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The Devialet Phantom is a new frontier, best of CES 2015

  • CES_2015In the past twelve months I’ve clocked up numerous air-miles in covering audio shows all over the world. At last year’s RMAF, one pervasive trend struck me in particular: the preponderance of rooms showing towering loudspeakers powered by huge monoblock amplifiers. That isn’t DAR’s beat. Peruse the pages of Stereophile and The Audio Traveler and you’ll see what I mean: BIG speakers driven by BIG amplifiers. All fine and dandy if you have a large enough – or dedicated – listening room, but less so if you have to integrate your audio system into a living space shared with family members for watching TV, eating and relaxing.

    Smaller, less intrusive hardware is the beating heart of DAR coverage and possibly why I find myself in awe of Devialet’s new Phantom? In the simplest of terms, it’s an active loudspeaker that looks like a dinosaur egg to which you can directly stream your music. No need for an external DAC or amplifier – everything’s included inside the one chassis.

    Quentin Bernard – l’homme de marketing au Devialet.

    Let’s delve a little deeper. Be forewarned though: there are a good number of three letter abbreviations heading your way.

    If you’ve come across one of Devialet’s chromed pizza box amplifiers you will have probably heard of SAM – ‘Speaker Active Matching’. It’s loudspeaker correction, Devialet style. They whisk a chosen loudspeaker model, voted for by the public, off to their lab in Paris and measure it so that the end user can ultimately extract optimal performance from that very same loudspeaker in their own home.

    The way marketing mainman Quentin Bernard tells it, SAM technology was originally invented for Phantom. “Working in secret for three years, forty or so of our engineers spent US$30million developing Phantom,” he says.

    In the process, Devialet’s ADH (‘Class A + digital amplifier’) technology has been transplanted to the Phantom. The egg-shaped device contains the same amplifier found in the Devialet 120 / 200 but it’s been scaled down to meet with the Phantom’s internal space restrictions. Those same engineers have shrunk the ADH circuitry down to a chip that measures 1cm2.


    Inside every Phantom, two of these chips drive four channels: two side-firing woofers work in tandem with a coaxially arranged midrange driver and tweeter – located on the nose of the unit – to cover 16Hz to 25kHz.

    Playing music through only one Phantom sees the internal DSP combine left and right channels. Devialet’s HBI ‘Heart Bass Implosion’ design allows for a seriously physical sound from a relatively small enclosure. Bernard boasts that Phantom’s 6-litre internal volume sees up to 174dbSPL. “The most dense sound in the world”, is how the marketing blurb describes it.

    In room, a standard Phantom (US$1950) threatens peaks of 99db. The souped-up Silver Phantom (US$2350) nets four times the power output with 105db. The latter has been given silver sides so that one can more readily tell them apart.

    Back in 2009, Moderat’s “A New Error” was my goto test track for bass handling. That and I enjoyed terrorizing my local Naim dealer with its overall electronic assault. Starting this review gig a year later meant that I no longer troubled local stores with my more esoteric selections. Nowadays, Moderat only gets spun at home.

    So, imagine my delight to hear the Devialet guys using this very same cut in their suite at the Mirage Hotel to show off Phantom’s bass-handling capabilities. It begins innocuously enough – an atonal synth loops for almost half a minute before the low-end kicks violently into being. It’s a jaw-dropping moment to see the little Phantom more than pull its weight; I posted a video to Instagram here. Just look at those side-firing woofers working hard for their money. It’s an impressive party-trick that only adds to the Phantom’s ability to cut it in real world scenarios.

    Getting music into – and then out of the Phantom – is mostly an invisible process. You can bowel feed it via a rear-facing optical connection but far more elegant is the way Devialet played it during their CES demo: streaming directly from a computer using Devialet’s new SPARK application. SPARK deploys an in-house-developed protocol to stream up to 24bit/192kHz PCM with zero compression. Versions of SPARK will eventually be available for Windows, OS X, Android and iOS.

