We are using cookies to give you the best experience on our site. Cookies are files stored in your browser and are used by most websites to help personalise your web experience. By continuing to use our website without changing the settings, you are agreeing to our use of cookies.
We Love to Listen

6th November 2014 -

Devialet latest reviews

- Author:

EQUIPMENT REVIEW / DEVIALET ENSEMBLE SYSTEM from HI-FI+ Magazine

There are four conclusions to be drawn from this.

First, if you have a loudspeaker on Devialet’s ever-increasing list of SAM-ready loudspeakers, you owe it to yourself to hear what a Devialet can do for that loudspeaker. Secondly, if you have a Devialet and are in the market for a pair of loudspeakers, the list of SAM-ready loudspeakers is the only shortlist of products you’ll need. Third, if you have a Devialet and loudspeakers that are not on the SAM list, start a campaign to have your speakers tested and matched (and if they are too old or obscure, think about trading up for ones on the list). Finally, if you are in the market for a complete system with bookshelf loudspeakers, the Ensemble is a hard act to beat. Put simply, Ensemble sets the benchmark against which audio should now be judged. And if you think that’s good, wait ‘til you hear what it can do with really high-performance loudspeakers!

EQUIPMENT REVIEW / DEVIALET ENSEMBLE SYSTEM.

Reproduced from UKs HI-FI+ magazine

and

Equipment review/Devialet, SAM, and the Changing of the High-End Guard.

