The crests and crescendos of high-end Hi-Fi come in waves. The industry melds design, art, science and manufacturing to produce beautifully crafted pieces of gear that also need to provide a sublime listening experience. This is more than just sound. It engages all the senses.
High-end audio remained unchanged for decades until it struck a wall. AB amplifiers reached the zenith of technological innovation, and advancements in speakers were more about form than function, or any real changes inside to improve sound delivery.
It took the digital revolution (urged on by efforts put into home theatre technology), and the host of new tech to bring a new wisp of life into a dying industry. High-end brands (some reluctantly) joined the bandwagon, and new gear came streaming to larger audiences. The gear became more accessible, portable, and easily matched. This is when a host of new companies sprung within the forest of established audio heavyweights, one of which is Devialet.
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The Story Behind the Brand
Apart from famed speaker innovator Focal, and tube amplifier maker Jadis, the French aren’t exactly known for their extensive range of audiophile brands. Compare this with the rich history across the channel and across the pond, and there are dozens of British and American Hi-Fi brands that any seasoned audiophile will be more than willing to part their cash with.
This all changed in 2007 when French audio maker Devialet was formed. Urged on by the technical and engineering prowess of engineer and founder of hybrid amplification technology, Pierre-Emmanuel Calmel, the entrepreneurial skill of Quentin Sannié and designs led by Emmanuel Nardin, the company revolutionised the industry in one decisive blow.
The birth of hybrid amplification changed traditional lines of thinking in power and signal output. And stalwarts in the industry soon followed suit. Cash began to flow in, giving the Devialet audio maker the funds to diversify its product range. The Expert Series of hybrid amplifiers soon became a reality, as did the groundbreaking technology and inspiring design of the Phantom Series of small but extremely powerful active wireless speakers. This is what earned the company the 2017/2018 EISA Award for Hi-Fi innovation. And this is just one of fifty awards and 88 patents that attest to their strife for audio excellence through technical innovation – feats rarely seen in the business within the scope of only a few years.
Design and Build
Before I get into the technical aspects that make the brand so distinguishable from the rest, let me touch on the idiosyncrasies of its design ethic. The company sticks to the tried French eccentricity in terms of designs in all their products. The Devialet amp design resemble nothing else on the market, and the Expert series are instantly recognisable. Luscious casings of hand-polished metals set to a minimalist background and a slim profile.
Overall dimensions of all amps in the series are smaller than any integrated or power and pre combo with comparable power output. They fit seamlessly within a defined interior setting, without feeling out of place. To enhance the minimalist note, the design is clean and uncluttered. Buttons are sparse, with only the ‘D’ power button on the front fascia.
The supplied remote is also a work of art on its own where users will access the majority of the controls. This too is a block of solid metal with the centrepiece knob used to adjust volume settings and cleverly aligned buttons when selecting inputs. The solid, hefty feel oozes quality and aptly matches the sound reproduction the amps offer.
The Phantom line of speakers is even more eye-catching. They’re far from all the boxy, plain-looking speakers that we’ve become accustomed to and quite literally the thinking here is out of the box. The curved lines bear semblance to something from a Sci-Fi movie; think time travel pods that have come from the future to slap the Hi-Fi community with a dose of what lies ahead.
Don’t let the minuscule dimensions let you think they can’t perform. Even base models can fill a room with wall-rumbling bass and put larger speakers to shame. All possible with proprietary tech.
The Techy Stuff
The clean industrial design gives a hint of what lies beneath the metal skin in the amps and the sleek ABS exterior of the Phantoms. For The Expert line of amplifiers, this is the marriage of clean class A amplification with the efficiency and power offered from class D amps. Not a new concept in itself, as the analogue amp works on the musicality side of things, and the class D boosts output signals.
What Devialet engineers managed to get round is the loss of signal quality in the switching phase, by making both amplification stages work in parallel but independently of each other. A central controller provides the best of both worlds in what the company calls Analog Digital Hybrid (ADH) amplification. The clarity of analog class-A amps with the power of digital amplification in a single unit.
Pairing speakers with the amps is simple. The company tested its entire amp lineup with over 900 of the most popular speakers to come up with SAM, or Speaker Active Matching. This technology senses the functional limits of speakers, especially in the bass response, before signals are processed by the onboard DAC. The results are phenomenal. Timing is improved, and more so in speakers lacking full bass extension and precision. For smaller to mid-sized speakers, there’s a substantially better response in the lows and at louder volumes. And as the company puts it: “Your speakers are transfigured.”
To cater to a better analog input, the Expert Series is configured with RAM, or Record Active Matching, which similar to their speaker matching tech, optimises the equaliser curve in the phono stage. This is suitable for both MM and MC cartridges to extract every detail in your favourite vinyl recording. Signals are then run through the DAC, amplified through the hybrid amplification and delivered with precision (distortion and noise-free) at any volume you want.
For the Phantom speakers, the company went out of its way to pack all this tech into a small package and add a little more. These wireless active speakers use a reworked ADH2 in the amplification stage, Devialet’s own DAC and the ‘Implosion Sound Effect’ produces extended bass, clear mids and exquisite highs in a three-driver setup. Power output is unseen in a speaker this size and volume levels are out of this world (4500W and 109Db). The speakers are Wi-Fi and Bluetooth enabled, with the latest codecs, and can stream your favourite music from any source. And all this is easily controlled with the Devialet app available for both IOS and Android.