    If you want to go stereo proper, you’ll need two Phantoms as well as the additional Dialogue box (~US$349) that plugs into your home router and splits the signal into left and right channels. Bernard showed off stereo capabilities with a pair of Phantoms sat atop custom stands about which I forgot to pen details – sorry, but I was completely knocked off my perch by the Star Wars trailer that came on big and bold.


    The Dialogue will accommodate up to 24 (!) Phantom units. Each unit can be configured by the SPARK app to play in sync with each other or independently. Anyone thinking of putting together five, or even seven, for home theatre configuration is covered from the outset. Bernard reckons a subwoofer isn’t required. Devialet currently have no plans to make one.

    It’s near impossible to conclude on the Phantom’s sound quality without having one at home to play with – a show report is not a review. If I must be drawn on comments, I’d describe the Phantom’s sound as physical and arresting. It demands your attention and cannot be ignored. It might not to be everyone’s tastes. What is? The Phantom probably isn’t for those who enjoy a pipe and slippers presentation. Alan Shaw of Harbeth can continue to sleep easy.

    The audio industry at large should be paying strict attention to what Devialet have done here. Value for money isn’t the only takeaway though. In a single move, Devialet have demonstrated that audio gear doesn’t have to come from a boxy aesthetic. The Phantom looks the business and should be auditioned by anyone considering a US$2K system, if only to benchmark what’s possible from a device that many of his or her friends will envy. Phantom has the mass-market appeal that most manufacturers can only dream of. Devialet makes more of a convincing argument that ‘sound quality matters’ than Neil Young will ever achieve through his Pono iniative.

    One thing’s for certain, these French fellas are taking their hardware to a new audience. In the UK, the Phantom will only be available in Harrods for the first twelve months. Harrods is perhaps London’s most famous department store. As such, Devialet are hitting the man in street right between the eyes, sonically and aesthetically.

    Devialet now have a proven track record in turning things upside down with their chromed pizza-box amplifiers but with the Phantom they’re throwing a grenade into the entry-level audiophile scene. Some might dismiss it as a lifestyle product, silently loading in all the pejorative connotations of that particular ‘L’ word but I’m not buying such an easy way out.


    The Phantom is a new trajectory, a direct challenge to conventional thinking that an audiophile-grade sound can only be attained with an amplifier and two speakers.

    During the launch of Ultimate Ear’s MegaBoom portable loudspeaker this week, Logitech’s Senior VP Rory Dooley opined that the speaker is the last man standing in the music playback chain. The implication being that the amplifier, DAC and streaming capabilities can be built into the loudspeaker enclosure without sonic penalty. This is what connects the UE Boom/MegaBoom, KEF’s X300A Wireless speakers (reviewed here) and the Devialet Phantom. At the high end, we can point to entries from Meridian and Avantgarde (among others).

    None of these designs render the system made from separate boxes redundant, but they collectively push such component compilation closer to the margins. From Bluetooth portables to high-end actives, all with their own built-in D/A conversion, the signpost that points to all-in-one speaker systems is larger than ever. The audiophile in me also wants to point to the benefits of shorter signal paths, an amplifier tailored precisely to the loudspeaker and the comparative lack of external wiring.

    With the Phantom, Devialet offer a single-box solution that packs in more than enough convenience, aesthetic appeal AND sound quality to get the mainstream listener over the line. Even before playing a note, the Phantom connotes desirability. You want one before you work out the need for why and how. It gets my ‘Best of CES 2015’ gong by a country mile. Magnifique!

