Devialet Phantom review
When it comes to audio gear, consumers are faced with a clear choice: convenience or sound quality. The Devialet Phantom aims to end this compromise by offering both. Hi-fi systems provide great sound but are tricky and complicated to set up, while wireless speakers enable us to use phones, tablets and laptops to play the music we love. The only catch? They rarely have the presence or clarity of a traditional hi-fi system.
This is where the dramatically named Devialet Phantom enters the scene. Designed to wirelessly liberate our digital files with exquisite hi-fi sound, the Phantom uses a range of strangely named patents to promise a revolutionary experience.
If any company is up to the challenge, it’s Devialet. Since 2007, the French firm has gained a reputation for producing breathtaking hi-fi gear and making it extremely compact. Devialet’s Expert system packs all the components of traditional hi-fi, including a preamplifier, amplifier, DAC and streamer, into a single metallic unit.
The Phantom goes one better by adding a impressive speaker array to the mix, and uses a Wi-Fi- or Bluetooth AptX-compatible connection to stream your files. Rated with an output of 750W and a maximum volume of 105dB, it’s easy to see why Devialet thinks its “Implosive Sound Center” is a game changer.
Design and features
From the name alone, it’s clear that the Devialet is unique, and as soon as you take it out of its box – adorned with tattooed, cigarette-smoking figures in moody poses – it becomes obvious that the Phantom is as much about lifestyle as sound quality.
The Phantom is a remarkable piece of engineering, and for the staggering price of £1,400 it needs to be. Its styling will divide opinion – to me, at least, its clean white lines are striking and set it apart from the silver, black and grey monotony of traditional music systems. Others may think it looks like an entry-level MacBook or an item of bathroom furniture, but it’s a matter of personal taste.
With its round body and curved edges, the Phantom looks more like a creature of the deep than a music player, and its silver highlights ooze with class. An intricate pattern on the tweeter looks more like something you’d find in a church or cathedral and really sets the Phantom apart from the competition.
Inside, the Phantom is just as novel, and Devialet has attached a number of ridiculous names to some truly forward-thinking technology. First, the Phantom is able to achieve a warm sound thanks to ADH amplification. By using a Class A amplifier for signal amplification and supercharging it with a series of Class D amplifiers to send the correct voltage to the speakers, Devialet believes it’s device captures the warm feel of analog sound but with the power of digital.
Elsewhere, the Phantom uses Speaker Active Matching (SAM) technology to reproduce music more accurately. Calculated using a mathematical model of the Phantom’s speakers, SAM uses a dual-core processor to determine the best way to drive the unit’s speakers. It’s another advantage of Devialet’s decision to produce an all-in-one unit, and it also means the Phantom knows its limits, so it won’t damage its drivers.
The final piece of technology hidden in the Phantom is the comically named Heart Bass Implosion. This is one of the most noticeable and interesting aspects of the unit. Most conventional systems use a vented speaker system to produce their lower-end sounds, but that results in a large, cumbersome unit. Instead, Devialet’s engineers have harnessed the same potential in a minuscule space, and used extreme pressure to give the Phantom an awesome power-to-weight ratio.
Interestingly, Devialet has assembled its creation without wires, enabling the Phantom to be even smaller and more compact. The French company says the Phantom is simply made up of ten carefully crafted modules.
Setting up and connectivity
Devialet provides easy instructions for connecting to the device over AptX Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, and setting up your smartphone, tablet or computer is simple as finding and pairing it with the speaker. There is one important catch, however. Devialet reminds users to enter the accessibility settings or sound settings – depending on the device – and to make sure the wireless streaming output is set to mono. Why? Because, believe it or not, the £1,390 Devialet Phantom can’t pump out stereo sound. While this would seem to be a ridiculous omission, stereo sound is at odds with Devialet’s aim to produce the same sound experience regardless of where you are in the room. Even so, the lack of stereo on a £1,400 device is another aspect of the Phantom that’s will divide opinion.
For those who insist on listening to both channels, Devialet offers a special broadcasting box, called the Dialogue, which uses dual-band Wi-Fi (abgn 2.4GHz and 5GHz) to enable wealthier users to connect up to 24 Phantoms in sync. Users can assign each unit a channel for true stereo sound, or get creative with a variety of combinations.
Devialet produces a free app called SPARK for this. SPARK looks the part and also allows users to stream music from any connected device, but it does seem defunct in a world where Spotify and Apple Music exist.
For those who don’t want to connect wirelessly, the Phantom offers few alternatives. Behind a cable cover at the back of its bulbous body, the Phantom hides a Toslink optical audio connection and Ethernet port – and that’s it. Devialet added AptX Bluetooth connectivity to the Phantom after feedback from users, and says the technology is present in every unit bought since mid-June but will be turned on in an upcoming update.
The unit Devialet sent us was a prototype that didn’t yet have Bluetooth enabled, so we had to use the Toslink port to connect to a NuForce A2DP Bluetooth module, but Devialet assured us that the connection quality between the two is comparable.
While the optical audio and Ethernet ports are useful, the blank space where you’d expect a range of connectors to be is a reminder that this product is intended customers who already prefer the ease of wireless streaming.
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