Saturday 9 December 2023

MUSINGS: On the duplicity of hi-fi audio anti-measurers? The John DeVore example.

The Hall of Measurement Devices.
"When you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind: it may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarcely, in your thoughts, advanced to the stage of science, whatever the matter may be." --- Lord Kelvin, Popular Lectures and Addresses vol. 1 (1889) ‘Electrical Units of Measurement’, delivered 3 May 1883

"What is measured, improves." --- Peter Drucker (from The Effective Executive) 
"When performance is measured, performance improves. When performance is measured and reported back, the rate of improvement accelerates." --- Karl Pearson

A longstanding debate over the years in the audiophile pursuit sadly is that of whether measurements are important in audio. Obviously, to me, and I think the vast majority of the world, the answer is "Of course it does!". One does not need to be a scientist of Lord Kelvin's stature or a statistician like Pearson, or a management consultant like Drucker to see the wisdom of such a basic idea which probably is one of the founding principles giving rise to our modern technologically sophisticated world.

Can you think of a single technological pursuit where the use of measurement instruments of some sort isn't beneficial to help gauge the effectiveness, efficiency, or value of a device which has been invented, produced, or manufactured? Is this not doubly important if that devices is supposedly built to a high "standard", reportedly made with quality and care? Typically at a higher cost like the things of "high end" audio?

Well, apparently, there are supposedly respected people in the audiophile world, designers even, who seem to think otherwise about the importance of measurements...

Consider this rant recently by John DeVore of DeVORE FIDELITY:

Assuming you got through the 36 minutes or so, I think you'll have noted some interesting historical stuff (which might not be fully accurate), interesting personal anecdotes (like the King Ding toy), somewhat relevant ideas about science and its evolution, and even interesting philosophical concepts about the mental constructs of "objects", "controlled hallucinations", "unconscious inference", and "the beholder's share".

However, beyond these vague, hand-waving, philosophical, more artistic thoughts, are there many useful truths we can hang on to from that monologue?

By the end, I was tempted to just ask - "so what?" - at least with regards to the anti-measurement rant mostly in the first part of the video. Let's delve into this rant for a moment.

To start, how are folks currently "weaponizing" (1:28) the use of measurements? Sure, in the '70s there were amplifier power and THD wars (as discussed before) but I think many of us still feel that those amps sounded great even if the power figures and 1kHz distortion levels were perhaps overly emphasized for advertising purposes. In fact, some contemporary dealers still sell these amps - like Just Audio showing recently at PAF'23. Just because some companies advertised based on a narrow set of measurements to catch the consumer's attention doesn't mean nobody measured products more broadly or understood the performance more holistically. I would argue that audiophiles back in the day knew a heck of a lot more about how the electronics worked than the average audiophile today no thanks to a dumbing down of the audiophile media for decades so I'm not sure too many were bamboozled by a single headline specification.

Let's go beyond "as if" history then, Mr. DeVore. Care to identify specifically which amplifiers/receivers you're talking about with amazing 1kHz THD and high power output but the company falsely "weaponized" these specs for audiophiles (and presumably the device didn't sound good)? Concrete examples would help drive home the point. The only really questionable stuff I am aware of are the false "Watts P.M.P.O." numbers that were targeted at the mass market like in the local K-Mart, and not really aimed at audiophiles or represented in our media.

Suppose as a hypothetical extreme we took away all the measurement tools in audio. Every speaker designer, DAC manufacturer, and amplifier company would now only use their ears to "tune" the sound. Would we end up with better or worse products than we have today? Would the consumers gain anything if this were to happen? Would audiophiles be any more enlightened by a measureless hobby without tools to verify and share what they've learned about objective accuracy?

No, I believe that would be awful. In fact, no matter how grandiose the rant, it's hard to imagine that guys like DeVore who designs products are serious about measurements not being useful, perhaps even vital! Does DeVore not perform measurements himself when designing his speakers or verifying that his crossovers perform as intended these days? I truly hope his products aren't all simply the result of "tuning by ear". (DeVore speaks about using measurement gear at 17:00 so he obviously must find them beneficial, also talked about measurements here.)

We clearly must rely to a significant degree on instruments for hi-fi testing. As we have seen in the last decade, we cannot just trust the few "golden ears" out there, especially those writing in audio magazines or in YouTube videos. Perhaps we would have handed over music distribution to MQA based on company propaganda already. I remember "golden ears" claiming how amazing SACD sounded because of DSD but over time we've learned that much of this library consists of PCM upsampled albums. Some indulged Neil Young's fantasies of how remarkably good 24/192 sounds even if it's just the same ol' dynamically compressed recordings. How many "golden ear" vinyl audiophiles clued in to the fact that MoFi used DSD in their vinyl production chain on so-called "One Step" pressings. Are we still to trust "golden ears" selling us 5-figure cables?

Whether in the production of the hardware, or as hobbyists trying to determine if we're actually being sold "high fidelity" items, measurements are a key component to keeping people honest. Objectivity plays an essential role as a kind of high-quality feedback loop that goes beyond the mere words that individuals like DeVore have to offer or the flowery prose of purely subjective audio reviewers.

