What’s the future of high-end audio? If you’re France’s Devialet, it’s beauty inside and out: a chromed-finished aluminium block whose hardware internals also rely on software. Each Expert series model’s DSP engine room, configurable via a web interface, allows features to be turned on and off and specific settings applied.
But the Expert range – Le 120 and Le 200, single units; Le 400 and Le 800, dual mono packages – aren’t just amplifiers. Devialet take the concept of the ‘integrated’ and blow it to the moon.
Better that we think of each Expert as a high-end hifi system-in-a-box – just add loudspeakers and a turntable (should you be so inclined). Bid adieu to interconnects, multiple power cables and a hifi rack to house the collective physical intrusion of separates.
Each Expert includes network streamer, DAC, amplifier and phono stage. Lesser-known features include an A/D converter for archiving vinyl playback (or line-level input) over USB to a Mac/PC or tapping its real-time bitstream as it spills from the Expert’s S/PDIF coaxial output. Each Expert can also server as a USB-S/PDIF converter or Ethernet-S/PDIF converter.
The Expert’s loudspeaker output isn’t a straight-up Class D design either. A Class A output carries the music signal (as voltage) whilst the Class D module runs in parallel, supplying the muscle (as current). Ergo: A, D, hybrid – ‘ADH’.
We’re now at the halfway mark in 2016 and the Expert range is being replaced by the Expert Pro range. Devialet’s hardware platform therefore moves from v5 to v6.
Each new model features a 100% reworked innards that features the following improvements: 1) a new Class A amplifier with reduced harmonic distortion and lower power demands; 2) a new Class D amplifier with 25% more effective power transmission; 3) a new version of the ADH Intelligence® algorithm that ties 1) and 2) together; 4) a new ‘magic wire’ D/A converter, so named because of the super-short signal path that joins DAC chip to loudspeaker output.
Le 130 Pro and Le 220 Pro are the new single-chassis models. The dual mono 440 Pro and 1000 Pro offer 4x lower distortion (0.00025% THD per piece instead of 0.0005%) and higher SNR as well as the more obvious uptick in output power.
The v6 platform dissipates heat twice as fast as v5 and so enables elevated power output (into 6 Ohms) as indicated by the new model numbers.
The peak power capabilities of each unit’s software-managed power supply has been lifted from 3000W to 4000W which, according to Devialet’s Asia-Pacific general manager Julien Bergère (“Bur-jair”), means zippier transient delivery. “Instant attacks and instant recovery from those attacks”, says the Frenchman (who now lives in Hong Kong).
Bergère had joined one of the first 1000 Pro to drop from the production line on a flying visit to Sydney’s Life Style Store (covered here) for a tête-a-tête with yours truly about Devialet and their new range of systems-in-boxes.
At €27900, the new flagship represents an engineering extension of the v6 hardware previously teased via the all gold L’Original D’Atelier that debuted in Melbourne last November. The new fella sticks to Devialet’s traditional dark chrome finish, won’t be limited to 100 pieces and offers the following vital statistics: 1000wpc, 0.00025% THD+N, 133dB SNR.
Bergère moves the story beyond the confines of press release data by explaining how the v6 Pro models have ten fewer components in the signal path and offer twice the linearity of their v5 equivalents.
Talking of which, existing Expert owners won’t be left high and dry. Similar to Devialet’s previous v4-to-v5 upgrade programme, owners must part with their Expert for a month, as well as the €3490 upgrade fee (€5990 for dual mono), so that it can undergo a complete internal organ transplant at Devialet’s Normandy factory, at which point a brand new 5-year warranty will be attached. The nitty upgrade process gritty can be read here.
Devialet’s new v6 platform not only brings sonic improvements to the here and now, it has one eye on the future. Ensuing upgrades will be executed in the software domain. A new operating system board will welcome the new Devialet OS which in turn will unleash Bluetooth and UPnP/DLNA connectivity (which we hope will arrive with gapless playback in tow).
Also slated for Q2 2017 is a software update that will put Phantom and Expert-driven rigs on the same networked audio system, PLC included.
At the Life Style store in Sydney, Devialet’s SAM loudspeaker correction was first applied to a pair of PMC MB2 SE. I noted more low frequency reach and punch but also better organised player placement and outline definition, particularly on the more complex passages of David Bowie’s “Lazarus”, Ben Salter’s “Boat Dreams” and – a personal highlight – Aphex Twin’s “Cock/ver10”.
To qualify as SAM-Ready, a loudspeaker must be measured by an approved engineer, its correction profile generated and that profile shared via Devialet’s web-based ‘Le Configurateur’ for all Expert owners to enjoy. A more involved detailing of this process can be found here.
However, unlike my experiences with SAM and the KEF LS50, I prefer SAM dialled up to 100% with the more bigger, badder PMCs. Ditto the Sonus Faber Amati Futura which both Bergère and I agreed were better suited to this store’s dedicated Devialet listening room. Until further treatments are installed, the room’s propensity towards upper frequency excitation called for a loudspeaker with lower levels of top end sizzle.
This tell us two things: 1) an in-store audition is no place to conduct a product review or make judgements about anything but the system as an entity interacting with an unfamiliar room – just like an audio show – and; 2) loudspeaker optimisation coupled with the host room’s acoustic make-up can bring far more to the party than any theoretical erosion caused by a turntable’s output passing through an A/D converter and D/A converter at 24bit/192kHz (or 96kHz). Ongoing experience with the Expert 200 leaves me with no complaints about its phono staging capabilities.
Turntablists who listen to more mainstream or indie/dance fare (like yours truly – see video below) are reminded that a large proportion of contemporary vinyl releases are pressed from digital masters and have seen a degree of time-domain smear from an ADC long before they reach your ‘table’s platter.
Over on the digital side, an 11” Macbook Air running OS X 10.11.3 streamed Tidal Hifi via Devialet’s own Air app without hitch or glitch. For those less fortunate, Bergère also brought news of an Air v3.0 beta programme. According to our host, a kernel bug in both Windows and MacOS is to blame for the white/pink noise interruptions experienced by some users when streaming beyond iTunes’ walled garden.
As Bergère reiterates, software is fundamental to the Expert (and Phantom) experience. It’s why fifteen new recruits will soon double the size of the company’s software team.
Does that make it the Apple of the audio world? The Phantom’s white plastic shell, one that aesthetically aligns itself with the Macbooks of the noughties, would point to a resounding yes.
But it apparently goes deeper than that. The way Bergère tells it, his employer has even greater aspirations: to eventually license its (SAM) technology to third parties à la Dolby Labs and to become a chipset maker (ADH) à la Intel.
Devialet is a software company as much as it a hardware manufacturer – a combination that points to a robust possible future for high-end audio – and one that’s clearly already with us. For proof, look no further than the Expert’s remote control.
Further information: Devialet