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A wireless speaker with a whimsical design and sometimes alarming sound – but limited to what makes it unique.
Devialet Phantom I
Devialet is a French hi-fi company with a taste for the weird and wonderful, and its Phantom speakers are perhaps the weirdest and coolest thing they’re doing right now.
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A fusion of high concept design and technology, the Phantom is a completely unique proposition. The Phantom 1 was introduced in 2021 as part of a shake-up of the Phantom family, with the smaller Phantom reactor renamed the Phantom II to simplify matters. However, to muddy the waters, the Phantom 1 model is available in 103dB and 108dB variants.
The model tested here is the Phantom 1 108dB Gold. Like previous Phantoms, it delivers a performance that wouldn’t have been possible without the innovations included; But the qualities that make it unique also affect it.
The Devialet Phantom 1 sounds like you’ve never seen a wireless speaker before, the kind Tom Cruise would listen to in the futuristic setting of his 2013 film Oblivion. Looking overhead, the speaker takes on the shape and appearance of the moon; From the side, it looks like Daft Punk’s worn helmet.
It’s a design that raises some questions, like how does it produce sound? Where is the front of the speaker? And is the real gold plating?
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The front of the speaker is a tweeter-covered grille, the design of which is inspired by 18th-century French gardens and chaladani patterns (check them out). Side-firing woofers add to the visual spectacle when the Phantom 1 digs into the low frequencies, while the rear houses the heatsink and power cable. Instead, Ethernet and digital optical connections are hidden behind the cable.
With a matte finish that can attract some dirt, you won’t want to damage the 22-carat gold side panels – and at 11.4kg per speaker, they have a deceptively low center of mass. Weight brings up the idea of getting a stand, of which there are three to choose from: Tree (the most traditional of the lot), Tripod (compact stand), and Gecko (wall mount). There’s also the Cocoon travel bag, which looks somewhere between a cozy tea bag and a bowling ball bag.
It wouldn’t be a Deviate product without some fancy-sounding acronym – and lo and behold, the Phantom 1 lives up to expectations with ADH, SAM and HBI.
ADH stands for Analog Digital Hybrid. An analog amplifier generates an undefined signal and sends it to a digital amplifier. In Devialet’s words, this process combines the precision of analog with the power and compactness of digital amplification. SAM is not a person, but Speaker Active Matching, an algorithm that recognizes speaker characteristics and adapts the sound for optimal performance.
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Heart Bass Implosion sounds like an early 2000s dance album, and it’s all about reproducing the low frequencies with depth and power – and as with the Phantom 1, it really makes for great bass extension. The no-short features come with a more energy-efficient system chip, better power consumption, and reduced distortion through the speaker’s signal path.
The 108dB version of the Phantom 1 has 1100 watts of power, which is a way of saying the speaker can make a rocket. Source connectivity stacks up to Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect, UPnP, Rune Ready support, and an optical cable (for connecting the speaker to a TV or other device).
You can manage these resources through the Devialet software, which is stable, fast and intuitive. Within the app, and if you have multiple speakers, there’s the promise of connecting them via multiroom, or combining two together to create a stereo pair – a process that’s easy to achieve. There is access to music streaming services (Spotify, Qobuz, Deezer, Tidal), as well as track skipping and playback functions with volume control. If you have a pair, the volume can be controlled independently from each speaker.
Another physical control, the Phantom Remote, is a disc-sized controller with buttons for playback, while turning a rotary dial moves the volume up and down. Installation is an interesting process with references to the birth of “new life” in the program and in the speaker – vibrates during installation (there are side woofers again) – quiets down with a touch. as if was a newborn child. The Phantoms are pretty eccentric, and triumphantly so.
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For a speaker of its size and shape, there’s no shortage of power in the way the Devialet delivers its sound. The bass beats are seriously impressive in how they’re delivered: size, weight and depth bring plenty of scale to bass-heavy tracks.
And in terms of sound, it’s a speaker that can be flipped up and down. It’s not worried about getting through the day (even though your neighbors are) and has few shortcomings in dynamically portraying the difference between quiet moments and booming notes, or low frequencies and highs. The dynamic range has a convincing flexibility.
There are also confident high notes that shine with clarity and detail through the grade I titanium tweeter, and it goes well with both male and female voices, bringing them out with a naturalness that seems alive. In fact, while listening to the Guardian Football Weekly podcast, one of the team members stepped back and thought there were other people in the room with me. Throw in a good sense of attack and a character that’s happy to play a range of musical styles – pop, R&B, soul music, classical to rock – and you’d expect the Phantom 1 to have a hand in it all. He tries his hand.
But the shortcomings of previous Phantom models don’t go away and will always be embedded in their DNA until DeVillet comes up with some neat technology. The width of the soundstage it describes is small, especially not extending beyond the confines of its ovoid shape – and this is evident on busy tracks, where the soundstage is compressed and detail is lost. Despite its impressively large and meaty bass frequencies, Prodigy’s Stand Up presentation sounds jumbled and disorganized, with a lack of clarity and dimension.
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As with Billy Joel’s “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me,” the track attempts to portray depth, but his voice and other instruments occasionally come across as sitting on top of each other. Add Phantom 1 stereo and you get a flat soundstage; Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man doesn’t feel as if it reaches the room, but instead is placed on the outside, making it a less interesting listen.
From its looks to its sound, the Phantom 1 Gold does everything differently and on its own terms. It’s also really expensive and appeals to those who crave shiny pretty things.
If you prefer a more detailed and clear performance when songs hit the highs, there’s no doubt that the DeVillet offers a dynamite performance, but its small soundstage highlights potential problems with music playback.
The Devialet Phantom 1 isn’t everything when it comes to audio performance, but it’s a wireless speaker with a very entertaining presence when it’s on song. It shows no allegiance to the mere whims of traditional design, and any owner of this speaker will be pleased with its exterior styling.
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That is, if you have the opportunity. At the heart of the Phantom 1 is impressive technology – there’s no doubting Devialet’s skill or recipe for it – but at its heart lies a paradox, the technology designed to free it from aesthetic constraints, but it also serves to constrain it. This. The Phantom 1 can reach thrilling heights, but it can also be grounded.
We thoroughly test every wireless speaker we review over a long period of time. We use industry standard tests to accurately compare features. We’ll always let you know what we find. We never get paid to review a product.
Cobb began his career with What Hi-Fi? He started in a dusty warehouse before moving through the ranks to join the editorial and production team as a Buyer’s Guide editor. Both in the magazine and…
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