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Futureshocked by the Devialet Silver Phantom (Part 1)

  • Shock the monkey. On display at the uptown end of high street in Paris’ Colette where Devialet enjoys a home turf advantage, the Phantom might not seem too out there: a funky-looking high-end wireless loudspeaker with wallet damage to match; one that promises “room filling sound” (don’t they all?) but possesses all the hallmarks of a Jony Ive design (but isn’t). You want one before you even know what it does. It’ll come as surprise to almost no-one that the Devialet Phantom is now available for purchase at select Apple Stores.

    Equally, one might be forgiven for thinking that Devialet instead tapped fellow-countryman Phillipe Starck’s skills in ensuring that the Phantom’s radically overhauled form didn’t compromise its function – Starck’s wheelhouse. They didn’t. And it doesn’t.

    The Phantom loudspeaker is designed in-house at Devialet’s Paris headquarters. Its shell is polycarbonate, its colour Traffic White and the retro-futurist vibe wouldn’t have looked out of place in 2001:A Space Odyssey, supplying music to the Space Station 5. Phantom’s quasi-spherical shape is no happy accident: it takes its cues from famed audio engineer Harry Olson’s discovery/belief that the optimal shape for a loudspeaker is a sphere.

    Lift Phantom from its appropriately deluxe hinged packaging for a first taste of its high-end promise: bend your knees though, the Phantom weighs 11kg. Plug the yellow power cord into the rear and hit the power button just above the IEC socket’s cavity. You’re in for the quite the ride.

    This commentator’s Phantom journey has enjoyed its fair share of ups and downs. I was there at Devialet’s Stateside CES launch in January 2015 and also at the official European debut at the Munich HighEnd Show in May.

    Seeing/hearing the Phantom again in the USA at RMAF in October preceded the arrival of a single Silver Phantom at DAR HQ. But only after the Australian distributor’s (Interdyn) Melbourne launch event did I fully grasp the potential of having more than one. Twelve months in the making, this review lands in two parts.


    One things for sure, neither Phantom wants for power, even when running solo. The standard version threatens 750 watts and 99db for US$1999. The “weaponised” (Devialet’s words) Silver Phantom moves on tap power into more rarefied territory: 3000 watts, 105db, US$2399.

    Remember high school physics? The decibel scale is logarithmic. Every 3db increase solicits a doubling in calculated sound intensity. Do the maths on the wattage to confirm it: the 6db delta between Phantom and its silver-cheeked cousin equates to a four fold power/SPL increase. More than likely a moot point when the majority of home listeners rarely find long-term comfort listening at levels above 90db.

    Let’s get one conclusion out of the way early: only ostentatious buyers or those with enormous listening spaces will have genuine need for the Silver Phantom, especially when doubling down on a stereo pair…which, by the way, I recommend you do.

    Why? Missing from the uni-box performance is a proper stereo image – aka stereophony. That’s as true for the UE Boom and KEF MUO as it is for this dinosaur egg-shaped high-ender. The Phantom’s internal DSP sums both channels to mono prior to D/A conversion and ADH (Analogue Digital Hybrid) output, amplifier tech that supplies a combination of Class A and digital switching (Class ‘D’) power and hitherto the cornerstone of Devialet’s Expert series.

    Inside the Phantom, ADH has been boiled down to a pair of square centimetre-sized silicon chips that supply four transducers – two bass, one mid, one high – but bespoke-tailored to each one’s measure performance thanks to another three-letter-signed technology: Devialet’s SAM (Speaker Active Matching).


    At the front of its hemispherical nose behind a patterned grille sit coaxially aligned midrange driver and tweeter. Immediately behind that, a pair of three litre chambers that run the depth of the unit – only 34cm. Think of these as the Phantom’s lungs from which the side-firing bass woofers breathe deeply to deliver some serious low end performance.

    This brings us to another of Devialet’s three-letter codes: HBI (Heart Bass Implosion). The Phantom’s low frequency limit is rated by the manufacturer at below the limit of human hearing (20Hz). Deep bullshit it is not. Jokes about the brown note might knock constantly but the quality of the bass response here – the texture, the heft – is exceptional. Play Dave Clark’s “Rhapsody In Red” or Radiohead’s “Treefingers” and the Phantom calls out low bass notes missed by most other speakers of this size. The Phantom’s width and height run a mere 25cm and 26cm respectively. Punch in Clark’s “No-One’s Driving” and watch the woofers flap – a neat party trick that nets real bass results and arguably this unit’s strongest suit.