While I have also warned against using "one number objectivism" like a single 1kHz THD+N/SINAD score, on the whole, I believe changes in the audiophile landscape with more hobbyists talking about measurements, and using objective means have been for the better. This has diversified the hobby by empowering those interested in seeking truth, to learn, and break through the myths propagated by those who would rather you accept their opinions on faith, often conveniently also associated with having something specific to sell. I can imagine that these individuals might not be happy with hobbyists swayed by objective-based evaluations.

As much as some complain that measurement devices like microphones do not function like human ears, well of course that's true! But isn't that also a good thing!? Measurement devices do not pass the input though the subjective filter of a human being and thus can typically go beyond what we can hear. In the frequency domain, let's see if anyone can draw a frequency response "by ear" with better accuracy than using REW. In the time domain, do you know anyone who can predict a speaker's step response accurate to sub-millisecond resolution? Show me an audiophile who can consistently detect, even quantify, the change introduced by 320kbps MP3 better than a machine. What is interesting about us as listeners is actually not that we have amazing hearing abilities, but it's the deficits we each have and the emotional emphasis we place on certain stimuli that actually define what sounds "good" to us individually.

As an aside, I certainly don't think DeVore's rant on YouTube is the worst; just one of many expressing typical sentiments, and audiophile myths. A worse example would be this recent Hans Beekhuyzen video claiming he can hear the effect of an ethernet filter "in seconds" presumably by changing a DAC's clock average jitter by less than a handful of picoseconds based on some work by Jaap Veenstra. Really? I will happily bet against his audibility claims as well. If it's truly that audibly obvious, I fail to see why he can't use a hi-res ADC, if not just a good mic to demonstrate that effect. After all, it looks like he has all kinds of measurement gear behind him, so I assume he must at some level trust that these are useful, speaking to the viewer so demonstrably bolstered by all that hardware as if this gives him credibility! He even claimed to have bought "about three generations" (4:45) of Audio Precision gear. Why bother wasting money if all he can produce are these kinds of chatty videos?!

At its core, people like DeVore and Beekhuyzen might portray themselves as draped with the veil of "science" by using the language of science only. Notice DeVore talking about stuff like Newtonian physics, Relativity, Quantum Mechanics as if these concepts confirm his rationale or somehow add to his understanding. Look below this façade and we see many claims are mainly anti-science, faith-based stuff.

They claim all kinds of things like "measurements don't correlate with what I hear", but when opportunities arise to really show if what they believe in is true, evidence offered remain purely within the uncontrolled, unblinded, subjective domain. Even when it comes to what should be factual claims, for example in that anti-measurement rant, DeVore believes that humans can hear above 20kHz (8:02) and apparently the developers of CD Audio at Sony and Philips "understood" this (of course, CD-DA can do up to 22.05kHz but that's just being picky). Well, who at Sony/Philips believed a clean 20kHz bandwidth was inadequate (see related discussions)? Where's the data for such a thing? Maybe he believes the questionable Oohashi stuff? Does DeVore himself think he could hear >20kHz? Beyond this, notice DeVore also touched on digital filters and the "hard edge" of brick-wall filtering at 11:00 into the video evoking certain myths about the "time domain". He then reminds us about jitter. All of these concerns are just the typical audiophile "boogeyman" anxieties also promoted by magazines with no in-depth discussions provided to help audiophiles understand or feel they can resolve the worries except for maybe spending more money.

He claims that measurements in the "wrong hands" would "mislead or oversimplify" (12:00). Sure, this could be true, but in 21st Century audiophilia, are consumers mainly misled by people publishing measurements? I would suggest DeVore look in the mirror at himself and the audiophile media and how they "weaponized" inaudible jitter, or the Gibbs pre-ringing seen in impulse responses with zero justification that this is audible from our DACs after all these years! And just look at how DeVore himself in this video glosses over everything by suggesting there are great mysteries out there in a rant that doesn't explore anything in depth, without pointing to any evidence, nor produce any links for further investigation, for most of what he believes to be true.

While there are multiple levels of dissonances in the rant, in the 21st Century, how can one speak of "high fidelity" audio (which can be scientifically defined), then go make hi-fi sound so complex as if impossible for the common audiophile to understand, and then question the important role measurements play which is basically the only thing that can help us resolve this supposed complexity?!

This is what I mean by duplicity - double-dealing, deceit - implicit in this kind of world view. Instead of questioning the importance of measurements in designing hi-fi products, the only reasonable thing for someone like DeVore to do is to actually assist by showing audiophiles what measurements he has found to be useful and what knowledge he has learned by doing so. Perhaps explaining how his designs overcome sonic shortcomings would be nice instead of ranting. And if indeed traditional measurements are inadequate, then go ahead and create new measurements others should consider using; spread knowledge. Of course, he is under no obligation to spill proprietary "trade secrets", if he has any.

The ultimate Hi-Fi experience... For him, I guess.

DeVore says this: "So science and its ability to measure have to continue to evolve in order to keep up with the increased body of experiential data" (13:10).

