Devialet has received a lot of (mostly extremely positive) press since its launch. The company’s continual development and an increasing range of designs has made it one of the most successful newcomers in high-end audio today. However, its new Ensemble system represents a radical departure, because it extends the ‘does it all’ approach to the speakers. This is a turnkey system, and really rather good it is, too.
Ensemble comprises the Devialet 120 – the entry point to the concept – coupled with a pair of custom-designed Atohm GT1 loudspeakers. These two-way, rear ported designs are, in principle, no strangers to the pages of Hi-Fi+ (we reviewed them in issue 93), but the Devialet-derived version removes the logos from the front, and the room-matching boost/cut dial from the rear panel… for reasons that will become clear soon. From experience, the GT1 on its own has a reputation for speed, precision, and fun.
The Devialet 120 is fascinating in its own right. Normally, when brands try to make a lower-cost version of a popular design, they play an electronic engineering version of the balloon game, sacrificing subsystems in order to achieve the right financial altitude. On the surface, the 120 follows the same path, but in fact it’s closer to a completely new design in its own right. Yes, it still uses the same ‘ADH’ Class A/Class D hybrid core concept, the same 24/192kHz ‘Magic Wire’ internal DAC architecture and uses the same firmware as the larger models, but it’s a completely new design, intended for lower cost applications than the 200/400 and the D-Premier/250/800 models. How it does this is by limiting flexibility a little. So, there’s just one line/phono input, four
S/PDIF inputs, Ethernet and USB, and no provision for output or dual mono operation (analogue pre-outs for power amps are an option though). The phono stage is less freely configurable than the bigger models. And, the 120W amp is on a slimmer chassis. Naturally, it can support the company’s own AIR streaming (via WiFi or Ethernet).
There are two big pieces in the jigsaw puzzle that have slotted into place in the last two updates; they apply universally to the Devialet concept, but are worth stating here. The first is the bi-directional USB option (from firmware 7.1.1); if you simply use the USB cable to feed digital music from computer to DAC and amp, this is perhaps not a big issue. On the other hand, if you have a turntable, a computer, and a program like Audacity, your Devialet just became the easiest high-performance way of ripping your vinyl. No more scrabbling round for a suitably good quality analogue-digital converter or unplugging your phono stage from the amp for the best possible performance; one box does it all. And, with metadata population programs like Collectorz, the whole process of archiving your albums suddenly moved out of ‘chore’ valley. The phono stages in the ‘better’ and ‘best’ Devialet options improve on the quality of the 120, but not by a significant margin (unless you are fond of amp-strangling low load MC cartridges).