    Further information: Devialet

    John H. Darko

    Written by John H. Darko

    John currently lives in Berlin where creates videos and podcasts and pens written pieces for Darko.Audio. He has also contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

    Follow John on YouTube or Instagram


    1. I went to listen to it in their paris showroom when they launched it and had very high expectations, I understood the physical challenges and how they were (brilliantly) resolved, I consider their amplifiers as one of the most significant contributions to audiophila in the last 20 years … basically the guys are hardcore engineers who understand their field next to none. I have to say though that I was a bit underwhelmed by the sound quality, while the bass was without a question impressive for it’s size I found the midrange and highs lacking refinement … this kinda puzzled me as the most difficult challenge in this project was certainly to overcome the old rules of box size vs bass output, the mids and highs however are easy to fix, even on a small footprint, so I don’t really get it why they didn’t push the SQ of these to dizzying highs as they would certainly been capable to with the technologies at their hand. In the room next their starter combo Devialet 120 and Athom GT1 bookshelf speakers (an absolutely impressive speaker for it’s size and price) were playing and there was no comparison, the Phantom couldn’t match the articulation and transient restitution of that system by a long shot. Point in case, if they could have matched that level of performance with the Phantom they would really have a giant killer at their hands which would render classical stereo systems obsolete.

      • I can well imagine that the 120 + GT1 would indeed surpass the Phantom’s performance but don’t forget you’re looking at 4x the financial outlay – that ‘Ensemble’ pack sells for over US$8K!

        I think the Phantom’s closest rival might be something like the Naim muso or…or…or…other active speakers with in-built DACs of which none spring to mind at the $2k asking price. That’s telling in and of itself, no?

        • John : of course and absolutely agree regarding price point … I just think the product segmentation here is obvious, specially given the fact that mids and highs do not pose any particular challenge in terms of footprint, Devialet also master pretty much every other aspect such as low distortion amplification and phase linearity, so the road to even better sound quality was open … so I can only assume that there was a choice to cap sound quality at a certain level so to not rival their dedicated high-end offering, and probably they have a ‘super phantom’ (or simply a v2) on their roadmap. Another possible cause could be design considerations, for instance the midrange driver’s cone is designed to blend into the design of the casing, so it shares the same glossy white coating, similar plastic shell aspect … to me it seems that this way of designing the midrange cone may have resulted in a fairly heavy cone therefore exhibiting high inertia and high mechanical losses due to its mass, which result in a bit of a average transient response. If you look at the best midrange drivers out there (Foster, Lowther, or Accuton) they go to great lengths to design the cone as light as possible, either using super light paper membranes or ceramics in order to ensure fast transient response by keeping inertia low … it is obvious that the Phantom’s driver was designed with a couple of compromises that regarding in order to blend in with the design, so it might be a bit ‘slow’ and not be able to restitute finest nuances. But then it’s of course not part of its product brief to deliver that kind of ultimate ‘race car’ performance either, it’s a premium lifestyle product.

          • I dunno. I don’t see this as lifestyle nor do I see it as traditional stereo. The audio world is no longer a two party system. I think Devialet have crafted a ‘third way’ with the Phantom.

            • Hmmm … physics doesn’t know any ‘third way’ (except if you wander off in the fields of quantum physics )… maybe let’s wait until the first Graphene speakers come out, maybe then a thing like the Phantom with truly relevant sound quality will be possible. Until then I call it smart marketing 😉

            • Yes, some of the marketing claims are somewhat colourful but the ‘third way’ I mention indeed refers to the Phantoms marketing position. It sidesteps the LOOKS GOOD vs SOUNDS GOOD mutual exclusivity by managing both.

      • I can’t help thinking the lack of refinement cited above might well be addressed by firmware updates by Devialet, which they’ve indicated will be ongoing and free. I seem to recall a relatively early Devialet integrated review (at 6moons?) that expressed some concerns about sound quality which WAS corrected with a firmware update before the review was posted. I, for one, will be buying NOTHING until I get a chance to hear these – luckily, I have a dealer in nearby Santa Monica, California who already have this up on their web site.

