Audiophiles can instantly tell the difference between a traditional high-end component and a “lifestyle” product. It’s either one or the other, and until recently, their paths did not intersect. In fact, the death knell for a new product’s credibility in the audiophile community was rung as soon as the word lifestyle appeared anywhere in its vicinity.
The traditional stuff is easy to define: mainly large boxes, the more the better, of separate components -- loudspeakers, power amplifiers, preamplifiers, phono stages, sources, etc. -- with more of an emphasis on all-out performance than on convenience; and spare in terms of features, or what have become known as bells and whistles. Despite what you may have heard, such traditional high-end gear is alive and well -- in the last ten years, myriad companies have sprung up and prospered in this market.
Lifestyle products are usually just the opposite: performance takes a back seat to convenience, and integration is key -- the fewer and smaller the boxes, the better. And the more features, the better, particularly when those features involve the many new ways to access music: networks, streaming services, Internet Radio, etc. The market for lifestyle products, too, has burgeoned in recent years, to serve people who want better sound than is offered by, say, a stock TV, but who also want equal doses of convenience, features, and maybe even a little cool factor.
No audiophile worth his salt would choose a lifestyle component over traditional high-end gear for their big rig. Not a chance.
Then along came Devialet. The French company burst onto the scene with the D-Premier, a sleek little all-in-one DAC-integrated amplifier-everything-else that looked every bit as lifestyle as anything in that market. This thin slab of chrome with the cool remote control was an industrial designer’s dream, and could fit into places that traditional high-end components could never venture. It could even be mounted flat on a wall.
The difference with Devialet, Devialet told us, was that the D-Premier -- the first in a line of similar components that has culminated in the subject of this review -- was all about sound and all about design. And not just good sound for its size or price or any other qualifier, but better sound than what was available from the myriad boxes and escalating prices of traditional high-end gear.
“Sure it is,” the audiophile community collectively sighed.
Then we listened -- which, after all, is the basis on which the worth of any high-end audio component should be judged. My own first listen to the Devialet 120 ($6495 USD, discontinued), in August 2014, was transformative. Further listening, to Devialet’s mono-based 400 system, only confirmed my initial enthusiasm. I spent the next year trying to replicate that sound -- the Devialet sound -- with traditional high-end gear. A lifestyle component that sounded better than my separates? I could hardly believe my ears. Still, replacing my reference system with a Devialet wasn’t in the cards -- there was no way to isolate a Devialet’s individual internal elements so that I could, for instance, use it as a reference to compare with an analog preamplifier up for review.
Finally, I found happiness -- and a proper reference system for reviews -- with some insanely expensive gear from the Swiss manufacturer Soulution. Combined, my Soulution 711 power amp and 560 DAC-preamp retail for a cool $100,000. All was well: At last I had sound that was at least as good as, if not better than, that lowly four-figure Devialet 120. I could sleep well.
Expert 1000 Pro
Now Devialet is back with another attempt to disrupt the traditional high-end scene. Their new flagship, the Expert 1000 Pro ($34,990 per pair), is a two-chassis system specified to output an amazing 1000W into 6 ohms. The sound quality is reportedly superior to that of earlier Devialet models. We’ll hear about that later. But first . . .
As I said, this isn’t my first go-’round with Devialet monos. I reviewed the 400 system ($17,495, discontinued) in December 2014, and on the surface these new little gems seem similar to the 400s. But the 1000 Pro is an altogether upgraded jewel. Don’t think of the Expert Pro line as a mere refresh of earlier models. This time, Devialet has done a ground-up reworking of their core technologies in an effort to improve many aspects of sound quality and functionality, both of which are represented in their highest forms in the 1000 Pro.
Analog Digital Hybrid (ADH), Devialet’s core proprietary technology, has been improved. This melding of a class-A amplifier (primarily for voltage) and a class-D amplifier (primarily for current) enables Devialet to, they claim, retain the sonic potential of traditional class-A amplifiers while exploiting the current-delivering ability and inherent efficiency of class-D, all within a single slim case. For the Expert 1000 Pro, ADH has been renamed ADH Intelligence, to reflect refinements Devialet made while developing their Phantom powered speaker, which uses ADHI to shoehorn tons of power into a very small cabinet. The improvement, Devialet claims, results in such specifications as a 133dB signal/noise ratio and 0.00025% distortion at full power into 6 ohms.
Although ADH remains the basis of almost all Devialet products, the 1000 Pro also includes other improvements. For example, the class-A amp’s signal path has been simplified and shortened, and the power supply of the class-D amp has been enlarged by 50%; the printed circuit board on which the class-D stage resides now has copper traces of twice the thickness used in the previous design, while the power transistors in the class-D section now have better thermal coupling. And partially because the power supply has been enlarged, the 1000 Pro is claimed to produce a massive 4000W of peak power.
The Expert 1000 Pro’s DAC section, which Devialet calls Magic Wire, boasts a 6dB improvement in total harmonic distortion, and its noise floor is bettered by 2.5dB, says Devialet. The new circuit design is also said to be faster, and the thermal-management system is claimed to be better, overall, than in previous models. As I said, this is no simple refresh.
