• SoundStage! Insight - Totem Acoustic Signature One Loudspeaker (June 2017)
  • SoundStage! Encore - The Cowboy Junkies'
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- Anthem's STR Integrated Amplifier (May 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- Paradigm's Perforated Phase Alignment (PPA) Lenses (March 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Paradigm's Persona 9H Loudspeaker (March 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Contrasts: Dynaudio's Contour and Focus XD Speaker Lines (February 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - New Technologies in MartinLogan's Masterpiece Series
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Dynaudio/Volkswagen Car Audio (December 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Gryphon Philosophy and the Kodo and Mojo S Speakers (January 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- What's a Tonmeister? (November 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - AxiomAir N3 Wireless Speaker System (December 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Bang & Olufsen BeoLab 90 (November 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Gryphon Diablo 120 Integrated Amplifier (October 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Dynaudio History and Driver Technology (October 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - The Story How Gryphon Began (September 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Devialet History, ADH Technology, and Expert 1000 Pro (September 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Devialet's Phantom Loudspeakers (August 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - McIntosh Home Theater and Streaming Audio (July 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - McIntosh MC275 Stereo Amplifier (June 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - McIntosh History and Autoformer Technology (June 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - NAD Viso HP50 Headphones (May 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - GoldenEar Technology's Anechoic Chamber (May 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - PSB's M4U 4 Earphones (April 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - GoldenEar Technology's Triton Two+ and Three+ Loudspeakers (March 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- KEF's LS50 (February 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Monitor Audio's Platinum II Series (January 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- Pryma 0|1 Headphones (December 2015)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- KEF's Blade Two Loudspeaker (November 2015)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- KEF and the Uni-Q (October 2015)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Monitor Audio Acoustics & Aesthetics (August 2015)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- PSB's Imagine T3 Loudspeaker (June 2015)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Hegel's H160 Integrated Amplifier-DAC (April 2015)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- MartinLogan's Neolith Loudspeaker (February 2015)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Paradigm's Prestige Series (December 2014)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Vivid Audio's Giya Series (October 2014)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Totem Acoustic's Torrent Technology (August 2014)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Axiom Audio's M100 v4 Loudspeaker (May 2014)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Muraudio's Domain Omni Series (March 2014)

Reviewers' Choice“We need to be much more disruptive.” -- Pierre-Emmanuel Calmel

Pierre-Emmanuel Calmel, president and co-founder of Devialet, and designer of the Analog Digital Hybrid (ADH) circuit, which inspires the French company’s products, has a flash of white hair, a good sense of humor, and wears professorial glasses. As we sat at the Munich High End audio show in May 2015, his unassuming demeanor did not quite hide a penetrating seriousness as we talked about the genesis of Devialet’s Phantom loudspeaker.

The Phantom was conceived at about the time Devialet itself was, in 2007. Much of the research and development that went into Devialet’s first product, the D-Premier amplifier, and the subsequent line of Expert DAC-integrated amplifiers, provided a base for the Phantom project, but development didn’t begin in earnest until 2012. “[It] being our second product,” Calmel went on to explain, “we wanted Phantom to be revolutionary, a breakthrough. If you never dream of walking on the moon, you never will.” He smiled.

While Devialet had sufficient expertise in electronics to bring to bear on the Phantom, it had no experience in loudspeaker design. And so, in 2010, Devialet began collaborating with speaker manufacturer Swiss Audio Design, and absorbed that company in 2012. After eight months of brainstorming, Calmel’s team had arrived at a traditional bookshelf design, but then scrapped that idea. “We need to be much more disruptive,” he recalled, shaking his head.

Devialet Silver Phantom

The Phantom, first shown to the audio press in December 2014, bears little resemblance to anything else on the market. Its combination of white ABS plastic and rugby-ball proportions give it an almost cartoonish quality that I could never describe as “beautiful” -- there’s not a lot of gravitas here. But it’s easy to carp, and you know what they say about books and their covers. “Give us the opportunity to make products that are smaller, more beautiful, that are easier to use,” Calmel muses. “You see the Phantom and you’re smiling.”

