HiFi Review: Devialet Phantom Silver Stereo Pair Review. The Future of Serious HiFi is here..
By Steve Huff
(Note: This is a HIFi Audio Product review. I do these every few months as it’s another Hobby of mine and I came to realize years ago that many camera enthusiasts were also fans of HiFi. So if you do not want to read about audio/stereo/HiFi, this post is not for you 😉 )
Never in 100 years would I have imagined that one day my HiFi Hobby that has been with me for almost FOREVER (since I was 13 or so I was bitten by the Audio bug) would lead me to writing a review of a wireless speaker that is shaped like an egg, smaller than most bookshelf speakers… yet has 3000 Watts of power inside each speaker, with a stereo pair coming in at 6000 watts of total power. I remember back when I was in High School and I was so proud of my cutting edge 100 WPC stereo system. I thought I had the holy grail then, with massive volume and great sound. I listened to that stereo EVERY SINGLE DAY and spent my allowance as a kid on one new record per week.
Man, I bet if I went back in time to those days I would be so disappointed with my system. Compared to what I have to play with these days that old system was muffled, boomy, and had no “air, space, soundstage or magic” to speak of. But man, did it thump out some amazing ZZ Top with a thumpy drive I remember to this day. If you are new to HiFi terminology..words like “air, space and soundstage” refer to the “magical elements” that gives us HiFi buffs a sound from our music that is not possible with single speakers, a car audio system, Sonos system, etc. Once you experience these things, it is tough to not get hooked on “THAT sound”. If you are picky that is.
As I get older, my musical tastes have evolved, as has my tastes in HiFi. When younger I wanted huge speakers, huge power and a stereo to look serious. Today I want refinement, great imaging, a nice wide soundstage and enough power to get my feet tapping but at the same time, Bass performance that is tight, taught and powerful..reaching down to the depths when needed, but without any boom. I also want great off axis listening so I do not HAVE to sit in the “sweet spot” where a stereo was set up to perform its very vest. THAT my friends is tough to get unless you start to get up into the $15, $20 and even $50k systems..and remember, I am talking TWO CHANNEL audio here, old-fashioned stereo. I have listened to systems from one hundred dollars to one million dollars (crazy huh?). While I would never even entertain spending a million on a stereo (even if I had 100 million in the bank which will never ever be a reality) it was interesting to listen to. Remember, diminishing returns is very real in HiFi. The more you spend you get very little back. Usually.
If some of you are not aware, I have been into HIFi for many years (and I started reviewing some pieces a short time ago HERE), and I have been building a system for 20 years or more, upgrading every now and then as many HiFi dealers allow you to upgrade every year by giving you full credit for what you paid toward a new, better piece. That allowed me to spend years upgrading my system until I assembled what I thought was the best for my room, which is my office in my home that is part-time office, part-time dedicated listening room.
After listening almost daily for the last year to my mega system, we decided we were going to move, to a smaller house, quite a ways from my current home. My system would never ever fit in the new home as it consisted of huge Focal speakers, McIntosh separates and a 40lb Turntable. So I decided to look for a smaller, but still amazing quality system I could live with. I tested out the beautiful and small Naim Muso, which is a soundbar looking device that is one of the best wireless speakers you can buy for $1500, truly. It was and is amazing for its size, cost and what it does. But it did not give me the stereo effect..it was more like a mono speaker and could not fill my room or energize my room for anything but loud background listening. No imaging, no air, no soundstage width or depth. BUT MAN it sounded so good and the bass performance was off the charts (until I heard the Silver Phantoms) For me, that could not cut it as for my whole life I have had a legit, 2 channel stereo and I love music. So while the Naim Muso was an amazing solution for most, I wanted even more.
