If you ask someone to draw a speaker, chances are they will draw some sort of rectangular box with perhaps a couple of circles inside of it. They likely won't draw the Devialet Phantom, a rounded blob of a speaker that looks more like a robot from I, Robot or the gun from Portal. But regardless of what it looks like, the Phantom is a wireless speaker that packs a number of interesting ideas into an equally interesting-looking shape. And well, to be frank, it looks pretty damn cool.
The Phantom, which is available in a 3,000-watt Silver version for $2,390 that can hit 105db or a 750-watt standard model for $1,990 that only does a measly 90db, is up for preorder in the US starting today and will be shipping to customers this summer. It's a wireless speaker that works on Wi-Fi networks or Bluetooth, and can plug into a television through an optical audio cable. Up to 24 Phantoms can be paired together to create basic stereo setups or insane surround sound systems.
Though I've been referring to the Phantom as a single speaker, it actually has four drivers: one tweeter, a mid-range speaker, and two subwoofers (those silver discs you see on the sides). Inside are four amps driving each speaker, as well as a "hermetically sealed chamber" that helps drive the power. Devialet, a French company that is perhaps best known for making high-end, rack-mounted amps, is using its "ADH" amplifiers in the Phantom, which are a hybrid of Class A analog and Class D digital amplifiers. Devialet also uses another acronym — SAM — to describe the technology it developed to adjust the frequencies it delivers to each individual speaker to best replicate the source audio.
Devialet uses a lot of industry jargon, white papers, and a heavy dose of marketing to describe the technology inside and sound produced by Phantom. Its sound allegedly has zero distortion, zero saturation, and a flat response. It's also omnidirectional, so whether you stand in front of the speaker, to the sides, or behind it, it sounds the same. Devialet says the frequency range of the Phantom is 16Hz all the way to 25,000KHz, or essentially the entire range of human hearing.
I had a chance to demo a Phantom (the Silver model, which packs the 3,000-watt wallop) for a couple of days, and it's an impressive piece of hardware to have on your desk or table, to say the least. The sound is very clear, and as Devialet claims, it doesn't distort when you crank the volume.
Mostly, it's just really freaking loud
Mostly, though, it's just really freaking loud.
I set up the Phantom in our office, and once I got it connected to our Wi-Fi network (which is a chore) I turned on some dubstep (it was the music that happened to be on my phone at the time, no judging). At low volume levels, the Phantom doesn't really sound much different than any other wireless speaker. In fact, it doesn't have much bass response at all — the Sonos Play:1 is a much better-sounding speaker at low volumes.
But when I cranked it to half power, the subs on the side started reverberating with intensity and the 50 or so people in the office with me jumped out of their desks. At three-quarter power, the walls started shaking, and enough people were giving me dirty looks that I did everyone a favor and turned it down.
Listening to music at loud volumes on the Phantom is a rather strange experience. It's much larger than the typical Bluetooth speaker (and it weighs a ton, think one and a half regulation bowling balls), but it's still relatively compact and doesn't actually move a lot of air. If you're expecting a thump in your chest from the bass, the Phantom won't deliver — it just doesn't move enough air. But it's loud. Like, really loud. Probably too loud for most people to ever be able to turn it up past half power.
The Phantom doesn't hit you in the chest like a loud subwoofer, it's just really, really loud
Actually getting music to play on the Phantom is more work than it should be. The unit I was listening to didn't have Bluetooth capability, which forced me to use Devialet's rather basic smartphone app or web portal to play music. When the Phantom is connected directly to a Wi-Fi network, you can only play the music that's stored locally on your phone, and you don't have access to any streaming options. If you purchase the $349 Dialog, which is essentially a network bridge specifically designed for the Phantom, and connect the Phantom to that, you can stream music from Deezer, Qobuz, and Tidal. (The Dialog is also necessary to pair multiple Phantoms together.) Devialet says Spotify and other services are coming down the road, but there's no timeframe for when they might be supported.
Devialet says the shape of the Phantom was determined solely by its acoustics and there wasn't any "design" involved. It's certainly unique-looking, and its shape and appearance are just as interesting as its very loud output. Those interested in dropping north of 2,000 dollars on this thing will probably buy it for its looks as much as for its sound.
For the rest of us, well, we'll have to do with those rectangular boxes. At least our neighbors won't complain.