Sure, that could be true, but only if the "experiential data" is accurate. What if this listening "experiential data" is tainted and wrong based on psychological biases. For example, as far as I can tell, there's no experimental or experiential data confirming that bit-perfect digital streamers sound any different, yet this is what the magazine writers and audiophile salespeople have been telling us on auto-repeat for years while selling ever more expensive things (discussed last week). When one typically asks such individuals to put their hearing abilities to the test with a blind protocol (as is the way of science to control for variables so we can gather data), more likely than not, we hear the sound of crickets, or alternatively protests against why blind testing supposedly doesn't work. As we know, blind testing and ABX methods have been argued about for decades.

How curious and convenient that some believe the use of scientific methods apply to all other kinds of things but not to their own listening! Under such a constraint, should scientists spend time "evolving" measurement techniques and desperately search out new sets of data just because a group of people who never test anything under controlled settings say so? (Here's what happens when some pseudo-science audiophiles tried, resulting in ridiculous articles like this, and this about 10 years ago.)

I have never heard DeVore's speakers. Honestly, I am curious about how they sound. Notice that I have not said anything negative about his products. Just that I find his "rants on measurements in HiFi" rather hollow, meaningless, dressed up as false wisdom. There was a point at 18:00 in the rant where he gave an example of his own speaker being reviewed by the likes of Michael Fremer (here) subjectively agreeing with his views. So what? Fremer, like many subjective listeners, has made claims like this which made no sense, and are more than likely biased. To take a subjective listener at his word in an uncontrolled setting, as if infallible, and seeing if one could fit measurements to account for such mere opinions would be clearly non-scientific.

Yes, a scientist knows that there are often countless variables and not every one can be controlled, and many possible outcomes to any experiment (19:00), including surprising results. However, in 2023, when it comes to audio measurements, after decades of refinement by countless people, isn't it a little dramatic to call the measurement endeavor "dogmatic"? Measurement techniques do eventually need to be standardized for comparison purposes after all. (By using the word "dogma", his implication being that measurement-people are faith-based, I guess.)

I don't believe audiophiles who measure these days have closed their minds to understanding human experiences and areas of science DeVore and the audiophile industry typically avoid embracing - consumer psychology, power of the placebo effect, and psychoacoustics. In fact, much of DeVore's rant can be explored within these areas of inquiry, not the physical engineering science of frequencies, distortions, and power measurements. At one point he lamented on the fractured tribes of audiophiles with categories like "hedonistic horny hordes" and "fascist floydo toolies" and the "ordained order of first order... (whatever)" (21:15) - all of this yet again reminding us of the need for psycho/sociological exploration, not engineering or physics for many of his ideas. Is it any wonder that audiophile magazine writers, and DeVore might not want to go there?

Within the many words and recollections from 22:00 onwards, DeVore simply delves into the importance of psychoacoustics and his own psychology, again without just calling it for what it is. Rather, I guess he found that it sounded deeper and wiser to ruminate about the meaning of "consciousness", "theory of mind", how the sensory cortex "remaps", or philosophies of how the brain works - the "controlled hallucinations", and "beholder's share" of imagination.

Yes, fascinating, we can project all kinds of wishful ideas, but is this actionable to create better hi-fi gear bought with dollars, operating in the world of physics?

The Beholder's Share: But in the real world, other than bass boom, would a loudspeaker like this ever be able to approach the reproduction of what the man imagines? Arguably, with higher fidelity and better immersion, the demands on the "beholder's share" could be relaxed, right?

I find it interesting that DeVore's products are mentioned and reviewed quite a bit on Stereophile and by associates like Lavorgna or name-dropped by Guttenberg (apparently they were both salesmen at the same store at one time, interesting) yet I've never seen his speakers demo'ed at audio shows that I have attended over the years nor are they to be found at local show rooms. It doesn't take much searching to know that he's quite friendly with many of those reviewers in the magazine though. We can also clearly see that measurements of his speakers are not particularly impressive with often high cabinet resonances, wild off-axis frequency swings, and sometimes pretty grotesque on-axis frequency responses - see herehere, here, and here; thanks JA for the measurements at least. Perhaps that's why DeVore needed to put up the rant?

Clearly, the appearance of these products also might not be to the taste of those favoring a more modern look; they're more like the epitome of nostalgic "boxy" speakers in look and measured performance. I'm sure there are many who love the sound and appearance, the higher impedance and sensitivity, so to each his/her own.

Hope you're all enjoying December and some beautiful music, audiophiles! As usual, keep an open mind, but make sure the brain doesn't fall out.


  1. Hi Arch. Good post!

    I'm a fan of Devore Fidelity speakers and I really like John Devore. Having read many interviews and watched his youtube blog on and off, I find him to be one of the "good guys" in high end audio, heart in the right place. But you've caught in in a rant where, yeah, he's expressing some stuff inimical to your point of view.

    Like you I found much of the same things eye-rolling and dubious. I think John has had some interesting things to say about measurements in the past, but less so this time.

