Devialet | Phantom

Background

Do you have passions in life? I do! At least two main ones: photography and music. I guess you figured out already about photography. Unlike the other articles I usually post on this blog I’d like to spend some time to talk about a product I bought a few days ago: the Silver Phantom speakers by Devialet.

For several years I had an audio system (which almost qualified as high-end) made of separate components from Mark Levinson (amplifier), Bryston (DAC), Kef (Speakers), etc… I really enjoyed and loved it. Not my family though. Too many cables, remotes, menus and buttons. I’m not even mentioning the space it took as well as the complex negotiations I had to go through just to make sure I could benefit from a decent audio experience in the living room (actually this is probably how wars between several couples started). Comparing to iTunes or the iPod my system felt like a dinosaur. A lovely and high-end dinosaur. But … a dinosaur which no one in the family wanted to deal with anymore no matter how good the sound was. 

I sold all my gear and bought a B&O Play A9 speaker in December 2012.

To sum up the A9: sleek design, wireless, incredibly easy to install and use, native Airplay, customizable (with color covers), expensive and most importantly: only one single cable (the power cable). Everyone who saw this sucker liked it. Whether I put it on the wall or on its wooden feet it looked amazing. The sound? Well, back in 2012 it was one of the top wireless speakers and even today I still believe it ranks amongst the best. However you can’t compare a mono wireless speaker with a dedicated stereo system. Let’s just say I was ok with the performance of the A9 knowing its limitations, but I was also waiting secretly for the next best thing (a mix of design / wireless / high def sound / stereo) to come in order to replace it.

Here comes the Phantom

January 2015. After several weeks of great teasing Devialet introduced the Phantom. 

On the paper it ticked all the boxes in my wish list:

  • One speaker = mono setup but you can pair two of them to build a stereo system
  • Wireless audio & high def compatibility
  • Audio inputs for external sources
  • Nice design (not as good as the A9 though – I know, it’s a matter of taste)
  • According to Devialet, the best sound to date for a wireless speaker

The only thing which gave me cold feet was the price. 4279 euros for a pair. Ouch!

Experience

It took a while before I could listen to the Phantom (busy schedule). 

Actually my first experience was a bit disappointing. The standard “in store” demo seems to be same every time. First you listen to a single 750W Phantom playing Beyonce’s song “Partition” before they introduce you to a stereo setup made of two Silver Phantom (3000W each). In both cases the volume is cranked up at a level which would make your neighbors want to execute you. Although very impressive (the bass level and the lack of distortion are jaw dropping) I found the presentation to be unrealistic compared to what you’d expect in a normal home environment. Nevertheless the overall experience was interesting enough to give it another try. 

Also it convinced me that if I was to buy into this system it would need to be with a pair of Silver Phantom. Even if a single 750W Phantom was clearly more powerful than the B&O A9 it lacked the subtlety and spatialization I was looking for.

The second listening took place in Devialet’s flagship store in Paris (rue Réaumur). Kudos to Devialet’s staff who didn’t drown me into a useless marketing speech (e.g. best sound in the world) nor made me go through Beyonce’s demo. I said I wanted to listen to specific songs with a pair of Silver Phantom set at a lower sound level. In this particular case I could listen to Patricia Barber, Sinne Eeg, Keith Jarrett and Portishead.

I ended up buying a pair of Silver Phantom and got a Pro-Ject Essentials II LP player for free. I bought the remote control a few days later but we’ll come back to why further down.

Is it worth it?

I won’t try to describe with thousand words what I feel when I listen to the system. In the end it doesn’t matter. Indeed I find that with gear reviews, especially with audio, one should never take a decision based on written feedback. However I will stress a few points: 

  • I was looking for a user-friendly wireless stereo system which, in the ideal world, would mirror my past experience with separate high-end hifi components. To some extent, the Silver Phantoms come close in several areas: spatiality and transparency (very close to the Proceed AVP2), low frequencies rendition and crazy low distortion (if none) even at insanely high sound levels. Will it replace a high-end system? No. I still find them to lack the subtlety (bass) of more expensive audio systems. However to get something significantly better than a pair of Silver Phantoms you’ll need to invest way (way) more than 4279 euros.
  • If you can afford it, go stereo. Ideally with the Silver versions as you’ll benefit from a larger breadth of power. I find the message to be more subtle and transparent than with the 750 W version especially at low level.
  • Personally I can’t wait to get the two dedicated stands for the speakers. Mainly because I like their look but also because I want to hide the yellow power cord. So far I couldn’t find a single person who likes the yellow cables. It looks terrible and I wished Devialet went for white (or silver).
  • I wish Devialet offered native Airplay compatibility. Same goes for more streaming services like Apple Music and Spotify.
  • If you follow the setup guide it shouldn’t be an issue to get the speakers up and running very quickly. I didn’t experience any major issue but I have to admit that the process is less user friendly than with the B&O A9 or the Sonos One. It took several tries before the Dialog router would recognize the Phantoms. Obviously because there are more than one speaker you will end up with a few more cables especially if, like me, you plug in an airport express module and a LP player.
  • Spark is a pain the neck to use. Especially if you don’t plan to use one of the streaming services provided in the Apps list (i.e. Tidal, Qobuz or Deezer). I use Apple Music and Music Match. In my case, Spark becomes useless other than for setting up the system.
  • The remote app is ok’ish’ but you’ll need to have a phone or a tablet connected to your speakers via Bluetooth to use it. I’m not a big fan. Hence why I bought the physical remote two days later. Right now switching from one source to another brings the sound back down to 30%. Therefore you need to re-adjust the sound every time. I find it easier to deal with this issue with the physical remote rather than with a phone where I have to unlock my screen.
  • Sound quality is one thing. But customer service and upgrade philosophy are two factors of huge importance to me. In both areas Devialet didn’t disappoint and I really like their long term approach with each of their products. Which brings me to my wishlist…

Wish List

  • Change the power cable color from yellow to white
  • Allow for a mute function on the physical remote. For example, hold the palm of the hand on the remote or three fingers on the top of the remote for more than a second mutes the sound. Do the same again and the sound comes back.
  • Make the system natively compatible with Airplay (who wants Airport Express?)
  • Bring Apple Music and Spotify to Spark
  • Improve Spark (both in design and functions)
  • Allow for the sound level to be customized at a given level by sources / inputs.

Conclusion

Overall I’m very impressed and pleased with the setup. The combination of design, ease of use as well as the lack of apparent cables everywhere and the high def streaming capabilities finally meet with high end sound. Yes it is expensive but the audio experience is closer than ever to what I used to get on a much more expensive system. Finally despite being perfect (yet), Phantom can be upgraded (both firmware and hardware) giving me the assurance that my system will last for more than a couple of years.

Technical Specifications and prices

Prices (per unit):

  • Phantom (750 W) : 1,690 euros
  • Silver Phantom (3,000 W) : 1,990 euros
  • Dialog : 299 euros
  • Sound Pressure Level 99 dBSPL at 1 meter (Phantom) 105 dBSPL at 1 meter (Phantom silver)
  • Amplification power 750 Wpeak (Phantom) 3000 Wpeak (Phantom Silver)
  • Bandwidth 16Hz to 25kHz at +/- 2dB
  • Digital analog converter : TI PCM1798 24bits/192kHz
  • Processor : 800MHz dual-core ARM Cortex-A9 MPCore processor, 512 MB DDR3 Memory
  • Aluminum dome drivers
  • Weight: 11 kg
  • Width: 253 mm
  • Height: 255 mm
  • Depth : 343 mm
  • Volume: 12.15 l

For more details, visit Devialet's dedicated website