Wireless speaker with a bang

/ Updated: October 22, 2015 3:51 PM PDT
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Sarah Tew/CNET

Wireless music systems have been with us for several years now, having been popularized by audio pioneer Sonos. In the past few months we've seen several high-end wireless speakers enter the US market, and it's all coming from Europe. Germany's Raumfeld, Britain's Naim and now France's Devialet have unleashed proprietary wireless multiroom systems each worth over $1,000.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Devialet Phantom is the most unusual of all of these products: less like a "hi-fi" and more like a "spacecraft" than anything else we've seen. Starting at $1,990, the Phantom is a three-way "stereo" system that not only looks like a bomb but according to its makers, the hermetically sealed design is under so much pressure inside that it almost could "explode if not for all the kevlar and aluminum" used in its design.

Sarah Tew/CNET

All of the drivers are aluminum, with the left and right drivers crossing over at 250Hz to the concentric mid and tweeter. While the outer ring looks plastic, it's actually white paint over the aluminum driver.

The standard Phantom comes with a 400W amplifier while the version we received is the Phantom Silver ($2,399), which includes different cosmetics and a 3,000W (!) power supply. The marketing guys told us that this is the limit for a consumer device because anything more can be "classed as a weapon."

Apart from all of its death-defying audio tricks, the makers also claim this speaker offers not only a ruler-flat response from 16Hz to 25kHz but also zero measurable distortion. Devialet says the highly pressurized cabinet enables this kind of efficiency.

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The Devialet Spark app features a charmingly quirky setup, when it works.

Screenshot by Ty Pendlebury/CNET

The Phantom is controlled by the Phantom Spark app (Android, iOS, Mac), which plays music from your phone as well as Tidal (plus Deezer and Qobuz in other markets) but the company promised us in June 2015 more services are coming.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The speaker also sports an optical input -- tucked awkwardly under the built-in power plug -- and will come with Bluetooth support once it ships in the summer.

When we first received the product we found setup problematic at best, with endless restarts, and the Android version refused to play music at all. Devialet explained at the time the software was 60 percent complete, and the latest updates have made connection much simpler. We turned on the Android app and it found our Phantom straight away.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Hands-on

So how does it sound? Well, like a professional audio monitor. That is to say it appears very bright and detailed with exciting recordings, and while there is also plenty of bass, we found that it could also lack some warmth. It was able to handle most genres, even really poorly mixed rock, without sounding thin or screechy. Due to that three-way system it was vocals that sounded best. If you're a folk fan or listen to audio books this is your kind of speaker.

Due to the apparent lack of distortion it can also go really loud without you even noticing. Despite the company's claim of a wide soundstage, it's pretty much confined to the speaker itself, but you can run the speaker in stereo mode with another Phantom if you're feeling particularly thrifty.

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Screenshot: Ty Pendlebury/CNET

The app that controls the system is clean and relatively logical. However if you are looking for music stored on a network or from any source other than your phone or Tidal you're still out of luck.

Outlook

If you're looking for something that is an undeniable conversation piece and can go ridiculously loud, then the Devialet Phantom is worth investigating. It will be available from the forthcoming Devialet store in SoHo, New York, as well as 25 different high-end retailers and online. The Phantom is available in the UK now for £1,390 (and £1,690 for the "bomb" version), but availability in Australia has yet to be announced.

Updated October 22, 2015: Added further testing information.

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