The full review of Devialet's 200 as published in Audio Esoterica magazine is below, and the original PDFs of the magazine pages can be downloaded here.
At the Munich High-End Show 2010 among the cornucopia of audio gear from all corners of the world, French company Devialet formally launched a revolutionary amplification product that had the world’s audio media going gaga. Here was a component, in typical French chic styling, beautifully chromed and milled from a solid aluminium block and sporting a string of technologies — plus a novel hybrid amplification circuit — that made all other audio look positively retrograde. The professional reviews soon spawned forth with gushing accolades for that first-gen technical powerhouse.
Nothing in audio looks like a Devialet amplifier.
It stands unique — a beautifully-machined aluminium chassis that has been given a stunning plating of chrome. It is designed to be uncompromisingly minimalist in terms of buttonry. But move around to the back of the unit, and the somewhat crowded little back panel features comprehensive connectivity to cater for the most complex digital and analogue systems.
So, from left to right, an SD card slot allows for software updates and system configuration, below that an Ethernet port, then across to USB and optical inputs. The limited component height makes for tricky fat-fingered cable hook-up until you remove a pop-out rear dress panel.
In an apparent anachronism for such an advanced product the 200 features a phono stage (complete with ground post) for connecting a turntable, so twin RCA sockets allow for this. What’s more, this sophisticated phone stage can be configured to match any cartridge and features adjustments for loading, RIAA curve, maximum level, balance and much more. The next set of connectivity options brings us back to the digital world with two digital RCA connectors and an AES/EBU digital input via XLR-type connector. High-quality speaker binding posts allow for both banana and spade connectivity although, realistically, they’re only suitable for bananas — spades will just not fit in such a low profile connectivity bay. Two mini-jack sockets provide a further optical input (or RS-232 control) and trigger in/out. Lastly, power is provided via an IEC socket which will comfortably fit the included cable, though aftermarket snake/garden hose cables with large plugs need not apply — again the space restriction issue.
The Devialet 200 is rated, as per its appellation, at 200 watts but into a 6-ohm impedance rather than the more commonly specified 8 ohms. It can also be customised to run as a 400-watts monobloc. The way this amplifier provides the 200 watts is via a unique technology that in principle seems extremely simple, though its practical implementation is somewhat more complex, which may be the reason other manufacturers have not attempted it yet. Devialet parallels a low-wattage Class-A amplifier with a high-power Class-D amplifier dedicated to providing current, in a hybrid arrangement said to deliver the sweetness and harmonic complexity of solid-state Class-A circuits, with the bass power and control of good Class-D designs.
Total Harmonic Distortion (THD) has been quoted as 0.001 percent at full power with the same superb percentage figure for Intermodulation Distortion (IMD). The amp’s output impedance is a very low 0.001-ohms and the signal-to-noise ratio an impressive 130dB.
The 200’s built-in DAC utilises a PCM1792 DAC chip which allows upsampling up to 24-bit/192kHz. DAC and amplification circuitries are in direct proximity for extremely short signal paths. Also onboard is Devialet AIR, a Wi-Fi streamer compatible with “all formats” and which accepts streams from music stored on a computer, tablet or mobile phone (via free Apps for iOS or Android). The system is also compatible with internet radio services such as Pandora, Spotify, TuneIn and many others.
The 200 comes beautifully presented in a large foam-lined cardboard box with cut-outs for a simple quick start manual and a remote control (more on this later). Also inside is another smaller cardboard box with the IEC cable, a small polishing cloth and white cotton gloves (essential hand accoutrements for avoiding fingerprint marks on the über-luxurious chrome finish).
An appropriately-sized cloth carry bag with handles is also provided and makes the 200 an easily portable commodity when visiting audio buddies.
The 200’s remote control is by far the best we’ve ever used. It’s a beautifully-machined chromed metal box with a large central and beautifully-actioned volume dial with small buttons for power on/off, input switching, muting and, interestingly, ‘tone’, arranged around it. This last adjusts treble and bass in subtle increments via DSP. The remote operates via RF so it works from any angle and almost any practical distance.
