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Gibbon Super 8 loudspeakers
as reviewed by John Brazier
It must be tough to be a small speaker company in today's market, especially in the United States. On the one hand, you have large companies who spend millions on research and development (or promote themselves as if they do). On the other hand, you have our friends to the east, who seem to be able to compete with great efficiency. Thus, when a company like DeVore Fidelity comes along, designing and constructing loudspeakers by hand out of a small shop in Brooklyn, NY, I naturally want them to succeed. And when that company makes wonderfully enjoyable speakers like the Gibbon Super 8s, I really want it to beat the corporate giants.
The steepest learning curve in this hobby is learning what you like. At first, it is easy to confuse "different" with "better," but I have been mired in this hobby for a long time, and have learned to identify my preferences. I now know that I stand on the warm side of neutral. It started back in 1998, when I ordered a pair of B&W Nautilus 805s right after they came out. The dealer had to order my speakers from the distributor, and in the meantime, I stopped by the salon from time to time to listen to the demo pair. One day, they had a pair of Sonus Faber Concertos set up where the 805s had been the day before. By the end of that afternoon, I had cancelled my B&W order and had walked out the door with the Concertos. That is when I learned to trust myself to know what I like.
The best part of reviewing for Positive Feedback Online is that there is no pressure to review products. I only review what I want to review, and I only review products that pique my interest, and motivate me to seek them out. It was only after settling on my current front end that turned my attention to loudspeakers. I had heard the name DeVore Fidelity here and there, but it came up again about six months ago, when PFO Editor Dave Clark and I went down a list of speakers that I might wish to review. Not long after that, I found myself sitting between and in front of a pair of John DeVore's Gibbon Super 8s. The Super 8s can't be compared to either the Nautilus 805s or the Sonus Faber Concertos, except that, like the Sonus Fabers, these monkeys are on the warmer side of neutral, and thus they, too, are in line with my biases.
Before getting to how the Gibbons sound, let me say a word or two about setup. I had had at least one conversation with John DeVore about their setup before they arrived, and he warned me to work with them before deciding that they were placed properly. The manual includes an extensive section on speaker placement, and I really did nothing more than to follow those recommendations, but I suspect that without John's counsel, I might have become frustrated, and might even have given up before realizing the Super 8s' full potential. It's not that they were hard to set up, but they did take more attention than any of the other loudspeakers I have had in my home. In the end, they landed about eight feet apart, two feet away from the rear wall, and toed in directly toward my sitting position, and tilted down, with a differential of about an inch and a half between the front and the back. This is made possible by adjusting the heights of the cone feet that are supplied with the speakers, and DeVore recommends that you experiment with this angle, along with the other variables of speaker placement.
The Gibbon Super 8s are quite small, and their understated, elegant appearance also matches my preferences. Their fit and finish is tip-top, and my review samples had a beautiful cherry veneer with carefully matched patterns. The 8s come with grilles that cover the drivers, which attach via magnets to pieces of steel inlaid behind the veneer on the fronts of the cabinets. Therefore, the speakers look super-clean when the grilles are not in place—no prongs or plugs. Around back, the binding posts are made of solid, heavy-duty copper.
John DeVore uses the same drivers in the Gibbon Super 8 that he uses in the top-of-the-line Silverbacks. Like so many designers today, he extensively modifies these drivers. Each speaker has one 6.5-inch mid/bass driver and, just below that and to the outside, a soft-dome tweeter. The speakers have rear-firing ports, so finding the correct distance between the speakers and the wall behind them is important. When you find the proper distance, you will know it.
Every once in a while, a product comes along that compels you to do no more than enjoy and have fun. The Gibbon Super 8s do just that. It has been a long time since I have listened to disc after disc for the sheer joy of it. When the Gibbons were in my home, I sat down night after night and tossed aside the television remote in favor of the audio system remote. When I could, I listened late into the night, and got up early to listen some more. Not once did I suffer even a hint of listener fatigue. In fact, it was just the opposite—the more I listened, the more I wanted to listen.
As I say, the Gibbons are voiced to the warm side of neutral. With incorrect setup, they can become syrupy, but after I spent the time to get them positioned properly, the synergy with my other equipment was very, very nice. With my Reference 3As, I would sometimes ask myself if my Edge G3 was the right amp for my Naim front end, but with the 8s, the combination was fluid. Until I sat down to write this review, I did not give the G3's place in my system a second thought.
