SXSW 2017 Day 2: the Ultimate Analog Medium?

"Crafted out of aluminum and coated with nitrocellulose lacquer, this truly fascinating object is the ultimate analog medium."

So you own 200gm LP pressings? And test pressings? Even Mobile Fidelity's One-Step 45rpm Santana Abraxas? Vinyl fans, Devialet has now gone one better. The French amplifier and wireless speaker manufacturer is now in the record business, and releasing limited-edition, 180gm vinyl LPs of unreleased live concerts of jazz greats like Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans. and now, Sarah Vaughan. But Devialet is also making and selling lacquer copies that are limited to editions of 30 copies per title. (The 180gm LP titles are capped at 900 copies per title.)

At a dinner hosted by Devialet at Justine's Secret House in Austin, a roomful of lucky folks were able to hear four tracks from the Vaughan record in what was billed as a "dark concert." Although I had initially had visions of a coven of some sort, where the dark lords of the LP would be summoned, in actuality it turned out to be a darkened, rather warm room, where a lovely white Graves and a red Haut-Medoc were being liberally poured and most people, though not all, had enough sense and class to keep their mouths shut while the music was on. Even though the music was being played from a computer and not the vinyl, and again, the wine was loosening ill-mannered tongues, what I heard sounded very full and multi-dimensional for a recording made at the Laren Jazz Festival in the Netherlands in 1975. Despite temperatures on the night of the performance that were over 100°, Sassy seems to have risen to the occasion and given a rousing performance.

Devialet says that for their "lost recordings," which is what they are calling this new series, they have partnered with the French record label Fondamenta, and have developed the Phoenix Mastering system, which their press releases call a new and "unique restoration process" that is allowing them "precise recovery" of each recording.

And now for the punchline. A set of four lacquers for the Sarah Vaughan title are priced at $7900. The vinyl set goes for a more earthly price of $139. These titles will also be available in CD and download form beginning later this month. Stay tuned for more on this story, and full reviews of the individual LPs.

Devialet , of course, is aiming their analog albums at audiophiles. But perhaps it's time for a new term. A panel on music technology may have provided the defining audio-related moment at SXSW 2017. During the section of the panel that focused on high-resolution music, the crowd of around 200 people was asked how many defined themselves as "audiophiles." Only about five brave souls dared raised their paw. However, when the same group was asked if they'd like to hear recorded music the way the artist meant it to be heard, a roomful of hands shot up. Maybe it's just semantics, but the best replacement term, which in my unhumble estimation is "stereophile," is already taken!

The lean brisket above is courtesy of the now world-famous Franklin BBQ (thanks to a starring role in a recent American Express television commercial), and to answer the obvious, yes, it really is that good!

tonykaz's picture

After decades of tweakyness, I'm ready to forgo "Audiophile-nervosa" and simply own one of those "complete" Linn or Meridian music systems, spending my remaining years exploring the depths of an MQA infused Tidal collection. ( I think )

Can I make a clean break?, can I ignore USB cable differences being reported? will there be differing performances from various DSP implementations? Will there ever be a place where I can finally release the powerful grip of all things Audiophile?, I haven't yet explored Tube Rolling and yearn to try one of those PrimaLuna Integrated Amps.

I'm one of those 5 that raised their hands, like Mr. Fremer, I'm doomed.

Tony in Michigan

ssimon's picture

Tony in Michigan
I can soooo relate to this...!
Steve in Massachusetts

Wiley's picture

I have a Prima Luna pre & power amp. Trust me, the products are worth the money!

tonykaz's picture

Everyone seems to say very nice things about these designs.

I'm also hearing wonderful descriptions about Felikes Tube Amps ( from Poland ).

I suspect that these outfits are benefiting from carefully selected Tubes.

Tube gear doesn't have to be expensive, the Schiit Valhalla 2 is well under $500, Felikes Euphoria is under $1,500, PrimaLuna's best Integrated is under $4,500 !

Thanks for writing,

Tony in Michigan

JoeE SP9's picture

For some reason I have been unable to fathom, the term audiophile has become a pejorative term. Many consider it to be a term reserved for "snobs". That this is far from the truth is a given.

Sites like Audio Karma are well known for a irrational anti-audiophile bunch of posters. Many of them believe that paying more than their cheapskate budget allows is a waste of money and turns one into a snob. They are the wallet police personified.

I'm the furthest thing from a "snob" you'll ever meet. I confess that I've been an audiophile ever since hearing a pair of Maggie MG-1's in 1976. I'm not doomed. I'm simply a realist who doesn't listen to the anti audiophile rhetoric presented and pushed by sites like Audio Karma. For the record, anyone who posts to a forum thread devoted to gear is an audiophile.

rt66indierock's picture

I’ve got to disagree with your post. Audiophile has been a pejorative term since the hobby passed the build yourself stage in the late fifties. I was certainly aware when I started learning about audio in1970 that I didn’t want to be one. You have to be somewhat enthusiastic about the equipment to be one according to any rational definition I can find. I have no more enthusiasm for audio equipment than I do the pencils and colored pens next to my keyboard they are just tools to do a job. So I’m not an audiophile.

As for being snobby here are few non audio examples where I am. You didn’t go to a land, sea, space and sun grant university unless you went to my alma mater or Cornell. And your alma mater didn’t discover a Woolly Mammoth on campus last year. As for golf if you haven’t won a tournament more significant than your club championship on both sides of age fifty I’m not interested in your golf opinions. Mine are better because I have.

As for Audio Karma who cares and who reads it? Finally should I have posted MQA is Vaporware on anything but a site where people talk about gear? I wanted people to read it and they have it passed 59,000 views tonight.

