Back at CES 2015 I was invited for a preview of Devialet Phantom in a separate suite far away from the cacophony of other vendors. The room was quiet and spacious so anybody invited to the preview can actually listen to the Phantom properly. When I saw the product for the very first time, is it an “implosive sound center” that offers, in Devialet’s words, “The Best Sound in the World—1000 Times Superior to Current Systems,” or can it double duty as a vacuum cleaner? Such thoughts crossed my mind as a Phantom listener, standing behind a curtain, fed techno music to the Phantom ($1990) and Silver Phantom ($2390) at #CES2015 whose side panels hypnotically pumped in and out as it flooded a large-ish suite in the Mirage with the driving beat of loud music that you would have expect coming from a pair of huge towers and a gigantic subwoofer.
According to Devialet, the Phantom takes advantage of “three major engineering inventions involving 77 patents. An Analog Digital Hybrid (ADH) intelligent amplification directed by a powerful microprocessor, drives the Phantom’s speaker.” As explained by Devialet in their previous training in Toronto, that means that a class-A analog amp sets the output voltage and drives the music, while four class-D amps, slaved to the master class-A amplifier, provide current in parallel. “This enables class-A to be more linear, with the lowest distortion on the market,” according to Iain Richardson from Plurison, the distributor of Devialet in Canada. Speaker Active Matching (SAM) processing technology then controls the drive-units, “reproducing the exact acoustic pressure recorded by the microphone.”
Second, the Phantom uses a unique “Heart Bass Implosion” system that produces ultra deep bass (down to 17 Hz at -2 dB !!) by high pressure beating of the unit’s two lateral high-excursion bass driver “wings.” Hence the similarity in appearance to a Dyson vacuum cleaner. In truth, the Phantom is far prettier, and, if its not turned on at ear-damaging levels while you’re unwittingly standing right next to it, a lot more fun.
Lastly, the Phantom’s spherical design creates a “homogenous sound no matter the listening angle.” I can’t verify that as I was listening to these speakers not in my home turf but in a room with unknown (to me) acoustic characteristics.
Fortunately, I was literally the first person at the suite that day (I was actually waiting for Michel Plante from Plurison to open the Devialet’s room for me) and had the luxury to evaluate Devialet’s claims that the Phantom has zero distortion, zero background noise, and zero saturation. Although there is no space to discuss everything laid out in the Phantom’s white paper, including the nature of “Magic Wire” and claims of 17Hz–25kHz bandwith, ±2dB, 20Hz–20kHz bandwidth, ±0.5dB, and 105dB maximum SPL (the legal limit in clubs and live concerts), I can attest the maximum SPL thanks to my iPhone 5S SPL app from Studio Six accompanied with a calibrated Dayton Audio mini microphone. On the frequency response front, my RTA (Also from Studio Six) shows that they can easily reproduce down to 22Hz with ease.
Although a proper test bench will need to be done, there is no question that Phantom is a whole lot more fun than anything I’ve run into in the audio world in a very long time, be it audiophile-class or home-theatre class.
Phantom should net Devialet a fortune. It might even change how people listen to music. Units will ship in Europe on February 15, with prices set for €1390 for the standard 750W Phantom with 99dB peak volume, and €1690 for the Silver Phantom, which claims 2000W and 105dB peak volume. Projected arrival date in the US and Canada is March 2015
Jump to October 2015
After many delays, the Phantom finally arrived in Canada. Considering the delay, are they still the same Phantom? Have things changed? And most importantly, have the sound changed?
Fortunately, at first glance, there seems to be no change in Phantom at all. The Phantom is still a self-contained system, meaning you don’t need a collection of speakers, an amplifier, and a pile of other gear to actually hear your music—the digital-to-analog converter (DAC), processor, amplifier, loud speakers, and connectivity are all inside. Just plug the Phantom in, connect your phone, computer, or other audio source to it via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, and you’re good to go. Think the power of a multi-piece setup with the convenience of something like a Sonos. Unlike the previous 77 patent claimed during CES 2015, Devialet has now received 88 patents on the Phantom and the pricing remains the same.
The design is driven by the need for all the sound to originate at a single point at the center of the unit—hermetically sealed by 1.2 tonnes of pressure—and to radiate out from there. This lets the speakers sit very close together without interfering with one another. What we end up with is sort of a capsule shape with a glossy white surface and chrome accents.
Looking and holding the final product, one can see (and feel) that it is clearly well-made and a lot of care has been taken with the aesthetics. Futuristic and minimalistic look blend into one as a “portable” 25 lbs speaker. Of course it’s not something you’ll want to be carrying from room to room too often and it’s never intended for such application either. Still, however, it does come with a really nice felt case (like carrying a very stylish vacuum cleaner) when the needed.