    As to shows: Devore has been at tons of audio shows through the years. Though the past few years I believe with the pandemic, and also some manufacturing challenges he's detailed keeping up with the very high demand on his product, he
    may not have had the time or even necessarily wanted to push the product before he could expand his operation. (I don't know, just inferring).

    As to the design: He started out with much more modern/traditional slim floor standing speakers, which he still sells (such as the Gibbon Super Nine speakers).
    But when he had the idea of going for a bit more of what he liked about some older school wide-baffle big woofer speakers the result was so succesful - the O/96 - it became his biggest seller so he has slowly introduced a few other similar designs. He has many very happy customers, because there really is a "devore" sound, and I have found that Devore speakers keep their value in the used market, and generally sell faster than just about any other brand I've seen. So I think he's doing something right.

    1. Thanks Vaal for the input,
      Good that you've met DeVore and attended some of the demos. No doubt his speakers will have a unique sound! Some of his other YouTube posts are certainly very interesting and enjoyable. Alas, this one with the questionable thoughts around measurements and touchy-feely philosophies I found was a bit too much...

      Great that he has found success with those O/96 speakers! Hey, if there's a healthy market, as an entrepreneur, one can't argue with that. Clearly he has found a euphonic "DeVore sound" that speaks to his audience and for the product to maintain value, as a customer, is also excellent.

      IMO, he should just go with that and embrace the fact that these "O" designs are clearly not traditional, not aiming at typical fidelity targets. I've always felt that it's OK for manufacturers to not always have to compete as "hi-fi" products which is what objectivists get excited about and also up in arms if the Spinorama looks off. :-)

      For a design like this, he does not need to impress objective folks and IMO should just declare "this is the way I roll - buy it if it sounds good to you"! No need to engage in whether anyone is "weaponizing" measurements and such territory.

      IMO, absolutely nothing wrong with aiming for an idiosyncratic "euphonophilia" which seems like what these speakers are aiming at rather than "high-fidelity". He should just stand his ground. Tell the world he knows this is how it measures; no apologies. I'd certainly respect that.

  2. As to your comment here:

    I have never heard DeVore's speakers. Honestly, I am curious about how they sound.

    I hope you get a chance to hear them some day. I have a local dealer so have spent a lot of good listening time with the O/96 and smaller O/93 models, as well as at another dealer. I loved the sound so much I would have bought them, but they were ultimately a bit too wide to work with my home theater set up in the room, so the slimmer floorstanding Joseph Perspective speakers won that decision.

    As to the sound, they are somewhat finicky to set up right. So if you ever hear them I'm not sure you'll hear exactly what I heard depending on the set up. But what I fell in love with was the rare combination of traits that really ring my bell:

    They "disappear" as sound sources to a surprising degree given their wide visuals.
    And the create a "wall of sound" that is particularly full, rich and dense. Instruments sound more full-sized, filled out, than most of the (many, many) other speakers I auditioned. A piano, a drum set, a sax, sounds like it has more corporeal "body" more like the real thing to my ears. I remember playing a not very good piano recording, though a piece I like, and there was the sense of keys actually striking a big resonating piano body/soundboard. I've played piano most of my life and I’d never had a speaker remind me of the sensation of sitting at the piano playing, like that. Most piano reproduction sounds more like "piano keys floating in space on their own not really attached to any big resonating body."

    Likewise with the presentation of drums - the snares were super clear, sounding more like the big round skins they are, rather than reduced to the smaller spot of sound on many other speakers. Eyes closed, a good drum solo recording was the most realistic I've ever heard (and that was compared to the same tracks on plenty of speakers...Revel, Magico, Paradigm, Focal, you name it).

    Overall I found the tone had a beautiful combination of open realistic sounding highs, yet an overall smooth ear-friendly sound, and bass that is a bit on the "big round" side but which didn't sound "slow or plodding" but rather give more "room feel" for bas guitar and kick drum, connecting me very much with the rhythm of the music. (Where lots of audiophiles speakers can have bass that is so buttoned down sounding it sort of just sits back in the soundstage, like I'm just observing the instrument in another room).

    I’m leaving out negatives for now so I don’t go over the character limit :-)

    Devore certainly measures, and understands measurements, but ultimately he is designing to ensure the speakers have the specific characteristics that he loves, and which sound "right' to him on the wide range of music he plays. I think some of us seem to "hear like John" or appreciate some of the same characteristics, and those people become fans of the brand, because it's not a specific sound found elsewhere.

    None of which means, of course, that you might not think they sound terrible :-)


    1. Yeah man, will see... One day I hope to get the chance. Actually I think I'll be in NYC in May next year for work so time-permitting, maybe I'll see if there's a showroom there with them on display to have a listen.

      Love the descriptions of the sound! Looking at the measurements for the O/96, I can certainly imagine the wide front baffle, presumably weakly braced cabinet, with its mid-bass resonance (~150-200Hz) adding a bit of extra "excitement" or fullness to the sound that could be pleasant. Lateral off-axis measurements also show a bit more mid-range "bloom" around 1kHz that might color the indirect reflections; again, maybe benefit certain psychoacoustic tastes?

      When it comes to measurements and psychoacoustic research, it might be interesting to see whether music lovers "cluster" in groups based on preferences that correlate with certain idiosyncrasies like what the O/96 is doing.