What lies beneath the Phantom’s lighthearted exterior represents a lot of work, Calmel told me matter-of-factly: “A two-year R&D program; a million euros for the miniaturization program for the amplifier [alone].” Another €24 million was plowed into putting 53 engineers to work designing speaker drivers from scratch, as well as power supplies, circuit boards, software, wireless integration, and more -- and, in the process, registering 88 patents. “We targeted a 10-liter maximum internal volume and a weight of no more than 10kg. We fought for each millimeter of dimension. Everyone was targeted to the same goal, so if there was an issue, it became an issue for the entire design, mechanics, electronics, and acoustics teams.”

All well and good -- but Devialet doesn’t have a monopoly on punctilious attention to detail. Moreover, massive financial backing and clever technology don’t guarantee success, in terms of the Phantom itself or its reception by consumers. Devialet says that, “In a market where most people are using low-definition [audio] files, for example MP3s, it is complicated to say that consumers are asking for Phantom. But we have a conviction, which is that the consumer is smart, and that he always rewards great products. The quest of accessibility is done. Our conviction is that the new quest is going to be quality.”

What it is

The Phantom, a fully integrated music system, is sold individually or in pairs. A single 750W Phantom retails for $1990 USD; the subject of this review, the 3000W Silver Phantom, rings in at $2390. The Phantom Duo is two Phantoms plus Dialog (see below), for $4309; the Silver Phantom Duo, with Dialog, costs $5109. Apart from some cosmetic flourishes, the models differ only in power output. A single Phantom or Silver Phantom plays a summed mono signal via its Bluetooth aptX, Wi-Fi, Ethernet, or optical inputs. The absence of a USB input on either Phantom model may at first seem shortsighted; however, the optional Dialog interface box ($329) does have a USB port; with a Dialog, the possibilities become much more interesting.

Devialet Dialog

The Dialog functions as a wireless access point for up to 24 Phantoms, and is a prerequisite for using anything more than a single Phantom. With nothing on its rear panel but a single illuminated plastic button, an Ethernet jack, a Type-A USB port (for future expansion), and an optical port, the little oval Dialog doesn’t look like much, but its integrated 1GHz, quad-core ARM processor, which has 1GB of RAM and 2GB of flash memory, possesses enough smartphone-grade power to give it and a bevy of Phantoms a lot of flexibility. Devialet’s partnering app, called Spark (available for OS X, Windows, iOS, and Android), allows just about any device on the same wireless network to control and stream content to any and all Phantoms connected to the Dialog. Although a Phantom can presently function only singly or as half of a stereo pair, Devialet claims that the speaker can support multichannel decoding, and that home-theater support is part of their plan for the product. As you’ll read later on, I don’t suspect that a five-speaker or seven-speaker Phantom system will need a dedicated subwoofer.

Devialet sells four other accessories for the Phantom. The Branch is a custom-made aluminum stand ($329 each) with a veneer of whitened wood that well hides the Phantom’s only wire: a thick, bright-yellow power cord. The Remote is a remote control ($149) with a built-in microprocessor and a classy, bead-blasted aluminum dial. Wall mounts are also available. Finally, the Cocoon is a “high tech carrying bag” made from “composite material covered with a natural wool felt” and “embellished with authentic leather pieces.”

Details

Prying open a Silver Phantom’s generic cardboard shipping box reveals the top of its promotional packaging: a brooding photograph of a shirtless, tattooed male model deeply sucking a cigarette. Bless the French. Magisterial shots of rough ocean waves, columns of ornately sculpted marble, and a provocatively seminude young woman partially obscured by a dark veil cover three sides of the cubical display box, which opens down the side. Split open this inner box and the Phantom drops gently in front of you.

