“COMBINING THE ART OF AESTHETICS WITH THE SCIENCE OF PHYSICS,” THIS NAVY YARD ARTISAN IS, SPEAKER BY SPEAKER, MAKING AUDIOPHILES OF AN EARBUD WEARY WORLD
BY MARISA PROCOPIO
Readers who dismiss serendipity as hogwash, lean in. Here’s a tale that promises conversion.
“When I was a kid, I kept on choosing loud and annoying music. My mom was less than thrilled.” John DeVore of DeVore Fidelity recalled, with what I soon found to be dependable candor and discernible wit. His fascination with sound as both art and science only grew, he said, and now fuels an enterprise that allows that magic rarity: an opportunity to actually do what he loves.
Founded by its president and chief designer, DeVore, in 2000, the company produces six models of audiophile speakers at its Navy Yard location, with a goal to, as he explains on the maker site, “communicate the life breath of music…combining the art of aesthetics with the science of physics in such a way that each complements the other.”
And the resulting handcrafted products are well worth the ticket price, if audiophiles worldwide have anything to say about it. (Testimonials, offered in breathless superlatives by CNET, Stereophile magazine, AudioStream, and dozens of other reviewers nearly eclipse the rest of the site’s content.)
“I come from a family of musicians,” said DeVore, “and I was always really my own hi fi system; I was the kid who made mix tapes for all my friends.”
He attended art school at the Rhode Island School of Design in the mid 1980s, and in between classes began to build speakers. Upon moving to New York City, he recalled being totally broke, then walking past a hi fi store on Broadway in Manhattan and spotting a sign advertising for a part time salesman.
He went in and got the job. And there, at Stereo Exchange (founded in 1984 and still going strong), DeVore “got to hear really everything in the industry; got to compare my own speakers to a world of others. I was an audiophile, and just loved the gear.”
Around 2000, a friend he’d met while working at the store, Steve Mishoe, told him he was planning to sell refurbished 1960s tube equipment. “And I said, ‘Why don’t I build speakers for you out of this vintage gear?’ I wound up making an actual line of speakers, and he was the first person to carry my brand,” said DeVore, of Mishoe and his company, In Living Stereo, in NoHo.
The part time work progressed for a while, but two issues mounted a first was the unavoidable mess left behind when one is working with wood not in a proper shop, but in a living space. (“You can’t do all this sawdusty shit here!” was how DeVore’s girlfriend, and now wife, Mai Hoang, gently put it.)
The second, more worrisome matter zeroed in on DeVore’s growing discontent with the cabinetmaker he employed. His work covering the speakers just wasn’t up to snuff. He remembers one day sitting alone at a bar “commiserating” to a former customer who had stopped in. DeVore expressed the problem to him, and his confidante replied, “Dude, I’m a cabinet maker!”
Everything began to come together when Anthony Abbate arrived. “Not only was he an audiophile, but he was sub leasing and starting his own woodshop,” added DeVore. This pairing clicked. The designers began working together and moved to their current space in the Brooklyn Navy Yard in 2002.
DeVore Fidelity is proud, its owner detailed, of being part of a growing community of artisans flourishing in and revitalizing the city. “All our cabinets are made here,” DeVore said, adding that factory tours allow visitors to see for themselves.
Conventional speakers tend to be black, presumably to fade into the background, and anyone who owns stereo equipment knows the dilemma of where to hide them. The trouble is that sound quality isn’t at all enhanced when its sources are tucked behind a 14 foot sectional.
The DeVore Fidelity team builds speakers that are furniture grade beautiful enough to display in the light of day. The company’s two lines of speakers are named Gibbon and Orangutan, as “a playful poke at pseudo technical jargon. [This is] supposed to be about fun,” the owner said, but added they are also “consistent with certain values.”
A generation ago, listening to music was a wholly social activity, DeVore explained. It was an event families and friends enjoyed together, one that fostered group bonds. Now, deep into the second decade of the smartphone earbud era, it has become an increasingly isolated activity. So, making equipment that’s “living room and family friendly, and that allows flexibility in terms of placement,” means re introducing music as an activity to be enjoyed in common.
“We want whoever the resident audiophile is to play records during a dinner party…to be into that,” stressed DeVore. “Where we are now, there’s no sharing. Listening to music wants to be a social medium. Our goal is to get the hi fi back where the family is.”
Just a few weeks before press time, the company debuted its Orangutan O/Reference system at the Rocky Mountain International Audio Fest its new flagship model, with separate cabinets for low and sub bass and with all drivers built on a cast and machined bronze chassis. Cabinets are built to order (bespoke finish and veneer), and system price is $80,000 and up (though other DeVore speakers are considerably less expensive).
Current dealers in New York are In Living Stereo (2 Great Jones Street) and Noho Søund (62 Cooper Square, by appointment).
63 Flushing Avenue / 718.855.9999 / devorefidelity.com