      Definitely positioning will be important with that highly directional tweeter, plus careful to avoid the bass/low-mid suck-out as seen in the late-Art Dudley's room. Maybe it's OK to take advantage of that off-axis high-frequency attenuation (which might be what Dudley did) to reduce excess treble harshness.

    2. Arch,

      You've done a good job of sussing out the character from the measurements.

      In my case I'm not "looking for" a speaker with coloration. However, there are cases, and I think the O/96 are one, where the colorations and deviations are cannily combined in a way that does not to my ear yell "coloration" but rather "added body, oomph, richness" which I find is generally missing from reproduced sound. To my ears, sound through most domestically acceptable audiophile systems sounds reductive. A sax in a real room (or outdoors) for instance sounds so much bigger and richer than the typical sax recording, which makes the instrument sound squeezed down and toy-sized. So when I encountered the O/96 sound, the weight and size it imbued to instruments and vocals sounded "more natural" than it did "more colored." Even with vocals, especially male, there was a sense of added chest resonance, which certainly could have been a bit of frequency emphasis and/or box resonance. This COULD go overboard sometimes, but often the effect was well integrated so it simply sounded more like a human was present, and you feel/hear that chest resonance like you do in real life. Really cool stuff IMO.

      The thing is one can look at the graphs and see "ok there's a dip there a resonance there," but it's not always easy to tell whether, on balance, the colorations will be obvious, or artificial sounding, whether you will like or not like it. Even JA who has measured a bazillion speakers will still say things like "the resonance in the upper bass wasn't as ubtrusive as I was expecting from the measurements.

      Yet others have heard the O/96 and were left scratching their heads "why do people like these things?"

      You are right about the directionality of the tweeter...quite directional and the speakers really have to be placed right. If the speakers aren't just the right spacing apart, and aimed right, the sound can really fall apart. Like I've actually heard the speakers placed a bit too close together, and the richness and image size and weight I have described just wasn't there!

      But, again, I did a ludicrously big, long speaker search a few years ago, listened to most of the speakers you'd recognize, and the Devores did some things that I couldn't forget.

      As to your other reply: I agree, I wish manufacturers like John wouldn't feel the need to muddy the waters in the way he will speak about measurements. You'd like him to just say "I'm making colored sounding speakers for people who like that kind of thing." The problem is manufacturers generally feel they can't say that. They don't think audiophiles are consciously looking for gear that distorts the signal, so everything has to be sold along the lines of being more transparent in some way "brings you closer to the music." So John will say...and I also think he's actually being honest in this...that he's not trying to color the sound, he wants recordings reproduced faithfully. But he wants to make sure that various aspects of recorded music are reproduced well...e.g. if there is a drummer there beating away with lots of energy, the speaker should translate and produce that energy. I actually think he's done a pretty good job of cannily balancing this so that O/96 doesn't sound, at least to me, obviously colored for most tracks, the character of each recording is very evident, but there is a certain "life force" these have that seems to bring the musicians more alive and present, IMO.

    3. Interesting comment Vaal,
      Lots of ideas and thoughts associated with this one and maybe can flush out down the road ;-).

  3. Hi Arch-
    I owned two different models of his speakers in the past. (The Gibbon Line, not the wide O line). They are all characterized by what I think Audiophiles call a "musical, natural" sound. Slightly warm, IMO.

    I'd agree with that characterization. The speakers are very enjoyable to listen to.
    Devore is a drummer, and his speakers have a very good drum and cymbal sound. They seem to have a well balanced sound. So if they aren't accurate when measured, that isn't apparent in listening.
    I'm sure he measures, but he tunes the speakers to his idea of how they "should" sound. Nothing wrong with that, per se.

    His speakers are also very nicely finished.
    Most are also highly efficient - not needing extremely powerful amplifiers. I'd guess a larger than typical amount of his owners use tube amps.
    So, they incorporate a lot of the characteristics many audiophiles are looking for.

    I moved on from his speakers to Kii Three's. They are sort of the opposite in terms of philosophy; but I don't have anything negative to say about his speakers.


  4. "IMO, absolutely nothing wrong with aiming for an idiosyncratic "euphonophilia" which seems like what these speakers are aiming at rather than "high-fidelity". He should just stand his ground. Tell the world he knows this is how it measures; no apologies. I'd certainly respect that."

    I think that's pretty much what he does, and he doesn't hide it: he's said as much in interviews describing his speakers and his design process. But I 'd bet he would say that his speakers sound subjectively correct, even if measurements say something different.

    1. Thanks Danny for the note,
      Indeed that's quite the change from the DeVores to Kii THREE! About as much of a 180° as any one of us can get. :-)

      I think it's a sign of emotional and mental flexibility and probably eclecticism in your taste of music! Nice.

      I see with the O/96 review, DeVore made a manufacturer comment to the effect of pairing his speakers with tube amps:

      Yeah, I think these DeVores are solidly meant to be enjoyed within the "euphonophile" philosophy. LPs, turntables, tube amps likely come with the territory... To me these are "artistic" choices we can all make for ourselves and while clearly objectively not performing like hi-res DACs, 24/96 files, solid state amps with high damping and low distortion, I cannot doubt that there's great pleasure to be had.