See the Silvers in my room playing Vinyl on a Marantz TT15S1 – Late night low level listening sounds amazingly gorgeous…
Seeing that I am a huge fan of what Devialet is doing (and I am a past Devialet 200 owner) and I remembered the big hoopla when they announced the PHANTOM, which promised to be comparable to $50k systems in a wireless all in one speaker that comes in at $1800-$2900 each depending on the model you go with (normal, silver or gold). You can take 700 watts per speaker, or 3000 or even 4500 in the gold edition. A pair of middle of the road silvers and the $350 piece you will need to wirelessly connect them, the Dialog, will set you back around $5100 + when it is all said and done. That’s $5k for 6000 watts of refined stereo power, and the most technologically advanced speaker system I have ever had the pleasure to use, test and now own. Part digital (for the power and overall grunt) and part Analog amplification (for the sound quality). Amazing.
THE PHANTOM WILL BE THE FUTURE OF HIFI…
What I mean by that is that these speakers are so freaking crazy amazing for what they are, I can see others trying to copy and even expand on this kind of tech to the point that I think these have laid the groundwork for future HIFi developments. I’ve had these two silver beasts set up in my listening room now and have been listening, and sitting here in shock by what I hear in this room. While not the best I have ever heard, it boggles my brain to think these two small, relatively inexpensive (for what you get and compared to other big $$ audiophile products) speakers are delivering this sound in my room. It may not equal a $50k system but I will say right now that what I am hearing from this properly positioned (and on stands) pair of Silver Phantoms is up there with my old best system that consisted of $25k speakers from Sonus Faber (that took me 10 years to build and upgrade to). It may even best it in some ways, and while it can not match the Sonus Faber’s organic flow and warmth or magical midrange, it beats them with bass PERFORMANCE and clarity and imaging. Just wow. $5k speakers actually meeting and in some cases exceeding a $25k pair of speakers (that still will need a $$ amp) is beyond WOW.
After having these two Silver Phantoms in my room for a while I am gobsmacked. If only I have tried these a year ago. There are so so so many positives to these over a big bulky system of separates. At the same time, there are things one may miss from a big separates system as these are not miracle machines, though they are close. Very close.
Let me explain…
Each Phantom can be used alone, or in a stereo pair or you can add up to 24 of them throughout your house. One in each room, easily controlled via app for whatever music you need, want..in any room you need or want. They are hefty and around 30+ pounds each, and built to what appears to be a crazy high standard. These are not cheap best buy boxes…these are devices that were millions of dollars ($30 mil) and many years in the making (10). You can move these anywhere in your house, easily. Since they are wireless (just a power cord from each one), and need NO amp, NO dac, NO real physical source…just plop them where you want powerful sound. So versatility is amazing here, and the volume you can get from just ONE silver Phantom is insane. NO one would EVER need more volume.
Bluetooth, WiFi, Optical connections can be made, and you can use an airport express hooked to the optical for Airplay functionality. I use my Sonos streamer into the Optical where I then use Tidal, Deezer and stream my local files.
105 Decibels. That’s almost illegal in some countries. That’s what the silver puts out. Alone. In a pair it jumps to 108 Decibels. Watch your windows…
Listening to one Phantom reminded me much of the Naim Muso but with a bigger and more impactful sound. When I added in the 2nd Silver Phantom…I mean, WHAT A JUMP in sound quality. It went from a directional mono big beefy sound to a magical performance by the artist right in front of me. Imaging to die for, some of the best imaging I have experienced in my life. Power you feel (when you want to) and low volume night listening is just as good as loud as the bass is still there in low volumes and I have never ever had low level listening sound THIS good and rich. The bass performance of these guys are astonishing, and a part of what makes these desirable.
In my small 12 X 12 room, the bass CAN get overpowering when too loud with some music (electronic mostly) at louder volumes but if that happens I just touch the night mode (in the spark app) which takes off the lowest bass registers. Meant for night listening (as to not wake your house) it also helps cut the bass when it gets too energized 😉
So let’s see what positives I have so far before I start to talk about the negatives…
They are small but hefty and very well made. Just as well made as any $20k speaker I have seen.
They are POWERFUL, up to 4500 DIGITAL watts each speaker. You will never want for more volume unless you are half deaf already.
Amps are BUILT in and are part digital and analog. Digital for the power and analog for the sound quality. Brilliant.
