Dr. AIX's POSTS NEWS — 27 November 2015

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You can’t have missed the assault on audiophile websites, Facebook pages, and sponsored posts. I’m talking about the Devialet Phantom wireless speaker, of course. Is this more marketing spin or is there something to this very elegant DAC/amplifier/speaker? Unfortunately, I can’t speak to the quality of the speaker because I haven’t heard one and it’s doubtful that I will. However, what fascinates me about the Phantom is the ad copy and visuals included on the website page dedicated to this new “high-end” wireless speaker.

They make some rather bold statements. First, is the claim that the PHANTOM is the “best wireless speaker in the world.” followed by a couple of no-holds barred claims that take us immediately into the word space beyond hyperbole. “The Phantom revolution goes far beyond everything you have ever heard. A staggering experience with the best sound in the world.” When someone writes this kind of over the top nonsense, my snake oil detectors get all tingly. Are they comparing the Phantom to all sound systems or against your Jambox?

Just get a load of the specifications:

• 3000 Watts
• 0 Distortion
• 0 Saturation
• 0 Background Noise

And the price for a single unit? They start at $1990 for the 750-Watt version and go to $2390 for the “Silver Phantom” with 3000 watts. You’ll need two if you want stereo…so plan your budget accordingly.

The company spews techno jargon and big numbers like nothing I’ve ever read:

“For the first time, experience ultra-dense sound with physical impact. A power, clarity, and preciseness unlike anything you have ever heard before.”

Can anyone tell me what “ultra-dense” sound is? According to the company, it’s a new engineering that outperforms all existing systems because it’s backed by a couple of revolution and inherently superior processes that are covered by two of the company’s 88 patents. The first one is called ADH® for Analog Digital Hybrid. In reality, it means low frequency response.

“Invented by Devialet, ADH Intelligence is a technology that has succeeded for the first time in combining the sophistication of the Analog amplification (Class A) and the power and compactness of the Digital amplification (Class D).

This technology, also included in Devialet’s Expert products, amplifies the sound signal with utmost clarity and transparency.”

As I said, I haven’t heard the Phantom but I am familiar with the Benchmark AHB2 amps. We used a bunch of them at the AXPONA 2015 Show. They are very small and use a technology developed by THX (THX-AAA Technology™, a patented system which reduces distortion to vanishingly low levels while enabling several power-saving techniques and produces real high-resolution dynamic range). The Benchmark delivers over 130 dB of dynamic range…the Phantom’s specifications are very sketchy and don’t really tell you anything. Put your ear 1 meter away and you can get hit with 99 dB SPL according to their page.

The name of the other patented technology at work in the Phantom is called “Heart Bass Implosion” or HBI®.

“Developed for Phantom, HBI® is the only system in the world that allows for extremely low frequencies to be emitted from such a compact space.

Absolutely revolutionary, Phantom is built around two hermetic woofers that function under high pressure. The powerful beats of the lateral domes produce a unique ultra-dense sound with physical impact. Together with ADH*, this technology allows Phantom to reproduce levels of sound at the edge of infrasound (16Hz).”

I think you get the gist…these very costly speakers most likely do a very good job reproducing standard-resolution sound and if you can get high-res music into the device, it claims to be able to run at 192 kHz/24-bits. But it seems to me that the Phantom is a much hyped, way over priced, wireless, competent DAC/amplifier/speaker intended for non-audiophiles with too much money and not enough sense. You can do a whole lot better for less money.

It’s all about style and marketing.

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About Author

Dr. AIX

Mark Waldrep, aka Dr. AIX, has been producing and engineering music for over 40 years. He learned electronics as a teenager from his HAM radio father while learning to play the guitar. Mark received the first doctorate in music composition from UCLA in 1986 for a "binaural" electronic music composition. Other advanced degrees include an MS in computer science, an MFA/MA in music, BM in music and a BA in art. As an engineer and producer, Mark has worked on projects for the Rolling Stones, 311, Tool, KISS, Blink 182, Blues Traveler, Britney Spears, the San Francisco Symphony, The Dover Quartet, Willie Nelson, Paul Williams, The Allman Brothers, Bad Company and many more. Dr. Waldrep has been an innovator when it comes to multimedia and music. He created the first enhanced CDs in the 90s, the first DVD-Videos released in the U.S., the first web-connected DVD, the first DVD-Audio title, the first music Blu-ray disc and the first 3D Music Album. Additionally, he launched the first High Definition Music Download site in 2007 called iTrax.com. A frequency speaker at audio events, author of numerous articles, Dr. Waldrep is currently writing a book on the production and reproduction of high-end music called, "High-End Audio: A Practical Guide to Production and Playback". The book should be completed in the fall of 2013.