      As much as I've been one for measurements and objectivity, I would prefer a world where each of us can make choices like these than stifle the liberty to love what we love...


      For readers who might be new here, this talk about "euphonophilia" and the like is not new for this blog. I've always seen the audiophile world as composing of both those who seek "high-fidelity" which can be defined and measured, as well as those who seek the "euphonic" sound; a more idiosyncratic pursuit. We can argue about all kinds of things like whether cables make a difference, whether $$$ asking prices reflect value, whether "snake oil" exists in the audiophile world (of course! :-), etc... But I don't think audiophiles need to fight about what music we love or what kind of sound reproduction we're after.

      The honesty of a manufacturer representing themselves as they are (ie. "I didn't design these with typical measurements in mind, and yes, they're intentionally 'colored'..."), or an audiophile understanding what they love and expressing it honestly (ie. "I love LPs, and appreciate the change in tonality and atmosphere of my playback compared to the hi-res file.") is totally cool IMO.

    2. This gets to the problem for subjectivists (or maybe anti-objectivists?) like DeVore: we cannot negate the statement "I prefer X over Y." We *can* say that the output of X is significantly different from its output, while Y is indistinguishable from it. If the people who prefer X over Y could admit that they prefer X *because* it colors the sound in a pleasant way, all would be lollipops and rainbows.

      The jig was arguably up back in the 1980s, when Bob Carver claimed he could make his inexpensive transistor amps audibly indistinguishable from Stereophile's favorite megabuck tube monster. Which he succeeded in doing -- by turning his Carver amp into a distortion device, just like the tube amp. His parlor trick did nothing to dent Stereophile's racket, but it proved what the game really was about.

      I confess there are times I am seduced by the distortions of tube electronics, too. But I know what that means: there are times when I like (a particular kind of) distortion. So, apparently, do DeVore and many other audiophiles. If only they could all admit that....

  5. I would screen these out on poor measurements. Uneven response, poor dispersion management. I can definitely see how they sound warm, though.

    1. Hi Andrew...

      "I would screen these out on poor measurements. Uneven response, poor dispersion management. I can definitely see how they sound warm, though."

      I can understand that in terms of what you may be looking for, personally.

      But there are some who would project that as a general recommendation to "screen out" such speakers because they are "badly designed." This is the general direction on the ASR forum, where they have settled on some general principles (based on research) for "good speaker design" and so speakers tend to be evaluated against that specific criteria, "bad speakers" weeded out and recommended against.

      I think that's great for people with that particular goal - whether it's someone who is deeply knowledgeable about the measurements they want from a speaker, or just a newbie who wants quick information "tell me which speakers are good."

      But for folks like me, and there are many of us, it would have been a shame to have been recommended against bothering with the Devore O/96 speakers. I would have missed out on one of my favourite all time loudspeakers!

      This is one reason I still appreciate the wide variety of speaker options, and also the existence of subjective reviews for loudspeakers. The reason I sought out the Devore speakers is because some reviewers, and other audiophiles, kept reporting about certain sonic qualities that I, like them, really care about and seek in reproduced sound. Instead of just dismissing the speakers on measurements, I got information "this is what they sound like with various forms of music, if you care about those aspects you'll probably like these." And that's just what I heard once I was able to audition them. Review sites like ASR that tend to have a more funnelled weeding out "good or bad" philosophy, not to mention a deep suspicious of even describing sound to begin with, are less helpful to me and some other audiophiles in that respect. (Though VERY helpful in many other respects, which is why I'm a member there).


    2. Good discussion Vaal,
      I agree in many ways. I've certainly been on ASR and appreciate the depth of discussion and testing done there. Great stuff from an engineering perspective, and I definitely do a search over there whenever I see an interesting product and wonder how it might perform technically.

      As a non-engineer though, sometimes the discourse can show too much "dialectical opposition" between "good/bad", "right/wrong", "black/white", "completely agree/completely disagree", etc. when in life there are very few things that demand such polar attitudes.

      What I find useful is to maintain the ongoing attitude of knowing myself, and in terms of audiophilia, "What is it that I want?" out of these technological toys. This is why I think I spend quite a bit of time mulling over terminology, trying to understand (personal) intentions, and examining value. So long as I can be honest in doing my best to understand the technology - including doing what I can to educate friends, family, associates as I learn myself and as I write posts - then I can feel good about hopefully doing my part as an honest audiophile in the early 21st Century.

      I think as a group, audiophiles are a bright bunch; in our midst are lawyers, accountants, engineers, doctors (MDs and PhDs), entrepreneurs, folks influential in places where-ever life takes us... Let's always make sure not just to use our intellect, but also show gracefulness when it comes to our conduct.

      Of course that does not mean simply an indiscriminate "anything goes" attitude! In my day job as a physician, there are times I have to be clear with patients when they're literally wasting money on "snake oil"; so too as an audiophile I believe it is an obligation to say things certain people do not want to hear, but the message must be nuanced if we expect people to hear, understand, to consider a change of heart. If we believe we possess knowledge and understanding, it's good, even ethical to do our part to speak out when we must.

