I finally made it! I had planned to spend a few days in Paris before heading to the West Coast to meet with my family there and some of that time was going to be dedicated to my HiFi freakiness! It started very well with a lunch with Jean-Paul Guy, just a few hours after landing from Australia and a visit to Presence Audio Conseil, one of the top dealers in the City of Lights. But first thing, first on the Monday morning (after a pit stop at arguably the best boulangerie in town, Du Pain et des Idées, for the the flakiest croissant ever!) I took the metro to the Sentier station and here it was, a few meters away in a magnificent late 19th century building that took part in the 1898 facades' contest, hosting the whole company from showroom on the ground floor to offices and R&D on the other floors.
It is a very big space, very confutable with the highest quality fittings and finishes, thanks to some famous investors money... The main space is dedicated to static displays of the products and a demo space for the Phantoms in stereo together with a very big screen advertising the company's technological breakthroughs and main features.
The demo itself is completely based on Tidal running on an iPad and feeding the Phantoms via Bluetooth. Difficult to be simpler and at about A$7,700 including a free subscription to Tidal for a year, it would be hard to assemble a separate components system to match the sonic result...
I had listened to a single Phantom at Len Wallis Audio a few months back and was suitably impressed! But the stereo experience is ten times better, as you suddenly can appreciate the polar response of what is essentially a compact Cabasse Sphere (at a fraction of the price...)
Tidal had all my favourite test songs in store, so I could fully investigate these revolutionary speakers. For the first time also, I had a chance to look at the guts of the beast and that was another good surprise - although I was not expecting to be disappointed. This product is highly sophisticated inside and outside, using the best electronic and mechanical design tools and manufacturing techniques available today.
Obviously, the bass driver assembly is the talk of the town here, and even if I still not sure I can trust the distortion figures in the very low part of the spectrum, I have to acknowledge here the fabulous work of Philippe Lesage, ex-Audax Technical Director and founder of renowned pro audio drivers manufacturer PHL Audio. The principle is derived from the Bruel & Kjaer vibrating pot but that's about it in terms of inspiration. The rest is pure mechanical and electronic genius!
If I were a 30 something young executive today, I would certainly buy a pair and be content with it. If I were the same hifi freak as I am, then I would also consider moving up to the Expert amplifier and a pair of SAM compliant speakers...and that was the second part of my demo time there...
Out of 5 or 6 pairs of very good loudspeakers, it just happened that these beautiful Sonus Faber columns were wired in, so I decided these would be good enough for our experiment. Now, we are talking 5 to 6 times the price of the Phantoms, as you will need two Expert amplifiersapnd the speakers... And its shows or rather it sounds!
The specifications are astonishing as per below, to be compared to the latest Bryston 4B cubed amplifier (my reference...)
Whether or not, one can hear the difference is a matter for further discussion, but Devialet has another weapon of sonic construction with their SAM software which basically digitally corrects some of the imperfections of your speakers (645 of them at last count, quite a choice by anybody's standard!). The Sonus Faber are already a very fine set of speakers out of the box, but SAM gives them another level of transparency and smoothness.
Another impressive feature of the Expert is in the range of inputs available from turntable (and precise matching of almost any cartridge...), any line source, bluetooth, NAS or streaming services...
Our friend Ken Kessler, of HIFI News fame, who is not famous for being Francophile when it comes to Hifi is a fan. That says a lot!
I had a great time and I was looked after very well by a quite knowledgeable young man. He promised to send me more technical information, but in typical French fashion, I have not heard from him yet... I will keep you posted with an update when I receive his correspondence.
So, if you are in Paris, spare the time to visit: it is well worth your time!
The iconic venue, known originally as the PLM Saint Jacques, was built in 1972 and designed by Pierre Guidicelli. It has been home to numerous Hifi Shows and the last one on November 21st and 22nd. I sent my own reporter in the person of Jean-Paul Guy, owner of GUY H.F. and speaker manufacturer extraordinaire for decades. He was kind enough to take photos of what he thought interesting and added a few notes that I will post here 'en anglais', lucky readers!
And no, Elipson was not there, as they had chosen to exhibit at the the other Hifi Show organised by Jean-Marie Hubert a few weeks before. But you know my passion for Elipson...
