To Hans Wetzel,
So glad to finally read a proper review of [Devialet’s Silver] Phantom, one that evaluates it critically in the context of high-end stereo systems. At the risk of sounding like a snob, I was getting a bit frustrated by the plethora of uninformative reviews simply rehashing Devialet’s claims without any critical listening, or declaring Phantom amazing because it sounds so much better than the reviewer’s Sonos [system].
This being said, on my side I’ve been quite disappointed by the Phantom story so far, and this from a guy who was (is?) really, really very favorably predisposed to the whole thing. Here’s why:
Hyperbole: Devialet is never shy when it comes to promoting the virtues of its own products, but with Phantom they overdid it. They pegged Phantom not just as great sounding for its price, but as a speaker that could go head to head with state-of-the-art speakers costing much more. Remember the whole “the best sound in the world” thing? Well, maybe I was naive in getting my hopes up, but it’s now clear that Phantom may sound competitive for a $5000/pair system, but it does not sound remotely as good as a top Magico or Vivid.
Lack of multichannel capability: Frankly, I have yet to understand Devialet’s logic when they decided it would be more useful to sync 24 Phantoms in mono or stereo mode, than to have five of them playing multichannel (MC) audio. Yes, I know, the guys at Devialet told you MC is part of their future plans, but they’ve been saying this since day one, and we are all still waiting. Moreover, Devialet has been saying their MC solution will be software based. As far as I know, there isn’t a single Blu-ray player that will output MC audio content at full resolution via USB or TosLink. They all do it via HDMI. In other words, there won’t be useful MC capability if Devialet does not add HDMI to Dialog, or an analog input to the speaker (which many of the new digital speakers have).
Bugs: You mentioned some, but quickly dismissed them. On my side, I have read too many reports of too many people spending too much time chasing after hiss, “un-freezing” Spark, getting Dialog to work when the audio system that is connected to it is some distance from the Wi-Fi router, etc., etc. When I buy a music system, it is to relax into the music, not to [go all] OCD about the system.
In short, I see Phantom as a somewhat missed opportunity. The product could have been revolutionary, but in the end it promised more than it delivered on the performance, functionality, and user experience fronts. The new Kii Audio Three or Dynaudio Focus XD [models] may be a bit pricier, but they have all of the advantages of Phantom with better sound and greater functionality. Color me disappointed.
I am glad that I could deliver the first “proper review” on the Silver Phantom, and many thanks for your thoughtful response. Like you, I have been quite disappointed with the press coverage of Devialet’s baby, but as I posited in my January editorial, that might be attributed more to the French firm’s public relations decisions than anything else. Also like you, I have been predisposed to the Phantom since its announcement at the tail end of 2014.
Regarding hyperbole: I agree. It’s worth noting, though, that just about every audio company in the high end lays claim to something “revolutionary” or “groundbreaking” that no one has ever done before. I’m sure, like me, you can think of several high-dollar class-AB amps and folded-cabinet loudspeakers with off-the-shelf drivers that promise to fundamentally alter your worldview and offer you glimpses of divine clarity. I don’t like these kinds of grandiose claims any more than you do, but, unfortunately, I think it’s part and parcel of this industry.
Regarding a lack of multichannel capability: Multichannel may have been a hot segment back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but for the average consumer, I don’t think it’s a priority these days. That “average consumer” bit is important, because I think it’s pretty clear that Devialet is emphatically not gearing the Phantom towards audiophiles. Rather, I think they’re pitching it as a luxury consumer-audio product. In light of its gulp-worthy price for the average consumer, $1990 or $2390 each, for the Phantom and Silver Phantom, respectively, I’m guessing it was important for them to keep the price of entry reasonably accessible.
I can’t speak to the technical hurdles that Devialet may be facing in bringing multichannel support to market, because, frankly, I’m not well-versed in home-theater equipment and formats. I may sound like an apologist for saying this, but considering the progress in functionality that Devialet has made with its Expert line of amplifiers, through software alone, I would bet that the company will deliver on its promise(s) eventually. The question, of course, is when. If I had a home-theater setup, I’m sure I would be just as antsy as you, and no doubt many other potential buyers out there. Five Phantoms in a surround-sound setup is a delicious prospect, and kind of obviates the need for a subwoofer for all but the most bass-hungry listeners.
Regarding bugs: I can understand you feeling a bit dubious about my user experience, especially if one glances at some of the Devialet forums. From the looks of it, early firmware was far from smooth and reliable. That said, I stand by what I wrote in my review. Prior to Spark version 1.4 being released, the Spark app failed to find Devialet's Dialog on my Wi-Fi network on two occasions, resulting in my having to set the whole system up again. I wasn’t happy. But after installing the latest firmware update, I had three weeks of flawless operation, running Spark from a laptop, my iPhone, and my iPad, as well as running my television (with connected cable box, Xbox One, and Apple TV) through Dialog. Like you, I don’t want to have to fight with something to make it work, and with the latest firmware, I did not encounter a single blip. Take that however you’d like. I’ve been direct in some of my product criticism over the past couple of years, and don’t intend on softening my stance soon. And, for the record, my review samples were sent back to Devialet weeks ago, so they could move on to another reviewer, so I can’t speak to any longer-term software reliability.
Finally, regarding a missed opportunity: I actually disagree with you on this one. There is no question that Devialet promised a world-beating experience for a couple of thousand dollars, and fell short. But it’s worth re-emphasizing the assertion that I made in my review, which is that a pair of Silver Phantoms are, on sonic aggregate, as impressive to my ears as any pair of loudspeakers around the $5000 price point.
The Kii and Dynaudio loudspeakers you tout as having “all of the advantages of Phantom with better sound and greater functionality” are more than twice the price of a complete Silver Phantom system. I can’t speak to the sound quality of either the Kii or Dynaudio offerings, though I’ve read strong reviews on each, particularly the former. In terms of traditional functionally, I think you’re right, the Phantom clearly lags behind. But when you look at, and more importantly, listen to, what a pair of Silver Phantoms can do, I think it must be acknowledged as revolutionary. I can’t tell by your comments whether you have actually heard a pair or not, but if the answer is no, I’d suggest trying to hear a pair. I won’t (and didn’t) tell anyone that it’s perfect, that it’s a world-beater, or that Devialet should unfurl a “Mission Accomplished” banner. Clearly they have some more work to do on the software front to make the thing bulletproof for all users, and to bring additional functionality online, such as multichannel support, Spotify compatibility, and pure NAS compatibility, among others. That Kii Audio Three speaker, in particular, may well prove to be a better fundamental loudspeaker, but for a variety of reasons it won’t find its way into a fraction of the homes that Devialet's Phantom models will. Make of that what you will. . . . Hans Wetzel