I’ve had a Devialet D-Premier more or less since the get-go. Which, on reflection, is only about four years. In that time, it went from being a stylish, thought-provoking piece of audio technology, via genre-bending concept that other brands must follow, to being the old man of the Devialet range. But, the innovative French company isn’t one for sitting still, and it isn’t one for leaving its existing clients high and dry. The D-Premier became the 240 (and by the time this review hit the streets, the 250), and present D-Premier owners have the option for a complete overhaul.
This ‘complete overhaul’ is fairly substantial, and you need to get in quick because it’s only available for a limited period. In essence, you give Devialet your Devialet, wait a few weeks, and back comes a new device in the old shell. Inside, everything is changed, even though the basics remain the same. You even get a new five-year warranty. The D-Premier is reconditioned, checked, re-boxed and dispatched. I’m even fairly sure they buffed up the exterior, even though there was that fateful Munich show week a couple of years ago, when I discovered the amplifier had been left on for the duration and became a warm bed for a cat.
The cat might be a little disappointed now, however. The new 250 runs cooler, both fired up and in standby. The small Class A amplifier in the hybrid Class A/Class D amplifier design still runs warm, but it seems as if the substantially improved power supply and the improved layout of the digital pathways in the ‘V5’ circuit simply run cooler. This circuit is common to the second-generation Devialet range – the 110, the 170 (tested recently), and the 250 – and all of these models are going to receive the same firmware-enabled performance boost by the time the review goes to press.
To recap, the 120 is the entry-level model, delivering 120W per channel. It’s not exactly ‘stripped down’ (it has coax, Toslink, Ethernet and USB inputs, and wireless streaming), but has an MM-only phono stage, limited analogue inputs, but no digital or subwoofer outputs, all in a very slim case. The 200 tested recently has a slightly thicker case, delivers 200W and adds a more advanced and configurable phono stage, digital and subwoofer outputs, an AES/EBU digital input, and more or less everything that attracted people to the D-Premier in the first place. There is now a 200 Slave allowing 400W per channel monoblocks. Meanwhile the D-Premier reborn takes the power to 250W, and can be daisy chained for multi-amp capability or for use as an 800W monoblock (in fact, a lone 250 is not strongly marketed now, because Devialet believes a pair of 400 amplifiers do a better job). At a surface level, D-Premier owners gain USB and Ethernet capability, at the expense of HDMI links, but with a ongoing programme of firmware updates, they may also begin to fall behind on updates and upgrades.
The Devialet is very much a child of the 21st Century. The device (pinning it down as an ‘amplifier’ is selling the Devialet concept very short) comes with periodic firmware updates, and can be configured as you like from the company’s webpage, handing off firmware and configuration information to an SD card. Currently, Version 7.1 firmware is in late beta, so where firmware updates are written to EPROM on the board, this one resides on the SD card: take it away, and the amp restores to its latest version.
These firmware updates provide a number of periodic improvements; better mapping of the amplifier (giving rise to improved power output, among other things), more robust wireless connectivity (AIR in Devialet-speak), especially when dealing with an ever-changing computer world at the other end of the Wi-Fi link, and (presently) SAM. This last, Speaker Active Matching, models the amplifier’s sub-150Hz behaviour in accordance to the loudspeaker. This typically involces phase or time domain changes and also means a lot of loudspeaker matching and mathematical modelling written for each loudspeaker. Consequently, the number of loudspeaker that can benefit from SAM is currently very small, but growing fast. Short of running a loudspeaker in fully active mode (something in which Devialet has expressed interest, but necessitates a crossoverectomy in most loudspeaker designs), the closest parallel we’ve had to this was a variable high-pass alignment filter used by Bowers & Wilkins in the early 1990s with its Matrix 800 series. The B&W filter used an equalisation curve between preamp and power amplifier to compensate for the amplitude and phase response of the loudspeaker. The upside to this is it’s the inherently ‘right’ way to match the output of an amplifier with the properties of a loudspeaker. The downside was that inserting a black box between components and the word ‘equalisation’ was met with abject terror by those fed on a diet of minimalism. Devialet takes this concept and runs with it to the nth degree, and adds some loudspeaker protection in the process. Of course, it helps that the processing power of a modern DSP chip is greater than what was available to the whole planet when stereo was born.