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Devialet's $2,000 Phantom speaker lands with a boom in the US

Jon Turi, @jonturi
06.18.15
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There always seems to be a gap between what's described as "good sound" and "great sound" for home audio systems, one that's usually bridged in dollar signs. Serious audiophiles with a discerning ear, lots of cash and enough square footage can always find a unique and powerful setup that will impress, both visually and aurally. In order to help bridge that gap and offer "cutting-edge design, pure physics and ultimate musicality" to a broader audience, French audio maker Devialet created the $1,990+ Phantom Implosive Sound Center. It's a super-compact wireless system that boasts a frequency range from 16Hz of sub-bass up to crystalline 25kHz highs, all in what appears to be a single alien egg. It's powered by a traditional wall socket, connects to an intelligent audio router ($329) and uses Bluetooth or WiFi for wireless connectivity through the Spark application. Today, the Phantom hops the pond and lands in the US market with 750-watt and 3,000-watt models, with the first batch of pre-orders shipping in September. Let's take a closer look.

Gallery: Devialet Phantom | 29 Photos

To be clear, I'm fairly uninitiated in the realm of ultra high-end audio. I've enjoyed finely tuned club systems, above-average home setups and quality Bluetooth portables, but it's a rare occasion to experience something crafted for a state-of-the-art listening experience. Brands like McIntosh, Burmester, Dynaudio and, well, Devialet cater to a niche market, but can be appreciated by anyone when experienced first hand. I managed to get a few listens in on the Phantom to see what this boundary pushing product has to offer. Is it for everyone? Maybe not, but it's potentially less niche than others in the genre.

Its 23-pound body is composed of polycarbonate, aluminum for dome drivers and the central core, plus an ABS external skin. Inside, ADH Intelligence (Analog Digital Hybrid) chips provide digital amplification and are made at Devialet's French factory instead of being jobbed out to a third party. They help provide distortion-free listening and we're told that you can't blow these speakers out; they'll automatically adjust in volume to keep things from getting out of hand. Another proprietary bit of tech onboard is SAM Processing (Speaker Active Matching), which aims to bring recording-authentic output to your ears.

Devialet Phantom

The heart of the Phantom is a sphere that's pressure sealed to "levels associated with a rocket launch" and uses patented Heart Beat Implosion tech to drive the bottom end. The speakers themselves are all flush with the surface of this internal unit for optimal output. Even the exterior design is said to be the result of acoustical law rather than whimsical design; using smooth edges for minimal interference with the sound emanating from within. This compact technology is the fruit grown out of 10 years of R&D, and $30 million acquired in an early round of funding.

Unless you use the optical input, you're locked into playing music through Devialet's Spark application (available for iOS, Mac and Android). Connect your mobile devices or computer to the same WiFi network as the Dialog audio router and the app walks you through set up. This allows you to play any music stored locally on your device or stream directly from Deezer or Qobuz's online services (Devialet is French, after all) while Tidal is on the horizon. You can set up zones (like Living Room or Kitchen), select a diminished nighttime mode and control volume directly from the application. There are plans to provide software updates to support 5.1 cinema (if you're willing to pony up for six of these), web radio and more, at some point in the future.

So how does this speaker actually sound? A more discerning audiophile could probably deliver a litany of spec comparisons, a bit like a sommelier at a restaurant would do with wine. At $2,000, though, it's always wise to review the specs yourself and demo it first-hand. I heard the Phantom in two environments: first in a small 8x15 ft. office with a Devialet-provided demo playing off of a Mac using the Spark application. The bass was enveloping, while the sound of fingers gliding across tightly coiled guitar strings stood out prominently in an acoustical portion of the tune. The second occasion was in a sound-dampened studio (about 50 x 30 feet) listening to Papertwin's Alkaline (Tenant remix) and while the speaker still packed a punch and could be heard throughout the space, its impact was dissipated. Still, the subs did deliver powerful-enough lows to be felt across the room, if only faintly. If you've got a large loft, you'll probably want to consider at least two -- just be sure to invite us to the party.

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