Built in DAC’s deliver rich beautiful and yes, AUDIOPHILE quality when set up on stands as a stereo pair.
At the price of $1990-$2990 each (depending on power level) this is one of the best buys in HIGH END HiFi. At the price, I know of NOTHING that can even touch these for what they offer. So they are pricey if you are thinking of them as a wireless boom box, but when you look at them for what they are, a serious modern day audiophile solution…then they become a steal at the price point. You will not need a pre amp, amp, dac, cables, or CD player here…so you are saving a ton while getting amazing sound. Some spend more on speaker cables than a pair of these will cost you!
Easy to place in your room. No expensive cables to buy. Access to almost ANY music via Tidal, Spotify, Deezer or whatever music service you prefer. All from your smart device like your phone, ipad, etc.
Amazing imaging, some of the best I have ever heard for this. Instruments and voices are right where they should be.
The bass is crazy powerful and goes to a crazy low 16hz with the standard and Silver and 14hz with the Gold! Yep, so low we will not hear it but we will damn sure feel it at the right volume in the right room, and I have indeed.
SO FAR SO GOOD RIGHT? Well, there are some negatives that almost had me give up in frustration and send them back the same day they arrived.
When these two arrived to me via UPS they arrived with the DIALOG which is needed to connect more than one Phantom together, for stereo purposes. It’s basically a WiFi hub that has an optical, USB and Ethernet connection.
I also received the remote which is a thing of beauty and I also wanted to connect a turntable, digitally to see how good these would sound with an Analog converted to Digital turntable using Optical out.
SO I was all set. My office was cleared out of the big guns to make room for the small but deadly Silver Phantoms.
I set them up according to instructions, using the SPARK app. When they were powered on, they produced a musical hum and the “ears” which are the bass drivers started pulsating. I touched the top of each one and they came back with a click and bass driver “pump” to let me know they were found.
The app said they needed to be updated, so I started the update. Devialet always updates their products and improves them for the life of your product. This is awesome as one day you can wake up and have improved Phantoms and sound quality. BUT all was not good as I spent 3 hours trying to update them, only to have the Update download continually error out.
After spending an hour searching online about others with the same issues, I read I had to update one at a time, while plugged into Ethernet on my router. So another hour goes by and they update. Then when I sit down to test them for the 1st time, I only get sound out of the left Phantom. Time to reset and start over.
I was frustrated beyond belief. Hours later I am sitting here wasting my day trying to get these things to work, and they are having a hard time with it.
After the reset BINGO, they updated and started working.
I pulled open the spark app, pulled up TIDAL (of which I am a member) and played some of my playlists…NO SOUND. Pulled up DEEZER using the Spark app. It showed music was playing but no sound at all. UGGGG.
I then pulled up internet radio using SPARK and sound! But it sounded weak and trebly to me. Much smaller sound than my Focal Sopra #2’s.
Hmmmm. Maybe these were all hype..those were my thoughts.
But since I spent 6 hours working on this, I was not about to give up. I plugged my Sonos Connect base station into the DIALOG via Optical and used the SONOS app to play my Tidal and Deezer music. It worked, and it worked SO WELL. I mean…wow.
So while I still to this day can NOT get these streaming services to produce any audio through my Phantom system using the official Devialet Spark app, I can indeed listen using my Sonos Connect and app. So I am happy as the sound is simply amazing…powerful…impactful..and has many tastes of super high end audio while giving us a taste of the future, of what is to come in the next few years. Technology is getting insane and these are some of the most technologically advanced *ANYTHING* I have come across in life.
So at the end of the day, those 6-7 hours of setting these up was well worth the effort and I am so glad I did not pack them back up to ship them back. These are simply amazing on the next level. No hype, no BS.
SO TELL ME ABOUT THE SOUND STEVE?
So after all was settled I left them in the room and played them all night and beyond. As I sat in my listening chair, the same spot I have auditioned super high end pieces from, I was just amazed at what I was hearing. It was as if my brain did not want to accept that these little guys were putting out HUGE HUGE rich powerful sound even at lower to mid volumes. Again, power or volume will NEVER leave you wanting, but we all know if a speaker has all bass and power it usually fails on delicate, intimate listening tests. Most bass heavy speakers muddle up the mis bass as well, making the speaker sound muffled and closed off. It’s a balancing act, and one the Focal Sopra #2’s do so well. But believe it or not, these do it better.