The first thing that struck me about the Silver Phantom was how dense it is, weighing 24.2 pounds but measuring only 13.5”L x 9.9”W x 10”H. Part of the weight is due to its shell of sand-blasted stainless steel (the Phantom’s stainless steel is polished), with touches of polycarbonate and an aluminum core. The Phantom tilts up by 11.5° from back to front and has an odd, somewhat squat profile. Viewed head-on, however, the speaker looks like a perfect hemisphere, with a tweeter nestled roundly in the middle of a ringed midrange driver, flanked on each side by a domed aluminum woofer. It’s not only a feast of symmetry, it’s about as perfect a point source as you can buy today. Not even KEF’s vaunted Blade and Blade Two models can boast of woofers that operate in exactly the same plane as its coaxial Uni-Q driver. On sonic grounds, then, it’s a propitious start. A white, finned aluminum heatsink is part of the rear panel, with a single button at its center. The power cord has a contoured plastic plug that neatly disappears into the rear of the unit, with Ethernet and optical connections tucked away behind a cover.

Devialet Phantom

Inside the Phantom’s 6-liter enclosure, it’s something of a packed house. As I explained in my review of the Devialet 120 amplifier, the company’s ADH amp is “a class-A amplifier that drives output voltage, supplemented by class-D amplifier components that run in parallel to provide current.” The Phantom’s ADH circuit is about 1/200 the size of the one used in the Expert, and Devialet tells me that it was difficult to cram the functions of an entire electronic circuit, with discrete components on a printed circuit board, onto a piece of silicon the size of a thumbnail. Despite that, the ADH’s performance figures remain the same. Most remarkable is the Phantom’s specified total harmonic distortion plus noise of 0.001% -- not for the ADH alone, but for the entire signal chain, from the D/A converter to the current-to-voltage converter to the amplifier. Speaking of the built-in DAC, Devialet uses the Texas Instruments PCM1798 chipset, not the PCM1792 used in the Expert line. They assured me that the two chips have identical performance, and that the PCM1798 was selected for its lower output current, which helps the Phantom run cooler. In this application, the Silver Phantom accepts PCM signals of resolutions up to 24-bit/192kHz.

Into each Silver Phantom Devialet packs eight discrete monaural amplifiers, these are then bridged to function as four mono amps: one per driver. Each amp is claimed to produce 750W of peak power, for a total of 3000W. In terms of continuous power, the usual 4- and 8-ohm specs don’t really apply, since the drivers used are custom units with a DC resistance of about 1 ohm. That said, Devialet’s estimate of RMS power is roughly 375W into 1 ohm per bridged amplifier circuit, or about 1500W per speaker.

The Silver Phantom’s electronics are sophisticated for a hi-fi audio product, with an 800MHz, dual-core ARM processor with 512MB of DDR3 memory. The internal Bluetooth module supports the aptX, AAC, and SBC audio codecs. Dual-band Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n) is included, as are Gigabit Ethernet and power-line Ethernet (HomePlug AV2). The Silver Phantom’s internal power supply generates up to 10 amperes of current.

What makes the Silver Phantom work as a true high-end loudspeaker, according to Devialet, is their Speaker Active Matching (SAM) technology, which debuted with their Expert line of amplifiers. Devialet creates a complete model of a given drive-unit’s electrical, mechanical, and acoustic parameters. SAM works by modulating the amplifier’s voltage to ensure that a driver’s behavior matches the incoming signal. In practical terms, this means that the Phantom’s side-mounted woofers can be pushed to the limits of their power handling and excursion but no further, thanks to its built-in protection circuitry. Combined with the ADH circuit’s output impedance, which is a fraction of an ohm, the Silver Phantom can produce more and better-controlled bass than might be expected from a speaker of its size. Interestingly, SAM was developed specifically for the Phantom, though Devialet realized that it could be used to match their amplifiers with almost any loudspeaker on the market.