        • Hi Bob, I actually thought the same regarding firmware and it is true that I went to listen to them immediately at launch, so maybe there’s the good old benefit of a doubt … but again, looking at the necessary compromises here to punch the thing into it’s form factor, namely heavy speaker membranes and such I’m quite convinced that there will be a limit to the improvements possible via DSP. Also there’s no specs regarding DSP/power supply/clock of this device but I somewhat doubt that it will be on the same level than what’s in their amps, ergo the margin of improvements possible is smaller … yes I know that they claim that they shrunk the same functionality than their amps on a small IC but I would actually be surprised if it had the same power … the Analog Devices DSP alone used in their amps is actually twice as large as their ‘all inclusive’ IC . The big problem with such products is that it’s all marketing talk and no numbers are published …

    2. I suspect that winning a coveted DARgong will be the first of many accolades for the Phantoms. I am very excited about these units and can’t wait to try a little Theo Parrish

      Seriously these guys at Devialet deserve all the attention they are getting for their ability to follow through on such ambition and vision with a ‘clean sheet’ tour de force like the Phantoms.

      I hope their manufacturing plans are equally well thought through as I can’t wait to hear them in the flesh for myself. Any idea when they might be seen outside of Harrods?

    3. With a launch at Harrods this screams ‘lifestyle product’ but I’ll reserve judgement till I hear the sound for the money. Looks like I’ll have to wait a while!

    4. I am all for lifestyle systems, it is however ironic that it took 6 decades to revert back to what is essentially monophonic playback – aside from headphones. two speakers is now an exception not the norm outside of hifi hobbyists. Phil Spector was right.

    5. I am currently in the process of downsizing my >100 lb audio gorillas to something like this and it’s great to find such forward thinking companies. I showed this post to a few folks I know and at least 2 of them have already made enquiries. They stay in New York City and just don’t have space.
      I would like this for my bedroom and office and a pair of POWERED KEF LS50s for my home. That’s my happy zone right there! Next time you see Quentin.. tell him this…. he’s blocking the view 😉 …. and that the “dense sound” blurb could be misconstrued!
      I’m really happy to see products like this. John, I strongly endorse your position on this aspect. And this is why I am a keen reader. You need to take this up full-time if you haven’t done so already. And I think $2000 is the marker for a decent product(s).
      And your writing is fun. Even my 7 year old finds it funny- “fine and dandy” (he’s got an American passport)! I just haven’t heard this phrase used here. But of course, I could be wrong so apologies in advance to my dear American friends.

      To get another taste of the Star Wars like effect, check out the Phantom doing its thing…

    6. I dunno about that miniaturisation thing … why is everybody so hell-bent on making audio systems disappear? I always enjoyed your photos of your setups, would you really like to trade in your beautiful amps for a nondescript egg-shaped object ? Personally I like to have a audio system at home, it sets one apart from the ubiquitous Bose-Dock posse and makes for a fine conversation starter … that’s what I call lifestyle 😉 Also what is the footprint of a moderate system? Not more than two large vases and a couple of coffee table books. I really fail to see any urgency in reducing that even more … specially if it brings us to things like needing 3000W to crank out 105db (!) a quick calculation tells us that these speakers have a average sensitivity of 70db which is awfully low, also to reach down to their claimed lower frequency they will have to be very long excursion/stroke drivers (a bit like ghetto-bass car subwoofers), I doubt that they will be able to accomplish sensitive rendition of bass …. to be honest I fail to distinguish a real category for this. Audiophiles will continue with the usual gear, and the mass-market … well the mass-market only cares about sound quality proportionally to budget, and in mass-market terms the Phantoms are expensive … yes there will be some urbanites buying them but that is a very niche public in terms of numbers.

    7. Speaker sensitivity may be the decibel output of the speaker (also called
      speaker efficiency). Bass sounds matched to creating emotion and drama within the movie’s audio track and they are excellent at creating suspense or
      another emotions which might be an important part within the
      home cinema experience. A newly married twenty-something
      couple is probably going to have more excited about streaming music from other i – Pods all around the house,
      while a five-person family may want a dedicated home theater for movie nights
      and the capability to monitor security cameras from any TV inside
      the house.

