My in-person introduction to Devialet’s products was under auspicious circumstances. I was in Paris for what would be a month-long vacation; my wife was there to give some lectures, but I was free to roam the city, take pictures, practice my bad French, and enjoy the excellent food—the experience of a lifetime except that, a few days in, I was missing music. Still early in my visit, I wandered by the big Devialet retail store near the Paris Opera; it was closed but it gave me an idea. I soon had two Gold Phantom powered loudspeakers in our Paris studio apartment.
That was my hands-on introduction to Devialet, but I first heard about the company when John Atkinson reviewed their D-Premier integrated amplifier. It was a rave.
The D-Premier wasn’t cheap, but compared to more traditional components at the same price point, you got a lot for your $16,000. Included was a DAC, preamplifier functionality, phono-playback capability, and a few other features no analog amplifier can provide. The D-Premier was different—and with its low-profile case and gleaming chrome finish, it looked the part.
A couple of generations of technology later, Devialet’s Analog Digital Hybrid (ADH) amplifier topology has been refined, and new features have been added. It appears the company has also learned to build these amplifiers more cheaply: The Expert 140 Pro—the least expensive Expert Pro and the one I’m reviewing here—costs almost $10,000 less, at $6490.
What is it?
A product as distinctive as the Expert 140 Pro takes a while just to absorb. It does a lot of things, all in a distinctive way. Designed by French engineer Pierre-Emmanuel Calmel, the Expert Pro, like the D-Premier before it, is conceptually similar to Peter Walker’s “current-dumping” amplifier from the 1970s, which coupled a low-power class-A amplifier to a higher-power class-AB amplifier. In the Devialet amps, the current source is instead a class-D amplifier: The digital amp provides the oomph and the analog amp “corrects and completes” the signal, Devialet says.
The Expert 140 Pro is a 140W (specified into 6 ohms) stereo integrated amplifier with a streaming DAC built in. It also has phono preamplification capability; phono equalization and preamplification is done in the digital domain. Because of its onboard computer—Devialet calls it Core Infinity, with the ubiquitous trademark symbol—the 140 Pro is set up to stream music from a variety of sources utilizing a variety of protocols and can be updated as new technologies emerge. It arrived at my house with “RoonReady,” “Spotify,” and “Airplay” among the preset input choices. Streaming services such as Qobuz and Tidal can be played via UPnP (as with the Mytek Brooklyn Bridge and the dCS Bartók) or Airplay.
The 140 Pro has a lot of connectivity options, and the narrow back panel has abundant digital connections—one each for USB, Ethernet, TosLink, and miniTosLink, and two S/PDIF connections, alongside two other RCA jacks that can support a single analog source (line-level or phono) or can be set up as two more S/PDIF inputs. There’s also a built-in antenna—for Wi-Fi of course, not FM stereo.
The 140 Pro is compact and solid; it seems very well-made. Removing the bottom cover reveals beautiful circuit boards—almost works of art. The chassis is carved from a chunk of aluminum, plated in a Dark Chrome finish that readily shows fingerprints; my review sample had been around the block enough times that some prints endured. (White cotton gloves are provided, and there’s little need to touch the chassis after setup.) For controls, the chassis has but a single button, and there’s a very small, round display screen on the top of the chassis, just above the power button.
Most simple adjustments utilize an unusual remote control. Also finished in Dark Chrome, its dominant feature is a large knob for adjusting the volume and certain other settings. The only other controls on the remote are four small buttons: one for power and three labeled source, Mute, and Tone; the Mute and Tone buttons can be reprogrammed—indeed, at least one of them must be reprogrammed for certain setup options.
Also available is a control app—Devialet Expert Remote—of similarly minimalist design, which runs on a tablet or smartphone and offers the same control functions.
I like the shape and the solid feel of the Devialet, and I admire the decision to make it chrome; it’s somehow at once futuristic and retro. If memory serves, the D-Premier was also available in black—and I think the Expert Pro would look wicked in Vantablack.
The following fact—plus the pictures that accompany this review—should give you an idea of what kind of object this is: On its bottom side, adjacent to the four small rubber feet, are slots for mounting the Expert Pro flat on a wall, like a kind of decorative mirror, an objet d’art. A removable panel covers the cables coming out the back; you could run them right into the wall as you might do with a wall-mounted TV.
That’s the outside. It’s what’s on the inside that makes the Devialet unique.
Close-minded analogphiles need not apply
The Devialet is a thoroughly digital device. Apart from its hybrid amplification technology, which is at once both digital and analog, its one concession to analog audio is a line input that can also be used with a turntable—but even if you make that choice, everything is handled internally in the digital domain. (But—here’s one more expression of this digital company’s analog passion: They offer a series of expensive, well-produced vinyl records dubbed The Lost Recordings.)
Devialet’s designers believe—in this they are correct—that analog signals deteriorate in ways that digital signals don’t, as long as they (the digital signals) remain error-free, which technology itself can assure. For this reason, the Expert 140 Pro converts its analog inputs to digital as close as possible to the inputs and keeps the signal digital as long as it can, to within a few centimeters of the loudspeaker connections. This, Devialet believes, is the best way to optimize maintenance of signal integrity—a good strategy as long as those A/D and D/A conversions are done with great care. Handling signals digitally allows the Expert Pro to do some things an analog component can’t do with ease—or at all. The Devialet can adjust frequency and phase response to various ends, to implement:
• bass and treble controls (but currently no room correction).
•for phono, a choice of several equalization curves—RIAA alternatives—to accommodate older vinyl (footnote 1).
• Digital correction for select loudspeakers, allowing alignment of the bass frequencies with the midrange and treble, via a utility called SAM, for Speaker Active Matching. More on this later.
Setup is complex
If you’re accustomed to putting a component on a shelf, plugging in some wires, pushing the On button, and playing music, then you may find Expert Pro setup somewhat involved. But not to worry: Devialet says your dealer will support you. You can also submit support requests via their website, and a phone number is provided for setup help.
Footnote 1: Alternative equalization curves are also possible in the analog domain, of course, and at least one current analog phono preamplifier—the Sentec EQ11—offers a choice of several.