The four drive-units were designed and manufactured by Devialet for the Phantoms. The 1” aluminum tweeter is positioned coaxially at the center and slightly in front of the 5” ringed, aluminum midrange driver. The tweeter’s small motor system comprises a neodymium magnet with a copper cap for optimal linearity. “The geometry of the cavity [behind the tweeter] is optimized to reduce all resonance problems in the critical 1-3kHz band,” Devialet’s engineers told me.

The convex shape of the 0.3mm-thick midrange driver allows the Phantom’s front baffle to be perfectly hemispherical. It’s crossed over from the tweeter at 2kHz via a fourth-order (24dB/octave) Linkwitz-Riley filter. Like the tweeter, the midrange’s motor system has a copper-capped neodymium magnet. Unlike more traditional midrange drivers, the Devialet lacks a spider. Instead, it has inner and outer rubber surrounds, with the inner diameter of the aluminum ring, the space between the midrange and the tweeter, sealed to ensure closed-box behavior.

Devialet Phantom

The Silver Phantom’s opposed, 6.3” aluminum-dome woofers are 0.4mm thin, and connected by an aluminum bar so that they operate in force-canceling fashion. The midrange hands off to them at 250Hz via another fourth-order crossover. The depth of each woofer’s motor is about half that of a traditional driver of similar size, despite the use of a large neodymium magnet and a “very long” copper voice coil. Each woofer’s surround is designed to withstand huge stress: excursions top out at just over 1”, and these woofers need to withstand up to 65 pounds of internal pressure.

All of this combines to make it possible for each Phantom to produce 105dB of output at 1m, or 108dB from a stereo pair. The Silver Phantom’s claimed bandwidth is a scarcely believable 16Hz-25kHz, ±2dB, at 82dB. That 82dB reading is an important qualifier: Devialet promises monster bass output, but physics can be cheated by only so much -- the speaker’s woofers offer only so much excursion. As a result, its SAM technology scales back the Silver Phantom’s bass response as the volume rises. At 92dB, the frequency response is still a mighty respectable 28Hz-25kHz, ±2dB; at 102dB, it’s 49Hz-25kHz, ±2dB. To translate Devialet’s specs into simpler language, the Silver Phantom is claimed to offer full-range performance only up to moderate volumes, after which its bass is dialed back to prevent the speaker from blowing itself up.

But for Devialet, the biggest point of pride about the Silver Phantom is that it was largely designed in France, its internal components are all made in France, and final assembly of its parts is done there as well. Vive la France!

Setup and interaction

Setting up a single Phantom is dead simple. Plug a single speaker into the wall, and the silver orb softly sings and repeats a simple melody. Download the Spark app to your PC or Mac, or Android or iOS device. Following the onscreen instructions, press the single button on Phantom’s butt. The resulting funky sound indicates activation of the Phantom’s own Wi-Fi network. Select the Phantom’s Setup network, then enter your Wi-Fi network information, let Spark know which “room” the Phantom is located in, and within 90 seconds you can be wirelessly streaming music.

Adding to the mix a second Silver Phantom and a Dialog makes things more interesting. You simply need to plug the Dialog into the wall, run an Ethernet cable from your network router to the Dialog’s rear port, and open Spark on a compatible device. I set up my review samples on 24”-high stands, about 18” in front of one long wall of my narrow living room, and each about 8’ from my listening position. Provided that all the Phantoms you plan to use are plugged in and chanting their little tune, the Dialog should “see” all Phantoms on the network. Next, Spark prompts you to activate each Phantom by touching its top panel with your hand. (Embedded here under each speaker’s skin is a sensor that detects changes in electrical conductivity.) Sure enough, when I placed my hand on the Phantom’s top, it made a clicking sound and lightly “flexed” its woofers.

