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Sound Investments: Devialet Phantom vs. Bang & Olufsen A9

Getting maximum aural pleasure is not just about how much you pay or how good the HiFi system looks but also how intelligently the audio device has been built

Aug 21, 2017 | By Jonathan Ho

With over 100 Patents and up to 4,500 Watts of Power, it’s almost criminal that our luxury audio segment is dominated by only the best marketed brands like Bang & Olufsen and Bowers & Wilkins – that is not to say that these brands are terrible (not by any stretch) but that a French audio maker like Devialet might just be producing designer HiFi systems which are sound investments both aurally and financially.

Recently launched in Singapore, 2 Devialet boutiques have an uphill battle of converting audiophiles and technophiles to an otherwise little known boutique audio system maker in this part of the region. Created in 2007, Devialet was the brainchild of three audio specialists –  pioneering engineer Pierre­ Emmanuel Calmel, entrepreneur Quentin Sannie and product designer Emmanuel Nardin. Together, the trio have founded Devialet to not just be your traditional luxury designer HiFi system provider but also to deliver sound quality which will redefine what the mass consumer market defines as an excellent sound and also preach a new testament for true audiophiles.

Sound Investments: “Class” warfare – Devialet Phantom vs. Bang & Olufsen A9

Before we begin, Luxuo has to qualify that this article is not meant to be a definitive, comparative piece on high quality HiFi systems, instead, it is meant to give a broad overview of what the Devialet Phantom has to offer, in comparison to its best matched competitor while touching on some of a few key points in the audio genre.

The audio challenger: Devialet Phantom

In writing this review, Luxuo travelled to the Devialet boutique at ION Orchard where we learnt that the foundation of the Devialet Phantom’s excellent sound quality can be credited to co-founder Pierre-Emmanuel Calmel in the form of a small, 1cm by 1 cm micro-chip dubbed ADH® (Analog Digital Hybrid) technology – a revolutionary tech which has transformed the process of sound amplification through a combination of analog and digital amplification techniques – the result is a audio amplifier which is comparatively smaller than other speakers on the market today yet delivers  unprecedented clarity and power.

The Devialet Phantom is the result of 12 years of R&D and a combined investment of US$35 million. Sim Weiying, the Marketing Manager for Devialet Singapore was on hand to take Luxuo through the paces for everything from the entry level Devialet White Phantom, delivering 750W of power and 99 dB, to the luxurious high fidelity Gold Phantom which packs a whopping 4500W with 108 dB while finished in an opulent, luxurious 22 carat Rose Gold plated finish.

Reigning audio brand awareness champion: Bang & Olufsen A9

If you’re familiar with the name Bang & Olufsen or even their products like the B&O A9, it’s likely because the brand has developed a reputation for fashionable, designer HiFi systems which often serve not just as great sound delivery systems in the homes of high net worth individuals but often, B&O sound systems can be standalone artworks by their own right by virtue of their amazing design.

Yet, over the years, B&O has done some fantastic ICEpower research and while audiophiles would likely not consider their products to be superlative representations of the best sound systems on the market, there’s no doubt that most consumers have the perception that the dynamic bass-laden depth of the Bang & Olufsen sound is representative of high quality sound. But, the truth is, it is Luxuo’s contention that B&O considerations for aesthetics and design trump Devialet’s consideration for sound first and then attractiveness.

The Phantom vs. A9: Sound off – By the numbers

First, a Devialet Phantom comes as a single speaker – you’re not going to get the sound-scape of left-right separation but the spherical architecture of the front speaker with air pushed through the sides handles sound delivery really well (it’s able to fill a living room and then some). Prices start from SG$2,990 for the basic Devialet Phantom, SG$3,490 for the Silver Phantom and SG$4,490 for the Gold Phantom.