Reproduced from USAs SOUNDSTAGE! ULTRA website

Devialet has received a lot of (mostly extremely positive) press since its launch. The company’s continual development and an increasing range of designs has made it one of the most successful newcomers in high-end audio today. However, its new Ensemble system represents a radical departure, because it extends the ‘does it all’ approach to the speakers. This is a turnkey system, and really rather good it is, too. Ensemble comprises the Devialet 120 – the entry point to the concept – coupled with a pair of custom-designed Atohm GT1 loudspeakers. These two-way, rear ported designs are, in principle, no strangers to the pages of Hi-Fi+ (we reviewed them in issue 93), but the Devialet-derived version removes the logos from the front, and the room-matching boost/cut dial from the rear panel… for reasons that will become clear soon. From experience, the GT1 on its own has a reputation for speed, precision, and fun. The Devialet 120 is fascinating in its own right. Normally, when brands try to make a lower-cost version of a popular design, they play an electronic engineering version of the balloon game, sacrificing subsystems in order to achieve the right financial altitude. On the surface, the 120 follows the same path, but in fact it’s closer to a completely new design in its own right. Yes, it still uses the same ‘ADH’ Class A/ Class D hybrid core concept, the same 24/192kHz ‘Magic Wire’ internal DAC architecture and uses the same firmware as the larger models, but it’s a completely new design, intended for lower cost applications than the 200/400 and the D-Premier/250/800 models. How it does this is by limiting flexibility a little. So, there’s just one line/phono input, four S/PDIF inputs, Ethernet and USB, and no provision for output or dual mono operation (analogue pre-outs for power amps are an option though). The phono stage is less freely configurable than the bigger models. And, the 120W amp is on a slimmer chassis. Naturally, it can support the company’s own AIR streaming (via WiFi or Ethernet). There are two big pieces in the jigsaw puzzle that have slotted into place in the last two updates; they apply universally to the Devialet concept, but are worth stating here. The first is the bi-directional USB option (from firmware 7.1.1); if you simply use the USB cable to feed digital music from computer to DAC and amp, this is perhaps not a big issue. On the other hand, if you have a turntable, a computer, and a program like Audacity, your Devialet just became the easiest high-performance way of ripping your vinyl. No more scrabbling round for a suitably good quality analogue-digital converter or unplugging your phono stage from the amp for the best possible performance; one box does it all. And, with metadata population programs like Collectorz, the whole process of archiving your albums suddenly moved out of ‘chore’ valley. The phono stages in the ‘better’ and ‘best’ Devialet options improve on the quality of the 120, but not by a significant margin (unless you are fond of amp-strangling low load MC cartridges). The next is SAM, short for Speaker Active Matching. As the name suggests, SAM helps match the output of the Devialet to the input of the loudspeakers, although ‘active’ in this sense means ‘adapting to the demands of the loudspeaker in real-time’ and not ‘bypassing the passive crossover network to directly drive the loudspeakers’. This works by using a SHARC chip to model the characteristics of the sub-150Hz performance of the loudspeaker and apply those parameters to every sample it receives from the digital (or converted analogue) sources. It controls the loudspeaker in the phase domain (meaning the loudspeaker is phase correct from top to tail), carefully controls the excursion of the woofer (which has a knock-on effect of making it reach deeper than it has any right to) and provides robust heat protection by knowing the thermal limits of the loudspeaker. All these aspects of SAM sit over and above the ‘raw’ sound of the Devialet system, and if switched out, has no effect on how the 120 sounds. The ‘how it sounds’ part for the 120 is extremely easy. It sounds like a Devialet; cool, calm, and collected. It’s extremely detailed (but not in an analytical, detached, or musically dead way), extraordinarily precise, stunningly focused, and produces music from an unearthly silence. It is a hard sound to pin down because it is so precisely right, and as a result you end up describing it in terms of what it isn’t like, because most other things wind up sounding as if they are artificially laying on the warmth or the bounce or the soundstaging. The 120, like all the models in the Devialet range, tells it like it is. And if you think the 120 is somehow compromised by its place in the Devialet hierarchy, or that 120W power rating, guess again. This gives its all, and never shows its limitations. More, when you factor in the speaker control SAM bestows on a loudspeaker, if you are running out of steam with the 120 you are either determined to deafen yourself, trying to get full-thickness sound out of a small speaker in a vast room, or have hooked your Devialet to a couple of pieces of concrete masquerading as the drive units of a loudspeaker. The 120s bigger brothers bring more flexibility in terms of cartridge matching, more connectivity for both analogue and digital sources, and the ability to add enough power to drive a pair of speakers to PA levels. If you do a tight head-to-head comparison between the 120 and 250 (as I did), there are also slight advantages in terms of detail resolution, focus and bottom end drive. If you are using a loudspeaker that does not form a part of the SAM-approved list, those advantages become all the more noticeable, and the 250 shows it has all that extra muscle on tap. And, we effectively summed up the Atohm as fast, precise, and fun both earlier in this review and in our review of the loudspeaker back in issue 93. SAM is like firing an audio system’s afterburners. I kept channelling Scotty from Star Trek when listening to the Ensemble. “Ye canne change the laws o’ physics, Cap’n…” and yet a loudspeaker that (by virtue of its box) shouldn’t be capable of delivering much below about 50Hz is reaching down to the bottom octave with ease. This comes down to “The ‘how it sounds’ part for the 120 is extremely easy. It sounds like a Devialet; cool, calm, and collected. It’s extremely detailed (but not in an analytical, detatched, or musically dead way), extraordinarily prciese, stunningly focused, and produces music from an unearthly silence. It is a hard sound to pin down because it is so precisely right. SAM’s ability to act as heat protection system combining with its ability to manage cone excursion in the speaker. I’m actually struggling to express this without recourse to using the single, guttural, extraordinarily Anglo-Saxon word that gets uttered the first few times you press the SAM button. In fact, you only need to press it once; you only repeat the experience for a laugh. The physics isn’t wrong; rather we’ve been looking at the way loudspeakers can work in the wrong way. Suitably controlled to this level of sophistication, SAM works wonders. The loudspeaker reaches down to a low point far lower than you might expect (as in, just beyond its resonant frequency). This has been ‘notionally’ possible from a loudspeaker system, just never realised in the flesh. What this means in simple terms is true, taut, and really deep bass that you think must come from a loudspeaker with almost twice the cabinet volume and drive unit size. Walk someone blindfolded into the room with Atohm/Devialet GT1 speakers playing and SAM switched in and they will probably think they are listening to something closer to a pair of big Tannoys. Remove the blindfold and that Anglo-Saxon word jumps out again. If it’s your room and your system, it’s said with a big smile, too. You will reach for those big bass pieces of music, be it Bach’s Toccata and Fugue, or Burial, and most will wonder if there’s a route back from all that bass. In fact, what you are also hearing is the corrected phase response, and in a two-way like the Atohm, that makes for a sound that is utterly musically faithful across the board. It’s a studio-like precision, but without the studio-like scalpel through your music. Female voice in particular takes on an ‘in the room’ vividness that draws your attention in a way few other systems at the price can approach. And yet, I also know SAM has a similar transformative power that can be put to other loudspeakers big and small. Put simply, the Devialet Ensemble system allows the loudspeaker to be all it is capable of being, but it also shows there is a lot more to get out of most loudspeakers through SAM. Is there a trade-off to SAM? OK, so if your idea of ‘loud’ is the police kicking in your door to tell you to turn the music down, then the trade-off is you can’t drive this into clipping and end-of-driver-life sessions are a little more subdued. And those who set their watches to 1970s time seem to find the very idea of extending the performance of a loudspeaker this way somehow ‘tampering’ with the music. For myself, I find the idea of sacrificing this much improvement over the sound for a notional dislike of the idea of signal processing to be ‘somewhat’ self-defeating. The advantages to SAM (phase correction, the fact that you can only break your drive units by head-butting them, the transformation of a bookshelf loudspeaker into something that sounds like it should be the size of a Dalek, the way that interacts with the room meaning less treatment, and the sheer sense of control it bestows to the sound in general, not just the bass) in my mind vastly outweigh any misgivings about ‘inserting the Devialet sound between the samples’ and other non-arguments put about by the suspicious and the cynical. The Ensemble system is perhaps one of the best ways to experience both what the Devialet thing is all about, and especially what SAM does for a system. Where in previous firmware versions, you could tailor the amount of interaction SAM produced, it’s now either ‘engaged’ or ‘disengaged’ (and you can switch between the two states on the remote handset, if you delve deeper into the online configurator). I’d like to say the effect is profound, but that seems like understatement. It controls and energises the loudspeakers in a way that makes even active drive seem a little flaccid. The Atohm GT1’s are already fast, taut sounding loudspeakers, which makes for a good mix with the precision and detail of the 120, but the synergy and bass produced by SAM makes the match almost unassailable. What makes this Ensemble system so good, and so important is that it is the ultimate turnkey system. If you have a small to mid-size room, this is so natural a solution, you would be hard pressed to improve upon it on fairly basic terms of bass control, depth, and precision. That this holy trinity of low-end goodness creates ripples of improved performance right up through the audio band only serves to reinforce just how good this system is.