    With DAC and streamer built into the circuit, music supply comes via a Bluetooth-paired smart device or over the LAN via Devialet’s own SPARK app. Setup is a breeze once you know how: power on at rear, wait for the startup bass driver cheek blow that precedes a Brian Eno-esque ambient drone that plays on loop until SPARK walks us one time only through the network connection process. An Ethernet port tucked up above the IEC socket keeps those with an aversion to wireless in play. Next to that, a Toslink input for your TV, CD player, streamer or DAP.


    Back to the network. Once connected, the user works SPARK and SPARK tells the Phantom which songs to pull down from 1) any networked device running the app (Android, iOS, OS X and Windows) or 2) Deezer, Tidal or Qobuz. Support for Spotify Connect should be in place by the time you read this. For SPARK-sourced music, or streamers that don’t bring their own volume control, the Devialet app is required to attenuate the Phantom’s output. Whether you find that super-fiddly or super-convenient will largely depend on your lifestyle.

    Less impressive is the SPARK-Phantom’s inability to play gaplessly. Hook a Google Chromecast into the optical input brings a gapless* workaround AND a better user interface. The Google dongle gets those who listen to classical, DJ mixes, live albums, Tool or Pink Floyd over the line for close to chump change: US$35. For those with deeper pockets, an AURALiC Aries Mini might be the go. Its Lightning DS platform handles gapless playback flawlessly. So too does the Sonos Connect. Ditto the Squeezebox Touch and Astell&Kern DAPs.

    Perhaps Devialet intend to add gapless support via a future firmware update? The Phantom’s OS is based on the Expert Series’ EVO platform – it auto-updates over the air. With Devialet’s DSP-fuelled approach, that means not only means the addition of new features but possible improvements to sound quality.

    Devialet demo the Phantom @ RMAF ’15.

    Gapless troubles aside, Devialet’s claim that the Phantom is “The Best Wireless Speaker in the World” is easily verified. It’s a stunner! Put the Phantom up against Bluetooth-only rivals like the UE Boom or KEF MUO and there’s simply no contest on performance. Or price! You get what you pay for.

    The Naim Muso (US$1499) puts up a fairer fight but if the additional US$500 commanded by Devialet unit isn’t a concern and you’re not swayed by the Muso’s lower physical profile, brushed aluminium enclosure and coloured grille cloth, the French fella has it all over the Brit on power, SPLs and IMPACT – ingredients that sum to a far more physically arresting interpretation than the Muso can muster. Even those who dismiss speakers as all sounding the same would probably peg the Phantom as the better choice for working bigger spaces.

    Ensure Phantom is placed on a well-secured surface. Despite what the promo pics would have you believe, the average coffee table won’t cut it; too much shake, rattle and roll going on. And don’t put Phantom on the floor either – it doesn’t sound great and is sure to upset downstairs neighbours if you have them. Like all speakers, ear level positioning yields far greater aural satisfaction. The solo Silver Phantom sounded clearer and more dynamically alive atop IKEA Expedit shelves loaded with vinyl than it did on the floor.

    In my listening tests, best results, however, were achieved with the Silver Phantom on a proper speaker stand. Mine are the Atacama Nexus 6i but Devialet offer the bespoke Branch stand that also doubles as heatsink and cable tidy.

    Now we’re inching into audiophile woods where the shadows of cynicism and skepticism go long. A Bluetooth speaker? That doesn’t even do proper stereo? “Non merci, Monsieur!” Indeed, deployed in its most basic form – a Bluetooth-fed monobox – and meeting with audiophile-centric pre-judgement sees the Phantom very much on the back foot. Rightly so too. I’d sooner take the KEF X300a Wireless that arrive as a pair for under half the coin because they do fully separated two-channel stereo. A similar case could even be made for a pair of Sonos Play:1.

    Two average loudspeakers will almost always be more satisfying than one, even when that one is of a higher calibre – a sentiment shared by two audiophile pals dropping ‘round for a first listen to a solo Silver Phantom soon after it arrived at DAR HQ last November. As much as the Phantom’s technological make-up demonstrates Devialet’s commitment to audiophile sensitivities, without stereo in play it’s hard for audiophiles not to see the Phantom as an active speaker that, as a solo rider, pedals harder than its resulting sound quality would suggest.