The "cloud du Salon" was in fact Deviate with their fabulous amplifiers but mainly for JPG and myself, the Phantom speaker! Jean-Paul has actually revealed to me that our other friend Philippe Lesage, ex Technical Director of Addax when I first met him and now director and owner of PHL Audio was heavily involved in the design of the bass drivers. He was also involved in the design of the drivers for the 4260 Elipson a few years back and in the design of my main driver for Microphase, an enhanced version of the MHD10. Mr Legorgu, Director of Addax at the time said to Jean-Paul: "I have just hired a savant!". Not a small token of appreciation! Philippe actually took over from Jacques Mahul, who didn't do too badly either after leaving Audax...
I have recently posted about my first experience with the Phantom, and interestingly enough Jean-Paul have a similar conclusion saying this might be the end of the Utopias, Wilson Audio and other big contraptions. He is also mentioning the reference to Cabasse with the same comment i-e, this works!
I will continue with other French products like LEEDH, the amazing small speakers designed by Gilles Milot, another ex-Audax engineer, by the way...Jean-Paul, who is an art lover and connoisseur, calls him the "Giacometti" of the speakers. You can find more information about Gilles Milot and his speakers elsewhere on this blog. Since my last encounter, Gilles Milot has developed a matching subwoofer. There are obviously similarities in the design intent with the Deviate phantom, although this one is passive for the satellites, but active via a traditional amplifier for the subwoofer.
.This new subwoofer is based on the isobaric principle popularised by Linn decades ago. Here two 23cm drivers face each other in a 16L enclosure (Atohm LD23CR08) and two Pro Audax 38cm (AAC PR38T0). A two-channel 300w plate amplifier also from Atohm drives the woofers and gives the system the efficiency and the low end of 20 Hz at -1dB (to be compared to the 16Hz of the Phantoms). The main benefit of using this subwoofer with the E2 is to relieve them from trying too hard to move air to reach down to 50Hz, giving the whole system breathing space. If you read French, then I recommend you read the review on EVMAG here
The usual suspects were also there as in Focal presenting the new SOPRA, an avatar of the Utopias driven by Octave Audio amplifiers, PE Leon using YBA amplifiers and Davis Acoustics still pushing the Karla, one of their best design ever.
There was also an interesting contingent from our British friends who crossed the Channel for the occasion... B&W were presenting the famous Nautilus, and the new 802 D3 with amplification from Classé Audio and Devialet, KEF with the Blade 2 and Pass Labs amplifiers (not for the faint hearted...)
I couldn't resist sharing this video with you...It will save you the time to search for it!
This is by no means exhaustive and I have to say a "grand mercy" to Jean-Paul Guy who went to Paris from his sleepy village of Bourbon-Lancy specially for the occasion, at a time where most Parisians were staying indoors after the terrorists attacks. Well done my friend!
Devialet is French for Audio Innovation in this new century. Their amplifiers have commanded rave reviews even from not so francophile reviewer and friend Ken Kessler, more a Dan d"Agostino fan than any French contraption, specially involving Class D and all sorts of digital gimmicks! Deviate strikes again with the ultimate boom box aptly named Phantom which just landed in Australia, "10 minutes by Tractor" from home at Len Wallis Audio. (For those of you who follow my food and wine adventures on my other blog, you will now that this is the name of one of my rare favourite winery in Australia...)
In one word (or two...) it is not short of sensational! The midrange and tweeter are very similar in concept to Cabasse "La Sphere" although much smaller. The time alignment is taken care of within the sophisticated electronics built in the very heavy armoured cabinet, and this part of the spectrum is amazingly clear and neutral, much more accurate and with a lot less distortion than its Cabasse Big Brother! When it comes to the bass section, one is fooled into believing it is near perfect because one gets mesmerised by the sheer beauty of the movement of the twin woofers on each side of the "object" and the significant amount and extension of bass this thing generates! Devialet claims a 16 Hz bottom end. I was not in a position to check on site, but this contraption does move a lot of air! If you read the specs carefully though, it say that at higher volume the bandwidth is reduced to 49 Hz because the driver would probably destroy itself tryingg to move that much air at a lower frequency.
The specification claims that the distortion is below 0.001%, but I doubt this true across the whole frequency range... More on this later!
The only way to feed the beast is via Bluetooth and an app on your iThing called Spark which in turn gets fed by Tidal or Qobuz or anything that can stream 44khz/16 bits or up to 192kHz/24bits. You can also connect it to your network via the Ethernet port or to your OPPO player via optical link.
