The best album of all time? A case could be made for Radiohead’s Kid A or The Cure’s Disintegration. Start to end, they’re flawless; and arguably each band’s finest piece of work (to date). Therefore, you know it’s going to be a
good great day when it begins with the needle dropping on Kid A‘s “Everything in its Right Place” and ends with Disintegration’s title track.
Furthermore, when you live in Australia you get used to seeing cool gear launched Stateside or in the UK and then having to wait a good few months before it lands down under. So it’s great, albeit unusual, to see France’s Devialet elect Melbourne’s Carlton Audio Visual as the launchpad for its new top-of-the-range model: L’Original d’Atelier. Translation: ‘workshop original’.
Between Radiohead and The Cure I sat down with Devialet’s Pacific region manager Yann Wachten for the full scoop ahead of the evening’s launch party. Wachten is Franco-German but speaks impeccable English.
My opening question was a simple “Why Australia?”.
Wachten explains that despite this country’s 24m strong population being small compared to that of the USA or Europe, Australia is a tech savvy country where consumers have a healthy amount of disposable income. Case in point: Australia has more Apple stores per capita than the USA.
No doubt the TOTL launch exclusive is also down to Devialet recently appointing a new Australian distributor: Interdyn, who also handle Pro-Ject, Rotel and OPPO.
Wachten provides a little background on his employer’s inception before getting into the specifics of L’Original d’Atelier.
Devialet was founded in 2007 by three monsieurs: Formerly head of R&D at Nortel, Pierre-Emmanuel Carmel is the brains behind the company’s Class A/D hybrid amplification (ADH) technology and despite his work on ADH pre-dating Devialet’s germination by a full four years, he chose to divide the financial rewards equally, three ways, among his fellow founders. Fraternité plus Egalité! Devialet’s killer industrial design comes from Emmanuel Nardin (a member of the watchmaker family of the same name) and it’s his cousin, Quentin Sannié, who steers business strategy.
L’Original d’Atelier is here to celebrate 5 years of Devialet’s Expert series. A quick recap: each Expert unit is a super-stylish all-in-one-device that takes care of network streaming, D/A conversion, pre/amplification. Just add loudspeakers. And perhaps a turntable. All Expert models feature in-built phono staging.
To accommodate Devialet’s loudspeaker-correcting SAM DSP and volume attenuation the intestines are an all digital affair. Digital inputs remain digital and all analogue inputs are converted to 24bit/192kHz PCM upon arrival. If that offends your analogue-or-die sensibilities, consider the possibility that you’ll gain far more from Devialet’s speaker-correcting SAM DSP than ever you’d (theoretically) lose through the two-step dance of ADC and DAC.
Conversely, Devialet’s amplification isn’t (strictly) digital. ADH = Analogue Digital Hybrid. Acting as a voltage amplifier and serving up the first 1.5 watts of power, a Class A output stage handles the music portion of the loudspeaker output signal. Providing more robust drive to the loudspeaker is the parallel-running Class D section. This all takes place in the 10cm path between D/A converter and binding posts. Devialet’s show demo party trick is to remove the Class D module and watch the music play on.
Everything Expert is made in France across three different factories. The first fabricates the extruded aluminium casework, the second is charged with polishing the aluminium and the third handles boards manufacturer and assembly.
The Expert range comprises four models: Le 120 and Le 200 are single units whilst Le 400 and Le 800 are dual mono packages.
Bringing the Expert model count up to five for a limited time is the rose gold finished L’Original d’Atelier, essentially a souped up Expert 800. On the inside, an updated Class D board and enhanced Class A section put more power on tap – 900wpc – whilst the pure copper base plate and a doubling of the internals’ “Gap pad” blue gum improve heat dissipation.
Know that L’Original D’Atelier won’t be around for long. Devialet intend to manufacturer a mere 100 pieces for which international allocation has the potential to strain distributor relations in some parts of the world. Once they’re gone they’re gone for good.
At 29,900 Euros the price will command only the deepest of pockets but the resolution and control brought by the prototype (called “Princeps d’Atelier”) to a pair of Sonus Faber Amati Futura in Carlton Audio Visual’s third demo space was nothing short of astonishing. Wachten agrees that listeners accustomed to the pleasures of even order harmonic distortion might need some time to acclimatise to the Expert’s immaculate and speckless vibe. Watch him explain the ins and outs of L’Original d’atelier in this 15 minute video:
Devialet’s polished aluminium finish serves as a rear-view mirror through which we observe almost every other hifi manufacturer on the planet. Even if your budget doesn’t stretch to L’Original d’Atelier (OD!) levels, Devialet’s commitment to a unified device that handles everything but air movement, short/er signal paths and next-level configuration quite literally reflects the multi-box approach to system design as positively old school and – in many cases – out of touch.
With the Expert series Devialet ignite a conversation that’s long overdue: that form matters just as much as function. Hardware then for Kid A and Disintegration fans who don’t want a rackful of gear and its attendant kabelsalat. Super-stylish solutions that sound every bit as good as they look. Consider this commentator très-keen to take on review time with Le 200.
UPDATE March 2016: my Expert 200 review for 6moons can be read here.