    Frustratingly, Devialet have done themselves few favours in trying to convince show-going audiophiles of the Phantom’s worth. At the Munich High-End Show, five months after Phantom’s CES 2015 coming out party, the Devialet team appeared not to know their product’s own strength. The press demo emerged from the oven thoroughly overcooked: multiple synchronised Phantoms pushed SPLs way north of comfortable. Why the need for such a crass display when a simple two-channel demo would have been much more appropriate for both room and audience? In case you need to be told: many Phantoms can play LOUD sans distortion.

    These are wrongs that Devialet clearly tried (and failed) to right several months later at RMAF. In Denver, stereo Phantom demo, complete with Branch stands, sounded somewhat lacklustre.. Whilst there’s no rear-firing port to consider, some clearance between front wall and speaker plane really helps with stage depth.

    It wasn’t until Phantom’s Australian debut in November that I found myself wowed for the first time since CES 2015. At the Devialet Block Party in Melbourne, Carlton Audio Visual demonstrated L’Original D’Atelier downstairs. Meanwhile, upstairs at the restaurant next door, four fully-sync-d Phantoms worked the room: two Silver Phantom’s in a stereo pair augmented by two standard Phantoms playing mono.

    For fully synchronised multi-Phantom playback, even stereo, a third box is necessary: Devialet’s Dialog (US$299). Here the setup/config conversation SPARKs not with the solo-running Phantom but the Dialog. Think of the Dialog as similar to your home network’s data router but one charged with routing only incoming digital audio signals to each Phantom.

    In Melbourne, the Dialog sent left and right channel data to each of the corresponding Silver units but BOTH channels to each of the two standard Phantoms. SPARK control and music supply came from a MacBook. The result was a sound more than sufficient for the large room with high ceilings. No speaker strain or bass shortfall.

    During that afternoon’s L’Original D’Atelier presentation, Devialet’s Yann Wachten reckoned that the Phantom measured better and sounded better than a pair of KEF LS50, even when driven by one of the company’s own Expert Series amplifiers and with SAM applied. Can you hear the sound of a gauntlet hitting the floor? With 1) Le 200 now driving a pair of red KEF LS50 and 2) a second Silver Phantom in place at DAR HQ, that gives us GAME ON.

    In Part 2 here we cover the Expert/KEF vs (Silver) Phantom stand off as well as discuss other matters pertaining to running a pair of Phantom with the Dialog router.

    Further information: Devialet | Interdyn

    Devialet at RMAF 2015.


    Devialet ‘Block Party’, Melbourne 2015.

    *Google Play Music only.

    John H. Darko

    Written by John H. Darko

    John is the editor of Darko.Audio, from whose ad revenues he derives an income. He is an occasional contributor to 6moons but has previously written pieces for TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

    Follow John on YouTube or Twitter


    1. I’ve been watching these like lots of people as a possible no- pain solution for the TV/lounge streamer setup. It would replace a lot of boxes and wires. At the end of the day though it’s about the sound. Impressive new tech with huge potential I reckon.

      • If you’re planning to use it for TV, you might want to have a look at the ‘unofficial Devialet Chat’ site. There’s a bit of latency that puts the lips out of sync. I don’t own any and haven’t kept up with it but I believe Devialet have made some progress.

        • As an owner of two Silver Phantom being used for a 2.0 theater, to cut the chase on this concern: There is ~150ms delay incurred by Dialog processing. Devialet says they will officially support home theater applications in the future. But for now, playback of video via VLC player renders this concern a non-issue as you can easily adjust audio delay to compensate.

        • I forgot to mention that direct optical connection into the Phantoms renders dialog lip-sync issue close to non-existent.

    2. Yes, I think Devialet did themselves a disfavor at the early shows. Many made the same comment as you. They are getting better though in responding to clients input. Amazon USA has a review by an owner that has garnered north of 100 likes. Worth a read.

    3. Visual statement like these and only available in white? Would look great in some more exciting colours. Even a plain Apple style champagne gold or matte space black would look great.

    4. More about the SQ, please. From the few online reactions, there have been several who called the sound “unrefined” or even harsh. Meaning the Phantom doesn’t compete on SQ terms with any kind of audiophile setup.
      Does it really sound better than an Devialet expert with good speakers like the KEF LS50?
      If so, a pair is probably good enough for most audiophiles as their main system.