(26) Readers Comments

  1. Hi Mark,

    As an owner of a Devialet 200 (Expert range) I visit the ‘unofficial Devialet Chatroom’ regularly. As I don’t own one I also can’t speak from experience but I can assure you from what I read about what owners have to say that the Phantom is very much a high end speaker. As with the ‘Expert’ range, some people have sold their much more expensive gear to buy Phantoms and don’t look back. I know of one guy who even sold his B&W802D’s for Phantoms and didn’t think of it as a step backwards.

    As for the marketing hype; Devialet has a lot of money behind them and they have hired some American company to do the marketing for them. So I guess that’s the sort of stuff marketing people think we want to read. Most owners agree they don’t like the marketing hype but they certainly do like the Phantom.

    So, please ignore the marketing hype and go and have a listen. You might find they’re the real deal after all.

    Cheers,

    Pim

    • Pim, as I said I have no doubt that these are very good speakers and I’m sure the marketing, size, and all in one approach of the units is appealing. I’d love to take a listen and compare them to a fully capable system but I doubt I’ll get the chance. My point was the marketing is so over the top that I lose confidence in the product itself.

      • Hi Mark,

        You couldn’t have said it better when you said the marketing is so over the top that you lose confidence in the product. I guess the marketing company knows what they’re doing so they would have worked out that their type of marketing turns more people on than it turns off. Obviously it turned you off but it still made you write about it…they won!

        • They did win, you’re right. I have nothing against innovative engineering and powerful messaging. But they’ve turned me off with the excessive exaggeration. I say a video review of the Devialet Phantom today…these things are large? I had no idea how big they are. Not a typical on your table type of wireless speaker.

          • They are about 10x10x13 Inches and there are stands for them coming out too. So, they should be seen as regular stand mount speaker but active and wireless. Just like Dynaudio Xeo. (but a bit more radical)

          • Thanks, I went back and checked on the size. They’re big and they’re not portable….needing AC power to drive them. I would have imagine wireless speakers as being portable too.

  2. Oh brother, wonderful marketing spin. No problem considering their promo budget. Looks like serious trouble for the $55,000 Sennheiser new Orpheus Headphone system. LOL

    “This fancy audiophile startup may not have a $147 billion war chest like its Cupertino counterpart, but it’s incredibly well-funded for such a niche company. The four original investors are all billionaires, including fashion mogul Bernard Arnault and his Champagne-fuelled luxury juggernaut LVMH. Encouraged by Devialet’s rapid success, these VC bloodhounds just funded a $25 million marketing budget. Arnault envisions Devialet as the default sound system for fabulous people from DUMBO to Dubai.”

    More at Wired.com.

    • Thanks Sal…I’ll take a look at the Wired piece. I’m not surprised, however.

  3. “Invented by Devialet, ADH Intelligence is a technology that has succeeded for the first time in combining the sophistication of the Analog amplification (Class A) and the power and compactness of the Digital amplification (Class D).”

    Wow, that is some seriously misconstrued bullshit.

  4. I heard these at RMAF. A few people I know have equated them to be more of a lifestyle item, similar to some BOSE products but I think, to be fair, they sound a little better than that. They were definitely a novelty at the show, that’s for sure. I’d have to spend some more time with them with more familiar music before I could say anything more. After some pleasant jazz tunes, they did play some crazy loud, bass heavy techno music at my demo and I will say the amount of bass that came out of those small, eyeball enclosures was pretty absurd. Not real subtle but it got people’s attention.

  5. Great article Mark, thank you.
    While we’re on the subject of speakers and HiRes, how far away do you sit from your B&W’s in the studio?
    I’m sitting four metres away (surround system.) Of course the further away you sit, the more the room comes into play.
    Thanks again.

    • My speakers are 7 feet from the central listening spot.

      • Thanks Mark.
        A re-think needed on my part, I feel. More detail revealed at a closer distance.
        I have a friend who prosecutes the point that “critical” listening is very different to listening for pleasure, but the problem with that is that once your hear something better, you can’t go back.

        • Right…one great sounding recording and the past falls away.

  6. No question, while Devialet offers some sophisticated technology, the hype is way over the top.

    The one thing I’d like to point out is that in my experience, system or component price is not a direct indicator of sound quality. And, when people read about a 3k$ wireless speaker, it causes further public aversion to the pursuit of good sound quality or audio specialty products, of which plenty are 100% affordable by the vast majority of music-loving folks.

    • I agree. These guys have put together some great industrial design, acronym technology, and a very good product…but just tell the truth rather than try to blow me away.