Two versions are available, one delivering 750W peak and the other one 3000W!. These numbers are to be taken with a grain of salt though, as they represent the amount of power the electronics are capable of delivering. As there is NO specification of efficiency, it is difficult to know how much acoustic power is really available. However, this plays very loud indeed, to the point that I could not really hear another pair of speakers I was evaluating in an adjacent room with the door duly closed when the Phantom was playing!
As I have said before, I think to midrange and tweeter are near perfect, but what about the bass? Where is the trick? Look at this video first and then I will attempt to answer that question.
What strike me with the bass drivers is that, although they can move a lot, the return to the rest position seems to be lagging a lot, making me question the low distortion figure...
Don't get me wrong, this is an extraordinary piece of audio and electronic engineering, well worth all the virtual ink it has generated and all the money you would spend on it!
And it gets better, as you can use 2 or more of these beats to go stereo or multiform, with its ability to synchronise within 20 microseconds! That f....g quick my friends!
My friend John Darko from DAR, Digital Audio Review. is reporting from the HIGH END Show in Munich and raves about the PHANTOM and a few other Deviate new gadgets.
As far back as 2010, both Ken Kessler and Paul Miller, not renown for being Franco-hifi-philes were raving about this new range of hybrid analog-digital amplifiers from France.
I had a chance to listen to them for the first time at the CES in Las Vegas three years ago and again recently in Melbourne, where they were paired with Atom GT-1 speakers to showcase the new SAM technology that basically uses the DSP capabilities of the amp to linearise the speakers
As for the title of this article, I hope you will forgive me this very bad joke...Having being living with a Scott for the last 30 years, I thought the reference would be funny. Other might have thought of the Phantom of the Opera - we all have our idiosyncrasies, n'est-ce pas?
These new speakers are a mix between the spheres from Elipson and a baby Blade from Kef, both in form and concept at first glance, but obviously there is much more to it than meets the naked eye! First there is like 3KW of Class D amplification in the top model, more akin to the Kronos from Kyron Audio, although in a closed cabinet. The main concentric midrange and tweeter driver is reminiscent of Cabasse, but looks even more polished - a word that would be the best one word description for such a beautiful object. Ken Kessler who is also a famous reviewer for luxury watches, believes high-end HiFi should be marketed as a luxury brand to have a chance of survival and growth. And guess what? Devialet is now part of LVMH, the luxury brand umbrella par excellence! This new concept and marketing will propels this product to the highest possible recognition and suitable market. Smartly, the product is also conjugated down both in specifications, power and price for the mere mortals that most of us are and who would be more interested in the sonic result than the "show off" effect of owning such a luxurious product...And to be consistent with this new image and partnership, Debvialet has open the quintessential "flagship" store in the heart of the trendy fashion district: Place des Victoirs.
This will become a Vintage product! It is a revolutionary product that incorporates the best of DSP technology, Class D amplification, great looks and high-end performance. Can't wait to get my hands on a pair of these beauties for an extensive listening session and to report to you!
You will probably agree that I have milked the CES franchise for a bit too long as the CES 2013 is in a couple of days...
So I thought I would recap here what speakers I really liked or discovered at the Show. I am not going this year, as I am going for a short trip to France to see my family and take care of my children that are or will be in Paris for their studies on an exchange from their Australian Universities.
Hopefully, I will have some time (between Cotes-du-Rhone and Camembert...) to research there some more French vintage products and I can entertain you again "on topic!
And to stay on my favourite brand, here is a shot of the new Thiel speakers on the Bryston stand (ah,ah, you didn't see this one coming, did you?).
The combination of Bryston amplification, 24/192 multichannel live recordings from iTrax and matching Thiel monitors and subwoofers ended up being one of the most sensational demos at the Show.
We are all familiar with the beautiful Nordic sound of Electrocompaniet electronics.
They evemn make their own version of the OPPO player.
But what is less known is their recent foray into loudspeaker design.
These fine little monsters are a very capable team and are built as two separate cabinets, my favourite arrangement, just in case you have not noticed already...
Very good demo and great conversation with the Director all the way from Scandinavia, who happens to know my ex-distributor in Norway, Martin Viktorin - small world!
Kondo + Audio Note Japan - Reincarnation of an ancient art
Beautiful to look at, beautiful to listen to, beautiful to talk about...
It is the nirvana for a lot of audiophiles in Japan, and for some of us, mere mortals, elsewhere in the World as well.
