Devialet Diary Page 2

As we motored across Paris, Gold Phantoms on our laps, Leblais told me that many customers buy just one Gold Phantom at first and use it solo—mono—until they save up enough to acquire another. A lone Gold Phantom can be thought of as a heavy, high-end Bluetooth speaker (though it's not limited to Bluetooth); as a standalone mono sound system; as a modernist sculpture that makes music.

Once that hypothetical customer acquired a second Phantom, a pair of Trees, and a Dialog, she or he will own a serious stereo hi-fi system—that, anyway, is Devialet's claim. Just add a source—a laptop or tablet is fine—and you're ready to go. There's no need for speaker cables, interconnects, equipment stands, or the usual stack of expensive electronics. You can control the volume from your tablet, laptop, or smartphone, but I enjoyed the nifty wireless volume control, which looks like an oversized egg timer and won't get lost under the sofa cushions. That volume knob is smooooth.

At the core of any system of two or more Phantoms is the Dialog, which directs traffic and sends musical data wirelessly to the two speakers. Installation is carried out via Devialet's app, Spark (free download), which runs on Windows, OSX, iOS, or Android. At one stage, after the speakers have been assembled, you lay hands on the Phantoms, one at a time, to teach them which one of them is left and which is right (footnote 4).

The Paris installation went mostly smoothly. We encountered a problem on account of my unusual circumstances, but not something most folks should be concerned with. The wireless network in our apartment, which is managed by a French academic institution, requires every networked device to be registered at a website—something the Phantom system isn't designed to do (footnote 5). And yet—I find this impressive—we were still able to set up a separate, offline network—no Tidal, no access to the server I'd hauled from home, but plenty of music from my laptop left over from my iTunes days. Within about an hour, I had music in my Paris apartment—properly Parisian music. Cue Django.

The Gold Phantoms are striking in appearance—as much sculpture as acoustical source. I noted similarities to the far more expensive La Sphère, from another French company, Cabasse—and, functionally if not visually, to the more modestly priced KEF LS50, with its metal-dome tweeter in a concentric Uni-Q array. The Devialet's midrange driver, though, is inverted, presumably to conform to the speaker's sleek surface. The Phantom squeezes in opposed side-firing woofers that extend its response to very low frequencies. Also in that modestly sized cabinet are wireless hardware and a digital amplifier and DAC.

With the system installed and the music fired up, I was able to form a first impression: My Paris apartment has lousy acoustics. It's one of those spare, IKEA-esque spaces. Nearly a third of the wall space is glass—floor-to-ceiling fixed windows, and glass doors that open onto a patio. The floor is smooth wood—no rugs. There's not much furniture: a small Formica table, four chairs (two wood, two leather), and a couple of IKEA-style desks, also small. The Murphy bed must be folded up into the wall for listening, creating yet another rigid, reflective surface. It's a great place to hang out for a month in the middle of Paris. It's not a great place to listen to music in.

Second impression: The Phantoms go deep. There's lots of air, but they don't sound bright, not even in this reflective room. Beyond that, I couldn't tell much: there's just too much reflected sound. The room is part of the loudspeaker, and the room part of this loudspeaker isn't very good. None of that has kept me from enjoying having music in our Paris home—and yet I can't really assess the Gold Phantoms' sound here. I asked Devialet to send me a Gold Phantom system when I'm back in New York, where I can listen in the familiar comfort of my listening room. They agreed.

The Best Sound in the World?
Paris may be a big city, but to me it has the feel of a town—a great town full of beauty and culture, but easy to live in compared to Manhattan, where I live. Manhattan is more cosmopolitan—more diverse, more crowded, more challenging, more smelly. In central Paris there's good food everywhere, much of it affordable; Manhattan has good restaurants and cheap restaurants, but the two categories rarely overlap. There's a ton of live music here in the Big City, for which I am very grateful, but when it comes to classical music at least, ticket prices are high and good seats hard to come by (footnote 6). And can someone please tell me where I can find a good baguette? There's got to be one somewhere in New York City.

After returning to the States, I noticed a Devialet ad campaign—a new one, I think. It claims that the Phantoms produce "the best sound in the world." I don't take ads too seriously, but this one is actually helpful because I've been wondering how I should assess the Gold Phantoms. Should I compare them to the better Bluetooth speakers? It is, after all, pretty easy to haul a Phantom out by the pool. Or, in light of the new ad campaign, should I compare the Gold Phantoms to, say, Wilson Audio Specialties' Alexandria XLF, which costs more than $200,000/pair, paired with a hundred thou or so in amplification? Or maybe I should compare them to Carnegie Hall? (footnote 7)

I'll assess the Phantoms the same way I assess other components I review: on the absolute merit of their sound—yes, compared to Carnegie Hall—and in terms of value for money.

