Fleetwood Sound Company DeVille Loudspeaker


Equipment report
Fleetwood Sound Company DeVille Loudspeaker

There is something new and wonderful brewing in Fleetwood, Pennsylvania. No, it has nothing to do with the historical Fleetwood Metal Body Works or the Cadillac Fleetwood. It’s the Fleetwood Sound Company, a division of Oswalds Mill Audio (OMA), and the brainchild of Jonathan Weiss (JW). In case you’re wondering, OMA gets its name from an over 200-year-old mill in Eastern Pennsylvania, restored by JW, which now serves as his home and lab. All products are designed and built from the ground up at the Fleetwood factory, a 42,000-square-foot facility. OMA was founded in 2006 and is best known for its exotic and ultra-expensive ($100k+) horn loudspeakers, a prime example of which is the Imperia with its array of conical horns and two 21-inch woofers operating into folded rear horns. With the new Fleetwood Sound Company moniker, and the DeVille loudspeaker, OMA hopes to extend its reach into more traditional audiophile markets. As JW puts it, this speaker is designed to run against the usual suspects one would find in a high-end showroom. 

What sets this two-way, stand-mounted speaker apart is a solid-wood, six-inch-long, conical horn that loads a 1-inch compression driver and covers the frequency range down to below 2kHz. An 8-inch woofer fills in the bottom octaves. Both drivers feature neodymium magnets and are made in Italy to OMA’s custom specifications.  Driver integration is a bit unusual. The woofer is rolled off with a third-order low-pass filter (18dB/octave) at about 1.5kHz. However, according to OMA, the tweeter’s high-pass filter is actually a first order, 6dB/octave, electrical filter that is centered near 8kHz. This mitigates phase-related interactions between the two drivers and allows them to be connected in positive acoustic polarity, a design metric that OMA’s Chief Technical Officer, Vytas Viesulas, is quite insistent upon. The horn is flanged at the mouth to properly terminate it to the front baffle (normally not an issue with OMA’s free-standing horns). These drivers are smaller versions of those used in OMA’s cost-no-object designs. It should be noted that the horn was designed by Bill Woods, who has been designing horn loudspeakers professionally for over 35 years and is recognized as a leading expert in this field. 

With the notable exception of the rear panel, which is a solid piece of phenolic resin, the cabinet is largely made of torrefied Pennsylvania ash. In recent years, many top guitar builders (e.g., Martin) have been using a controlled heating process, referred to as torrefaction, to accelerate the wood-aging process with the goal of improving tone quality and body strength. For a speaker cabinet, this represents a grand departure from the industry standard of medium-density fiberboard (MDF) construction. Even though the DeVille is well braced, some cabinet flexure is inevitable. The goal here is to reduce the time signature of cabinet resonances and thus improve bass-range definition.

The top and bottom panels, as well as the horn, are finished by hand with beeswax and boiled linseed oil. While unpacking the speakers I caught a whiff of the wood polish which I found to be an aromatic treat. It’s totally organic, says JW, and takes a long time to dry, which is one of the reasons almost everyone else uses synthetic, plastic-based finishes that are sprayed on. Instead, an OMA finish requires a minimum of three coats that are hand-rubbed, with long drying periods between coats. Aside from the residual aroma, the main advantage is that the wood grain shines through and will age gracefully like fine furniture. Even in the basic black finish of my review samples, the DeVille wowed me with its elegant beauty. The good news is that in addition to the standard black finish, the DeVille will be offered in a great many finish options, as it was designed to be wrapped in just about any material—like leather, denim or fabric, cork or paper—and painted in any finish. A myriad of woofer grilles, which are magnetic and just pop on or off, will also be available, as will custom designs.

Matching solid-wood speaker stands are offered. These are 24" tall and snap together using keyed studs that slide into metal receptacles. The stands connect to receptacles on the bottom of the cabinet. Be sure to watch Fleetwood Sound’s YouTube video on how to do this properly, and don’t use a rubber mallet, as I did, to seat the stand onto the receptacles. One whack too many and I managed to damage the stand. After my experience with the stand, OMA decided to transition to old-growth, vintage Pennsylvania hickory (from re-sawn barn beams, no less) in making the black-painted DeVille stands. This very hard and dense wood should definitely be able to withstand an assault from even a mallet-wielding reviewer.

Since this is a bass-reflex design with bottom-firing ports, care must be taken to avoid blocking off those ports. At first blush, this might seem like an odd location for ports, which are typically vented to the rear in anatomically correct fashion. However, the DeVille’s twin ports are quite long and therefore needed to be aligned along the height dimension. These stands allow for proper port venting, but in case you’d rather place the speaker on a flat surface such as conventional stand, spacer plates are provided for that purpose. These plates have cutouts for the ports, attach to the bottom of the speaker, and give about one-inch of clearance for the ports to operate.

The star attraction here is the horn-loaded compression tweeter featuring a polymer diaphragm. While titanium has been a ubiquitous diaphragm material in pro-sound applications for many years, JW has avoided it, finding the resultant sound to be rather nasty. Translating the horn’s 6" depth to a wavelength implies a useful frequency cutoff of about 2kHz. OMA tells me that with the right driver, the tweeter is actually fully functional down to about 1kHz. The fact that it measured practically flat on-axis to 20kHz is quite remarkable. The extended treble response is greatly aided by the phase plug in the horn throat which prevents early reflections and subsequent destructive cancellations in the top half-octave (15–20kHz), while also improving dispersion.