As you pat each Phantom on the head, Spark automatically connects it, and urges you to place it in a “room,” such as a living room, bedroom, or kitchen, all while having layered another synthesized sound into the Phantoms’ soft melody. From there, you drag and drop a speaker (when you select it, the speaker emits a helpful chime) to the left or right position for a stereo setup, or a “mix” position for a summed-mono setup. Multiple stereo or mix setups can be arranged in a given room. Once each Phantom is sorted into a room, the Phantoms add another layer of sound to their setup melody, and you’re prompted to log in to one of the supported online music services (Deezer, Qobuz, Tidal). The final setup screen entails setting up the optical input on the back of each Phantom and the Dialog box. That done, the Phantoms sing their exit tune and fall silent, ready to accept a signal.

Devialet Dialog

I found it incredibly easy to set up one or two Silver Phantoms, and suspect that setting up a dozen of them wouldn’t take much time at all. And with each firmware update from Devialet -- Spark prompts users to download these -- greater functionality can be added. For instance, forthcoming are support for Spotify, native NAS/UPnP compatibility (currently, NAS drives can be seen by Spark only when directly connected to a networked computer), and surround sound -- all part of Devialet’s master plan for the Phantoms.

In my two months with the Silver Phantoms I experienced only a couple of hiccups. Twice, when Spark couldn’t find the speakers on the network, the Dialog’s rear light flashed, indicating a network problem. Redoing the setup took just a few minutes, and all was well. Since the most recent firmware update, Spark v.1.4, the problem has not recurred. On a few other occasions, while playing my TV or Xbox One through the Dialog’s optical port, I heard intermittent background noise. This port doesn’t permit a connector to be snapped into place -- the cable hangs precariously. Finally, while the Silver Phantom doesn’t turn itself on until the moment it receives a signal, and turns itself off as soon as that signal disappears, I heard a slight hiss in near-silent passages -- a surprise, given that the Devialet 120 amp, which I reviewed in 2014, was completely silent, even when I put my ear against the tweeter of a connected speaker. These niggles aside, Devialet’s hardware and software worked exceptionally well.

Spark was a pleasure to use. Whether on one of my laptops or my iPhone 6, the app found the speakers in short order, and I could begin playing music within seconds. The menu system was highly intuitive, and the integration with Tidal was terrific, with easy navigation of album art and playlists, and quick searches. So, too, with local content on my laptops and phone. There was no latency when I adjusted the volume, activated mute, or switched to a different song.

My brothers recently paid me a visit. After downloading Spark and connecting to my wireless network, each was quickly able to start playing music. Moreover, thanks to Spark’s collaborative playlist, each of us was able to play music from his own smartphone, from each other’s phones, and from Tidal, all in a unified manner. Even my better half, who usually perceives as a burden any equipment I have in for review, was happy to queue up Christmas tunes on Spotify Premium via Bluetooth, and use Spark to control the volume of our TV. (I hadn’t thought to ask Devialet for a Remote.)

Sound

A single Silver Phantom sounded quite good. But a summed-mono signal through a single loudspeaker will never sound as convincing as stereo, so temper your expectations. A lone Phantom certainly sounded better than any other one-box wireless Bluetooth speaker I’ve ever heard, with accomplished midrange and high-frequency articulation. Moreover, the Silver Phantom’s bass extension was prodigious, in terms of its reach to 40Hz and below as well as its volume -- the Devialet punched heartily when the recording possessed bass of any kind. Most impressive was its effortless ability, in smaller listening spaces such as bedrooms, to scale up from low, background listening volumes to shockingly high levels while retaining its composure, particularly in the mids and highs -- even when I’d thought it unwise to turn it up any more. At properly high volume, it was pretty easy to overload a room with bass-heavy material. Unbelievable. So for smaller rooms, I’d think that one non-Silver Phantom would provide as much sound as anyone would ever need. And the more powerful Silver Phantom is surely the most capable and full-range wireless speaker available.

That said, I wasn’t blown away by the sound of a lone Silver Phantom. There was nothing wrong about its ability to produce deep bass or play extraordinarily loudly. It’s just that I wasn’t shocked -- it was capable and impressive, just not special. All of that changed when I set up two Silver Phantoms as a stereo pair. It took just seconds for me to realize that I was enjoying a far more enthralling listening experience, and I quickly drew two conclusions.