But can the Phantoms match the sound of my Sopra #2’s that come in around $14k? Well, YES, and also NO. Will they match my old $25k Sonus Fabers? Yes and NO. Will they match my old Wilson Beneche speakers? YES with ease.
While these Phantoms deliver earth shattering impact and power, they are also VERY good at low level listening, with vocals and instruments. I always look for an emotional experience with speakers and audio gear. If I can get that, I know I have something I can live with. By that I mean if I can get pulled into the performance, if I can feel like the artist is in the room with me, or if I feel a huge rock band is playing 10 feet in front of me or if I listen to a great classical performance and it gives me goosebumps….a connection to the music. This is not easy, and for me I have achieved this only a few times in life with my Audio hobby.
One of the best was my Sonus Faber Guarneri Evolution mated with a Line Magnetic tube amp. That system delivered so much magic for vocals and jazz and blues and acoustic instruments (try the album Fingers and Thumbs from Adrien Legg) but they also lacked a bit with high energy music like metal and rock as the bass, while plentiful, did not have “impact” anything like the Phantoms. Not even close. They also did not have the clarity or imaging performance of the Silver Phantoms. The Guarneris though, did sound bigger and looked more beautiful.
So as I sit with these Silver beauties, no matter what I put on…Jazz, Vocal, Bluegrass, Rock, Metal, 70’s music or Electronic/Ambient I am blown away by what I am hearing in regards to the size of these guys, and even if they were MUCH larger I would be shocked for what we get for the money. I know I said this already but it can not be understated. If you own ONE Phantom you seriously owe it to yourself to save for two. It takes up the experience 100X. One phantom is “good” for a boombox experience but add two, set them up right and you will be blown away. These need to be taken VERY seriously in the Audiophile world as it will only get better as time goes on.
With one Phantom I preferred the $1500 Naim Muso. With two, I am preferring the pair to some of my best systems I have owned in most ways, but not all.
POWERFUL, BIG, DETAILED but NEVER ANALYTICAL. THESE ROCK.
So did the Silver Phantoms pass my “emotional” test…well, I did not think they would but THEY DID. I mean, they are NOT PERFECT but they do lack in a few areas from my other systems I have owned but I would say that these beat out most $10k speakers, and a few $20k speakers and maybe even fewer $30k speakers. Let’s dig in a bit…
SOUNDSTAGE – The soundstage width of the Silver Phantoms could be a little better. They get nowhere close to my Sonus Faber Guarneri’s but do match and surpass the Focal Sopra #2 in this regard. Instead of the sound expanding to the side walls, with imaging placed in that sound stage, I am getting a narrower stage..but..BUT…I am getting superior imaging from these over any speaker I have owned or tested. Up to $30k. THAT IS NUTS.
THE IMAGING IS INCREDIBLE – Instruments are placed right where they should be with no exaggerations or artificial space added by cables or cords. To some this will be bad, for others it will be preferred. With all of this said, there is a soundstage with the Phantoms, but not to the level of $20-50K speakers. They are close. Excellent but not the Holy Grail for those who crave a huge enveloping stage.
AIR – When listening to Enya I do get the huge sense of space and air as the vocals float in front of the speakers in the middle and the sound, the music behind the vocals is rich, full and NEVER weak. Even at low volumes of 20-30 at night. This is quite the feat as some speakers and amps can do vocals magically perfect but the music usually is obscured in the background on some tracks with light bass and weight. These Phantoms deliver it as one solid coherent package. It’s an amazing thing to hear, and SEE when you are looking at these robot egg looking things and making your brain try to accept what is happening.
