The highest quality of sound from the most expensive audio systems in a single, compact—not to mention aesthetically pleasing—speaker? French luxury audio brand Devialet’s star product, Phantom is anything but your everyday wireless speaker.
We sit down with Julien Bergère, General Manager, Asia Pacific of Devialet at its latest flagship showroom at Ion Orchard to find out more about their luxury home audio products and what the future holds for brand.
What was the original inspiration behind the creation of Devialet?
Julien Bergère It all began with our co-founder—who is also a genius inventor and musician—Pierre-Emmanuel Calmel, who was always frustrated that recorded music did not sound the same as it did, live. In 2004, he invented a sound amplification technology called Analog Digital Hybrid (ADH®), which gave better sound performance than any existing amplifiers in the most compact product, replacing a full stack of audio electronics.
Recognising the importance of design, he met with industrial designer Emmanuel Nardin, who then introduced his friend Quentin Sannié, a visionary entrepreneur. In 2007, the three of them decided to create Devialet with a shared vision of using the most disruptive technology with a deep understanding of design, to bring the best sound in the world to as many people as possible.
Can you share with us the innovation for Devialet’s star product, Phantom?
JB With Phantom, which is the second step in our strategy, we wanted to bring out the best emotions in music, but at a smaller size. Expensive audiophile sound systems are very big, and most of the time, ugly. Why? Because to reproduce the full sound spectrum, from the deep bass to the high frequencies, you need a big speaker to move a lot of air. That’s the traditional thinking, because there were limitations of what you can do with technology. Our idea was to reduce these stacks of audio equipment into an all-in-one product. If you have two Phantoms for left and right stereo, then you would have already replaced a very high-end audio system that is 20 times larger and 20 times more expensive.
What are the technologies behind Phantom, and how do they come together?
JB How do we reproduce sound of this quality in a wireless speaker? The first key element was miniaturisation, which was realising ADH® amplification onto a chip that is one square centimetre and less than one millimetre thick, which is essentially 1000 times smaller than it was in the previous range of amplifiers.
The second challenge was to design speaker drivers strong enough to move air through a large excursion, even though they are within a small acoustic volume. Heart Bass Implosion (HBI®) are the very unique drivers we designed and manufactured, which reproduces all the sounds you can hear down to what you can only feel. It gives you what we call an impactful sound.
Then, we have the Active Cospherical Engine (ACE®) which relates to the very unique acoustic architecture, where the low, mid-range, and high frequency units are concentrical within the same sphere. It’s a perfect sphere, which is the ideal shape for sound to flow naturally. You could be sitting, standing, on the left or right, but what you’re getting is essentially the same coherent sound throughout the room, as compared to a traditional speaker.
Most audiophiles swear by wired audio systems to avoid compromising the sound quality. How does Phantom overcome the loss of audio quality over Bluetooth or Wifi?
JB You can also use Phantom with a wire if you want with your TV or CD player, or turntable, but most people use it to stream wirelessly. Devialet Air, our patented streaming technology through WiFi and the Internet, allows us to perfectly synchronise the data so that there is no jitter. Jitter occurs when there is uncertainty about when you decode the signal, which leads to sound imaging that is less satisfactory, and with some form of distortion. With Devialet Air, there is a very constant analysis in decoding the information, with consistent clocking, which enables high quality streaming of up to 192kHz sampling, and 24 bits of resolution— the best resolution you can find in sound recording studios.
If you could create an ideal product, what would it be?
JB The Gold Phantom is my personal dream. When I first met the Devialet founders 5 years ago, I was trying to buy a license of their ADH® amplification patent, because it is the most disruptive audio technology in the past 40 years. The CEO, Quentin Sannié, told me that they would not do technology licensing right now, but they actually offered me a job instead, so I moved from Hong Kong to Paris to join the 10-person startup, working with our three founders to develop Phantom.
For me, this was the most interesting and innovative audio project in terms of engineering since the invention of the CD, because nobody ever reduced the size of the audio system in such a drastic way. So, the Gold Phantom is my ideal product. I have two boys, and they are crazy about Phantom as well. When we are at home, and my 6-year-old would always ask to play the Phantom, and the 4-year-old would say, “Can you play rock star music?”
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With the first flagship opened in Singapore, what does the Asia-Pacific region hold for Devialet?
JB We had a concept we call an ‘immersive room’, which is a glass listening room that we installed for a year at the entrance of Tangs Orchard, and the reaction of Singaporeans and tourists have really given us the confidence to venture into Singapore. We saw that people in Singapore love technology, design, and of course music—so we are very happy and proud to open two stores, one in Ion Orchard and one in Marina Bay Sands, which are both very iconic places for luxury retail in Singapore.
Now we are looking at Korea, which could be the next step for us after Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan. We have already opened six stores in the past six weeks, so it’s been quite a journey. We are really ambitious, but we also want to do things really well, so we definitely plan to do more in Asia, because that’s the fastest growing region for Devialet.
Since Asia is really tech-centric, what makes Devialet’s products unique against its competitors?
JB It’s really our very unique technologies. Our patents make possible what is impossible with existing technologies, in terms of performance and form. The second differentiating factor is our design. You need to think of the usage and create something so that people are not saying “I want good sound, so I have to buy this system that I find ugly or too big for my room.” It’s more like, “Wow, I really want to buy this. What does it do actually?”
When we design a product, we don’t compare ourselves to anything on the market. We just approach as close as possible, the ideal experience for us. We don’t do any market research and the result is that many people are actually fond of it, so that’s very good. There is no other product that brings this emotion, from something as compact, affordable, and beautiful.