There are four conclusions to be drawn from this.

First, if you have a loudspeaker on Devialet’s ever-increasing list of SAM-ready loudspeakers, you owe it to yourself to hear what a Devialet can do for that loudspeaker. Secondly, if you have a Devialet and are in the market for a pair of loudspeakers, the list of SAM-ready loudspeakers is the only shortlist of products you’ll need. Third, if you have a Devialet and loudspeakers that are not on the SAM list, start a campaign to have your speakers tested and matched (and if they are too old or obscure, think about trading up for ones on the list). Finally, if you are in the market for a complete system with bookshelf loudspeakers, the Ensemble is a hard act to beat. Put simply, Ensemble sets the benchmark against which audio should now be judged. And if you think that’s good, wait ‘til you hear what it can do with really high-performance loudspeakers!

TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS

Devialet 120 Digital inputs: maximum 4x S/PDIF (RCA), 1x Toslink, 1x Toslink Mini inputs, WiFi, Ethernet, bi-directional USB Analogue inputs: 1x RCA pair (line or phono) SD card (supplied) for upgrades and configuration Maximum power: 120W per channel Digital/Analog Converter: ‘Magic Wire‘ 192kHz/24bits Digital Signal Processor: 192kHz / 40bits floating-point Dimensions (WxDxH): 383mm x 383mm x 40mm Weight: 5.65Kg Atohm GT1 Devialet Ensemble Edition Type: two-way bass reflex standmount loudspeaker Drive unit compliment: 1x 28mm fabric dome tweeter, 1x 150mm alloy cone mid/woofer Frequency response: 45Hz-30kHz Frequency response with SAM: 25 Hz (- 3dB) Crossover frequency: 2.5kHz Sensitivity: 89dB Impedance: six ohms Power handling: 100W Peak power: 200W Dimensions (HxWxD): 33x20x26.5cm Weight: 8kg Complete system price: £6,290 Manufactured by: Devialet URL: www.devialet.com