TREBLE and MIDS: If there is one weakness of the Silver Phantom, and only to VERY picky Audiophiles it would be the treble. To me, the vocals of say Enya, or Flo Morrissey (try “I only like his hat not him” for hauntingly gorgeous vocals on ANY system) sound fantastic and intimate but if I had to be picky I would say the treble could be more refined to add some magic in. Supposedly the GOLD Phantom coming in at around $3k each has changed up the sound signature a tad, and improved upon it with a titanium tweeter. I have not heard the gold but at $1400 more for a pair over Silver, not sure it would be worth it as the Silvers are 95% there. That last 5% will cost you. In comparison to my Focal Sopra #2, the treble on the Phantoms is not as refined or smooth. The mids are 95% as good. But overall, the sound of the Silver’s are just flat out amazing (again, in the right room, as a pair and set up correctly).
BASS – Everything you have heard about the amazing bass performance of the Phantoms is true. It exceeds what most think could be possible. These deliver more solid bass than any speaker I have owned, ever. The sheer amount of bass depth (that you can feel) is amazing. 16hz. Unreal. Low volume listening is never thin, or lacking. It’s also never muffled in any way. There is never ANY distortion, never any muddled mix at higher volumes and never a sense of strain, at all, ever. But in my small room (12X12) the bass can be a tad much with SOME electronic music when jammed. If I tweaked the placement more I probably could improve on that. With the Phantom we get the bass we crave without it harming the mids and treble or muddying up the sound. It’s quite the feat.
Also, we just can’t blow these guys as there is protection from SAM enabled, Devialets amazing way of making these sound and perform so well.
The bass of the 6L sized silver goes down to 16Hz. This full size 120L speaker goes down to 30hz. Wow. THIS IS THE FUTURE MY FRIENDS!
USING THE PHANTOMS WITH A TURNTABLE?
YES, you can use ANY turntable with the Phantoms, and yes, it’s worth it if you love your vinyl. I purposely hooked up a $289 Audio Technica LP 120 with an AT100 cartridge using an Analog to Digital adapter that cost me $11. This allowed me to plug the TT into the Phantom’s dialog box using an Optical digital cable that cost me $8 on Amazon.
So for $300 or so I had a complete low budget TT setup. How would it sound?
To my disappointment it sounded about 85% as good as my $6k turntable. I mean, here I was with a high megabuck TT and this low budget solution was sounding almost as good…not as clean, not as detailed but rich, full, fluid and had me tapping my feet. Wow. It worked well. I then added a $249 phono stage and that improved the detail and sound dramatically. So $460 for a TT that now sounds about 80-90% of my megabuck setup, in my room. Crazy. There goes those diminishing returns again!
This is the best most well made TT I have seen under $900 and while it may not be the be all end all, the AT 120 is a STEAL. A STEAL. Let me repeat that…A STEAL. You can not lose if you want your 1st or 2nd TT or like me, considering dialing back your TT costs. With the Silver’s the TT sounded gorgeous. Just as Vinyl should sound. Left me wanting for nothing really though 80% of my listening is through Tidal, Deezer, etc.
I will admit I also put in a Marantz TT15S1 with a Clearaudio Virtuoso Wood and it took me PAST my old $6k Turntable. BAM. It sounded 20% better than my old rig, while coming in at $1300 with cartridge, set up and new. (I have a great local dealer, $1500 at Amazon).
To see what I bought for my TT solution with the Phantoms, see the links to Amazon below (I bought my 120 TT locally for $239 though)
Added later: Marantz TT15S1 and it is just a perfect match to the Phantoms. I now get that wide enveloping soundstage, with VINYL!
Added: Audioquest VODKA Optical Cable from A to D converter into Phantom. Also one from Sonos to the Dialog Hub.
So as I have it now, the Phantoms are set up in my dedicated listening space using a Sonos CONNECT to stream Deezer, Tidal, Radio and my own music. I then have the turntable setup above for my Vinyl fix every now and again. That’s it. No uber expensive cables to buy, no external components to add, and so far the only frustration and disappointment I had with these was all with the initial setup, which some go through in five minutes.
