RMAF 2014: Devialet’s small-package strategy


By John Stancavage

Logo - Blue VectorSometimes I wonder if much of the appeal of the high-end is building an altar of gleaming equipment at which we can send prayers for better sound to our audio gods.

There’s another faction, though, that would just as soon get all the boxes and wires out of sight and just listen to the music. The WAF– or wife acceptance factor — often is mentioned here, but I don’t think it’s just women who appreciate less clutter and complexity. Just look at the explosion in so-called “lifestyle” systems, including the cleverly marketed Bose equipment.

Still, one of the most intriguing trends in the high-end is coming from a few designers trying to figure out how much they can put in a small box and still deliver sound equal to the mega-rigs. Not possible, you say? Perhaps you haven’t listened to Devialet.

Devialet is a French company that seems poised to re-invent the high-end on its own terms. Its chief engineers began with a goal of nothing less than reproducing the exact sound of live music. To do that, they looked around and found most of the existing technology wanting, so they invented their own.

Their latest product in that quest was on display at RMAF. The Devialet 400 bundles a 400-watt-per-channel stereo amplifier, preamplifer, D/A converter, phono stage and other functions into a sleek contemporary unit that’s about the size of the Bell & Howell AM/FM/cassette deck I had in junior high school.

The cost of the B&H, as I remember it, was about $70. The Devialet 400 is $17,495.

What you get for that big-ticket purchase, though, is not a collection of low-cost parts and “good enough” modules jammed together for the sake of size and convenience. Instead, the 400 consists of what Devialet says is the best technology it could find for each component. And, that includes some innovations developed by Devialet engineers themselves.

Take the 400-watt amp. Devialet believed that Class A amplifiers sound great, but gave off too much heat and produced some distortion in doing so. On the other hand, the newer Class D, or digital, amplifiers were much more efficient but didn’t provide the quality of sound Devialet was looking for. Their answer? Merge the two.

So, each Devialet 400 includes a Class D amplifier to boost the signal and an analog amp to correct it. The result, according to Devialet, is a hybrid amp that offers the best of both worlds.

Devialet also was bothered by the difficulties of matching speakers to a front end. To solve that problem, the company came up with a correction device that uses a special downloaded file that’s matched to your exact speaker model. If you change speakers, you just download another file, instead of starting another hunt for electronics that have that magic synergy.

At RMAF, the Devialet 400 was driving a pair of Focal Aria 926s ($3,299). The new Focals, which featured cones made from flax, sounded more like their bigger brothers through the Devialet. Connected by Crystal Cable ($1,300), the Focal speakers were detailed with good dynamics on Fleetwood Mac’s “Never Going Back Again.” The treble, in particular, was smooth and the bass was tight.

All, in all, it was an impressive demonstration. It was so striking, in fact, that if I wasn’t trying to be an active member of this crazy audio review profession, I’d be tempted to spring for a Devialet, download a speaker correction file for my Revel Studios, and call it a day. Devialet says it will continue to offer upgrades for all the units in the 400, so it’s about as future-proof as you can get. And the price? Just add up all the gear on your audio altar right now (plus those interconnects and power cords). That makes the Devialet look like a must-hear option. Maybe less really can be more.