Although Plurison claim that setting up the system is not easy, I find it to be the exact opposite. Setting up the speaker is relatively straightforward. Plug it in for power, turn it on, and pair it with your device over Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. If using the latter, Devialet’s proprietary Spark app (I use the iOS version although Android version is reportedly available) acts as a bridge between the Phantom and your music, either saved or streamed through a limited selection of services such as Tidal. The app also gives you more detailed volume controls (levels 1-100) and lets you network multiple units together and control them independently from one dashboard, sort of like Sonos. The Sonos approach that is originally intended by Devialet works like a charm but I have a completely different approach in mind, which is to create a portable but high-end sounding surround sound. In this case 4.0 system. There is no subwoofer needed due to the full range nature of the speakers, no centre channel required because, well, I only have four Phantoms on hand.
As my review units are actual production units, I was able to use the Spark app during my tests and it was literally as easy as using a Sonos app when setting up a home theatre system. Of course there is no surround decoder within the Phantoms so I used my newly minted Pioneer SC-95 as a pre-pro for my test.
For instance, if you don’t use Spark and stream your music directly from Spotify or Google Play Music using your phone/music player, you only get the volume controls built into your device—the only actual button on the unit is the power button. So in my tests I was limited to the dozen or so dots on my iPhone when adjusting the volume. On something this powerful, if you don’t use the Spark app, that lack of 1-to-100 fine-grained control is a problem. I tried against Devialet’s suggestion for using the app, and I often ended found myself struggling to keep the volume at a perfect level in my listening room. Even on low settings it was too loud on some songs, and when it was too quiet, raising it one bar would sometimes make it too much to bear. So believe you me. Use the Spark App. It’s absolutely needed.
What I find to be slightly disconcerting, high volumes are where the Phantom really shines. This is the speaker equivalent of an Mercedes C63 AMG revving to be let loose on the racing track.
As I crank the volume up to the maximum, the soundstage opens up and you really start to notice the clarity and separation between instruments. Bass shakes and punches your chest—the side woofer cones hypnotically blur along with the music (with 30 kilos of thrust force, according to Devialet’s stats)—and treble is clean, clear, and powerful without being shrill. Low-end heavy music such as It Came From Outer Bass or even something simple as the album Duotones by Kenny G sounded blah on my PSB Century 300i after using the Phantom. Listening to Enrique Iglesias Bailando, I could almost feel the guitar strings in front of me.
I tested the Phantom in a home theatre setting as I feel that it will be its forte. Playing various soundtracks such as San Andreas, Jupiter Ascending, and even cuts from various episodes of Game of Thrones Seasons 1 and 2 in Dolby Atmos (I use Nakymatone invisible speakers as my Atmos speakers), and result is sublime. Picture a surround sound system where there are four subwoofers located in each corner of that room. The bass response is linear (although it never reached the claimed 17 Hz – at best I can only get the bass to go as low as 22 Hz, and that’s with four Phantoms playing. Also unlike the Phantom brochure which claims the maximum loudness of 99 dB, through my measurement, they can easily reach 105 dB peak when playing various movie soundtracks), the midrange is natural and not boxy at all, with no shrillness from any of the high frequency and the surround imaging again made me forget that there are walls surrounding me. Adding the Atmos speakers, of course, virtually lifted the ceiling of my listening room.
When I asked the people at Devialet during CES 2015, they told me that they’re competing with full home theatre and dozen-component audiophile setups and not Bluetooth or networked speakers. While this may be true in some ways, there’s no denying that the Phantom is looking to be a super-premium alternative to the likes of Sonos. But I disagree.
For just a few hundred dollars you can get into either the Sonos system (starting at $199) or the Definitive Technology wireless speaker system (starting at $399), both of which will sound great in most spaces. But the bass is where the Phantom wins out. Although I did test them head-to-head, a pair of Sonos Play 5 with a Sonos subwoofer offered by Sonos (totalling for about the same price of ONE Devialet Phantom), none of the alternatives are going to come close to getting you that same bone-shaking feeling as the Phantom. On the other hand, I also don’t find the Phantom to have the same level of poise of the pair of Sonos Play 5 and Sonos Subwoofer to play classical, jazz, or just solo piano, for that matter. Yes, having twin woofers packed right into the all-purpose case gives it a leg up over less expensive self-contained options, but it lends itself to more of a rock and hip hop genre and for a ridiculously amazing set of home theatre speakers.
The Phantom is an extremely powerful audio system with a positive side effect of being an amazing home theatre powerhouse and definitely provides more power and clarity than anything else its size and price. You will end up spending at least double to get a separate amplifier, full tower speakers and four subwoofers at the very least to get close.
My conclusion? Although it may not be the most cost effective way to have a Sonos-like system for your house, the Phantoms are definitely the absolute most cost effective way to obtain a killer home theatre set up. All you need is to add a receiver with a pre-out (in my case, Pioneer Elite SC-95)
Equipments Used For This Review
Devialet Phantom (x4)
Nakymatone inviible speakers (for Atmos configuration)
Oppo BDP-103D (as a playback source)
Panasonic PT-AE8000 Projector
Pioneer Elite SC-95 (as a pre-pro)
Sonos Play 5 (x2) – as a comparison
Sonos Sub – as a comparison
Stewart Filmscreen Studiotek 130 G3