Devialet's Gold Phantom
Courtesy of Devialet
By Lindsey Tramuta
October 22, 2017

“Hear the Unheard” seemed a lofty promise to the twentysomething audiophile who strolled into the Paris flagship of the French audio brand Devialet. He slipped off his Beats headphones and approached the sales consultant with a line of “prove it” questions. Could the company’s ambitious claims of having revolutionized an industry that hasn’t seen a significant innovation in the past 40 years be upheld in practice?

The brand’s marquee product, the Gold Phantom, is a $2,990 wireless speaker that claims digitally powered, analog-grade sound. A frequency response of 14Hz to 27kHz (far outside the range of the human ear), 4,500W of power, and a maximum volume level of 108dB (read: extremely loud) combine to capture details that are indiscernible on lower-end speakers, from a musician’s breath between notes to a subtle drumbeat in the background. (See more speakers for design and music lovers here.)

“It’s like being front row at a festival,” beamed the young music lover after listening to a live version of “Hotel California” on two Phantoms paired in stereo. Slack-jawed, he wanted to hear more.

That visceral reaction to powerful and precise sound—and the full-bodied, emotional experience that often goes with it—has earned the brand a coterie of loyal acolytes including musician will.i.am, French President Emmanuel Macron, and investors like Android founder Andy Rubin and rapper Jay-Z, who were among the supporters that pumped $106 million into the company’s 2016 Series C round.

Devialet’s most ambitious project yet rolls out at the end of the month—a 10-year partnership with the Opéra National de Paris, with which it will inaugurate a sound discovery room in the Opéra’s Palais Garnier. Visitors will be able to listen to performances recorded inside the Chagall-bedecked auditorium; purchase a cobranded Phantom speaker decorated with gold leaf from the building itself; and experience the full breadth of Phantom’s power by listening to other musical styles played simultaneously on all 18 devices, mimicking an orchestra. Existing Phantom owners will also be able to stream any performance at the Palais Garnier or Opéra Bastille, in real time, from wherever they are in the world.

“The idea of setting up shop in the Opéra, a very traditional, nearly 350-year-old institution, wasn’t even conceivable. But we’re driven by the impossible, so we pitched them the idea,” explains Devialet CEO Quentin Sannié. “Charles Garnier was a maverick, a relatively unknown architect who created the most extravagant and innovative monuments of the 19th century—we could relate to his ambition.”

Timing was certainly on Devialet’s side. For the Opéra National de ­Paris’s adjunct director Jean-Philippe Thiellay, the concept presented a clear opportunity: “It’s the best way we can enrich the experience for operagoers and attract a new generation of guests. [Devialet] brings the modernity we need, and we provide the visibility and cultural cachet.”

Whether it’s within the Opéra or directly inside Devialet’s storefronts around the world, Sannié insists everything the company does is motivated by an experiential ambition: “It’s not about us, we’re merely a vehicle. We want people to feel the magic of sound, and there’s still more to be done.”


Speakers for Design and Music Lovers

Courtesy of Sonos

1. Sonos One

Can’t fight the competition? Align with them. More than a leader in home audio, Sonos sees itself as a platform in the making with the launch of One, a new smart speaker with Amazon Alexa voice control built into the hardware to switch on music, podcasts, or news from 49 different services. (amazon.com, $190)

Courtesy of Bang & Olufsen

2. Bang & Olufsen Beoplay A9

The distinctive satellite-shaped A9 speaker, designed in collaboration with textile manufacturer Kvadrat, is as much a modular decorative piece for the home as it is a source of premium sound. It delivers high performance, wireless audio streaming and supports Apple AirPlay. (amazon.com, $2,699)

Courtesy of Bowers & Wilkins

3. Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin

In a much anticipated update to its handsomely shaped Zeppelin speaker, British audio brand Bowers & Wilkins has rolled out a wireless edition, free from the cumbersome dock of previous models. Buyers can stream their tunes via Bluetooth, AirPlay, and Spotify Connect. (amazon.com, $699)


A version of this article appears in the Nov. 1, 2017 issue of Fortune with the headline “The New Sub Culture.” We’ve included affiliate links in this article. Click here to learn what those are.

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