      I'm sure my health care colleagues will be intimately aware too that "autonomy" is part of the core ethical principles we must follow. So too, I see that to be of importance in a polarized hobby such as this. Fellow audiophiles are of course free to choose their philosophy, their intent, and of course how they desire to enjoy the music!

      Heck, if anyone wants to spend tens of thousands on a bit-perfect computer audio streamer because it sounds "better", sure - "Your money, your choice!"... But I've done my duty to warn in such cases. 🫣

  6. I suppose you could say they are tuned like a bad RIAA curve

    1. Interesting observation Andrew,
      Depending on the room, definitely one could get that accentuation of bass with high frequency roll-off as seen in the Stereophile graphs.

      Admittedly not my cup-o-tea as it stands currently, but I'm certainly happy when I get a chance to have a listen and see what Vaal and others are talking about. 😉

    2. Archimago, if you ever hear the Devore O series speakers, please remember: In describing what I liked about them I'm talking about fairly subtle stuff in the big picture, not "oh my god these sound so different, so much better."

      I'm an audiophile: Small sonic differences that someone else may shrug at can have a big subjective impact on me, and making mountains out of sonic molehills is part of the disease :-).

    3. Of course Vaal, that's certainly what I expect. Every speaker will have its "flavor" and since we're all talking about hi-fi devices, I'm not expecting "night and day" type changes.

      I leave the dramatic prose with push for consumer expectations to our good friends at the audiophile magazines. :-)

  7. Vaal, you are probably right. I listen most critically to classical music, and go to performances regularly. So I sort of fancy that I seek accuracy in that area overall.

    However, I think you could probably replicate the DeVore sound more easily by EQing set of speakers that met the proper distortion and dispersion effects. Furthermore, you could achieve it even when the source recording is interfering with its own particular mixing choices (which certainly happens). It's possible you would need studio tools too replicate the distortion and resonance behavior of the speaker.

    So I do think they are badly designed, inasmuch as they offer one, inflexible, window on a recording, and will be very picky with room and setup, whereas a speaker that meets the "Toole"/ASR/measurista suggestions of low distortion, low compression, even dispersion and sound power across frequencies, and a normal-to-easy driving load *could* sound like this with some DSP, and can do so while being able to set back to accuracy or adjust as necessary.

    One tube manufacturer has suggested that distortion on dynamics arising from tube amps with very efficient loudspeakers (which DeVore are) creates a sort of artifical extra dynamic sound. I don't know if that's true, but it's possible. No DSP plugin (yet) for that one, although I suspect a saturation plug-in would do it.

    So that's my criticism - start with accuracy, season to taste. Don't bring the dish in drowning in salt.

  8. Stop your untruths! You are NOT looking hard enough if you haven't seen Devore at a show, or not attending enough shows. Ditto showrooms. Local Austin dealer has at least one Devore model on the floor. I like Devore and Hans both.

    1. Okay Army...

      Realize that I'm situated in Western Canada. So unless you know of a showroom around here, I'm not sure what kind of "untruths" you think I'm perpetuating.

      As luck would have it, I am going to be down in Texas over the holidays. So is there a showroom in San Antonio I can visit with DeVores? Which Austin dealer has them in the event I drive out there?

      Great that you like DeVore. As for Hans, well, IMO, he clearly tells "untruths" including back in the day with his repetition of MQA propaganda. Good luck with that.

  9. Hej Arch
    I am late to this party. I have no experience of Devores speakers although I am familiar with the brand as they are often mentioned in audiophile forums, magazines etc. As regards measurements and the idea that sound cannot be measured I can only sigh and provide a few examples of how these assertions have become all too common. These past few weeks I have come across several reviews where the experts assert that “all cannot be measured”. Entreq (mentioned in an earlier post) from Sweden claim that “That which can be measured is not important, and that which is important cannot be measured” According to them we should not trust measurements because they will only confuse us. Better to trust our ears and our brains. Well, if we only used our brains, we would not allow this plethora of snake oil products to have a market. Why do reviewers not understand that digital communication is just that. A transference of bits. Not sound. You either receive the package or you do not. Yet there are far too many reviewers that will tell you the opposite. Look at How is it possible that music lovers can be duped by such a product?
    You tube reviewer Soundnews in his post claims starting at 8:23 that sound cannot be measured. He is of course reviewing a switch. He claims that there are things that can be heard that can’t be measured.
    You tube reviewer brings to light a problem with you tube reviewers and how it effects their content. The subject of his review, Passion for Sound, has a remarkable post regarding blind tests.
    He does a blind test; the participants could tell no difference when blind but claimed to hear a difference when sighted even if the audio wasn't changing. Instead of concluding the audiophiles couldn't hear a difference, he concluded that they could and that the blind test must have been invalid. Reminds me of the flat earthers expensive test. 20 000 $ was spent for the documentary, “Behind the curve” to prove the earth is flat. When the test proved that the earth was not flat, he chose to ignore the results.
    Why do we choose to ignore facts? Why are we so easily swayed by what should instinctively be regarded as nonsense? For some it seems that if the product is very expensive then the manufacturers claims must be true. Why?
    Why are we so frustratingly gullible? We know that repetition will influence people and is known as the Illusory truth effect. The more we are exposed to a false claim the more we begin to feel as if it might be true. See Trumps continued mantra of “The election was stolen”. Despite all the evidence to the contrary many are convinced that it was stolen. We are not impervious to falling for the Illusory truth effect despite any convictions we might have regarding our common sense. We make roughly 35 000 decisions each day and it would be futile to think that each decision can be processed thoughtfully. Our brain must take shortcuts. Some decisions must be fast and automatic and others we can give more thought. The ones that require thoughtful consideration require more energy and are taxing, so we instinctively try to preserve energy and go for more automated responses. This is when we are susceptible to repetitive falsehoods.
    Critical thinking and fact checking should be the mantra of all audiophiles.
    Have a great Xmas and enjoy your holidays and music!