The B&O A9 is interesting in that for SG$3600, you get dual tweeters and mids, a ported 8″ woofer, built-in amplification, and wireless connectivity. Specs-wise, the Bang & Olufsen A9 lists a frequency response of 33Hz to 25kHz and while is pretty large – surface-wise, larger than a Devialet Phantom, the A9 uses ICEpower class-D amps as opposed to the Phantom’s class-A amps. Which leads us to our second point.

Class A vs. Class D amplifiers- Does it matter?

As a general rule of thumb, Class A amplifiers tend to sound natural and detailed – in the words of Ms. Sim, “it sounds exactly as the artiste intended”. Though power hungry and power inefficient (almost 50% of all that power is transformed into heat), Class A amps excel even in instances of high distortion due to superior distribution of harmonics.

B&O A9’s Class D amplifiers are very efficient (only 10% of power lost to heat), while producing a perfectly competent sound and range which is sufficient for the general public.

Overall conclusions of the Devialet Phantom

Despite its “vacuum cleaner” fairly diminutive aesthetic, the Devialet Phantom produces sonics better than larger speakers in its class. Everything has been designed by the trio to maximise sound but the real miracle is that the all classes of Phantom from basic to Gold are single point devices with excellent treble, midrange and bass drivers. Speakers of the Phantom’s size tend to use the common class-D amplifiers but this just isn’t the case for Devialet – the French designer hifi maker uses a proprietary and patented design from AHD microchip to the high pressure manufacture of the pressurised spherical architecture designed to maximise acoustic resonance.

Though built of mere plastic and metal, the Devialet Phantom is built under exacting specifications and conditions to hold 1.2 tons of pressure for the sole purpose of generating air displacement on the level of larger speakers; what results is sub bass at 16hz to ultra sharp sound at 25kHz with no background noise, no saturation, no distortion, all that up to 3000 Watts and 105 Decibels of power, and that’s just the Silver Phantom.

As Weiying took me through the paces of the sound tested, I came to a singular realisation – As a single speaker, Devialet Phantoms are good, but once you start to pair two together they become exceptional thus, if you had money to spare on a single Gold Phantom (over-kill in my opinion), you might be better off with two basic Phantoms. The Phantom is the most exhilarating, widest reproduction of the audio spectrum from the deepest bass ever emitted (14 Hz) all the way up to the crystal­ clear high frequencies (27kHz), reaching higher and lower than the human ear.

Furthermore, “ease of use” ranked high on things I noticed as music can be played from any source with its Bluetooth and WiFi capabilities, with simple connectivity through its own native Devialet app which currently works natively with Tidal though one can stream Spotify and even YouTube with little difficulty.

While the Bang & Olufsen A9 and entry-level Phantom are pretty much targeting the same consumer, it’s pretty clear that audiophiles would lean towards the Phantom as the better audio device.

Clips that were used during the sound test at Devialet Boutique at ION Orchard

Reminiscent of Russian-born composer Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky’s work, Bear McCreary’s seminal scoring and arrangement on Prelude to War for the contemporary remake of Battlestar Galactica is nothing short of amazing. If you are not familiar with this orchestral wet dream, prepare to be amazed when time-stamp 2:54. This is where Devialet Phantom truly excels.

According to Ben Burtt, Sound Designer of Star Wars, the power of the lightsaber had to be conveyed in decisively through the acoustics, else it would simply look like a mere light torch with non of the potency behind it. What we get from is that signature buzz of a lightsaber’s ignition but when backed by the powerful reverb of a Phantom, the effect is panty-dropping.

If you’re a child of the 80s, you’re bloody going to remember watching the introduction to Top Gun at most all audio visual stores throughout Singapore ad infinitum. Why? Nothing tests the dynamic range of speakers and amplifiers than the mindblowing afterburner thrust of an F14 Tomcat or the high pitch whine of jet propulsion engines firing up. Backed by the emotive music of Harold Faltermeyer and you have a recipe for an orgasm-worthy sound test the minute it leads into Kenny Login’s Danger Zone.

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