      • Yeah – this is an interesting point and something I wrestled with before clicking ‘publish’. I’ve edited it but do you care to explain further for the benefit of other readers too?

        • Doubling of perceived loudness requires 10db. A doubling of amplifier power will net 3db increase.

          These figures get mixed up pretty often.

        • You’re both right (and wrong) depending on what you are talking about.

          Every 3db doubles the intensity (power). Every 10db doubles the perceived loudness (psychoacoustically speaking). Every 6db doubles the sound pressure (voltage).

    5. When you compare the Expert/KEF LS50 to the Phantoms please experiment with the Devialet Expert SAM level. I found that 100% SAM tried to get too much bass out of my LS50 and made them sound awful, while a lower percentage sounded much better than with SAM off.

      I found that my LS50 sound best without their foam port plugs and positioned a bit closer to a wall behind them then the Phantom, so please optimize the position of each speaker for your room and taste before doing the comparison.

      A fair comparison would use a well-integrated subwoofer with the LS50 given that KEF advertises rolloff below 80Hz for the LS50 and Devialet advertises 16Hz for the Phantom. That said, if you prefer the LS50 without a sub then part of your comparison would be your reaction to the copious bass of the Phantoms when you didn’t want much bass from your LS50.

      I look forward to reading what you hear. Thanks for doing a comparison of a good Phantom setup to a good Devialet Expert setup.

    6. When is part 2?! How long must I wait?
      I am considering pushing the button on buying a pair of Silver Phantoms for music (and TV/movies) in my lounge to replace my existing system (which my wife hates because of the number of boxes and settings required before sound will emerge…not to mention the look of all the mismatched rectangular boxes and the associated mass of cables)!
      The only thing making me hesitate is wondering whether there will be a significant trade-off in sound quality and if so, how much. Your KEF LS50 + Expert contest is exactly the kind of review I need (and which no-one else seems to have published yet – everyone else just reviews the mono version)!

      Also – There seem to be conflicting views about whether the standard Phantom and the Silver Phantom sound any different below the maximum volume level of the standard unit. I doubt my room is big enough to warrant the extra power of the Silver Phantom if max volume is the only difference, but if the Silver also has other benefits at lower volumes (better dynamics?/more punch?) it might still be worth it. Any intel on this?

      • No intel (yet) on how the standard models compares to the Silver but Part 2 of this should be online before week’s end.

    7. I own a Phantom Silver & an Expert 400 driving a pair of Rockport Altair speakers. I used my TIDAL HiFi service to compare Radiohead’s Treefingers & I can’t believe that I heard a bit deeper bass on the Phantom. I imagine that a pair of Phantom Silvers would give the impression of even deeper bass.

      However, I went back to the Expert / Altair speaker setup and increased the bass on the Expert and was able to fetch the deeper tones the Phantom played. How do we know the Phantom doesn’t have the bass accentuated a bit? Hard to tell as the Phantom doesn’t provide separate bass, mid and treble controls. IMO music played through a Phantom always seems a bit bass accentuated. Often times I can hear a vocalists’ breath pop the microphone on the Phantom but not on other high-end systems.

    8. I’ve listened to Wheatley. It’s bass response is ungodly. I mean literally shakes you to your core. I need hear them in a stereo setup because a single unit didn’t do it for me for THAT PRICE.

      One thing I do wish Devialet would get right are the speaker stands. They look really cheap in person. And I wasn’t the only one who noticed that at the NYAS.

    9. Was waiting for this review and really glad how it is working out so far. One small correction though is that the phantoms are on when you plug them in. The button on the back is a reset button. Once to reestablish connection and three times to restart the whole setup (then they sing again for you).

      I ended up buying them last summer (40th b-day present) after looking around for years. I’ll be interested to see how Darko find it but I compared them at the audio store with KEF LS50 which was one of my favourites up until that point (and fed by a DAC worth a pair of silver phantoms). And what shocked me the most was that going to the LS50s after an hour or two with the phantoms felt like I was listening to sound coming from boxes. It was really weird as I was expecting to prefer the more expensive setup.

      I’m very happy with the sound now (spark is another issue). They sound best, as John suggests, away from walls and on decent stands at the right height. Too low and the sound a ‘little’ muddy, too high and they sound less warm – YMMV. They also sound best when they’re not too close to each other. The biggest difference came when I placed them as far from each other as they were from me – that’s when I began to hear the magic (stunning 3d soundstage) and their real potential. Looking forward to part 2!

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