Devialet Silver Phantom

First, the Silver Phantoms produced one of the most convincing stereo images I’ve ever heard. It was startling how finely hewn female voices were portrayed, and how detached the sound was from the speakers themselves. When watching movies via Netflix, for instance, the sound seemed to be coming from my wall-mounted TV and not from the Phantoms, which sat some 4’ to either side of it. Aural images remained relatively stable even when I sat off axis. The Silver Phantoms’ spherical shape and point-source driver arrangement paid dividends in my critical listening. The pair of them were as much a true hi-fi setup as any other I might normally review.

Second, the Silver Phantoms’ bass was jaw dropping. There’s something dissonant about seeing two rugby-ball-sized speakers producing deep, floor-shaking bass. I’d thought that the Silver Phantoms might be able to put out massive amounts of upper bass in the 80-100Hz region, and whole-hearted bass down to maybe 50Hz, but would fall off quite steeply after that. That wasn’t the case. At moderate to high volume levels, I watched with fascinated horror as the Silver Phantoms’ side-firing woofers moved violently in and out, generating authentically deep bass that I felt more than I heard. This was no parlor trick.

Eiji Oue and the Minnesota Orchestra’s recording of Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man (16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC, Reference) highlighted a number of the speaker’s many strengths. The sheer scale of the massive opening volley of drums was deeply impressive, the four 6.3” woofers maintaining solid control despite being asked to play nearly-full-range material. They didn’t sound lazy or loose by any measure, but it was quickly apparent that the Silver Phantoms erred on the side of full, impactful bass. Indeed, while many speakers require the volume to strike a certain level before their bass output can really pressurize a room, the Silver Phantom sounded punchy even at low volumes. Played loudly, the bottom end of Fanfare for the Common Man was a touch boomy, though it must be emphasized that this was due to the amount of bass on offer, rather than the quality of it. I implore Devialet to add to Spark a tone control -- while many consumers will no doubt be impressed by such ripe bass output, I suspect that most audiophiles might prefer a few dB less below 80Hz or so.

Drums aside, the main trumpet melody of Fanfare was immaculately rendered. Tonally rich, with sumptuous ease and clarity, the Minnesota’s brass section generated a soaring top end as delicate and smooth as one could expect for anywhere near this price. Absent was the ringing glare and/or transient hardness that can be expected from less accomplished aluminum-dome tweeters. More important, the scale of the soundstage was enormous, with a side-to-side completeness that I’d never heard from any speaker costing less than $7500/pair. Whereas the cabinets of large, traditional floorstanding loudspeakers can make themselves known by narrowing soundstages, the Silver Phantoms were sonically invisible. If I closed my eyes, all I could hear was the full, complete performance in front of me, presented without concession. It was quite a “disappearing” act.

Wanting to hear how much punishment the Silver Phantoms could take, I played “The Battle,” from Hans Zimmer’s epic score for Gladiator (16/44.1 FLAC, Decca). With brutal bass lines, raucous passages dominated by brass, and wide dynamic swings, the track is a veritable torture test. I played it as loudly as I could tolerate at my listening position and heard no hint of compression. Image specificity was truly excellent: the brass section was arrayed on the right of the stage, the strings on the left, and Lisa Gerrard’s sultry voice front and center. It was staggering to watch the woofers approach their limits, but to still hear no fat or bloat in this track’s most demanding bass lines. The bass was a bit attenuated at these high volumes -- remember, the Silver Phantom’s claimed frequency response is 49Hz-25kHz, ±2dB, at 102dB -- but the bass I did hear was still highly controlled. The Phantoms were neutral, too. I attribute the touch of warmth and bloom in Gerrard’s voice to Devialet’s partially class-A ADH amplifier, but that’s my only criticism of the Silver Phantom’s tonal balance.