Devialet, SAM, and the Changing of the High-End Guard. SOUNDSTAGE ULTRA

Last month, I wrote an “Opinion” piece titled “Can Someone Please Answer These Questions?!” One of my four questions was “Is Devialet really, really better than everything else?” I asked this because the buzz about Devialet’s integrated amplifier-DACs has been so ridiculously positive that I just needed to know the truth as heard through my own ears. This month I answer that question and another, about Devialet’s SAM system. But first, a bit of background . . . At Munich’s High End 2014, Devialet introduced a host of new versions of their basic product: an integrated amplifier-DAC that is actually so much more. The 120 ($6495 USD), 200 ($9495), 250 ($17,495), 400s (two chassis, $17,495), and 800s (two chassis, $29,995), are all shipping now. These models, as Hans Wetzel explained in his recent review of the Devialet 120 on our sister site SoundStage! Access, are essentially last year’s versions, but with software upgrades that increase their power and improve their performance. In addition to the new models, Devialet also announced, in Germany, their Speaker Active Matching (SAM) processing: a loudspeaker-specific DSP operation that, Devialet claims, fundamentally improves the performance of the connected speakers in clearly audible ways. In order for SAM to work with your particular speaker model, Devialet must be able to measure a sample of it. Once that’s done, Devialet makes available on their website a SAM file for that speaker. The Devialet owner then goes into the online SAM database, downloads the file for that loudspeaker to an SD card, and inserts the SD card into his or her Devialet to upload the data. SAM processing is then available via the Tone button on the Devialet remote control. Having a pair of Magico S1s -- one of the 15 speaker models for which SAM processing was available when I wrote this (now 109 models) -- I was ready to give SAM a whirl, to see just what improvement, if any, it might work in the sound of that already fine product. SAM processing works in the time domain, and only below 150Hz. Although it’s difficult to figure out from Devialet’s white paper precisely what SAM is doing, I found one sentence illuminating: “SAM prevents any delay between bass and the rest of the spectrum, avoiding the effect of the phase rotation at the vicinity of the natural low-frequency cut-off of the loudspeaker.” With SAM activated in the Devialet 120, its effect on the Magico S1s was clearly audible from the first note of bass guitarist Jonas Hellborg’s solo album The Silent Life (16-bit/44.1kHz ALAC, Day Eight Music). If you like listening to a solo bass guitar, this disc is for you -- and, as you might imagine, it has copious amounts of content below 150Hz. It’s powerful in its sound, and rhythmically nuanced -- from the bass guitar! The music sounded deeper, cleaner, and fuller in the bass. It also seemed a touch louder, though there was no change in SPL as measured from my listening seat. In short, the bass range was improved in every performance parameter. Hellborg’s bass guitar was easier to track, minute dynamic fluctuations were more discernible, and any hint of nonmusical sounds from the speaker were lessened. Although SAM is not a room-correction system, it sounded as if all my room’s bass nodes had been removed. It was quite something.

