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Fleetwood Sound Company DeVille Loudspeaker

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. 

The treble response is pretty uniform within the solid angle defined by the horn (about ±15 degrees). Excellent directivity is a notable advantage of a conical horn flare, meaning that it does not beam with increasing frequency. Of the multitude of tweeters, I’ve auditioned over the years, including soft and hard domes, ribbons, and even Heil Air-Motion Transformers, this one impressed me the most as far as its sheer dynamic power. It has been said that loud is good as long as it is clean, and the DeVille is a prime example of that. It could cleanly scale dynamic peaks that were audibly compressed by the competition.

The overall in-room response, as measured on the tweeter axis and within a few inches above and below the tweeter midline, was fairly uniform to about 300Hz, where room modes began to appear. A response dip of about 3dB was seen in the upper midrange with the measurement mic positioned a few inches below the horn. I’m not suggesting that a single measurement is predictive of the in-room tonal balance when listening in the far field, where spatial averaging of sound energy becomes important. However, I had set up the DeVille as I would a mid-field studio monitor, and found listening height to be a critical factor to obtaining the most accurate tonal balance. Mounted on the 24-inch-tall factory stands, the horn ended up above my ear height. I experienced a significant increase in upper-midrange energy when I stood up, such that my ears either lined up level with or were slightly above the horn. I went the extra mile here and acquired 16-inch-tall stands (featuring a slight tilt back) so I could lower the horn midline by about 8 inches and match the horn height to my ear level. This gave the most accurate tonal fidelity with my favorite sopranos.

The speaker is designed to give an extended bass shelf response, sacrificing some sensitivity in the bass region for extension—the rationale for that approach being that many typical domestic listening spaces exhibit strong standing wave modes between 50–80Hz, and this design is meant to avoid overly exciting such modes. Mounted on the short stands which couples the woofer and ports closer to the floor, I was able obtain a full midbass range, coupled with deep bass extension that was 3dB down at 39Hz. Deep-bass roll off was moderate, as you would expect from an over-damped bass-reflex alignment. Upright bass pitch definition was excellent, and certainly did not exhibit the sort of imprecision many bass-reflex designs are guilty of.

I’m happy to report that he DeVille is truly an 8-ohm nominal impedance speaker. A true 8-ohm speaker should not dip by more than 20% below its rating at its impedance minimum. Many speakers out there fudge quite a bit in this regard. Not so with the DeVille. It easily meets this spec, having an absolute minimum impedance of 6.7 ohms, which is good news for tube amplifiers. 

This is not a bright-sounding speaker. The midrange was full-bodied and felicitous on cello timbre, while the upper octaves sounded just a tad recessed relative to the core of the midrange, resulting in a mid-hall tonal perspective. After a decent break-in period, I ended up selecting a toe-in angle that intersected the horns right at the listening seat. This geometry gave the widest soundstage. Since horns in general concentrate sound energy and project it a fair distance out, sidewall reflections are normally not an issue, which offers flexibility in siting the DeVille in a narrow room.

The DeVille was capable of breathtaking transient clarity and soundstage transparency. Its ability to resolve detail in a complex mix was exemplary. Mary Fahl is one of my favorite androgynous altos. Her lyrics are occasionally difficult to make out when drenched with heavy reverb, as on the “Coming Home” track from The Other Side of Time [Sony Odyssey SK89892]. The DeVille readily resolved any such ambiguities. It also proved incredibly resolving of amplifier and speaker-cable differences. In view of its 94dB sensitivity, it is quite possible to drive it with low-power amplification. According to JW, the OMA 2.5-watt SET Parallax amp has been used to good effect with the DeVille. JW explained that the DeVille was not designed specifically for the SET low-power crowd, and can actually handle hundreds of watts gracefully and play much louder than almost anything out there in the audiophile world. It is indeed fascinating, as he puts it, that this speaker manages to do two seemingly contradictory things really well.