First, though, came setup. In Paris, I had help setting up the Gold Phantoms; in fact, I mostly just watched. Back in New York I was on my own, breaking the seals of new boxes and grappling with any problems that arose, sans assistance.

The Phantoms' packaging is up to Apple standards, which is to say, it's the state of the art. Assembly was crisp and intuitive, with just two challenging steps: connecting the Phantoms to the Tree stands (footnote 8) and—surprisingly—plugging the power cord into the back of each speaker (footnote 9).

The network setup was similar to the physical setup—mostly good, but with a couple of small challenges. When the Spark app recognized the Dialog, it prompted me to download an update to the system software. The download took about 10 minutes, then failed to install. I repeated the download; the installation worked the second time. The Spark app immediately "found" the two Phantoms—and promptly lost them again. To solve the problem, I had to reset Dialog and Phantoms; annoying but easy.

Thanks to a recent update adding Devialet support, I was able to use Roon, my usual server software, as a source, so I had access to my entire digital library.

I sent the Phantoms music in a range of different formats, from CD-resolution PCM through DXD (very-high-rate PCM) and up to dual-rate DSD. I don't know what Roon was doing behind the scenes—there may have been some downsampling and sample-converting going on—but everything played without a hitch.

How did the Gold Phantom sound in my familiar listening room? Because of their compactness and unorthodox design, I expected obvious compromises—maybe even Bose-style tricks. Any compromises, though, weren't obvious. There's surely some DSP involved, but what I heard was honest sound.


The bass goes deep, without bloat. It's fascinating to hear organ-pedal notes emerge so distinctly from such small speakers, as at about 8:30 into the third movement of Ralph Vaughan Williams's Symphony 7, Sinfonia antartica, with Kees Bakels conducting the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra (Naxos 8.550737). I've never heard another speaker in this price range that could reproduce those organ-pedal notes. The Gold Phantoms go low, but they're on the stark, disciplined side; I wouldn't have minded more generous bass.

What in Paris I took for abundant high frequencies I've now decided is dispersion. The Phantoms spread their treble/upper midrange energy around the room more than most other speakers I've heard recently. In that lively Paris apartment, much of that energy was bouncing off glass; in Manhattan it added spaciousness. The soundstage has a good bit of depth, rendering that spaciousness more affecting. The Prélude of J.S. Bach's Cello Suite 1, BWV 1007, played on classical guitar by Petrit Çeku, is one of only two DXD tracks on my server (downloaded from 2L). It made for an exceptional demo: spacious and resonant, but with lovely core sound from those gut guitar strings. The Golds "disappeared" nicely, as befits a phantom.

On the other hand, the Gold Phantom system, which in the US costs slightly more than $7000 as configured, doesn't resolve the unique timbres of instruments as well as other systems I've heard. A good test of this is when disparate instruments are played in unison, as in "Escondido," from Bennie Maupin's appropriately titled Early Reflections (CD, Crypogramophone CG 137)—and it doesn't deliver as much of that lovely midrange buzz and blat of wood and rosin, string and brass, as the best systems I've heard—as with the tenor sax and voices in Bad Influence's Live at the Bad Habits Cafe (CD, Wildchild! 3152). Images were not as precisely defined in space or as corporeal as through, say, DeVore Fidelity's Orangutan O/96 speakers driven by my Leben CS 600 amp or PS Audio BHK 300 monoblocks. I heard a little congestion in loud orchestral passages (including the Vaughan Williams mentioned above), but the scale achieved was impressive for a speaker that weighs 25 lbs sans stands, including its built-in amplifier and DAC.

At about $7000, this Gold Phantom system is a serious value, recommended for the right customer. But if you play vinyl, steer clear: There's no analog input. And/or if you love to play with hardware, the Gold Phantom may not be for you: There's little here to tweak or tinker with.

But if you want a system that sounds good and looks good, and you're not interested in bulky boxes and snaky cables, or in obsessing over your gear, a Gold Phantom system from Devialet could be just the thing.

Footnote 4: By the time I'd returned to New York, this procedure had apparently changed. You still lay hands on the Phantoms to identify them, but no longer to teach them left from right.

