

For fun, I played "Wave over Wave" from Great Big Sea's album Up [WEA 12277 1995]. This band is a Celtic folk/rock hybrid from Newfoundland. The music is played with a spirit of gleeful fun that makes the listener want to join in. I thought about attempting to play the bodhran while listening but then thought better of it. The excellent imaging of the Gibbon 3 loudspeakers correctly placed the male voices across the soundstage. I could also tell that the bodhran was miked properly. Some recordings make too much of the Irish drum so it sounds more like an enormous Japanese drum than a small hand-held drum that could be played by your beer-swilling neighbor. When playing "The Chemical Worker's Song", my ears perked up when I heard the side of the bodhran struck with the tipper (the drum stick). The sound was appropriately woody with enough transient detail to startle.

The gibbon monkey is a good metaphor for the best qualities of this loudspeaker: small, solid, nimble, with
a deft touch for details (no sharp claws) and a surprisingly wide reach in terms of soundstage. While the toe-in encouraged the best sound, the speakers did not require perfect posture in the sweet spot. Some speakers are so finicky that if you sit a few inches off center, the soundstage collapses. The Gibbon 3s are a good choice for people who like to share the sweet spot with others.

The top-to-bottom presentation of these speakers reminded me of the single driver designs I heard at CES last year; immediate and real, with truthful timbre. Loudspeaker designers have to choose drivers that sound musical together and create a unified sound that is neutral and flat. The more drivers in a design, the more difficult it is to create this unified sound. This was the weakness of the last pair of speakers I reviewed. The tweeters were excellent and the woofers were very good but they did not sound convincing together. The Gibbon 3s did not over-emphasize certain frequencies at the expense of others. While these are not full-range speakers, their limited range was presented evenly without bumps or gaps.

Musically, the Gibbon 3s were a welcome retreat from the audiophile kingdom. They were not predatory speakers demanding the raw meat of a high-powered amp or roaring the listener back into an adjacent room. Of course, the Gibbon 3s weren't timid either. They fit in so well with my system that I didn't miss my reference speakers. I love my Haydn bookshelf speakers, imperfections and all. The Gibbon 3s were just as easy to love.

As seen on TV
Oddly enough, Srajan's industry feature on the merits of two-channel (or even 2.1) home theater came after I already tested the Gibbon 3s connected to the TV and receiver in the bedroom. I'm not going to claim to be a home theater buff; however, my wife and I do enjoy movies - especially movies made before 1947. No multi-channel explosions or bowel-loosening sub frequencies for us! "Mostly monaural" is our home theater mantra which points at the Achilles heel of movie theaters and home theater systems - dialogue. Guess what Gibbons do best in a two-channel entertainment system? The boozy banter in our favorite Thin Man movies [The Complete Thin Man Collection Turner Entertainment 67399 2005] was rendered clearly, without over-emphasis of sibilants. No hissing 's' sounds. The Gibbons also avoided adding 10lbs of chestiness to the dialog although there was plenty of body on male and female voices.

When we switched to one of our favorite TV detective shows from the '70s [The Rockford Files Season One Universal 84822 2005], Jim Rockford's gravelly quips were also clearly understood and my wife and I particularly enjoyed listening to Rockford's now-archaic phone message machine. [For our younger readers, imagine a voice mail system the size of a PS2 that recorded messages on magnetic tape.] The excellent imaging of the Gibbon3 speakers put the center-fill right in front of our TV. A ghost center channel - how sweet is that? Readers with surround sound systems would probably relegate the Gibbon 3s to undignified rear-channel duties but that misses out on the unique musicality of these well-designed bookshelf speakers. There is a trade-off between music and movies. For my 1 and 2 channel tastes, the Gibbon 3s were an excellent choice!

Google for gibbons and what do you get?
This was not just a case of love at first hearing. I lived with these speakers long enough to pass through the first pangs of love and now sincerely regret having to send them back to the manufacturer. The Gibbon 3 loudspeakers successfully conveyed the nature of music with all of the endearing characteristics of 2-way bookshelf speakers: excellent imaging, an articulate midrange and non-fatiguing high frequencies. The Gibbon 3s reminded me of a pair of Rogers LS 3/5As I heard at a friend's house because the music simply flowed from the source and I wanted to drink (from this source, not the bottle) for hours.

Having the Gibbon 3s in house really made me regret not owning a better turntable because the sonic strengths of the Gibbon 3 speakers would certainly compliment an all-analog system. Matching the Gibbon 3 speakers with a turntable like the GR-1 reviewed last year (there is a GR1.2 that costs even less and includes the same cartridge) combined with a 50wpc integrated amplifier and affordable cabling might be enough to make anyone under 25 trade up their music-of-convenience for music-for-the-soul. And unlike the iPod with ear buds, you don't have to damage your hearing to enjoy it.

The Gibbon 3 loudspeakers are not for the gear-hopping audiophiles mentioned in the introduction. The Gibbon 3s are for the late-night addicts - people who sit and listen to one album, then another and finally one more, until they announce, "Whoops! It's past midnight! I have to get up for work tomorrow." You know who you are. Bass freaks will demand a subwoofer. But adding more drivers might tamper with the best quality of the Gibbon 3s - the midrange. In this age of high resolutions wrapped in lossless packaging, a good midrange is an endangered species worth protecting and preserving.

If you are a music lover on a budget or with a listening space that does not allow room for multi-driver monoliths, the Gibbon 3 loudspeakers can deliver most of what you really want. Vocals sound gorgeous and strings detailed and clear. Personally, I would be hard-pressed to leave any room where these speakers are playing. They leave your music with a sense of dignity by avoiding hyper-detailed close-up shots and artificially enhanced lower mids – as if your recordings needed plastic surgery to sound their best. A two-way speaker that shares musical characteristics with single driver designs (without their drawbacks) is unique and desirable. Even for those who are not on a budget, the Gibbon 3 loudspeakers are worth an in-home audition. Highly recommended!

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