I had a lot of fun trying out a variety of power amps, including the 300Wpc NYAL Moscode 600 modified by Stephen Sank, which seemed to provide limitless headroom. Each amp’s core personality shone right through the DeVille. Last on my list of amps to try were a couple of low-power SETs. The virtues of the 8Wpc Air Tight’s ATM-300R—namely, velvety textures, remarkable timbre fidelity, superb soundstage transparency, and 3-D image outlines—were on full display. The Air Tight was particularly happy being partnered by Analysis Plus Oval 12 Speaker Cable. Recordings featuring close miking of female voice were unusually engaging with this combo, thanks to the superbly natural timbre. 

Pete Millett’s R120 SET amp, featuring the legendary R120 indirectly heated triode, which outputs 4Wpc on a good day, offered an interesting contrast to the Air Tight 300B amp. It lacked the bass definition, headroom, and refinement of the Air Tight, but its seductive midrange offered ample sonic compensation. Its siren call was particularly strong and clear through the DeVille. Obviously more euphonic and less resolving at the frequency extremes, the R120 nonetheless warmed the heart with its sweet tone and ability to spring forward emotions from the music’s fabric. I’ve been listening frequently these past few months to the Beethoven violin concerto with David Oistrakh (Andre Cluytens conducting the French National Radio Orchestra), a recording that dates back to 1958. Oistrakh’s lyrical reading and mastery of the Strad are nothing short of astounding, and this was conveyed beautifully by the R120/DeVille combo.

The DeVille was also keenly revealing of front-end changes. I will share one example. Bob Prangnell of Mad Scientist Audio in New Zealand recently sent me a sample of his hand-built Heretical Digital cable, which features a thin carbon rod as a center conductor. What is heretical about it is its impedance, which is in the range of 30 to 40 ohms, well below the 75-ohm standard. It replaced a one-meter length of DH Labs Silver Sonic D-750, which I had rated quite highly. The DeVille instantly let me know that the Heretical cable was dramatically better, specifically in the areas of soundstage transparency, image focus, and textural richness. Bottom line: The DeVille consistently performed as a sonic microscope powered by its exceptional clarity.

The DeVille has impacted the landscape of two-way stand-mount designs in a significant way, so much so, that it has become my favorite speaker in this genre. It’s agnostic when it comes to power amps and is comfortable with almost anything north of 8Wpc. It offers a winning combination of excellent engineering and exceptional execution, and is capable of weaving a considerable amount of sonic magic, of recreating a moment in space and time that is utterly convincing. Very few speakers are capable of accomplishing that, especially at this asking price. The De- Ville will surely win many friends for the Fleetwood Sound Company. A must-audition for audiophiles, young and old alike. 

Specs & Pricing

Type: Conical-horn-loaded two-way design
Frequency range: 36Hz–20kHz
Sensitivity: 94dB/1W/1m
Impedance: 8 ohms nominal
Recommended amplifier power: 10Wpc minimum 
Dimensions: 18″ x 24″ x 10″
Weight: 36 lbs.
Price: $9600 (in basic finish); stands $750 in black paint, $1550 in natural ash finish 

FLEETWOOD SOUND COMPANY
(917) 743-3780
fleetwoodsound.com

Associated Equipment
Power amplifiers: Linear Tube Audio ZOTL40 Reference, NYAL Moscode 600 (upgraded), Red Dragon Audio S-500, VTL Manley reference series 100/200 monoblocks, Air Tight ATM-300R SET, Pete Millett R120 SET
Preamplifier: First Watt B-1(upgraded), The Truth by Ed Schilling, PrimaLuna EVO 400
Phono front end: Revox B795 turntable; TPAD 1000 phono stage; Sound Tradition MC-10 step-up transformer
Digital front end: Audirvana 3.5 software, Qobuz streaming, Audiolab 6000CDT transport, Audio Note 2.1 Signature & Audio-gd Reference-7 DACs, Matrix Audio X-SPDIF 2 USB bridge, Uptone Audio ISO REGEN
Cable & interconnects: Mogami and Kimber KCAG interconnects; Analysis Plus Oval 12, FMS Blue, & Take Five Audio Cryo treated Mogami 3103 speaker cable
Accessories: Sound Application power-line conditioner

By Dick Olsher

Although educated as a nuclear engineer at the University of Florida, I spent most of my career, 30 years to be exact, employed as a radiation physicist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, from which I retired in 2008.

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