A small monochrome LCD window on the unit itself provides information to keep the user up to date. The 200 can be plonked on a shelf just like any other component or it can be mounted vertically on a wall with optional wall brackets.
We thought we’d get the hardest part of the sonic evaluations over and done with first, and that means testing the USB input. We invariably come across products where the component under review does not immediately output audio.
Drivers need to be downloaded, USB cables repeatedly and manically plugged/re-plugged and computer acrobatics exhaustingly performed. No such shenanigans with the 200. It locked on to the MacBook instantaneously and was playing tunes without drama or fuss.
The 200 exerted solid control over a stunningly visceral bass register which was among the very punchiest we’ve ever enjoyed. It was not only gut-thumpingly powerful but also extremely clean and detailed, the Devialet’s profound detail retrieval applied throughout the frequency range, separating the midrange particularly into layered musical strands. Vocal intelligibility, along with intonation and subtle undulation of the voice, was among the top tier of precision, on a par with more exotic amplification we’ve had in-house.
This sonic presentation was also fabulously dynamic across the bandwidth. Mate the 200 to dynamic speakers and you’ll get a sound that scales across the minutiae of low-level detail all the way to dramatic macro dynamic explosiveness. We loved the sound of well recorded snare, tom and kick drums; percussive instruments cracked and exploded from an ultra quiet background. In fact, it’s this lack of low level hash, or noise, that allows the profound portrayal, from minute inflections at ppp all the way to majestic crescendos at fff. And a more neutral amplifier we’ve not come across for a long time. The Devialet 200 does not editorialise the music. It’s neither cold nor warm, dark nor bright. Pair it with an equally neutral speaker and you’ll get a presentation that is as honest as high-end audio gets. But that leaves mediocrity no room to hide. Brash and over-compressed recordings will sound just that way; the 200 is an truthful messenger. Do not shoot it — rather blame the state of our recording industry where the loudness wars are a determinant of the poor quality we’re forced to ingest. Midrange congestion, dynamic compression and high frequency shrillness…
The 200 corrects the generalisation that Class-D amplification lacks tonal beauty and is too clinical for inclusion in high-end systems. This amplifier aligns itself with the better solid-state devices in its neutrality. For a different take on tonality you’d have to experiment and embark on the road of valve amplification with all its potential maintenance issues. And don’t forget the Devialet 200 is no mere amplification device. It has been designed to provide the best sound while also offering advanced digital technologies which make it a one-box DAC/streamer/preamp/phono/amp solution. Just add speakers, hook up a computer source (either wired or wirelessly), and you have ready-to-go superlative sound.
The Devialet 200 is unique in its technology, form and functionality. It’s more a system than a component, with a proprietary hybrid amplification circuit that sets it apart. It’s a master of speaker driver control too; it deftly conquered our very tough-to-drive speakers without raising a bead. What’s more it incorporates a state-of-the-art DAC along with a proprietary Wi-Fi streaming feature that claims universal compatibility. And vinyl
aficionados are catered for with a superbly featured on-board phono stage. Sonically, it’s at the top tier of digital and amplification tech-nology as it stands today... and into the future too — the 200 is upgradeable via software.
There’s a staggering amount of technology in such a compact but jaw-droppingly beautiful package. The Devialet 200 is truly a technological tour-de-force. Certainement magnifique!
RIGHT: The Devialet brains trust: from left to right, Manuel De La Fuente, Quentin Sannie, Pierre Emmanuel Calmel and Emmanuel Cardin.
Inputs: SD card slot, 1 × USB, 1 × Optical, 1 × Line/Phono, 1 × Line/Digital 3&4 × 2 × Digital SPDIF, 1 × Digital AES/EBU, 1 × RS-232/Optical, 1 × Ethernet, 1 × Remote trigger in/out
Outputs: 1 × digital output
Quoted output power: 200 watts into 6 ohms
Amplification technology: Analogue Digital Hybrid (ADH) Class-D/Class-A
Dimensions (wdh): 383 × 383 × 40 mm
Warranty: Five years
Distributor: Avation on 07 5580 3300, www.avation.com.au