Devialet (pronounced: duv’-ē-a-lay) is the Parisian company that has created a Sonos-like stir in the audiophile world. Its ‘pizza box’ shaped, flagship product, the D200, is an amp, preamp, phono stage, DAC and WiFi card in one very thin, sexy chrome box. The audio press went wild over it. I heard one at length just recently and it casts a pretty spell on the music and is a top notch, one-stop shop. If that's what you’re after.
While Devialet was developing its audiophile chops with one box solutions, Santa Barbara's SONOS was quietly taking over the lifestyle/civilian demographic with a superb wireless system. I love my SONOS setup, the excellent sound and its relatively inexpensive price. During the last ten years, the company has eclipsed Bose as the lifestyle audio big daddy in town.
The smart guys at Devialet must have said 'we want some of that' and got cracking designing their lifestyle system. It had to look cool, be totally adaptable and wireless and come in at price commensurate with SONOS. The Phantom was born.
Egg like in shape, white only in colour, and beautifully smooth to the touch, the Phantom is a single speaker solution for your hifi needs. Note: this review was completed using two Phantoms as a stereo pair. I’ll report on its single point source sound in another review.
Powerful, adaptable and easy to use, the Phantom is small with only 10 x 10 x 13-inch footprint. The one button on the unit is for reset, all other actions are performed by the free app(s) on your smartphone (iOS and Android). I used Devialet’s ‘Spark’ app and the dedicated 'Phantom Remote Control' app on my Apple iPhone 6S Plus. Both worked flawlessly. And the apps are very intuitive. I was up and running via Bluetooth in seconds.
The Phantom’s footprint changes when attached to its dedicated stand called the 'Branch: Phantom Intelligent Base'. Devialet describes it as: 'Branch raises Phantom to the ideal and perfect height for an absolute audiophile listening. Connected thermally to Phantom, Branch maintains optimum functioning conditions. A unique creation: Result of a thorough marquetry, Branch is made of a whitened wood veneer pressed against an ultra resistant aluminum column. Branch's extremely stable base is an authentic piece of foundry made with a fine aluminum blend.'
At just under a grand a pair, these stands are for hyper fans only. They look very good, but audiophiles will notice immediately the cantilever design of the base — ‘how is it going to control all that bass?’. They looked so good, I used them for this review. They did no harm and any device that gets the bass driver off the floor and tweeter at ear level is a good thing.
The technology contained within the Phantom system is very impressive. As usual with this type of product, especially new kit where the engineers have developed proprietary topologies, there are lots of fancy trademarked acronyms thrown around.
Beginning with ‘ADH’ (Analog Digital Hybrid), Devialet’s take on blending analogue ‘Class A’ amplification with digital ‘Class D’. I’ve not been a fan of many Class D amps I’ve heard, but the compactness and power delivery of the Phantom cannot be denied. Here, Devialet has conquered the harshness and heartlessness. I used a pretty nasty MP3 of Anne Sophie Mutter’s DGG Beethoven Violin Sonatas to test the zing. No zing. Smooth as silk with really enviable imaging. It was in no way tube-like, but it did demonstrate the best of the digital domain. Mutter's Strad was enveloped in a very lovely, transparent sound. ADH? Job done.
Next up, and way up on the cheesiness factor, HBI (Heart Bass Implosion). Yup, the bass is deep and accurate. As described by the gang in Paris, ‘it’s the only system in the world that allows for extremely low frequencies from such a compact space’. The Phantoms are measured ruler flat from 20 to 20, so I’m not disputing the grandiosity. And the proof is in the really low bass. It’s there, if the heavily flapping side cones are to be believed. The 32 foot pipes on DGGs Organ Spectacular (pretty vague on the jacket, but sounds like a large French electro pneumatic) had the Phantoms’ sides jerking like a fiddler’s elbow. No cone slap or damage inducing frenzy. Just very clean bass. And beautifully integrated into the sound field. Very impressive.
At number three on the acronym charts, ACE (Active Co-Spherical Engine). Described by Devialet as ‘ designat[ing] the spherical conception of Phantom, inspired by the thrusting sphere of Olson, the perfect acoustical shape. It is the ideal shape to reproduce sound and spread its linear energy in all directions. Phantom has the perfect acoustic architecture for an omnidirectional emission with a homogeneous sound no matter the listening angle and without any sound diffraction at the surface of the speaker.’ Yup. An egg.
For serious techies, Devialet has published a detailed white paper.
Please excuse my teasing of these larger than life terms. The engineering does work cohesively and makes the sound of the Phantoms a real world hifi stereo solution. My system price as reviewed was a little over US$5,000 (Phantom x 2, Branch x2, Dialog X 1), reasonable if one compares with separates of similar standing musically and acoustically. Each Phantom is US$1950.
You can listen via ethernet, but the Bluetooth is rock solid and I had no dropouts during my long sessions.
The soundstage of the stereo pair was very good -- satisfying, but with a little more width than depth. I had the speakers throwing straight out - no toe in. But it was the imaging that was the star of the audiophile tick-the-box show. One my old flute recordings from a radio check (Sibelius 2 at St. John's Smith Square, London) had my 21 year old self in the same position as I remember. Dead straight behind the conductor's podium. No audio photoshopping the sound -- the silver flute sounded accurate in timbre and floated beautifully in the lovely acoustic. The excellent clarinet section was heard layered behind with the brass resonating as a whole farther back, just as you'd hear live at St. John's.
When an orchestra got really loud as on Respighi's PInes of Rome (CSO/Reiner/RCA), the soundstage did not implode. Things got real but the Phantom's engineering wizadry allowed them to hold on with ease. The French government categorize any device that sounds over 105dB as a weapon. As such, the Phantom goes to 11 (99dB). Want that extra 6dB to test the authorities of La Republique? The Phantom Silver is available for US$400 more.
The target audience for this gear is one step above the price demographic than Bose and SONOS. Does it sound better, at least in this stereo configuration? Oui. Does it sound as good as my Audio Research, Raidho, Antipodes reference system. Non. But, my setup is ten times the price.
If lifestyle, ease of use, upgrades (all free via continuing software downloads), and a very lively yet transparent digital sound is what you're after, then the Devialet Phantoms in stereo is an easy choice. But with ease of use comes limitations. Sure, it's pretty and cool, and we know that component matching/swapping, tube biasing, a vinyl life, etc, is not. But it's what we audiophiles often crave. However, if you're becoming one of those audiophiles who want a more relaxed two channel digital existence for a reasonable price, give the Phantoms in stereo mode a try. I think you'll be impressed.
Further information: Devialet