While sensitive music lovers don’t advocate skinning felines, the audiophiles among them would readily admit that there’s more one way to “skin” a loudspeaker. In fact, there are innumerable ways, all based on the designer’s end goal. Is the aim to fill a stadium-sized listening room with music, or an intimate space where the listener sits mere feet away from the speakers and enjoys a near-field, immersive experience? Is reproducing the stentorian bass of a pipe organ the main objective, or is replicating the speed and percussive force of a jazz combo the order of the day? Is the crystalline clarity of a solo voice paramount, or is the full power of a Marshall stack just what the doctor ordered? Or does the designer go for it all?
Each loudspeaker design brief begins with the choice of transducers. Are they electro-dynamic or electrostatic, cone or planar, horn-loaded compression drivers, or another novel air-moving device? Enclosure size and construction have everything to do with performance, and price. Ultimately, no single speaker does it all, though some come remarkably close to checking all the boxes. There’s no substitute for listening, and if you like what you hear, no wrong choice, either. These three loudspeakers take wildly different approaches in the way they make music, and each is highly recommended.
DeVore Fidelity Orangutan O/baby
Brooklyn-based manufacturer John DeVore established a reputation in high-end-audio circles for making loudspeakers of remarkable clarity and naturalness. DeVore Fidelity has two series, the Gibbon and the Orangutan, the latter of which is a line of particularly efficient designs well-suited for use with low-powered tube amplifiers. Of these, the Orangutan O/96 has developed a cult following for its ability to render instruments and voices with exceeding finesse and detail.
The same exquisite sonic signature is found in the Orangutan O/baby— essentially a miniaturized O/96 that uses a horn-loaded textile-dome tweeter and a new seven-inch woofer. The small cabinets—just 35 inches tall with the optional stands—belie the respectable frequency-response range of 38 Hz to 25 kHz. And with a benign eight-ohm impedance and 90 dB efficiency, the O/ baby, available for $5,700 per pair, can really wail with only a dollop of amp power.
This is the loudspeaker that audio pioneer Paul Klipsch always wanted to build but was never able to bring to market. In the spirit of its late founder, his eponymous atelier has released the Jubilee, priced at $36,000 per pair. Standing nearly six feet tall and weighing more than 400 pounds, it dwarfs even the gargantuan Klipschorn, the company’s standard-bearer since 1946. The speaker’s incredible dynamic capability results from the acoustic properties inherent in a horn-loaded design, with efficiency up to 20 times greater than conventional systems and resulting in concert-hall volumes from only a few watts of amplifier power.
The Jubilee’s magic trick is its ability to create the illusion of a live performance. Two 12-inch fiber-composite cone woofers dip all the way down to 18 Hz, while crossover occurs at a low 340 Hz—eliminating the need for a midrange driver—to a five-inch compression driver firing through an enormous horn tuned for balanced dispersion. An outboard active crossover network with digital signal processing tailors equalization for optimal sound.
Designer Daniel Fajkis doesn’t like standing waves, those internal reflections common to parallel-sided loudspeaker cabinets that can cause all types of auditory mischief, including distortion and frequency-response anomalies. To combat the problem, his Malbork Warsaw (named in honor of Fajkis’s Polish heritage) begins life as 220 pounds of aluminum blanks that require three weeks of CNC machining to render a single unit, which includes five separate geometric chambers, each housing a single driver. The finished speaker, priced at $65,000 per pair, stands over four feet tall and weighs 123 pounds.
Hovering above the powerful polypropylene-cone woofer are two crimped-aluminum cone drivers that handle critical midrange frequencies; situated between them is a ribbon tweeter in an open-back enclosure, which takes advantage of that transducer’s rear-firing dispersion to present a deep soundstage and lifelike room ambience, reproducing frequencies up to an inaudible 30 kHz.