In making his pitch for Gold Phantom, the new top-of-the-line all-in-one speaker by French audio specialists Devialet, company general manager Adrien de Maia throws out lots of statistics and acronyms for the 102 patents included in the design. The tech specs tell an impressive story, but he's got his own to share.
The first time de Maia played Stevie Wonder's "Isn't She Lovely" on the Phantom, he was struck by how clearly he could hear the singer's daughter Aisha playing in the bathtub. Wonder wrote the 1976 classic for his little girl, and her splashing isn't just background noise - it's a key part of what the artist is trying to convey.
"We believe everyone deserves to have access to this quality," says de Maia. "It's not a privilege to have this emotion when you listen to music."
It's not cheap, either. The Gold Phantom retails for $2,990, while the slightly lower-end Silver Phantom and Phantom fetch $2,390 and $1,990, respectively. And yet Devialet is betting that consumers will shell out for better sound. This week, the company celebrates the opening of its first-ever U.S. store, located at 92 Greene Street in New York City's famed SoHo shopping district.
"It's the best place to listen to music in the city," says de Maia, walking Billboard through the store a week before the grand opening. The highlight of the shop - Devialet's sixth globally since the company launched in Paris in 2007 - is the "immersive room." Tucked away in the back, it's a cozy enclave designed to showcase what all three Phantoms can do.
Once listeners sit down and truly experience the Phantom - which connects via Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Ethernet, or optical cable to various types of audio devices - Devialet believes they'll be sold on the benefits of audiophile-grade sound. The Phantom utilizes the same patented analog-digital hybrid (ADH) amplification technology powering Devialet's line of Expert Pro amplifiers, the company's initial product.
"The ADH is the best analog amplifier ever designed, plus the best digital-to-analog converter," de Maia says. "The combination allowed us to pick the best of both amplification systems: the quality of analog and the power of digital."
Devialet's move toward the Phantom makes a lot of sense. According to a 2015 survey by Strategy Analytics, 55 percent of Americans typically listen to music through their computer speakers. Streaming, meanwhile, continues to overtake physical media as the go-to way of listening for young music fans. U.S. streaming revenue increased 57 percent in the first half of 2016, reaching $1.6 billion and accounting for nearly half of industry sales.
That's a whole lot of people listening to their favorite songs on tinny computer speakers and cheapo bluetooth cubes.
"It's really hard to go back to something else after you've listened to a Devialet product," de Maia says, explaining that in terms of sheer numbers - 4,500W of power, a sound range spanning 14Hz to 27kHz, 108dB playback without distortion - the Phantom has no rivals on the market.
"You have a different approach to music when you listen with this quality," he says. "Most of the time, the younger generation that has not been investing in audio before, they're really connecting. They have this emotional connection with the product."
To demonstrate, de Maia parked Billboard in the immersive room and shuffled through a diverse playlist of songs. The bass on Drake and Future's 2015 hit "Jumpman" rattled the ribs, and yet as the white spherical Phantom speaker vibrated away, the low-end didn't overwhelm Drizzy's nasally flow. Switching to Pink Floyd's "Hey You" and Alabama Shakes' "Don't Wanna Fight," the Gold Phantom continued delivering the goods: rich bass, crystal-clear vocals, and perhaps even some of those Stevie Wonder-ful background surprises.
And the Phantom is easy on the eyes, too. Roughly the size of a soccer ball, it's designed to sit on a home entertainment center or mount to the wall via bracket. While one Phantom gets the job done, two (or more) work even better. Through the Devialet app, you can modify the playback of multiple speakers to meet your specifications, and for an extra $150, you can wrap your hands around the handsome ergonomic remote, which looks like a tiny jar of fancy hand cream.
Time will tell whether the Phantom scares away frugal music lovers or finds a home in living rooms, man-caves, and dorm rooms across America. De Maia can only say that listeners won't be disappointed.
"People tell the difference," he says. "They're moved by this product. They'll feel the money they invested was worth it."