AUDIO EXPERIENCE FROM FRANCE
This week, I set out to discover a device with a unique look (to say the least): it resembles a sort of flattened egg. An elegant design that is unlike any other in the realm of audio products. Upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that the front of the “egg” is actually a diminutive tweeter and that the molded domes on either side are aluminum loudspeakers. Devialet ‘s Phantom is an all-in-one sound system; it is capable of multifarious connections and acts as a speaker and amplifier. It incorporates several of the company’s proprietary technologies, such as Analog/Digital Hybrid amplification (ADH®) and Speaker Active Matching (SAM®), which are also found in the brand’s amplifiers.
Once again, Devialet has come up with an innovative product that displays several unique features, such as a complete absence of any cables or wires. There is also a 2.6-mm-diameter gasket along the woofer’s enclosure, which is sealed using 1.2 tons of compression pressure to guarantee the Phantom’s quality acoustics. I can attest that this system does a beautiful job of cancelling out mechanical vibrations, a particularly impressive feat given the energy and lateral forces produced by the device at high volumes. Furthermore, the Phantom was optimally designed to contain a minimal number of parts—no more than 10. The device is assembled in a new Devialet factory near Fontainebleau (southeast of Paris). Its electronics are handled by Seprolec, Devialet’s faithful supplier in Normandy, which makes all of the brand’s amplifiers (see my post detailing my visit to their factory). The loudspeakers were designed by PHL Audio, a French company, in accordance with Devialet’s strict specifications.
An autonomous, multifunctional system
The Phantom is an extremely “well-connected” device. It sports no wires; instead, it mainly communicates with a large number of sources, such as smartphones, tablets, and computers, using WIFI. Signals are then processed and reproduced by the device’s integrated loudspeakers. The Phantom can be used as a single unit or in pairs. You have the option of adding on even more devices to craft an almost unlimited multi-room system; you can create a network of up to 24 units! Like many other multi-room systems (such as Sonos, for example), Phantom-based networks can be controlled by a proprietary app (Spark) that allows users to manage and play their music, whether from local or streaming sources. It doesn’t matter if a single- or multiple-unit configuration is used. To create a network of two or more devices, users simply need a specialized hub developed by Devialet, called the Dialog. This audio router synchronizes all the devices and allows the user to create a power-line communication (PLC) network and up to three WIFI networks.
When it comes to the single-unit configuration, I was concerned about how good the stereo imaging would be, given the atypical placement of the loudspeakers on the sides of the device. Devialet engineers were well aware of the problem created by this design: it would be challenging to reproduce the left/right signals that generate the typical stereo image. They therefore developed a technological means of “reorganizing” the stereo signal to create a coherent sound image that could easily diffuse across the listening space.
What struck me when I tried out the single-unit set-up was the energy generated; the power/size ratio was quite exceptional. As promised, there seemed to be zero distortion and zero background noise. At first, the experience was rather disconcerting because the sound image produced by a single Phantom is omnidirectional and diffuses broadly through space, which means that the listener doesn’t have to be situated directly in front of the device.BI got my bearings again when I auditioned a pair of Phantoms in a stereo set-up. If the right and left channels are properly arranged, then the listener is treated to a more “traditional” stereo image. However, the position of the loudspeakers nonetheless produces unexpected results and generates a large sound image. From a strictly acoustic perspective, I was especially impressed by the system’s performance and power as well as the clarity of the bass.
Disappointing showroom acoustics
The experience was nonetheless rather marred by the ill-suited acoustics of the room in which the auditions were held. The ceiling was quite high and there was an enormous bay window, both of which detracted from the Phantom’s performance. If the space used demonstrates a lack of acoustic foresight, it is all the more frustrating because, in Paris, the Devialet showroom is the only spot where the Phantom can be demoed at present. Regardless of the technology used or the nature of the sound source, the acoustics of the room where any system is used plays an immensely important role in the final output (see my related post, “The Weakest Link,” on this topic; it highlights a few basic principles that Devialet seems to have forgotten.)
One other criticism : it was impossible to test out the device’s wireless connectivity, an important feature that Devialet has frequently played up. Indeed, WIFI and AirPlay connections were not functional on the demo models, nor had Devialet installed the much-discussed Spark app, which is supposed to be used to manage the Phantom system. For the moment, these features remain to be confirmed. Consequently, until Devialet makes available a fully functional Phantom that can be auditioned under appropriate acoustic conditions, I will not be able to provide you with a full report on the device.
Despite these criticisms, it goes without saying that Devialet has taken a major leap forward when it comes to audio device connectivity. We should applaud the audacity of the Phantom’s aesthetics and technology. In all likelihood, the device will offer a nicely balanced trade-off between performance and ease of use.
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