Physically, the Expert 1000 Pro is very similar to the previous models: Each box measures 15.75”W x 1.575”H x 15.75”D (40cm x 4cm x 40cm) and weighs about 21 pounds (9.5kg). There are differences, however. Most noticeable is the copper baseplate, which is said to help dissipate heat. The Dark Chrome finish is standard, and the 1000 Pro can be oriented horizontally or vertically. Its inputs include Devialet Air (wireless), USB, Ethernet, TosLink optical, AES/EBU on XLR, and two sets of RCA connectors that can be configured for digital or analog input, including a phono option for your turntable. To the right of the two sets of binding posts is a trigger input that can also be configured as another optical input. Below this is the jack that connects the Master to the Companion. All digital inputs are capable of resolutions up to 24-bit/192kHz and DSD64. You can also configure a preamplifier output, if you want to use the Devialet to feed an external amplifier. I don’t know why you’d want to do this -- you won’t need more power than 1000W, and you’d render useless the short signal paths and integrated approach that Devialet prides itself on -- but if you want it, the capability is there. There’s also the possibility of a digital output on one of the RCA jacks.
Alas, Devialet did not add a digital readout on the center of the remote control’s large rotary knob -- that’s one thing I’d love to see. With horizontal orientation of the component, it’s difficult to see the volume setting, the source selected, etc.
I received an early sample of the Expert 1000 Pro. It had problems. First, a software incompatibility rendered the 1000 Pro inoperable with my Magico Q7 Mk.II loudspeakers -- on power-up, the Devialet simply shut down. The great thing, though, is that practically every operating parameter of the Expert 1000 Pro is controlled by software. Once the Devialet engineers learned what was going on -- by me accessing the Devialet’s software menu and reporting back to them the diagnostic results -- they quickly solved the problem, and the 1000 Pro was up and running my Magicos with no more hiccups. The Expert 1000 Pro had no problems driving other speakers I tried with it.
The software fix done, the rest of the setup was easy. I had in-house not only my aforementioned Soulution electronics for comparison, but Devialet had also shipped me a sample of their 200 (discontinued) to pit against the new model. I tethered my Apple MacBook Air laptop to the 1000 Pro via a USB cable, and ran my Oppo BDP-103 universal Blu-ray player into the Devialet with an RCA cable. I used Nordost Valhalla power cords, interconnects, and speaker cables.
That Devialet sound
I began this latest Devialet adventure by spending a few weeks listening to the 200, to refamiliarize myself with the brand’s house sound before installing the new model. And as with the 120 and 400 before it, I was not in the least disappointed with the 200.
In fact, I was thrilled. With the 200 in place, I was greeted with really fine sound from my system right from the get-go. The 200 was as quiet as I remembered the 120 and 400 being, with aural images painted on inky-“black” backgrounds. The superlow noise floor reestablished what I first so liked about the Devialet sound, and was a welcome confirmation of what I’d heard before. I could hear deeply into my chosen music -- nuances and details that escape many high-end components were revealed -- without harshness or irritating colorations. The other aspect of the 200’s sound that was similar to those of the 120 and 400, and that now came roaring back to the foreground, was its world-class bass control. The Magico Q7 Mk.II speakers have transcendent bass reproduction: ultra-deep and ultra-powerful, but also quick and precise, with no boom -- ever. Lesser amplifiers either can’t provide the control to realize the Magicos’ potential, or they fail to provide enough motivation to make the woofers move enough, and thus truncate the bass response -- the last thing you want to hear from big speakers.
The Devialet 200 provided complete control of the Magicos’ drivers, a neutral tonal balance, silent operation, and unflinchingly transparent sound no matter how loudly I played my system -- all just as I remembered from Devialet’s 120 and 400.
I switched to the Expert 1000 Pro and . . . didn’t hear much difference. I began with “Tragedy,” from Norah Jones’s Day Breaks (16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC, Blue Note/Tidal). Her voice was creamy enough, the percussion was ultratight and crisp, and the soundstage was plenty deep. Overall, I was impressed -- but then, I’d also been impressed by the 200, and this was no departure from its sound. Was this going to be one of those reviews in which I’d have a hard time hearing any differences between a company’s old and new models? As I listened to the rest of Day Breaks, it sure seemed as if that was what I was in for.
I next cued up the Cowboy Junkies’ epic audiophile release, The Trinity Session (16/44.1 FLAC, RCA/Tidal and from my hard drive), recorded in Toronto, Ontario’s Church of the Holy Trinity on November 27, 1987. Suddenly, the sound was . . . different from what I’d heard with the 200. This was getting interesting. I noticed right away that the cymbals were less splashy but more noticeable, the drumstrokes were crisper, and I could better hear the decay of each stroke. The reverberations of sound within that large space made my own listening room sound bigger than it is, and Margo Timmins’s voice and the accompanying instruments were more cleanly delineated. After not hearing those sort of differences with the Norah Jones cuts, I was surprised.