One of the first discs I popped in was Leo Kottke's Live, which required a bit of dusting off. Although the recording consists entirely of Mr. Kottke and his 12-string, he sounded as if he were four or five guitarists. Imaging was pinpoint sharp, with crystal-clear edges. Even though I was staring at them, my brain refused to connect the sounds in the middle of the room to the loudspeakers. Let me hasten to add that I did not hear this kind of clarity with every recording, but I had never heard that particular disc sound so sharply focused. Although I hadn't played it for a while, there was a time when this disc got a lot of play. It has always sounded very good, but not like it sounded through the Gibbons.
The soundstage was wide and deep. Though its boundaries went well beyond the speakers and far deeper than it had any right to, I cannot say that it was significantly larger than that of other speakers of this price. There were no missing elements within the soundstage, and no confusion about who was where or what they were doing at any given time. In this respect, the Gibbons met my expectations, and did not leave me wanting more.
The Gibbons sound comfortably mellifluous, in a manner that I cannot pinpoint. I can't state unequivocally that it is the smooth and sweet midrange that makes these speakers sound so musical, nor can I say that it is the effortlessly extended highs, which are completely devoid of any audible strain. Still, the absence of this strain creates a forgiving, inviting listening experience. Everything sounds effortless through these loudspeakers, like a musical carpet ride.
The quality and quality of the Super 8s' bass is a great improvement over that of my Reference 3As. That shouldn't be too much of a surprise when you consider that the Gibbon cabinets must be two and a half times larger than those of the stand-mounted De Capos. However, more is not necessarily better, and the Gibbons' bass is not two and a half times deeper than that of the De Capos. It certainly is deeper, however, and it may be two and a half times better. One of my recent music purchases is the soundtrack to Inside Man. Before I acquired this CD, I had any number of discs to choose from to evaluate bass. Now I only have one, and it is a doozey. Track nine, "Food Chain," is no more than a minute long, but it has visceral, rib-cage-rattling bass. The Gibbons are not designed to go much below 38 Hz, but bass is projected into the room with authority and dignity. At no time did I find the low end loose and sloppy, and only once or twice did I want a touch more depth.
The midrange is what really got me. Male voices, female voices, harmonies—even the occasional scream—were inviting and compelling. I am trying very hard not to fall into easy, "oh-so-sweet" descriptors, but the Gibbon Super 8s have that ever-so-elusive "it" factor. Their midrange has been the most challenging for me to describe. I need to somehow give it the respect it deserves, yet accolades like "sweet" and "emotional" fail to convey the credibility that these speakers have, and others lack. It has been a long time since I played Joan Osborne's "St. Teresa," from her early disc, Relish, but playing it was like spending time with an old friend. The Gibbons were able to brilliantly balance the information I needed with the musical message. So often, by design or otherwise, the combination of information and music requires distracting compromises. There are compromises with the Gibbons, but they are in no way distracting. Sometimes, the tiny details of voices, by which I mean that last iota of human articulation, were slightly fudged over, but most of the time I was enjoying the music far too much to notice. There was no lack of important detail, and all of the cues needed to create a believable presentation were present. The tap of a stick on the cymbal, the sliding of fingers down guitar strings, the breathiness of a soulful tune, came across, and there was just the right amount of separation between instruments and vocalists.
The best thing about the Gibbon Super 8s is that if you cannot thoroughly enjoy yourself while listening to them, you are in this hobby for the wrong reasons. Get a new pastime. I do not mean to say that these are the greatest speakers ever made, but I am saying that the Gibbons make the making of music their highest priority. They are so successful at it that listening to music through them cuts to your soul.
The Gibbons do like some volume. They really started to kick it at about a 25 percent turn of the G3's volume control, with not the slightest hint of strain anywhere in the frequency range. Of course, a 25 percent setting on the volume control on my amp may not have the same effect as it will with yours, but whatever amp you use, I suspect that will be a setting that will really light a fire under these monkeys' butts. That was where the fun began for me!
At $4000 a pair, the Gibbon Super 8s are in a crowded market segment. Because of their small size, their perceived value may be low, but what can you expect from a "My SUV can run over your SUV" society? Those who share John DeVore's priorities will be richly rewarded. I would love to tell you that I am buying the review pair, and that we will be living happily ever after, but that is not to be. Nevertheless, I am so intrigued by the DeVore philosophy of putting the music first that I am going to seek out a pair of the Silverbacks and give serious consideration to those apes as my long-term musical partners. John Brazier
Gibbon Super 8