In our Brand Profile Series, we take a closer look at surging brands across the world. For our fifteenth feature, we listen in on the buzz coming from French audio engineering firm Devialet.
A bigger bang
The word iconic is a bit overused these days, mainly by brands trying to inflate their appeal through sensationalist marketing tactics. Not so for Devialet. The company, founded in Paris in 2007 by a trio of audiophiles, has amassed a rave following amongst hi-fi experts and amateurs alike. The start-up is en passe of becoming one of a few European “unicorns” – start-ups valued over €1bn – following a €100m, C series investment round in late 2016 by heavyweights such as Jay-Z, LVMH chairman Bernard Arnault or carmaker Renault. Its Phantom line of high-end speakers is sold the world over thanks to a deal signed with Apple. And in the last few months, the company has signed partnerships with L’Opéra de Paris of the Royal Albert Hall to “enhance” part of their musical experience. What were you doing when you were 11 years old?
A new vision for sound
Devialet says it owes its success to the technology developed by co-founder Pierre-Emmanuel Calmel and centred around ADH®, for Analogue Digital Hybrid. The patented technology combined the advantages of analogue and digital amplification at a time (2004) when consumers had to choose between low-quality but compact digital music files and amplifiers, and traditional hi-fi systems, which relied on CDs or LPs and bulky, expensive setups.
But innovation without vision usually leads to ruin: Palm invented the touch screen device but did not know what to do with it – and the rest is Apple history. It was the vision of Calmel and CEO Quentin Sannié that kept Devialet alive from its creation in 2007 to the launch of their first product nearly four years later. A deeply held belief that as people want larger screens or better cameras, so do they want a richer, more immersive sound. A prescient vision that predated the creation of high-fidelity streaming services like Tidal or Qobuz, or the possibilities of smartphones and Bluetooth speakers. Devialet is an ongoing business case in blue ocean strategy.
Designed for Sound
While their D-Premier and Expert Pro stations won them countless praise and awards from the industry, it was not until 2015 and the launch of the Phantom all-in-one speaker that Devialet really flexed its design wings. Whilst retaining the ethos of sleek and compact design that defined the previous products, the Phantom looks like no other Bluetooth® speaker on the market. The brainchild of product designer and Devialet co-founder Emmanuel Nardin, Phantom’s design is based on the ultimate acoustic form: the sphere. While the interior design is painstakingly optimised to offer the best possible sound, the exterior is an ode to sculptural radicalism. Faintly reminiscent of Apple’s designs from the 2000s, the Phantom is uncompromising in both function and form. It adds, however, a “touch of lyricism that is unexpected but essential”, from the mashrabiya-shaped tweeter grid resembling sound waves to the movement of the bass membranes.
The departure from the traditional aesthetics of the hi-fi world – think varnished wood and matte metal, not glass fibre and ABS – raised more than a few eyebrows upon launch. But once again, the company managed to get the best of both worlds, drawing in a younger, tech-savvy crowd with its sharp design and simplicity, while keeping older audiophiles coming with over-the-top acoustics – for a fraction of the price of a traditional hi-fi setup.
Make your own kind of music
According to its CEO, Devialet sees itself more as a tech start-up than as audio equipment manufacturer. But the ways it chooses to engage with its diverse audience defies categorisation. Its celebrity endorsers include famous violinists, Beyonce & Jay-Z, and Indian superstar Shah Rukh Khan. On a more relatable scale, Devialet is happy to kit out influencers and VIP customers with products for them to advertise to friends and contacts during high-end listening events. Likewise, you’ll find Phantom speakers hovering around some of the hippest shops and venues in the world, from the late Parisian icon Colette to Barney’s in New York.
But the magic doesn’t stop there. Partnerships with the Opéra de Paris or the Royal Albert Hall in London aim to create new sound experiences linked to these spaces, with some available to Devialet customers via the company app. The “Live on Phantom” program is similar, promising the emotion of a live concert in San Francisco from the comfort of your Hong Kong living room. From classical music to electronica, and from grey-haired audiophile to the young Silicon Valley techie, Devialet has got everyone covered.
The future sounds brilliant
2018 looks to be a busy year for Devialet, as the company ramps up its music offerings with new partnerships, new collaborations such as The Lost Recordings with indie label Fondamenta and a bigger “Live on Phantom” line-up. But the real challenge comes from the product side. Devialet’s last investment round exposed the company’s desire to export its ground-breaking technology beyond the realm of living-room hi-fi. “The audio market is about 100 million units a year, but the whole sound market, [including] devices [such as] TVs, laptops, the smartphones, cars, is about 3 billion units a year”, says Quentin Sannié. That leaves a lot of room for growth. Beyond its goal of upgrading all of our devices’ audio experience, Devialet is said to be working towards “a final goal”, a definitive audio product, 10 to 15 years down the line. No one knows what it is but, based on what the brand has shown so far, it sounds very promising.