Devialet Phantom review: Forget everything you thought you knew about speaker technology

This eccentric, powered loudspeaker delivers an unforgettable sonic performance.

At a Glance
  • Devialet Phantom

    TechHive Rating

    With a design and performance as unconventional as it is exquisite, Devialet’s Phantom will almost make you forget about stereo.

Devialet’s Phantom doesn’t look like a typical speaker; in fact, it doesn’t look like any kind of speaker I’ve encountered. It certainly isn’t designed like any speaker I’m familiar with. Most importantly, it doesn’t sound like any speaker I’ve heard. Like a Mounds candy bar, it’s indescribably delicious. But like a box of Fritz Knipschildt’s La Madeline au Truffles, it is also very expensive at $1990.

Let’s start with the Phantom’s cabinet. Single-cabinet speakers certainly aren’t new, but the Phantom is a radical departure from the norm. The speaker has an external skin fabricated from a thick wall of ABS plastic that surrounds an inner skin of glass-fiber polycarbonate. This, in turn, is wrapped around an aluminum core. You can play the speaker at any volume and you’ll never feel the cabinet vibrate or hear it resonate. Each of its four drivers is completely isolated from the enclosure.

The Phantom is a three-way speaker system consisting of two eight-inch woofers, a one-inch tweeter, and a “ring” mid-range transducer encircling the tweeter that Devialet says is equivalent to a five-inch midrange. The woofers are mounted on either side of the cabinet in a push-push configuration in order to cancel each other’s vibration. Motorized domes over the woofers displace air to reproduce extremely low frequencies. These look very strange as they pulsate in and out to the beat of the music, but Devialet says the motors enable the Phantom to deliver bass response all the way down to 16Hz. Most people’s ears have difficulty hearing sound at 20Hz, but your body can feel frequencies lower than that and 16Hz is far lower than most dedicated subwoofers can go.

Devialet Phantom Devialet

Devialet provided this exploded view of the Phantom so we could better see its internal construction. 

The tweeter is mounted in the Phantom’s nose, for lack of a better word, behind a very pretty lattice grill, and the mid-range completely encircles the tweeter. All four drivers are fabricated from aluminum, a driver material coveted for its strength. Each of the four drivers has its own dedicated amplification channel, formed by one bridged Class A amplifier and two bridged Class D amplifiers for each driver. The Phantom has four bridged Class A amplifiers and eight bridged Class D amplifiers in total.

I don’t put much stock in amplifier power specs these days, because they’ve become rather meaningless. A modern amplifier producing 20 watts can sound louder than a vintage amp producing 100 watts because the new models have become so much more efficient at converting electrical power into sound (yes, I’m grossly oversimplifying the concept of amplifier efficiency). The way I see it, if an amplified speaker can fill one of my larger rooms with sound—something the Phantom had no problem doing—it’s going to be plenty loud for most people.

When I do look at amplifier specs, I prefer to see them expressed as watts RMS, because that’s the best indicator of real-world performance. But for whatever reason, Devialet decided to use the “peak power” formula to describe the Phantom amplifier’s capabilities, which can be misleading because the typical amp can’t maintain peak power output for more than a few milliseconds. So when you hear that the Phantom can deliver an impressive 750 watts of power to its drivers, know that that is a peak power rating for the sum of all four of its onboard amplifiers.

Devialet Phantom

The Phantom has stainless steel plates on either side. The Silver Phantom adds stainless steel to its dome drivers (it also has a larger amplifier).

A single Phantom doesn’t produce distinct left/right stereo—it can’t because it has just one tweeter and one mid-range mounted in the front/middle of its cabinet. But it doesn’t produce a bland mono experience, either. Devialet R&D Manager Jean-Loup Afresne tells me the Phantom uses digital signal processing that “automatically computes the best mix, for each piece of music, to deliver the best possible listening experience from a single acoustic source.”

The Phantom’s Bluetooth radio supports the A2DP and AVRCP Profiles, and the AptX, AAC, and SBC audio codecs. The Phantom also has a TOSlink fiber-optic connector, and it supports the following audio formats: HE‑AAC (V1), AAC (up to 320Kb per second), WMA, WMA lossless (16-bit only), MP3 (up to to 320Kbps), MP3 VBR, Apple Lossless, AIFF, WAV, FLAC, OGG, and VORBIS. A Texas Instruments PCM1798 24-bit/192kHz DAC handles digital-to-analog conversion duties.

The Phantom is outfitted with a gigabit ethernet port, an integrated powerline adapter, and a dual-band (2.4- and 5GHz) Wi-Fi adapter. But you’ll need the optional Dialog router ($329) for most networking scenarios; if you want to produce true stereo from a pair of Phantoms, for example, or if you want to deploy Phantoms in multiple rooms as part of a whole-home audio system. The Dialog enables multiple Phantoms—as many as 24—to form a mesh network (similar to the way Sonos handles networking). You’ll also need the Dialog to stream music from the online service Tidal (the Phantom also supports Deezer and Qoboz, but those services are not yet available in the U.S.). You can use a Bluetooth connection to stream from the Tidal app, but it won't be a lossless stream.

Devialet Phantom Michael Brown

If you'd prefer not to stream wirelessly, the Phantom is equipped with a gigabit ethernet port and a TOSlink port in the back.

One glaring omission on the networking front: You cannot stream from a NAS box, even with a Dialog in place. Devialet tells me this functionality will be included in a future software update. The Phantom doesn’t support Apple’s AirPlay multi-room audio solution, either, although Devialet describes a kludgey work-around for that.

The Phantom produces amazing bass response, but that single tweeter and midrange do a fine job as well. This speaker sounds great with any type of music, from pop, to acoustic, hard rock and classical If you can swing it, a pair of Phantoms would likely yield the absolute best experience. One’s enough, but it sounds so wonderful you’ll want that definitive stereo experience.

This story, "Devialet Phantom review: Forget everything you thought you knew about speaker technology" was originally published by TechHive.

At a Glance
  • TechHive Rating

    With a design and performance as unconventional as it is exquisite, Devialet’s Phantom will almost make you forget about stereo.

    Pros

    • Incredibly lush bass response
    • Completely devoid of cabinet resonance
    • Robust connectivity options

    Cons

    • A single Phantom doesn’t produce true stereo
    • Needs added-cost component to enable networking
    • Currently, no support for network-attached storage
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