Devialet D-Premier D/A integrated amplifier Page 2

As much as I loved using the remote's volume control—the only other remote with a "real" volume control was the one Hafler provided for the Iris preamplifier from the late 1980s—I used the iPhone app most of the time, as I appreciated being able to see the volume setting, the amplifier's display not being visible from my listening chair.

Sound quality
For the first couple of weeks of my auditioning, I used the AIR app running on my Mac mini to send WiFi data to the D-Premier. The sound was never less than excellent. But over time I felt that the upper midrange was a little glassy and the soundstage depth a little restricted compared with my references. A/B comparisons of the same data via the AIR streamer and WiFi and played from my Ayre C-5xeMP player via AES/EBU revealed the hardwired connection to sound more spacious, and in no way glassy or bright. This was with both a high-energy track like "Fit Song," from DJ Cornelius's Sensuous: la musique de 21° siècle (CD, Warner Japan EVE016), or an audiophile classic like the title track of Shelby Lynne's Just a Little Lovin' (CD, Lost Highway B0009789-2), both of which had more of a sense of ease to the sound.

So as convenient as using AIR had been, I reverted to Pure Music, upsampling CDs to 88.2kHz and sending them to the Devialet via Halide or Empirical Audio USB-S/PDIF converters.

I used the Devialet with the speakers I reviewed this past summer—Sony SS-AR2, DeVore Fidelity Orangutan O/96, KEF LS50—as well as with one still to be reviewed, Vandersteen's Treo. The words I kept jotting down in my auditioning of the D-Premier with all these speakers were clean and clear. Not clean in the sense of sterile or clear in the sense of cold, but "clean and clear" in that a wealth of recorded detail was apparent without in any way being spotlit or flung forward at the listener. For example, I have been a fan of blues singer Howling Wolf since I was exposed to his music by British blues bands a half century ago. But in all those years, only the Devialet driving the Sonys has made me aware of the slight increase in the reverb around the Wolf's voice in the "woo-hoo" chorus of "Smokestack Lightning." And with the KEF LS50s, the music stand being knocked over that brackets Lowell George's "20 Million Things to Do," from Little Feat's Hotcakes & Outtakes: 30 Years of Little Feat (CD, Warner Archives/Rhino R2 79912), was there in my listening room, virtual reality courtesy the D-Premier.

This combination of clarity and authority was evident with well-recorded classical music—tenor Wilfred Brown's definitive 1964 performance of Gerald Finzi's Dies Natalis, with the ECO conducted by the composer's son, Christopher Finzi (CD, EMI Studio 63372) spent a lot of time being played through the Devialet. And a chance visit to a Live at Daryl's House episode, recorded at Todd Rundgren's studio in Hawaii, featuring a superb performance of Daryl Hall's "Every Time You Go Away," reminded me that I hadn't played Paul Young's hit version from his The Secret of Association (CD, Columbia CK 39957), with Pino Palladino's authoritative fretless bass playing, for many a year. It sounded magnificent, whether through the little KEFs or the big Sonys.

One recording leading to another was an enduring aspect of my time with the Devialet D-Premier. One evening, with the amplifier driving the Sony SS-AR2s and the data fed to the Devialet via the Empirical Audio Off-Ramp 4 USB converter, I followed the hi-rez recording of Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances, with Eiji Oue conducing the Minnesota Orchestra (24/176.4 WAV file, Reference HRx HR-96), with Graham Nash's "I Used to Be a King," from his 1970 album Songs for Beginners (24/48 ALAC file ripped from DVD-A, Atlantic/Rhino R2 35257-2). Both recordings were reproduced without coloration, without grain or strain, and with apparently unlimited dynamics across the audioband. The D-Premier may be small in size, but its sound quality is large. It's a magnificent amplifier!

Times two
With music having a very wide dynamic range, such as my 1984 recording of Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius, performed in England's Ely Cathedral and excerpted on Stereophile's Test CD 2 (Stereophile STPH004-2), the D-Premier didn't go quite as loud as I wished with the low-sensitivity Vandersteen speakers. However, when Audio Plus shipped me a second sample, I could try the two D-Premiers as bridged monoblocks. I burned the appropriate configuration files on SD cards, designating one amplifier as the Master and the other as the Slave, and swapped these cards with the standard ones. Digital input 1 on the Master now became an S/PDIF digital output and sent the other channel's data to the Slave amplifier. Each amplifier's output was now taken from the two hot speaker terminals, to give a maximum power rating of 400W.

I had one glitch with this setup, which did seem sensitive to the quality of the S/PDIF cable used to join the amplifiers. After playing some 48kHz files, I switched to a 96kHz file. Pure Music correctly adjusted the sample rate of the data sent to the Master amp via the Empirical Off-Ramp 4, but the Slave amp remained set at 48kHz. (You can check the sample rate being handled by the D-Premier by holding down the remote's Input Select button; a single remote now controls both amplifiers.) I rebooted both amplifiers and tried again. This time, both Master and Slave correctly followed the sample rate of the data fed to the Master, and the glitch hasn't happened again. But if you have dual-mono D-Premiers and often play files with many different sample rates, a routine sample-rate check would be a good idea.

That aside, I had no feelings of restricted loudness using a pair of D-Premiers as monoblocks. The climaxes in Gerontius soared appropriately, and the organ-pedal notes emerging from the unassuming-looking Vandersteen Treos shook my room. And with Queen's Live at Wembley Stadium (DVD, Hollywood 2061-62400-9), the mono D-Premiers turned the laid-back Sony SS-AR2 speakers into ultimate rock'n'roll speakers

To describe my auditioning of a single D-Premier, I used the word magnificent—twice. Ending my formal auditioning of the Devialet with the heavily compressed "Bullet with Butterfly Wings," from Rotten Apples: The Smashing Pumpkins Greatest Hits (256kbps MP3 download), which I played at my AES presentation on "The Loudness Wars" last October, magnificent was again the most appropriate word to describe what I was hearing from the Vandersteens: clarity, power, and punch, coupled with sweet-sounding highs. Really. With the Smashing Pumpkins! Who knew?

Summing up
Yes, at $15,995, the Devialet D-Premier seems expensive. But when you consider that in my system it replaced a combination of a D/A preamp and similarly rated power amplifier costing a smidgen short of $29,000 without cables, and in some ways sounded better, that price starts to look more competitive. And that's without considering the additional cost of a high-quality D/A converter for those with a conventional preamplifier. Then there's the fact that the D-Premier's hardware platform has been designed for easy upgradeability via firmware upgrades. The D-Premier you'll be using next year will be able to do more than the D-Premier you bought this year, without you having to spend a single dollar more.

Devialet's D-Premier amplifier is the most extraordinary product I have reviewed for Stereophile. Superb sound quality, future-proof design, everything you need in one box—it is the epitome of what a high-end audio product should be. Wow!

Devialet SAS
US distributor: Audio Plus Services
156 Lawrence Paquette Industrial Drive
Champlain, NY 12919
(800) 663-9352
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