The closest system I have heard from the Pierre Riffaud/Tosca/Ocelia combo (punt intended...) I listened to at Point Musiques in Paris over my last trip.
It is craftmanship of the highest order, as well as technically very sound and painstakingly researched and executed.
A few kilograms of finesse in a world of brutes - better than chocolate? You tell me.
Nothing to do with mushrooms, although these shapes...
Morel is an Israeli company more famous for their drivers (I am about to trial one of their tweeters...) than for their speakers, but hopefully this will change as these beautifully crafted products sound as good as they look. Stay tuned!
REGA - Another first for BMRs in High End speakers
First spotted in Paris on an unofficial release, these speakers are taking advantage of the wide bandwidth of a 4.5" BMR driver to work from 300Hz to 6kHz. Rega has engineered a new tweeter just for the purpose to improve the high end over the BMRs that can go up to 22kHz, but tend to have some ringing over 5kHz.
In the bass, they use two drivers of different sizes in separate enclosures for a smooth and extended bass response. Again the BMRs have trouble getting the right level below 120Hz, hence the separate subwoofer arrangement.
Copmared to Naim, who decided to reengineer the BMR drivers, REGA uses a standard unit and spent the money on a complex filter and beautiful cabinet. And BTW, it sounds great as well!
Waterfall Audio + Tributaries cables
Waterfall Audio have a very good business in the US of A, thanks to a good distributor who pushes the WAF factor into the CEDIA type market and also gets a lot of press in lifestyle and decoration magazines.
They teamed up with Tributaries, a relatively new range of high-end cables, where my friend Helma Paulson (ex Export Manager for Audioacess and Harman Kardon) is doing a very good sales job (she could sell ice to Eskimos, really...) and she almost convinced me that these cables were actually make a difference! Maybe I should ask for some samples....
Audiolineaire, Focal and other French ambassadors
Audiolineaire were present with their leathered speakers (unfortunately my photos don't do them justice...so, I won't post any) Focal were hiding in a private suite at the Mirage and couldn't find them (mind you it was lunch time whenI got there, so maybe that's where they were hiding...) and Cabasse were absent but for their Japanese distributor who distributes Devialet in the US - go figure!
In the New Year, I will give you a (short...) report on T.H.E. Show which is held concurrently at the Flamingos.
In the meantime, I thank all of you that ventured to this site, some more than once - I love Google Analytics - and I wish you a very Happy New Year and many happy returns in 2013.
I will try my best to continue to entertain and inform you. See you in January!
Devialet D-Premier Amplifier
Everybody talks about it, even KK who is not a Francohifile, (but certainly Francophile...) - and apologies for the anagram in the title of this post...what a weird name anyway. But nobody chooses their family name, although in this case, this is not the origin of the brand name! mystere, mystere...
It was reviewed in HiFi News in October 2010 by Paul Miller, who talks about French Cheek (other reviewers have mentioned The New French Revolution or even The Art of French Kissing!) and concludes:
"lf I could award Devialet two badges then I would, because the D-Premier is both this Editor's choice and the outstanding amplifier thus far of the new Millennium"
This is my first occasion to have a look and a listen: it is certainly a beautiful object - love the remote as well. And for a Class D, hybrid digital/analog amplifier, it has to do something special, as it made the Focal Utopias it was hooked to sound incredibly good and lively - and that's a challenge!
I guess the versatility of the product as well as its level of performance will be the attraction to people that are geared towards "dematerialised" music sources, as the D-Premier now comes with integral Airplay and an online configuration tool, called the Configurator (but not the Terminator, as all changes are reversible...)
This customization tool will allow you to:
- get extended information about customizing options and default settings
- edit configuration files for your D-Premier
- download the latest software upgrade for your unit.
and also allows you to daisy-chain two amps to go dual mono, increase power to 2x400W AND reduce distortion level to a microscopic 0.00025% THD.
And although it is very well suited to digital music files, it works as well with analogue front-end, like our beloved turntables (both MC and MM cartridges are catered for...).
For a more comprehensive technical description, I will let you go the the Devialet website tech page: http://www.devialet.com/technology.php
And, BTW, this product is another proof that 24/192 well designed DACs give a level of quality and sonic pleasure to match most analog systems.
I wonder if this should, one day, replace my Bryston - unlikely at this stage...
Born in France, well travelled, relocated to Sydney in 1997.