Devialet Phantom I 108 dB Wireless Speaker Review
Justin Choo thinks this prestigious brand has hit the right note with its compact premium Bluetooth speaker…
Phantom I 108 dB
The Devialet Phantom first launched seven years ago, in an era where Bluetooth-enabled powered speakers were objects of convenience rather than vessels that bore the promise of audio bliss. Back then, the idea of a Bluetooth speaker delivering anything more than passable sound was most likely to be the wishful thinking of a manufacturer's marketing department. But this eye-catching creation has stood the test of time, proving that limitations can be the most effective enablers of innovation.
The Phantom has endured because it works. Combining form and function has satisfied the real demand for a compact, high-quality portable speaker. It's not that mobile because, at 11.4kg, it is heavy for its 252x255x342mm (HxWxD) size. Moving it around isn't as easy as it could be, but you'll have to do some weightlifting as careful positioning is critical to its performance. Although compact enough to be placed anywhere, I got good results following Devialet's recommendation, which is that it's sited about thirty centimetres in front of a wall.
In terms of set-up, Devialet's software isn't its strongest suit. I suffered a few niggles, such as its failure to connect to Wi-Fi on several occasions. The company's tech support said this resulted from dual-band switching on Wi-Fi, and Devialet is working to overcome this. Time should sort this out with firmware updates, we are assured. The manufacturer claims an immense power output of 1,100W RMS, with 0.0005% THD and 108dB output at 1 metre. Frequency response is put at an impressive 20Hz to 20kHz (±2dB).
This expensive design comes with a choice of two different colour options, Gold or Dark Chrome. Alternatively, you can spring for the striking-looking 108 dB Opéra de Paris (US$3,800), which is an ode to the Opera Garnier and features a palladium-yellow gold alloy colourway.
You have to be realistic about the soundstage from any single loudspeaker, yet the dinky Devialet proved surprisingly good. It imaged – or projected, if you like – better than I'd expected and also offered a detailed and punchy sound. Indeed this speaker packed an awful lot into a small space whilst still achieving a performance that seems to pick out every instrument out in any given recording. Dir En Grey's genre-defying and eardrum-crushing Uroboros proved surprisingly detailed, for example. Josh Homme and Troy van Leuween's immaculately tweaked guitar tones on Like Clockwork also came across gloriously, despite the music coming from an avant-garde looking object no taller than a large-print dictionary!
Vocals are a highlight of the Phantom I, and there's plenty of body in every trill, lilt and quaver. High frequencies hold up very well, and bass performance is surprising for something so small. While the Phantom I will certainly not be on your list if you're into chest-thumping downbeats, this little marvel handles them with ease all the same. With Trouble in Paradise, Elly Jackson's unabashed love letter to the nineteen eighties was quite a thing to hear, as every synth stab and drum trigger hit hard. The sub-bass was far more subtle, requiring some degree of bass reinforcement to help things on their way.
The Phantom I can dish out some impressive performances then, but its two essential recipes for a good time are vocal-driven tracks and atmospheric sounding recordings. Songs that convey a haunting sense of space are lifted, so much so that you'd think Jeff Buckley is beckoning you to join him in a broken Hallelujah. Although 24/96 capable, this speaker gives diminishing returns with hi-res files – so sticking to CD quality isn't a big problem. Indeed, whatever you choose to play, it makes a very nice noise.
Although undeniably expensive for what it does, there is still nothing else quite like Devialet's Phantom 1 108 dB. A visual feast and an audio treat, the sound quality it produces is improbably impressive. If you have the time, funds and inclination, it is well worth an audition. Of course, it's not a universal panacea and can't compare to purist hi-fi designs, but nor can the latter offer such a striking combination of sonics and style.
Kicking off his musical journey as a child with a dubious entreé of Rick Astley and Ozzy Osbourne, his musical tastes have only gotten ‘worse’ since then. Quick to embrace both traditional and modern worldviews in the field of audio, but that could also be down to his eclectic array of interests, ranging from fine spirits (not the ghostly kind), billiards to consumer tech; all topics he has contributed to PC Magazine, T3, Stuff and The Robb Report, among others.
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