Michael Fremer's picture

Same syndrome.

rschryer's picture

You're right, Michael. The difference lies in the names; the word Obamacare creates polarized reactions, while the Affordable Care Act sounds like a concept everyone can relate to.

dalethorn's picture

Once people realize it's no longer affordable, cynicism sets in. And cynicism pervades audiophilia because either the product does not live up to the hype, or vendors are unable to convey what they hear - what they designed - to the customer. I'll be positive (on audio topics) and say that nearly all new designs offer something real that can be appreciated, but we need delivery mechanisms or software that gets the message to the customers' ears without all of the barriers we face now.

EDIT: For example, if someone is selling MQA-coded recordings, it would be a terrific idea to issue a non-MQA copy *with* the MQA copy, so the customer can compare them without additional cost. What's to lose?

rt66indierock's picture

Let’s try out your assertion on Robert Baird’s next post about Americana. How much equipment can reproduce a harmonica the way I want? A lot less than you think can. Art Dudley let slip last summer that very little equipment can reproduce a banjo properly, something that was common knowledge in the seventies but apparently forgotten. I never did. Finally my acid test Cajon fiddle sawing gets almost everything else. As Herb Reichert said in his review of the Schiit Yggdrasi “Cajun fiddle sawing is the ultimate test of an audio system's ability to dance and swing.”

If you have liked what is called Americana since 1966 as I have you learned quickly high end audio has no rhythm and you’d better treasure what you find works because it will be very hard to replace.

As for your MQA comment why bother? I declared it vaporware January 2, 2017.

dalethorn's picture

I was hoping for the best here, in that after the first 'x' number of plays I'd have an opinion as to whether I hear anything suspicious. First problem - this combo is recorded very close up and it has (to my ears) much less "air" than most of what I listen to, including live combos. Earlier today I was playing rips from a Japanese import of Bruckner's 8th and 9th by Gunter Wand and the NDR Symphony Hamburg. It sounded great. This Unamas recording sounds less alive and slightly claustrophobic. I may try again with another recording later - this one was $21 approximately - just to satisfy my curiosity that the embedded MQA doesn't make any obvious negative difference.

rt66indierock's picture

Your issue has been discussed a lot. There aren’t apples to apples comparisons between MQA versions and other versions in many cases. For example if you like the Grateful Dead’s original American Beauty it will sound different than the MQA version because the MQA version is Mickey Hart’s remaster. You can buy a new copy today of the DVD for $85.

DaveThreshold's picture

People need to remember that IF those are real old recordings, they will sound bad no matter WHAT they do. The highs & lows will be chopped off anyway. LOL There is a Co. that is re-issuing old Jazz on 180 Gram vinyl. The problem is, it is REAL OLD jazz, and the highs are knocked off at 8K on up. 180 Gram doesn't save a low pass filtered recording. They should do this with the most modern all analogue recordings possible, but that would cost more than they have in terms of recording rights to the music.

texanalog's picture

This gratuitous Austin cliche is best served with 2 slices of "Mr. Baird's" white bread (seen below the brisket in the picture above.

mtseymour's picture

I briefly owned the Devialet but sold it because the ADC section was good but not competitive with mid-end phono sections like the Pass XP-15. So it would difficult to fully appreciate the limited-edition LPs and lacquers through the Devialet amps. Devialet would be better off to offer very high quality digital copies of these recordings.

texanalog's picture

"At a dinner hosted by Devialet at Justine's Secret House in Austin"

"in what was billed as a "dark concert.""

"where a lovely white Graves and a red Haut-Medoc were being liberally poured"

"And now for the punchline. A set of four lacquers for the Sarah Vaughan title are priced at $7900."

"Devialet , of course, is aiming their analog albums at audiophiles."

A lifestyle (of the rich and famous) brand?

Per Devialet's website: "Happy Phantom Owners. Beyoncé and Jay-Z. Brigitte. Joey Starr. Marc Simoncini. Xavier Niel. Jacques-Antoine Granjon. Bernard Arnault. Andy Rubin. Om Malik. Tony Fadell. Loic Le Meur. Palmer Luckey ..."

Per Variety Magazine dated NOVEMBER 28, 2016
"Paris-based audio hardware startup Devialet has raised $106 million in funding from a large group of investors that include Jay Z’s Roc Nation label, Chinese electronics manufacturing giant Foxconn, Renault, Sharp and Playground Global, the venture capital company founded by Andy Rubin, the inventor of Google’s Android mobile operating system."

Glotz's picture


I literally just wondered to myself yesterday why isn't there a a replacement for vinyl that doesn't scratch (or at least resists such).

Who cares what you call yourself. BLEH... I am an LISTENER... Thanks Art!!!

Johnny2Bad's picture

Thanks to the stone-deaf reviewers at technology blogs, magazines and various media, who somehow think that because a product contains "digital" this or a resistor there, that makes them qualified reviewers of audio gear. They seek out the cheapest product available and if it manages to sound as good as a tabletop radio, call it all good.

No, let me take that back. It doesn't even need to sound that good. If it's $20 cheaper than something that sounds as good as a tabletop radio, that makes it better in their estimation, and it gets the five stars.

Audiophiles are people who waste their money on moonbeams. So, some people are reluctant to cast themselves amongst the others in the asylum. Sad, really, that those who cannot grasp that the job of an audio component is to re-create a performance, not to become just another throwaway tech gadget destined for the recycle bin ... they can't even fathom passing on something five years from the production line to their children. What a sad group of misguided people they are.