After making a splash with its high-powered but pricey Phantom speakers, Paris-based Devialet is pushing to reach a wider audience with a compact version of its audio technology, dubbed Phantom Reactor.
The Reactor’s design echoes that of the all-in-one Phantom, but is about one-fourth of the size. Just as critically, it’s priced starting at $999 compared to $2,000 for the Phantom. That’s still steep in an era where Amazon is practically giving away its Alexa-powered smartspeakers, and competitors such as Google and Sonos are making for a crowded range of speaker options.
Still, Devialet CEO Franck Lebouchard believes Devialet’s Reactor can help the company expand its reach beyond the thousands of audiophiles it has already attracted.
“We’re talking hundreds of thousands of people having the Devialet sound at home,” he said. “What we’re about to announce is a major step for us. We’re launching what we’ve dreamed about for years.”
Founded in 2007, Devialet gained a strong following among audiophiles for its Expert Pro amplifiers, which start at $5,900 and don’t include all the other components one actually needs for a sound system. In 2015, the company took a big step with the introduction of the Phantom, a portable speaker system that boasted a sleek design and high-fidelity sound.
The Phantom has done well, but still mainly targets a narrow band of audiophiles who are willing to pony up for that kind of listening experience. Since its launch, Devialet has continued to build out boutique stores around the world to allow users to try the Phantom, while also striking partnerships with companies such as Apple, which carries the Phantom in some of its stores.
The company also packed its audio technology into the $325 Sky Soundbox, a partnership that lets customers of broadcaster Sky experience the power of Devialet audio technology while watching TV. Putting its technology in other products was part of the strategy it announced in late 2016 when it raised $106 million in venture capital.
But at the same time, Devialet had begun work on the Reactor. Three years of R&D have finally led to the company finding what Lebouchard describes as the right balance between design, cost, and sound quality.
In terms of specs, the Reactor has a max volume of 98 dB SPL and 900W of peak power. Its spherical design retains two woofers on the side that push in and out with the sound. At 219mm by 157mm by 168mm and 11 pounds, it is easily carried in one hand.
The company describes the listening experience as “sound as the artist intended: all the details with zero distortion, zero saturation or background noise. Just pure sound reproduction.”
Like its predecessor, Reactor can be connected via Bluetooth to Spotify Connect or Airplay. Lebouchard notes it can also be set up and controlled via Amazon’s Alexa. The company made a conscious decision to not make its speakers voice-controlled, despite the prevailing trend and popularity of smart speakers.
“The decision we made is very consistent with what we are, and what we want to be,” he said. “We are a company that provides the best sound in the world. We’ll never be able to compete on artificial intelligence. So our strategy is to be very easy to set up with the Echo. We see Amazon as a close partner.”
Devialet will continue to manufacture the Reactor in France, as it did with the original Phantom. The company’s factories are not far outside of Paris, something Lebouchard says is crucial to allowing its engineers to maintain quality control and to continue to innovate around the production and design.
One big difference, however, is the relationship the company will have with retailers.
The original Phantom required large amounts of dedicated space to demonstrate, leaving most mainstream retailers reluctant to carry it. But the smaller size and lower cost of the Reactor has already allowed Devialet to strike partnerships with European retailers such as France’s Fnac and the U.K.’s Selfridges. The company is also expecting the Reactor to be in Microsoft stores and on Amazon.
“It’s allowed us to go back to major retailers around the world,” he said. “With Reactor, those discussions have become very different.”
That could be a big leap from the company’s 20 stores and the 500 retail outlets where the original Phantom can be found. And while the Reactor will still likely remain outside the budgets of average listeners, Lebouchard is confident that the explosion of digital music services has created a subset of consumers who crave a higher-quality speaker.
“We’re targeting people who love music,” he said. “And the good news is that thanks to Spotify and Deezer, music is more widely available. We want to talk to people who understand the emotion of the music.”