A wireless speaker with an eccentric design and, at times, a thrillingly excitable sound – but it’s constrained by the very things that make it unique.
- Powerful, energetic sound
- Number of connectivity options
- Thrilling aesthetic
- Can falter when more subtlety is required
- Devialet OSSupports UPnP and Roon Ready connections
- Heart Bass ImplosionAn acoustic process that emits low frequencies with depth and impact
- Stereo pairing and multi-roomTwo speakers can joined in stereo pair configuration, and multiple speakers paired in a multi-room set-up
Devialet is a French hi-fi company with a taste for the weird and wonderful, and its Phantom speakers are perhaps the weirdest and most wonderful thing it currently makes.
A fusion of high-concept design and technology, the Phantoms are a wholly unique proposition. The Phantom 1 was introduced in 2021 as part of a shake-up of the Phantom family, the smaller Phantom Reactor renamed Phantom II to simplify matters. But, just to muddy the waters, the Phantom 1 models is available in 103dB and 108dB variants.
The model tested here is the Phantom 1 108dB Gold. Like previous Phantoms it delivers a performance that wouldn’t be possible without the innovation that’s gone into it; but it’s also hamstrung by the traits that make it so unique.
- Compact, ovoid shape
- Side-firing woofers
- White or black finish
The Devialet Phantom 1 looks like no wireless speaker you have come across, the kind Tom Cruise would be listening to in the future landscape of his 2013 film Oblivion. Viewed from head on, the speaker takes on the shape and appearance of the moon; from the side it looks like the sort of helmet the now defunct (or should that be de-funked?) Daft Punk would wear.
It’s a design that throws up a few questions, like how does it produce sound? Where is the speaker’s front? And is that actual gold plating?
The front of the speaker is the face with the tweeter-covered grille, the design of which takes inspiration from French 18th-century gardens and Chladni patterns (look them up). Side-firing woofers add to the visual spectacle of the Phantom 1 once it starts digging into those low frequencies, while around the back is a heatsink and a power cable. Rather inelegantly, hidden behind the cable are the Ethernet and digital optical connections.
With a matte finish that can attract a bit of dirt, you wouldn’t want to get the 22-carat gold side panels messy – and at 11.4kg for each speaker, they have a deceptively low centre of mass. The weight raises the thought of purchasing stands, of which there are three to choose from: Tree (the most conventional of the lot), Treepod (a compact stand) and Gecko (a wall-mount). There’s also a travel bag called the Cocoon that looks somewhere between a tea cosy and bowling ball bag.
- Features a wealth of interesting tech
- Various connection options
- Intuitive app and remote
It wouldn’t be a Devialet product if there weren’t any fancy-sounding acronyms – and lo and behold, the Phantom 1 lives up to expectations with ADH, SAM, and HBI.
ADH stands for Analog Digital Hybrid. The analogue amplifier reproduces an unspoilt signal and passes it off to the digital amplifier. In the words of Devialet, this process combines the precision of analog and the power and compactness of digital amplification. SAM isn’t a person, but Speaker Active Matching, an algorithm that recognises the speaker’s specs and tailors the sound for an optimal performance.
Heart Bass Implosion sounds like a dance album from the early 2000s, and is all about reproducing low frequencies with depth and power – and, in the form of the Phantom 1, that gives birth to some truly prodigious bass extension. Non-acronym features arrive with a more power-efficient system chip, improved energy consumption and reduced distortion through the speaker’s signal path.
The 108dB version of the Phantom 1 has at its disposal 1100 watts RMS of power, which is a way of saying this speaker can make a racket. Source connectivity stacks up to Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect, UPnP, Roon Ready support, and an optical cable (for plugging the speaker into a TV or other device).
You can manage those sources through the Devialet app, which is stable, swift in terms of speed, and intuitive. Within the app, and if you have more than one speaker to hand, there’s the promise of linking them up through multi-room or bringing two together to form a stereo pair – a process that’s easy to achieve. There’s access to music streaming services (Spotify, Qobuz, Deezer, Tidal), as well as playback functions with track skipping and volume control. If you have a pair, the volume can be controlled independently of each speaker.
A more physical means of control is with the Phantom Remote, a puck-sized controller with buttons for playback, a twist of the rotary dial moves volume up and down. The set-up is a charming process with in-app references to a “new life” being born and the speaker – which pulses during set-up (those side-woofers at it again) – calmed by a touch as if it’s a new-born baby. The Phantoms are plenty eccentric, and winningly so.
- Lots of power, lots of attack
- Condensed soundstage
- Can strike an impressively natural tone
For a speaker of its size and shape, there’s no shortage of energy about the way the Devialet delivers its sound. Bass beats are seriously impressive in how they’re communicated: the size, weight and depth bring plenty of scale to bass-heavy tracks.
And in terms of volume, this is a speaker to be turned up and turned up loud. It isn’t fussed about making a din (although maybe your neighbours will), and dynamically there are few shortcomings in describing hushed moments and thundering notes, or the difference between low frequencies and high. There’s an elasticity to the speaker’s range that convinces.
Also met with confidence are the high notes that sparkle with clarity and detail through the Grade I Titanium tweeter, and it proves good with male and female voices, treating them with a naturalism that makes them sound lifelike. In fact, when listening to the Guardian Football Weekly podcast, a member of the team walking past thought there were more people in the room with me. Mesh that with a sprightly sense of attack and a character that’s happy to play a range of music genres – from pop, R&B, soul music, classical to rock – and you’d expect the Phantom 1 to be a dab hand at everything at which it tries its hand.
But the shortcomings of the previous Phantom models don’t go away, and unless Devialet comes with up some neat technology, will always be ingrained into their DNA. The width of the soundstage it describes is small, not particularly escaping the confines of its ovoid shape – and this is evident in busy tracks, where the soundstage becomes congested, and detail goes awry. The Prodigy’s Stand Up sounds messy and disorganised with a lack of clarity and shape to its presentation, despite the impressively big and meaty bass frequencies.
With Billy Joel’s It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me, there’s an attempt at describing the depth of the track, but his voice and other instruments come across as if they’re sitting on each other at times. Stereo pair the Phantom 1 and you get a flat soundstage; Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man doesn’t feel as if it reaches into the room but instead is kept at a remove, and that makes for a less engaging listen.
Should you buy it?
If you lap up eccentricity in spades From its appearance to its sound, the Phantom 1 Gold does things differently and on its own terms. It’s also really expensive, and has appeal for those who covet shiny pretty things.
If you favour a more expansive and articulate performance When played songs more its speed, there’s no doubt the Devialet offers a dynamite performance, but its small soundstage highlights issues that hamper music playback.
The Devialet Phantom 1 isn’t the be all and end all when it comes to its audio performance, but when on song it’s a wireless speaker with a very entertaining presence. It shows no fealty to the mere whims of conventional design either, and any owner of this speaker will be glad of its outré style.
That is, if you can afford it. There’s impressive tech at the heart of the Phantom 1 – there’s no doubting Devialet’s skill or nous in that regard – but there’s something of a contradiction in that heart, boasting technology that’s meant to free it from its lovely confines, but which also serves to restrict it. The Phantom 1 can reach thrilling heights, but it can also be shackled to the ground.
How we test
We test every wireless speaker we review thoroughly over an extended period of time. We use industry standard tests to compare features properly. We’ll always tell you what we find. We never, ever, accept money to review a product.
Find out more about how we test in our ethics policy.
Tested over two weeks
Tested in single and stereo configurations
Tested with various streaming services and sources
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The Phantom 1 Gold is priced at £2790 / €3200 / $3200 / AU$5490 / CAD$4200