    8. According to Devialet the Phantom will beat all the competition. For example the phantom blows away the bw 802 diamond and kef blade 2, they say.
      For that reason a friend of mine is considering selling his b&w 802 diamonds and bryston 7b sst2 mono poweramps as well as his music first passive preamp. that means the phantoms must be a real gamechanger

    9. I went over to the Colette concept store here in Paris which is now completely sonorized with 13 Phantom’s … and same conclusion, I can’t really find any truly exciting quality to the sound, no transients, no ‘speed’, no resolution, the only thing to drool about is that the miniaturization (and eventually price) factor, but what use if the sound quality is not truly there? There was also a Interview of Devialet’s Quentin Sannié where he states that the woofers have an enormous 24 mm of excursion (xmax) to achieve their bass extension, but 24 mm is an enormous distance for the cone to travel back and forth, ask any people knowledgeable about speaker design and none would state that high excursion is desirable, on the contrary, excursion must be kept short for the speaker to be able to be fast. And that’s so disappointing here, it’s just another violation of the ‘good laws’ of speaker building in the name of miniaturisation and marketability. In my opinion it is worse than Bose because Devialet make outrageous claims that it actually beats true Hi-Fi systems (and better than B&W 802 or Kef Blade? You have to be kidding …)

    10. Well.. I was wondering about connectivity… when browsing the manual the only thing thats mentioned is streaming music. External connectivity is offered via 1 toslink and volume control through the davialet app or (so it seems) an optional remote.
      I don’t see how one could use the phantom to build a multispeaker home theathre system as stated in the text, the manual doesn’t mention this eighter.
      Using the phantom in an existing system seems quite impossible since there is no line level input making your existing preamp useless. what I understand of the phantoms manual it’s use is intended for:

      1) streaming (multiroom) music
      2) external amplification of for example a tv
      3) maximum of sterio (no multi channel)

      This is typically all a style concerned yup would need, however not having the option to connect the phantom to a normal preamp seems like a missed (on purpose?) opportunity.

      • Hi – multi-speaker setup comes with the Dialogue add-on. As you say, the redundancy of a traditional pre-amp is most probably intentional.

    11. I agree with Pierre. I listened yesterday in London at Harrods and it sounds like many (cheaper) sub-woofer systems. Apart from the lack of micro-dynamics, there was a very clear gap in the upper-bass / lower-mid range. Sound was very clearly coming from the speakers, so no sound stage to speak of. The demonstration was all about BASS.

      The main thing that is impressive is the volume of lower bass they can squeeze from such a small cabinet. It very cleverly saves space, but it compromises on sound quality.

      No doubt there is an audience for it, just like many people love Bose. But it is not an audiophile system. Purely on sound it is easy to beat the Phantoms, for less money.

      • Finally 😉 Thanks Arjan and yes agree with the Bose parallels here, besides Devialet are very aggressively patenting ‘their’ technology in order to become a litigious company just like good old mean Bose … all fine and fair if only it was really their technologies but the hybrid amplifier concept has actually existed before : Quad’s Current pump amplifier in the 1970’s but the Devialet amplifier actually stems directly from a more recent development led by a Korean University which had similar low distortion values, their SAM processing is nothing more than phase linearisation which everybody can very easily do at home with a MiniDSP module and DIRAC or AudioVero software. The thing with patents is that they are based on the combination of elements, so for instance if another manufacturer would like to offer a amp with integrated DAC and DSP with phase linearisation it could very well be that he’s infringing one of Devialet’s patents, although the technologies are known and definitely not proprietary ones. That and their outrageous and i’d say dishonest claim directed toward a largely ignorant market that the Phantom beats traditional Hi-Fi systems is outright agressive behaviour towards the smaller and specialized Hi-Fi manufacturers who can’t keep up with Devialet’s million dollar marketing campaigns and lawyers. Devialet are basically using their audiophile pedigree and credibility to pose as a ‘audiophile manufacturer’ to now sell out to the mass-market (Devialet’s CEO plans to multiply by 8 their current revenue via the Phantom) … it simply means less potential consumers for smaller brands with more integrity and one more blow to Hi-Fi and the passionate people who run small setups … I agree that 150.000 Euros big speakers are ridiculous but there’s many companies who sell their gear at really correct prices and who offer honest products with listening pleasure in mind, I’d rather give my penny-vote to them than to the Monster that’s gonna hatch off those Dinosaur Eggs 😉

