The Devialet Phantom's been around a while, but the Apple Store in the US has recently started selling the basic-but-still-very-expensive version of the speaker. Fans will be tempted, but you never want to buy something just because it's in the Apple Store, so we gave it a try. Everything about the speaker seems impressive. It's wireless, incredibly powerful, yet compact, and it plays bass so low you can only feel it -- all while looking like an H.R. Giger creation. It also costs $3000.
AU Editor's Note: the Devialet Phantom isn't on sale through Apple in Australia, but you can get it from specialist hi-fi retailers like Aussie Hi-Fi.
While you can drop two grand on a single speaker, each Phantom is designed to connect with other Phantoms to create a network speaker system that you control with an app. It's basically an upmarket Sonos that looks like it came from outer space.
The regular 750-watt Phantom can blast music at 99 dB, and there's a premium 3,000-watt Silver Phantom that can do 105 dB. Permanent hearing loss occurs after listening to audio at 100 dB for 15 minutes, so in addition to being incredibly expensive, both are incredibly loud.
The Phantom sold at Apple Stores looks like a prop from an Alien sequel that never got made. There's only one button (power), and the speaker is designed to stay on at all times. The Phantom only has one port for power, though you can buy the Devialet Dialog "intelligent hub" to get a USB port, an optical port, and an ethernet port. The Dialog is also required to network two or more Phantom speakers. I only tried the one, which is more than enough to fill a room with sound.
The first time you hear the Phantom, it will knock your socks off. My first time was at the MoMA, which sells the speaker in its Design Store. The French team that designed and built the speaker gave me an audio tour and insisted that they'd built the best speaker in the world. When I finally got my hands on a review unit, however, I realised that the experience of using it isn't exactly seamless.
Setting up the Phantom is confusing. I downloaded the Devialet Spark app and joined the speaker's wifi network -- though this took a few tries -- and got ready to play music over wifi. To my dismay, I couldn't connect the app to my Spotify. As far as streaming services go, you can only connect the Phantom to Tidal, Qobuz, and Deezer. Otherwise, your music must be stored locally on your phone, tablet, or computer.
That seems lame, until you realise you can skip the clunky app and just connect via Bluetooth. This method works great! But it means that you have to keep the device near the speaker at all times, a fact that makes a multi-thousand dollar wireless speaker system seem somewhat confining. It's not the end of the world, since the Phantom uses the latest Bluetooth technology, giving it a range well over 15m.
By the time I finally started listening to music on the Phantom, I was annoyed. But holy shit, does the speaker sound good. The bass really is body-shaking, so low I felt sounds I'd never heard before in my favourite body-shaking songs. The treble is remarkably bright, though the front-positioned tweeter means you won't hear all the more nuanced chirps if you're standing behind the speaker. Everything in the middle sounded warm, distinct, and crystal clear.
Above all, the Phantom is so loud that I had to lock myself in a semi-soundproof recording studio so that I wouldn't bug my coworkers. When I took it into the open space of the Gawker offices, the sound filled the hallways like an army of techno ghosts looking for partygoers to scare. I get it. The Phantom is scary powerful, and the speakers bounce out the side of the otherworldly chassis. It's all very impressive.
But is it worth it? That really depends on how rich you are and how much you want to impress your friends. As advertised, the 750-watt Phantom can definitely pump out as much sound as larger hi-fi systems, and the audio fidelity is pretty impressive for such a weird-shaped orb. But for ten times the price of the best Bluetooth speaker and three times the price of the very intuitive Sonos Play5, I'd expect the wifi audio features and app to be better. There are better ways to spend $3000 -- I'd rather buy ten UE Boom 2s.