BOTTOM LINE ON THE DEVIALET SILVER PHANTOM
What can I say? I was shocked at the performance of these Silver Phantoms only due to their size. I NEVER thought they could fill my room with music in such a powerful and intriguing way yet they did. They not only fill my small room but out in my living room which is much larger than my listening room they do just as well and fill the room without effort.
While I am missing that huge wide deep soundstage of my megabuck system, this system was 1/5th the cost and gets 95% of the way there (Update: With the new TT15 and Virtuoso Cart the soundstage is much improved).
That tells you about “diminishing returns” right there.
These speakers are doing so much right that I can only imagine what the next few years will bring for HiFi. If Devialet can get the setup process as smooth as silk (its not there yet), if they can refine and improve the treble (they may have already in the Gold), and if they can get their Spark app fully functional (I still get no sound from my Tidal or Deezer using their Spark app) then this will be the end game for many and I mean MANY. I used that term before with HiFi but that was before this technology and these Phantoms.
Some will use them solo as a general wireless speaker. Some will use them as computer speakers and some will use them as I am here, as a fully setup 2 channel audiophile solution. As a two channel system they are unrivaled for the money and even if you spend quite a bit more you may not get better sound.
NO they may not have the total refinement of a $50k system but did anyone think they would? Me, I would take these over systems costing up to $20k, all for $5-6K. They are versatile and can be moved easily to any room in your house. They are amazing in sound and performance and the looks…well, some will love them and some may be cold on them.
Me, I feel the treble and midrange needs some work to be truly “magical” and to please most Audiophiles, but again, this may have happened with the new GOLD Phantom that is rolling out now at $2900 or so for each Phantom. After extended listening I find the treble to be somewhat soft, and these lean to the warm side of neutral in my room due to the tweeter and the bass which is not lacking at all.
I’d love to test the Gold’s because if the tweeter is improved, and the bass has been tweaked to be less powerful (sometimes it can be too much of a good thing) I feel Devialet will have literally struck gold.
THEY DO look like an Apple product from packaging to presentation. The remote (that you must buy separate) is so worth the cost. It’s a thing of beauty with a large weighted dial. To activate it you just hover it over the Phantom. Pairs instantly.
Other than that I would love to see these in a gloss black with rose gold highlights 😉 I see a gloss black Phantom with rose gold tweeter cover while the sides that are now white, silver or rose gold being black, maybe matte black. That rose gold tweeter cover would make them pop and they would look pretty classy IMO. Who knows, maybe Devialet will offer a color choice in years to come.
If you are coming from wireless bluetooth speakers, these will blow your mind. If you are coming from a Sonos speaker system, you will be in disbelief when you hear these. If you are coming from an Audiophile background you will think they need a tad bit of refinement in the treble but when set up carefully and correctly on stands you will appreciate them very much. Not sure how anyone could NOT be impressed with a stereo pair of these.
I feel these Phantoms are truly giving us a sneak peek into the future of HIFi. There is NO wireless speaker better than a pair of these. There are very few high end speakers from 15-$20k that would be worth the expense over these. If you can deal with wireless audio and a digital turntable solution, take along hard look at these Phantoms, as they are unbeatable for the money. Just put them on a good stand if you want to get the best from them. Devialet offer the TREE here.
To those picky audiophiles who say these can not be up to par with higher end separates and systems that cost a bit more than the set of Silvers, I say “You have not heard a pair of these set up correctly, in a good room”. These are just as much audiophile as any serious system I have owned and while they are not as refined or transparent as a $40-$50k system, what they do offer makes up for that last 10% of performance (size, no cables needed, sound quality, bass performance, wireless, imaging, cost) in a much smaller, much less expensive package. The Silver Phantoms are amazing and a peek into the future of HiFi and these are what I chose for my new home listening room, and I am thrilled with my choice.
If you do not need the crazy volume and slam of the 3000 WPC Silvers, you can save some cash by going with the standard Phantom. Me, I am excited to test out the GOLD’s if I can get a pair 😉
Order the Dialog (needed for more than one phantom)
TIP: TO HEAR SOME SERIOUS BASS WITH THESE TRY:
“BARCELONA” FROM HENRY GREEN.