November 2016. High-end audio manufacturer Devialet announced their intention to enter the vinyl business. In collaboration with music Fondamenta, previously unheard live recordings would be pulled from the vaults, tidied up and pressed to 180gm vinyl in limited runs of 900 (at over €120 a pop).
For the ultra-wealthy, extremely limited edition lacquers offer up only a few plays before wearing out would sell for anything between five and eight grand. Examples of these lacquers have recently enjoyed dedicated playback events at the Royal Albert Hall and Melbourne’s Recital Hall.
The digital angle? Devialet’s own A/D converter, found in their Expert range of amplifiers, recently deployed by yours truly, would be used to move the lost recordings’ source format – tape, 78rpm shellac or vinyl – into the hi-res digital domain where it would be cleaned up before being pressed (back) to vinyl. In the modern music industry, making a record from a digital file is more the norm than the exception.
Devialet’s Los Recordings aren’t for everyone. These vinyl records’ appeal stems from their (presumably) exceptional sound quality, scarcity and the associated bragging rights. Pricing and limited pressing runs aside, artist recordings unearthed so far include Sarah Vaughan, Dave Brubeck, Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson and, most recently, Ella Fitzgerald.
Audio shows spill over with this kind of music and Devialet’s side/promotional venture into vinyl is unlikely to change the perception that audiophile gear is made by – and for – by cashed-up middle-aged white dudes.
The Lost Recordings’ appeal is almost certainly restricted to the audiophile niche. And when talk of process and sound quality are louder than that of artistic content, appeal to the Music-First Audiophile is easily dented.
Of considerably broader appeal is Devialet’s Phantom; a digital-only dinosaur egg-shaped loudspeaker that, when run as a pair, threatens to dethrone many similarly priced separates systems, as well as dispense with their cable salad and a hifi-rack. Read my two part review of the Silver Phantom here and here.
A month or two prior to the Lost Recordings’ announcement, Devialet launched their most extreme Phantom to date: the Gold Phantom. At €6100/pair they don’t come cheap. Readers are advised to look beyond the French manufacturer’s penchant for acronyms and watt-counting and take a listen to the Silver Phantom and Gold Phantom side by side. I did exactly that soon after the first Gold models landed in Australia.
Did I “Feel the rush of 4500 watts of pure emotion” as suggested by Devialet’s promotional blurb? Not quite – but the latter’s superiority has seemingly less to do with bass output than midrange transparency and treble extension. I’d take the Gold over the Silver every day of the week and twice on Sundays.
This puts existing Silver Phantom (and ‘white’ Phantom) owners feeling the upgrade itch in a bit of a bind. Do they live with that they have or succumb to FOMO, take a haircut on the second hand market before dropping fresh green on a new pair of Phantom Gold?
No need. For a short time from today, they can avail ourselves of the Phantom Gold upgrade program. “Until November 15th, 2017, Devialet offers you the opportunity to transform your Phantom into Gold Phantom.”
Per the Devialet website, “Connect to your account and request your Phantom transmutation immediately. You’ll receive your new Gold Phantom within a few days.” or “Head over to your Devialet store or favorite dealer with your Phantom and take home a new Gold Phantom”.
The cost of upgrading from standard Phantom to Gold is €1390. The jump from Silver to Gold is €1090. That’s per Phantom. Double it for a pair.
“Transmutation”? (Nope – me neither).
However you view the Phantom, Devialet’s marketing language or its more unusual outward aesthetic, the Phantom’s high street / airport terminal / pop-up store positioning means Devialet are doing more to advance the high end audio conversation in mainstream spaces than audio show organisers or exhibitors could hope achieve in two decades’ worth of hotel-based events.
Devialet are taking the ‘better sound’ message to the man in the street instead of hoping and praying he will come around of his own accord.
Further information: Devialet