The story of DeVore Fidelity Orangutan Reference

John (DeVore Fidelity) writes: "A few months ago the question I was asked most often was, "Do you play basketball?" Now it's, "Why does the Orangutan Reference cost so much?" I thought I'd address the understandable questions that people have regarding the price of the O/Ref system. Please also check out the "Reference Economics" photo album for pics of much of the development and production process."

"The Reference project began six years ago, as a response to customers' asking for an even better O/96. Many directions were explored, including big 15-inch versions, open-baffle versions, and multiple-driver versions. AlNiCo was an ingredient early on, as was bronze.

The final four-box configuration took shape (ha!) as I realized that the only way to side-step the conflict of keeping the speaker a two-way for easiest drivability and increasing transparency was to (gently) reduce the excursions of the main 10" driver. Moving the bottom octave out of the main cabinet allowed a true optimization of the main driver for 40Hz and up, and a drastic reduction in cabinet vibration.

The bronze chassis and horns have required the largest upfront investment by far. These are cast in Indiana and machined in Virginia before coming to us in Brooklyn for final prep before being sent to Norway for assembly into our drivers. The casting process is the most efficient way to manufacture these parts, producing 90-95 percent less waste than machining out of a solid block of material the way most small-scale production is done. It requires far more investment up front however, as patterns and molds must be made for the molten bronze. Well worth it for the sonic and aesthetic benefits I believe.

AlNiCo (Aluminum Nickel Cobalt) magnets were the industry standard for decades before ferrite magnets took over due to far lower cost. It's possible to find nearly any size or shape of ferrite magnet as an off-the-shelf option when building drivers. Not so with AlNiCo. These magnets must be made to order, and the steel parts that make up the rest of the motor are all individually machined rather than stamped out by the 1000s. But there is no question that AlNiCo sounds and performs better, with far lower harmonic distortion through the midrange in the main 10" driver.

There are many other costly elements to the O/Ref system that I won't go into here, but suffice to say that the retail price was calculated using the standard cost formula, as with all our models. The enormous cost of development was not included in this formula, and so even at $80-90,000 a pair, the O/Ref will never be profitable for us on its own. All or our upfront investment was made with the intent to use much of the technology in other lower-priced models. The bronze parts are the most obvious, since we will be able to build other drivers on the same chassis and horns with minimal modifications.

Circling back to customer demand: the O/Ref system is exactly NOT what they were looking for. None were expecting four cabinets or the high price tag. As a cynical, greed-driven project, the O/Ref is a complete disaster. We could have pre-sold plenty of an "O" model at $20-30,000 to waiting customers, but I chose not to go that route. I wanted to know what the absolute limits were, and so kept pushing for six years and the result is the speaker system above. I'm very proud of the O/Ref, and believe it to be a truly reference product. At Munich to a large extent, and more so in our listening room here in Brooklyn and at a couple of other locations, the O/Ref has produced the most incredible reproduced music experiences I've ever had. In the context of the "Ultra-Fi" speakers it competes with, it's an absolute steal. I don't know if we'll sell many—of course I hope we do—but in the big picture, the O/Ref is what it needed to be, and it will lead to more affordable models to come.

Happy listening."

John--Top Banana, DeVore Fidelity