Devialet Silver Phantom

To test Devialet’s claim that their little speakers offer truly full-range bass to 20Hz and below, I played “Why So Serious?,” from Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard’s excellent score for The Dark Knight (16/44.1 FLAC, Warner Bros.), which, at around the 3:25 mark, features a throbbing, full-throated 34Hz tone with content extending down to 20Hz. I’ve played this track through every speaker I’ve reviewed, and the Silver Phantoms did an enviable job of keeping up with the best of them. Up to moderate volume levels, the Devialets could reach below 30Hz. As I raised the volume, however, it became clear that these tough little spheres had their limits. I ratcheted up the volume until the woofers reached their excursion limits; when I set the volume even higher, the left speaker began to lightly clip, but only in the bass -- its midrange and high-frequency output seemed unaffected. Interestingly, the Silver Phantoms seemed able to limit their volume regardless of the volume setting. You can play quiet passages as loudly as you like, but presented with cacophonous moments that threaten to destroy them, the speakers will refuse to play louder. Useful, that.

My final selection was “Swallowed in the Sea,” a standout track from Coldplay’s X&Y (16/44.1 FLAC, Capitol). Chris Martin’s voice emerges from the aural darkness of the spare opening notes to dramatic effect, and the Phantoms’ ability to project that voice into my listening room was uncanny. Not only was Martin planted squarely in the middle of the soundstage, but the illusion of the sound actually coming from directly in front of me approached the believable, so superlative was the imaging. Moreover, the depth and transparency were first rate, Martin appearing before my ears as a human being of flesh and blood rather than as a two-dimensional cutout. What most struck me was the thoroughly organic and unforced feel of Martin’s performance, which didn’t bear the tracings that make traditional loudspeakers at or near this price sound mechanical and artificial by comparison. Devialet has pitched the Phantom and Silver Phantom as lifestyle speakers. Their sound was anything but.

Comparison

Having previously owned a pair of KEF R900 speakers ($4999.98/pair) -- full-size floorstanders that sport a coaxial Uni-Q tweeter-midrange and two 8” woofers -- I feel comfortable in saying that, up to reasonably loud volumes (i.e., around 90-92dB), the Silver Phantoms were, broadly speaking, the KEFs’ full equal. Both speakers sound big, clean, extended at the frequency extremes, and effortless. Each has its strengths -- the KEFs a bit more top-end sparkle and superb neutrality, the Silver Phantoms more bass slam and better imaging. But in terms of micro- and macro-level retrieval of detail, to my ears it was a wash. Only when I fed the Devialets bass-heavy music and pushed them well beyond 90dB did their limitations become audible. In a big room, a pair of Silver Phantoms should acquit themselves well -- just not with as much composure and control as the best passive speakers, such as KEF’s R900 or Revel’s Performa3 F208 ($5000/pair).

Definitive Technology’s Mythos ST-L ($4999.90/pair), however, is a different kettle of fish. Each ST-L has a built-in 1200W amplifier powering its 10” x 6” “racetrack” bass driver, which is augmented by two passive radiators of the same size. The DefTech is a true full-range design that can play ridiculously loud. Its bass level can be tailored via remote control or rear-mounted buttons, and its bass is less punchy than the Silver Phantom’s but better controlled. Like the KEF R900, the Mythos’s bass output remains linear well past the point where the Devialet’s begins to struggle. The Mythos ST-L -- my long-term reference -- is decidedly a “big room” speaker. But bass aside, I preferred the Silver Phantoms to the Mythos ST-Ls. The Devialets’ stupendous imaging, gorgeous midrange, and punchy, full-range bass at reasonable listening volumes will make them excellent companions in the right space.