    1. Wow, wonderful comment Mike with fascinating links and analysis!

      Humans are amazing creatures aren't we?! With the ability to utilize language, capable of complex decision-making, use higher-order cognitive functions, yet so easy to fall into all kinds of fallacies.

      Great to see that you've been critically analyzing the content out there. I suspect that the "silent majority" of folks looking at some of the controversies and battles among audiophiles would recognize the analogies you make to areas like politics and the sort of "faith" that seems to come with some of the most ridiculous beliefs!

      Within the small audiophile domain, let's hope critical thinking can be more prevalent among audiophiles, YouTubers, writers, etc... Much more important that rationality can be found in the world of politics, and that silly pseudoscience can be seen for what it is.

  10. In my opinion, the majority of the audio press (including online blogs and youtubers) review equipment in the same manner that music journalists would review album. The former simply do not have the capacity for true objective analysis (out side of Erin's Audio or ASR). I'm ok with this amount of handwaving. Seasoned pros like Art Dudley (RIP) and Herb Reichert spoke eloquently when describing their tastes and preferences in experiencing audio.

    However, for a manufacturer who puts his name on his products, to outwardly challenge objective measurements usefulness in his practise and the industry is almost inexcusable.

  11. A great summary of how measurements can relate to our experience of a loudspeaker system from Erin's Audio Corner.

    1. Thanks for the comment Fall.

      I think so long as audiophiles know where they're coming from (the likes of Reichert, Dudley, Guttenberg, etc...), maybe that's OK.

      But still, when it comes to elements that can be demonstrated in the objective domain (like whether truly something is more "noisy"), then I think they really need to defer to some objectivity to confirm opinions. I see that as being honest with the reader.

      If a respected reviewer claims "this amplifier is noisier than that one" especially if his comment could sway consumers, then IMO it's better to confirm it with some objective testing. It'll also be more fair to the manufacturer who might lose a potential sale if it's just based on an untruthful opinion.

  12. When reviewers and manufacturers start talking about magical sound artifacts from audio equipment that can't be measured it's time for me to walk away. Many thanks to you Arch for writing on these topics. It has always seemed odd to me that some of the designers that build these products suggest that their creations have somehow magically transcended reality. I'm all for folks going for a sound signature that works for them. With modern technology that can be done easily with EQ. Swapping gear around in an attempt to tune a sound strikes me as an expensive route to get there.

    1. Good point Doug.

      If I were a more cynical guy :-), I would state that the reason is because the money must flow, the industry must drum up business, the magazines and YouTube videos must move product.

      Many obviously have interests in keeping the Industry running for their own subsistence despite the maturity of the technology, and it's optimal to encourage expensive gear swaps than foster a more sober attitude among hobbyists.

  13. Try Whetstone in Austin. Call first as Brian only opens on request. He will be able to tell you what models he may have.

    1. Thanks for the tip Army,
      Will see what day I take a drive to Austin. There's always NYC in May to have a listen.

      Anyone know if there's a showroom in Manhattan I can pop into with DeVore speakers? (Looks like In Living Stereo, also by appointment?)

  14. I remember on Youtube where I watched a bunch of Russian music producers did a blind test of monitors in a studio. Overall, they preferred the much cheaper Neumis over Genelecs by a slight margin.

    Even if arguing the deficiencies of the Neumi is what causing the preference scores, that's IMO is still a weak argument at best when applied to far more expensive gear.

    1. Interesting comment Jonathan,
      It also brings up the question of who the listeners are. In the example you bring up, these are music producers familiar with studio gear. "Pro" audio people who also have ear training as part of their work and probably studied music as well. Anecdotally even in that group, I've heard comments about the limits of their auditory ability.

      When it comes to the average audiophile, I'm not sure whether there's typically the same amount of experience so who knows if blind testing results between consumer audiophile and pro-audio folks would result in the same outcome!

      We know from the Harman writings that sound preference between untrained vs. trained listeners suggest that the untrained ones often prefer extra bass accentuation so certain kinds of "inaccuracies" can clearly be preferred...