(Courtesy of Devialet)
When I first met Pedro Garcia Maggi, the vice president of marketing at a French audio startup named Devialet, I spotted a plastic white orb the size of a watermelon on the counter.
“Is that the speaker?” I asked.
“Well, we like to call it a sound center,” he corrected me.
I resisted the urge to roll my eyes. What, after all, is so special about this speaker, out of the hundreds I’d see this week at the Consumer Electronics Show? But once he turned it on, and I heard all that exquisite detail and volume coming from such a compact gadget, I was willing to call it whatever he wanted.
The Devialet Phantom is a new home speaker that — with the help of innovative design, 77 patents (!), and 10 years of research and development — goes beyond the capabilities of any traditional entertainment system. Though it weighs approximately 23 pounds and requires a significant amount of energy to run, it’s solid enough to replace pretty much all the audio equipment of your home theater.
It takes a thick informational pamphlet to explain every detail of those 77 patents, but the core of this futuristic speaker’s innovation is based on something called analog/digital hybrid architecture. This method of making things louder combines the technologies of both analog and digital amplifiers to provide crisp, linear sound in the space of a compact speaker.
That combines with a new way to process music signals and automatically adapt them based on your drive unit and acoustic load, so that the sound wave that hits your ear is incredibly precise and truer to the original recorded song. In its guts also lies something Devialet calls the “Magic Wire,” which reduces unnecessary processing and, as a result, eliminates distortion within the speaker.
All those innards combine in a special design called the “Heart Bass Implosion” (which is a ridiculous name, but sort of accurately describes the bodily sensation you get from listening to something so powerful at high volume). The Phantom’s drivers stick out from each side and — as you play your music — vibrate to create an intense sound from the vacuum inside the sphere. This allows for a bass that would typically come from much bigger subwoofers.
I had the pleasure to listen to a series of songs, including Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” Beyoncé’s “***Flawless,” and Stan Getz and João Gilberto’s “Girl from Ipanema.” All were incredibly balanced, shockingly clear, and very loud. With the help of Devialet’s iOS and Android apps, you can pair up to 24 of these things to play at once — an experience I imagine to be so powerful that it’d be dangerous for infants.
“Believe it or not, we’ve had people crying,” Maggi told me. Normally I’d roll my eyes at that statement, too, but considering the volume I’d just heard from that watermelon-sized speaker, I took a moment to consider it.
Of course, price is the real bummer here. The Phantom will set you back $1,990 for its standard version and $2,390 for a more powerful silver one. (Devialet typically manufactures professional-grade audio equipment that’s sold for anywhere between $7,000 and $35,000.)
The speaker will be available in close to 50 retailers starting this month, and you can preorder one at Devialet’s website now.