        • To add some perspective: I personally have no problem with Devialet – I also listened to their 200 unit combined with B&W speakers, which sounded good. And as a consumer I think it’s great that they get so much attention, the more competition the better!

          I just shared my experience as not many people seem to have heard the Phantoms and, as an _audiophile_ product, I think they are flawed…

          • A product being of audiophile quality isn’t a boolean situation. It’s a sliding scale.

            • Couldn’t agree more. Hi-fi is a personal thing. Nonetheless, some pretty definitive (or boolean) claims are being made about the Phantoms. As they are still hard to find and I was lucky enough to have a listening session, I decided to share my personal experience…

            • Yes, their marketing language is somewhat ‘robust’ but countering it with claims that the Phantom isn’t an ‘audiophile product’ doesn’t really get us anywhere either. I suspect that the nearest competing product to which the Phantom might be comparable in (almost) price and intended usage is the Naim Muso. That’s where my interest lies. 🙂

    12. Well, I didn’t mean that statement in the sense of good or bad, more like different horses for different courses. There are many products out there that are perhaps not meant for an audiophile audience. That doesn’t make them bad products; they just don’t really focus on what audiophiles look for: reproduction that is as close to the original as possible. If anything that may make them approachable to a wider audience!

      When I listened to the Phantoms, I found that they sounded appealing and looked spectacular. However, the bass seemed to come from a speaker with a completely different character than the mid range and highs. To my ears there was a disconnect between the marketing material (“The best music equipment in the world”, for a start) and the real thing.

      But that’s just my opinion of course, which may be different to yours. Isn’t that what makes audio so interesting?

      • Totally – and I agree with you that the Phantom marketing language is stronger than a 6 month old brie.

    13. John, any chance for a review (even down the road)? I can’t recall a product causing such wide a range of emotions (SACD, MM/MC?), would be great to get your leveled headed take on them.

    14. Have read much about the Phantoms over the past couple of days, and have now had a chance to listen to them. My thoughts:

      1. One phantom on its own does nothing for me. The sound was one-dimensional, rough and lacking subtlety – it was all about bass and nothing else. While obviously very loud, despite claims to the contrary, the sound doesn’t really manage to convey anything other than being a one-box solution. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to buy this if sound quality is the primary concern.

      2. Two Phantoms as a pair (which also requires the Dialog) – the sound is still bass heavy and dominated but offers greater clarity, subtlety and refinement, but still comes across as rather dispassionate, trading some of the emotional connection to music for bass and sound levels. Of course, two phantoms pushes the price up to circa £3500 (plus branch stands and remote) but I imagine this is how Devialet really anticipates them being sold with the solo Phantom little more than a marketing gimmick. Adding something like the new Macbook (or a NAS) for a simple streaming solution and despite my reservations, I can see many people being very happy.

      3. I also listened to the Devialet Ensemble which at £6300 is nearly twice the price of two Phantoms and four times the price of one. However while the Phantom is admittedly a technical if not sonic marvel, the Ensemble succeeds in both. It is in a different league entirely to the Phantom, even using two Phantoms, but arguably should be given the cost difference – although the price gap may narrow considerably depending upon the pricing of the various Phantom add-ons. Even ignoring the Ensemble’s streaming capability and comparing it to amplifier and speaker combinations at a similar price, it’s hugely impressive. Probably the best I’ve heard. As the Kef LS50 is on Devialet’s SAM speaker list, it would be very interesting to here it with the 120 amplifier, reducing the cost to around £5000…

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