The takeaway: The KEFs, DefTechs, and top-flight offerings from GoldenEar Technology and Revel, all cost about $5000/pair but require outboard amplification and electronics. A pair of Devialet Silver Phantoms, with Dialog, matching Branch stands, and a Remote, cost about $5500. I can’t think of any audio system for the same money that offers comparable levels of transparency, neutrality, and bass output, to say nothing of Devialet’s superb Spark app, consistent firmware updates, and integration of streaming music. Furthermore, the only speakers I’ve heard that can equal or exceed the Silver Phantoms’ imaging and soundstaging talents are made by companies like Magico and Vivid Audio -- and their lowest-priced models cost far more than Devialet’s overachieving little wonders. The Silver Phantoms can’t do everything, but what they can do they do phenomenally well.

Conclusions

Arthur Schopenhauer wrote that “Talent hits a target no one else can hit; Genius hits a target no one else can see.” I submit that Devialet’s Silver Phantom falls into the latter category. I’ve reviewed nearly 50 products over the past few years, from massive speakers and expensive cables to budget integrated amps and DACs. It would be all too easy for me to pigeonhole the Silver Phantom as a gimmicky, wannabe hi-fi pretender -- an all-in-one music system that promises more than it can deliver. The reality couldn’t be more different. This little speaker is a landmark of a convention-shattering product that strides firmly and confidently into new territory. Its vividly holographic imaging, staggering bass output, and deeply intuitive software integration make it easy to love. More important, its small size makes a traditional hi-fi system, with its multiple component boxes, interconnects, cables, and big, boxy speakers, look like something from the Late Cretaceous. Like Apple’s original iPhone and Tesla Motors’ Model S automobile, everything that came before the Silver Phantom now seems somehow cumbersome and archaic -- or, worse, irrelevant. If it wouldn’t make it impossible for me to continue reviewing audio gear, I’d ditch my reference system for a pair of Silver Phantoms in a heartbeat.

Devialet Silver Phantom

Should Devialet’s Silver Phantoms be taken seriously by audiophiles? For their imaging, transparency, soundstaging, and surprising bass response, yes -- without question. Devialet has imbued their second family of products with bona-fide hi-fi sound.

Will Devialet’s little wunderspeaker be all things to all listeners? No. Critics will readily point to its lack of extensive connectivity, its ripe midbass, and the fact that Devialet’s claim of it offering full-range sound is true only up to a certain volume. There’s also the fact that it’s an all-or-nothing proposition: there can be no tinkering of hardware or cabling to dial in tonal preferences. Nor does the Silver Phantom offer reference-level transparency and resolution; it’s merely very, very good. From my vantage point, however, the inexorable conclusion remains: For around $5000, a pair of Silver Phantoms offers more to consumers than any other complete sound system I can think of. It’s not the prettiest thing in the world, and it’s not quite perfect, but the Devialet Silver Phantom is the most daring effort to come out of the high end in a long, long time.

. . . Hans Wetzel
hansw@soundstagenetwork.com

Associated Equipment

  • Speakers -- Definitive Technology Mythos ST-L, KEF LS50, Monitor Audio Bronze 6
  • Earphones and headphones -- NAD Viso HP50, Pryma 0|1, PSB M4U 4
  • Amplifier -- Benchmark Media Systems AHB2
  • Integrated amplifier -- Hegel Music Systems H360, Parasound Halo Integrated
  • Digital-to-analog converters -- Arcam irDAC, Benchmark Media Systems DAC2 DX
  • Sources -- Apple MacBook Pro running iTunes, Apple iPhone 6, Apple iPad Air 2
  • Speaker cables -- DH Labs Q-10 Signature, Dynamique Audio Caparo
  • Analog interconnects -- Dynamique Audio Shadow RCA, Nordost Blue Heaven LS XLR
  • USB cables -- DH Labs Silversonic, Nordost Blue Heaven

Devialet Silver Phantom Loudspeakers
Price: $2390 USD each (Dialog, $329).
Devialet Silver Phantom Duo Loudspeakers
Price: $5109 USD per pair (includes Dialog).
Warranty: Two years parts and labor.

Devialet
SAS 10, Place Vendôme
Paris 1ER
France
Phone: (33) 502-155-682

Website: www.devialet.com