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Obstacles to the Open Window Approach
I am firmly committed to the open-window approach. I never realized just how much until I reviewed the Shindo Sinhonia amplifiers in these pages last year. I reported then that the experience was entirely transformative. Instead of looking for a speaker that was a good match for the amplifier in the sense of a speaker that was well driven by the amplifier, I had come to the view that the one thing I wanted from a speaker was to simply get out of the way of music. I referred to this as the "no roadblock' approach. The one thing I didn't want a speaker to do was to present a roadblock to my ability to see deeply into the music, an opportunity the Shindo electronics provided for me.

Finding such a loudspeaker invariably proves to me more difficult than one would think. I caught glimpses of it in some designs and in many ways, the Hørning Agathon Ultimates display this attribute in a horn design.

Still, I had not come close to experiencing the sense of a speaker as an open window in a regular dynamic loudspeaker design until the DeVore Silverback Reference showed up for review. Not only is the Silverback the least obtrusive dynamic loudspeaker I have heard, it is the most well balanced one too. When it opens its window on the sound, there is no fear whatsoever of an analytic, tilted-up unnatural sound any more than there is fear of artificial midbass punch or dynamics entirely out of sorts with the rest of the presentation.

How much you hear, how deeply into the music you hear, will of course depend on the quality of what you put before it, the internal balance of those components and their relative ability to resolve detail. But whatever you hear will invariably be presented in balance (provided your upstream components are themselves reasonably well balanced). The mix will always be musically persuasive. Details will never artificially stand out or call attention to themselves.

The DeVore Fidelity Silverbacks are so spectacularly well conceived and balanced that you will be rewarded for every improvement you make in upstream components. Not only that, you will be able to judge whether a component you are contemplating adding to the mix is musically correct or properly balanced. It is not so easy, however, to design a loudspeaker that simply gets out of the way. More importantly, it understates what the Silverback does to describe it as 'merely' getting out of the way of the music.

Indeed the greatest barriers to the open-window approach are loudspeakers themselves. In this sense, a loudspeaker is often its own worst enemy as well as an enemy to the music. Relative to most other components in the chain, a loudspeaker is normally the source of distortion. And even loudspeakers that are relatively free of distortions can throw up roadblocks to the music. Some are just so damn difficult to drive that they exhaust the amplifiers putting up a yeoman's effort just to hang in there.

A speaker can be demanding on an amplifier in any number of ways. It can be insensitive and therefore hard to drive, or it can present an amplifier with a torturous impedance curve and severe phase angles to the same effect. Even speakers with ostensibly friendly impedance curves and higher than average sensitivity can be problematic for an amplifier, if, for example, the speaker has an extremely complex crossover or if its crossover design does not adequate ameliorate problems caused by back EMF.

An amplifier that strains to drive a loudspeaker is like someone working too hard rather than smart. Instead of operating in a comfort zone relaxed, composed and fully at ease, the amp sounds a bit fatigued, likely to become cranky and lose its composure. It will lose it just like we do. While we may flip, it will clip or compress. This is no way to let the music through.

Of course, one can try to overcome such problems by brute force in the form of voltage or current, much like some designers attempt to control resonances via brute mass. These approaches treat complex issues as if they were one-dimensional, employing a hammer or pile driver when finer tools are required. Worse, they run the risk of creating more problems than they solve.

For my part, high-power amplifiers -- solid state or vacuum tube -- are less capable of nuance and subtlety. They represent a blanket solution to a complex problem and like blankets, they cover up as much as they reveal. In doing so, they obscure the fine details, the dynamic shifts and shadings that for their reproduction require more finesse than force. Without agility and responsiveness to inner detail and nuance, you will not be privy to music's most glorious private moments and hidden truths. These can be uncovered only with a light touch and a steady hand. They are not cracked open with a hammer or a pile driver

I often joke that a speaker that can only be driven by amplifiers with more than two output tubes per side is poorly designed. Of course, that's an exaggeration and if taken literally, would damn without argument wonderful speakers like the Magneplanar 3.6R and the Sonus Faber Stradivarius. And that would be absurd. On the other hand, neither of these speakers seeks to provide an open window to the source. They have a different ambition.

I stand by my statement that a speaker aiming to be an open window to the source really must be capable of being driven by the kind of amplifiers -- preferably tubes to my mind -- that themselves are an open book to the heart,

soul and meaning of music. The great virtue of SET amplifiers even among those who are not in the end moved by them is their immediacy - not as some have mistakenly urged, their warmth or romantic glow. A good SET amplifier connects the listener to the core of a recorded event in a way that seems completely unmediated by mechanical or electrical devices. What you want from a speaker is for it to organize that experience for you and to allow you to hear it in its purest unfiltered form. It is there to facilitate the connection, not to substitute its reading of the event for yours, and certainly not to hinder your efforts to make that connection.

Such a loudspeaker succeeds most when it is noticed least. And so it is with the DeVore Silverback Reference. I have never heard a dynamic loudspeaker more capable of just laying the music bare before your very eyes and ears while nearly completely removing itself from the scene. It presents the music as if it were presenting a gift to you. All the details in their proper relationship to one another are laid before you to experience as a whole or to study the relationships of one element to the other – as you see fit. In this regard, it is very much like the best hornspeakers but superior in ways I shall discuss next.