Footnote 5: You can, of course, join a wireless network by entering a network name and password.

Footnote 6: I'm especially tired of listening to chamber music from 150' away in a large hall.

Footnote 7: In fact, I always do compare the sounds of audio components I review to the sound in Carnegie Hall, and in other venues I frequent.

Footnote 8: To set a Phantom on a Tree, you pull back on a little lever on the stand while positioning the 25-lb speaker to within a millimeter or two. I managed it, but I could have used another person.

Footnote 9: Surprisingly, plugging the cord into the back of a Phantom was hard because there was a little too much cord: when you push the connector in, the cord pushes back. The trick is to shorten the cord by pulling the extra out of the bottom of the speaker stand. And speaking of power cords, Devialet's stock cords are too short. The Phantoms may not require speaker cables, but they do need to be plugged in.


tonykaz's picture

I've spent decades associating with "Hairshirt" ( JA's term ), Lunatic Fringe Audiophiles ( pretty much, like myself ).


I've loved ( and imported ) Meridian Active Loudspeakers, which never sold well to USA Audiophiles or USA households, as far as I can tell.

I'm figuring these Phantoms are for the Female Stereophiles out there, the ones that have Decorated Homes, who Live and function with their iPhones. Those Women that make decisions and their fascinated Grandchildren who will rest their hands on these devices while it plays music.

This system sure is pretty!

But not in the same way as a pair of Magnapans, a pair of mono tube amps and a 6 foot pair of Music Hose MH750.

I have it in my Will that my Casket will have my collection of 6sn7 tubes.

But then again

I wonder if I could live with a simple, clean system like this one,

it sure would make life easier.

Tony in Michigan

volvic's picture

It was thoughtful and well reasoned, but if I read it correctly there are some caveats, especially when he said it doesn't resolve timbres as well as other speakers. Jim Austin was much kinder than a hi-fi retailer friend of mine who simply said they are not that good, but he sells them because people want something that fits in with their decor rather than sonic virtues. On another note, so true about Paris and affordability, on our honeymoon we got great last minute tickets to see Pagliacci and Cavaleria Rusticana at the Bastille Opera House. I won't even go into the finest meal I hever had at Le Grand Vefour.

helomech's picture

I'm surprised by the lack of comparisons given Devialet's bold claims. How do they compare to Kef LS5Os? No desire to mention their slow bass due to the absurd woofer excursion? From what I heard during an audition of these speakers, they'd be competitive if sold for half their MSRP.

PaulMG's picture

The Phantoms are the most precise and best matched speakers I ever could listen. The precision of staging and pinpointing instruments and vocals is just jaw dropping. The SPARK app allows to create playlists and gives easy access to streaming portals. No problem to play vinyl via an ADC. The near ideal point source design however is most different to traditional loudspeaker designs having cluttered the drivers over the baffle and cabinets most prone for internal vibrations and resonances. Thus the only problem of these technological highlights is the adaptation of the audiophile to his most imperfect classical loudspeaker designs. And of course the tastes are most different concerning the shape of a loudspeaker. :-)

helomech's picture

Many Bose owners have this same opinion of their speakers.

Give us some examples of inferior, "traditional" speakers in the same price range.

Ortofan's picture

... a pair of KEF R900 and an NAD C 388.

For a good baguette in NYC, try one of the shops listed here:

JimAustin's picture

Thanks! Since I wrote that, Maison Kayser has become my go-to. But there are several on that list I haven't tried.

nowave's picture

Would love to hear these.

In the meantime, though, thanks for the Bennie Maupin recommendation - I just pulled up Early Reflections on my phone via Tidal and it's now playing through my ancient Allison Ones, sounding great.

dcolak's picture

Are we going to get the measurements?

John Atkinson's picture
dcolak wrote:
Are we going to get the measurements?

I hadn't planned on measuring the Phantoms.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

dcolak's picture

How can we get to know are they any good without measurements?

I can't find measurements anywhere on the Internet.

Why not doing measurements?

volvic's picture

As well as some of their other models. Now granted the Devialet stores are not conducive to the best acoustics but I was still able to understand their sonic signature. I have to agree with my retailer friend who sells them and state that these are absolutely unlistenable and not worth the asking price. I understand the amplifiers that are built in and it's wi-if capabilities fits in well with certain customers, but with music that was familiar to me I could not justify the asking price. I would rather spend my dollars on a pair of Harbeths, but hey some people love their Devialets, to them I say more power to them.