Devialet 120

Would I buy a Devialet for SAM alone? I just might, if my loudspeakers were included in the database. SAM sure made a significant improvement in the sound of the Magico S1s. But there’s a more important thing to note about my time with the Devialet: Even without SAM, the Devialet 120 provided the best amplification I’ve ever heard with the S1s. And here’s where things got weird . . . Because the Devialet 120 with SAM sounded so good with the diminutive S1s, I figured I’d try it with Magico’s enormous Q7s, a pair of which sat in the background in my room. I’ve struggled a bit to find appropriate amplification for the Q7s. I’ve tried numerous amplifiers, and up to this point the best partner for them had easily been Gryphon’s Mephisto -- which costs $57,000. Nothing else I’d tried had been as satisfying. Until now. Would you believe that the best match I’ve heard for the $185,000/pair Magico Q7 is the $6495 Devialet 120? I know -- hard to fathom. To begin with, the Devialet 120 is the quietest amplifier I’ve experienced. As soon as I hooked it up and turned it on, I knew something was different. I put my ear right up against a Q7’s tweeter and . . . nothing. I’d never had that happen before, and I didn’t believe it was happening this time. So I walked over and turned off the air-conditioner, which, although very quiet in my room, I figured might be masking the sound a bit. Still nothing from the tweeter. Hmm. The only other source of noise in my Music Vault listening room is the almost-imperceptible sound from the hard drive on which I store my music. I turned that off, too, and again put my ear as close to the Q7’s beryllium dome as I could manage without actually touching it. I think I heard the faintest of noise, but I can’t be sure. It might have been something else. The Devialet was that quiet. With most other amps -- even really good ones -- you can hear some hiss from as far as 2” or 3” away from a tweeter. Is the thing even working? I thought. It absolutely was on, but nothing coming from the speakers indicated that. Of course, the only thing that really matters is how the thing sounds with music playing. I wondered if the 120 could competently power the Q7s and, if so, if it could do so in a manner I would enjoy. I cued up Jonas Hellborg again and cranked up the volume.

Devialet with Q7s

I could not believe my ears. The Q7s’ bass was now superior to anything I’d previously heard from those speakers, in my or any other room. It was the most profound bass I’d ever heard, period. Like nothing I’d experienced before, the Q7s were energizing my room and my entire house. As she ate her breakfast downstairs in the kitchen, my nine-year-old daughter thought something was seriously wrong. It was crazy. The bass was articulate, as tight as a drum, punchy, weighty, with slam galore. I could hear everything, with absolutely no hint of boom or bloom, but also with no dynamic constraints. It soared and plummeted and moved me. Again and again. I just sat and listened. And then I did what any audiophile would do: I played album after album, from many artists working in many genres, reveling in this newfound high fidelity. Could it really be sounding this good? This is not a review per se, so I won’t give you a blow-by-blow, track-by-track account. What I can tell you is that I’d never heard music sound this good in a home. As I write this “Opinion,” I’m blown away by the implications of the effects the Devialet 120 will have on my listening and the writing that I will do from now on about other products. The phrase is too often carelessly used, but for once it’s an accurate description: It’s a paradigm shift. The bottom line: The Devialet 120 -- with its paltry 120Wpc into 6 ohms and its price of $6495 -- was a great match for the Magico Q7s, whose cost matches their size: $185,000/pair. Did I hit a volume limitation with this smallest Devialet model? Yes and no. I cranked up the Hellborg album to within about eight clicks of maximum volume. At that SPL, about 98dB at my listening chair, the whole house was flexing -- and it felt as if the Magicos still had some headroom. But the sound was utterly clean and oh, so lifelike. Ultimately, I think the Devialet 200, or even the 400s, would be a better match for the Q7s, given the fact that this speaker can clearly play in excess of 115dB -- the headroom of the more powerful Devialets will matter to some folks. Still, I’d take the 120 over a conventional amp -- even with the rarely-if-ever-exposed “weakness” of its power rating.

Final thoughts

This article will upset audiophiles who won’t want to believe that something as inexpensive as the Devialet 120 can be this good. I’m kind of upset myself -- I didn’t want to believe it. I’ve had Boulders, Halcros, and all sorts of great amps in my home over the years. The best of these brutes have been extremely good, and I’ve had some profoundly satisfying listening sessions with such products. Maybe I should have left well enough alone. But the fact of the matter is that the Devialet 120 produced a quality of sound that I’d never before heard. Nor did I have to strain to hear it. “Is Devialet really, really better than everything else?” I’ve definitively answered my own question -- at least, to my own satisfaction.

My advice: Don’t go near one of these things without being prepared to buy it. It’ll ruin you for anything else. For the folks at Devialet, that’s an extraordinary accomplishment.

. . . Jeff Fritz [email protected]