  7. Mark, I heard them at the NYAS. I will say this :They sound quite exceptional in the bass department. I doubt a simple two-way would be able to match them with respect to bass extension. Unfortunately, as many pointed out, they come off more novelty than speaker, which makes it hard to really get an accurate picture of what’s going on here.

    Price wise, if you really look at the speaker market, they aren’t asking THAT much.

    I wish I knew someone over at Devialet for a review sample. I’d love to review them.

    And yes, their marketing department needs to humble themselves a bit.

    • Thanks Alex…I would like to hear them. If bass is the end all, then just get a big subwoofer (I like my Profunder very much…105 db at 20 Hz!).

      • Though I agree a subwoofer is nice, the fact is the Phantom is an active speaker design, which makes an extremely versatile device (literally plug and play). And because of it’s unorthodox shape, I wonder if they have been able to side step or at least mitigate some of the inherit issues with active speakers and enclosure design (read: active speakers sacrifice a lot of internal enclosure space for the components that make it active – Class D switcher, DAC, etc. – which can degrade the speaker’s overall sonic performance).

        I don’t own one, but I was fairly impressed with the demo and certainly don’t think it’s pure snake oil (maybe their claims are a bit over the top but Mark, please…welcome to the world of audio!).

        Believe it or not, I think the Phantom, and now the KII THREE, are the wave of the future: Active speakers with built-in DSPs in smallish enclosures. You heard it hear first! 🙂

        Also, at least they didn’t charge 20k a pair which seems the going rate of reference floorstanding speakers. Ridiculous.

        • These are very good all-in-one units. They’re just now for me. They are physically large and clumsy. Cool factor 10…usability 5.

  8. Mark,

    There is a Devialet dealer about two or three miles from your studio – why not audition the speakers and then give your detailed opinion. You can ask questions, play your recordings etc. and then your opinion will have more gravitas.

    Victor

    • I will check them out when I get a chance.

      • From the Wired review:

        “Before shooting the copywriter, remember: This is the same country that invented the Cartesian coordinate system, Champagne, antibiotics, and the bikini. Dismiss the French at your own peril.”

        • I think the marketing team in in the U.S.

  9. I would not dismiss this product out of hand. There is a lot of puffery that means nothing in the ads. That is characteristic of much advertising especially in this industry. There are legal limits to what can be claimed within FTC guidelines. Claims like best sound in the world cannot be disputed because it is entirely subjective. Claims like 3000 watts can be verified. The specification of 3000 watts peak power does not conform to the usual guidelines in the US for amplifier power ratings and may have to be modified. The FTC rules for amplifier power ratings came into effect in the 1970s as the result of the sometimes absurd claims by manufacturers using every trick they could think up to inflate their numbers. Modifications that came into effect in the 1990s for more than 2 channel HT amplifiers doesn’t apply here.

    The coaxial midrange and tweeter are no brainers. The dual side firing woofers are proof that an acoustic suspension speaker can be designed to any arbitrary resonant frequency and any Q in any size enclosure merely by adjusting the parameters of mass, spring constant, and damping factor in Newton’s second law of motion as applied to forced oscillation. Theil and Small turned this equation into a cookbook recipe for non technical people to successfully design speakers without having to understand Newton’s law. Acoustic Suspension woofers are also highly equalizable to extend their LF response. The price paid is efficiency and if the drivers have a small area, longer throw for a given SPL. The claim of zero distortion is absurd but the amplifiers can bring performance to the threshold of measurability. Servo control can reduce woofer distortion. We don’t know if servo control or equalization are used here.

    So what do you get for $4800 to $5300? You get two full range 3 way speaker systems, high powered amplifiers, and a wireless communications network. Wires? Wires? We ain’t got no stinin’ wires. And you don’t need any. Given the absurd prices audiophiles are willing to pay for just about anything, if the quality of these are good, I’d say the price is reasonable in light of competing products. So the claim that these are the best WIRELESS speakers in the world may well be justified. I’ll wait and see what the measurements in reviews look like. There may be times and circumstances where a wireless system is just what is needed. For portable systems, once initially configured, setup time should be just about zero, as long as it takes to plug it into wall sockets and turn it on. Snake oil? Maybe not. Successor to Bose all in one systems and their like for people who have a lot of money, want good sound without complex equipment and lots of wires? Maybe yes.

    My only question is, where does the heat go?

  10. Hello Mark.
    I’ve worked for a french hifi magazine and my job was to review, sometimes (rarely) things. I could not agree more on your article, even if I wasn’t allowed to write that down on my review. I share the same impressions.
    I strongly believe that the internet would have, in short, the power to hunt all those marketing BS down. It’s something we, at the press, aren’t allowed to do anymore.
    Greetings !

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