I switched from Tidal to my hard drive, and from there chose “Please Read the Letter,” from Robert Plant and Alison Krauss’s Raising Sand (24/96 AIFF, Rounder). The impact of the percussion at the very beginning of this track was greater -- startling, really -- than I’d heard through the 200. The transient response was a tad crisper, and individual images of voices and instruments were fuller and more cleanly delineated. I began to understand what was happening. To confirm my suspicions, I went back to Norah Jones’s “Tragedy” via Tidal. The sound was 200-like again.
And so it went: The better the recording, and particularly the higher the resolution, the more the Expert 1000 Pro stretched its legs and was able to deliver sound quality a cut above what I’d just heard from the 200 reproducing the same track. Everything good about good recordings sounded even better as reproduced by the 1000 Pro. But when I switched to a mediocre recording, the differences were much tougher to hear -- or simply weren’t there. The Norah Jones tracks, I would come to hear through more testing, sounded about the same through both Devialet setups and my Soulution electronics: fine, if a bit thick for my taste. Nothing special. The better recordings, especially those with wide dynamic range, and on which enough ambient cues had been captured to approximate the recording venue in my listening room, were stunning. So I mined my collection and listened some more.
Substituting the 150Wpc-into-8-ohms Soulution 711 power amplifier and 560 DAC was interesting as well. As much as I’d like to tell you that the sound of the Swiss electronics simply blew away the Devialet monos, that’s not what happened. Perhaps most surprising to those of you who haven’t heard a Devialet, it all began in the bass. By conventional thinking, the 1000 Pro shouldn’t be able to produce the earth-moving low frequencies that the 711 and 560 can. But both brands got the absolute best out of the Magicos that I’ve heard -- which means the best bass I’ve heard from any system. As soon as I was sure I’d heard a difference between them in the lows, I’d switch back to whichever I’d been listening to just before. And then I wasn’t sure anymore.
Both the Devialet monos and the Soulution separates were supremely quiet. This made aural images come to life in my room in ways that added realism to the performance. The only other brand of electronics that I’ve heard that has approached this level of silence has been Boulder Amplifiers. The Devialet Expert 1000 Pro is in good company there, and for a lot less money.
So, for the most part, the comparison of the Devialet monos and the Soulutions was a wash -- except for one area in which I consistently heard a difference: The Soulution 711 and 560 produced images that were more tonally dense than did the Devialet monos. Here, I preferred the Soulutions. It was if the Devialet monos’ images were more holographic and, conversely, the Soulutions’ images were more tangible. This difference wasn’t equally great with every recording I played, but jazz voices and any singer-songwriter recording seemed to most benefit, perhaps because I could most clearly hear this characteristic in voices. I couldn’t really hear this difference with most rock music. Although I wouldn’t say the Devialet monos sounded thin by comparison, their sound was just a touch more wispy -- the images they projected seemed just a bit less solid. The Soulutions put more density within images.
At the end of the day
Above, I described Devialet’s Expert Pro line as “disruptive.” I said so because these little jewels should not -- based on their lifestyle look -- be able to compete with “real” high-end gear, but they most certainly do. Now I think I’ll add threatening to disruptive when describing Devialet. I know audiophiles, and dealers, and manufacturers who run down Devialet every chance they get. The brand upsets things in a way that threatens the business model they’ve based their businesses on -- or, in the case of the rich audiophile, Devialet undermines their justifications for spending $500,000 on that super system. The Expert 1000 Pro can compete with anything at any price, and it does so with style and without overwhelming a listening room with tons of gear.
As to how the Expert 1000 Pro stacks up against other Devialet models, I can say without hesitation that it’s better -- but not night-and-day better. It’s a refinement of the Devialet sound, not a departure from it or a great leap forward. The last-generation Devialets I’ve heard -- the 120, the 200, and the 400 -- are still super products. The Expert 1000 Pro is just a little bit better in ways that might mean more to some listeners than to others.
The Devialet Expert 1000 Pro is what you buy if you want small, classy, and cool. It’s also what you buy if you want the highest quality of sound available today, at any size or price in any style of package. It’s the finest example ever of top-shelf audiophile sound and cutting-edge lifestyle design. In a world full of me-too products that give only an illusion of real choice, that makes it unique.
. . . Jeff Fritz
- Speakers -- Magico Q7 Mk.II, Kharma Elegance dB9-S, AudioSolutions Overture O203F
- Amplifier -- Soulution 711
- DAC-preamplifier -- Soulution 560
- DAC-integrated amplifier -- Devialet 200
- Sources -- Apple MacBook Air running Sierra 10.12, Roon, and Tidal streaming service; Oppo Digital BDP-103 universal BD player
- Cables -- Nordost Valhalla interconnects, speaker cables, and power cords
Devialet Expert 1000 Pro Mono DAC-Integrated Amplifiers
Price: $34,990 USD per pair.
Warranty: Five years parts and labor.
126 Rue Réaumur
Phone: (+33) 144 882 727