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5 minutes with… Devialet’s Emmanuel Nardin

The French audio innovation startup hits all the right notes with its Phantom speakers and new stores here in Hong Kong.

5 minutes with… Devialet’s Emmanuel Nardin

A sound engineer, a mechanical engineer, and an entrepreneur had a common dream: to change the way we hear music. And they had the technology to do that with: Pierre-Emmanuel Calmel, an engineer who developed circuit boards for telecomms and one of the three, had invented a hybrid amplification technology in 2004, combining digital and analog technology to bring new clarity to the sound produced by high-end amplifiers.

This technology was the basis for Devialet, the company Calmel, Quentin Sannié and Emmanuel Nardin founded in 2007. Devialet’s first product to go to market was D-premier, a paper-slim amp that went on to win 58 awards. Funding followed, and so did their flagship product, Phantom, in 2015.

Phantom rolls speaker and amp functionality into one beautiful, rounded form that emits sound from all sides. The wireless speaker uses Calmel’s patented hybrid technology to add layer upon layer and multiple dimensions to the home listening experience.

When Phantom emerged on the market, people really sat up and listened – including JAY-Z, whose company Roc Nation gave Devialet with a cash injection that helped bring the brand to Asia.

Devialet recently opened several stores in Hong Kong: one in Sha Tin, one in Festival Walk, and the latest in ifc mall in Central, along with a special lounge in Causeway Bay. At the slick stores and in the lounge, visitors can experience Phantom in all its glory, inside fully sound-proof, glassed-in Immersive Rooms.

It’s been quite a journey, and it’s only just beginning, really. Here, Nardin, the company’s Head of Design and Operations, talks about Devialet’s dreams, designing Phantom and what they have learnt so far.

What was your brief to yourselves?

Our first objective was to highlight the spectacular performances of miniaturisation related to our technology. The goal was to deliver audio products that rival the performance of the best products on the high-end audio market, in the most compact form. We divided the size of the speaker by 30 and the price by 15.

How did you come up with the design for Phantom? What inspired its rounded form?

The initial shape of Phantom came from the ultimate acoustic perfection delivered by the architecture of the sphere. Based on this perfect source we imagined the continuity of the speakers in the design of the product. Also, we wanted a radical, sculptural, desirable object, and we concealed all the usual technical parts of classical acoustic enclosure.

As for the tweeter grid’s design, it symbolises the volutes drawn by the sound waves – Chladni waves [named after Ernst Chladni’s experiments with sound vibrations on metal plates] and brings to Phantom a touch of lyricism that’s unexpected but essential.

What do you like best about Phantom? What do other people like best about it?

Its great simplicity, its radical design and its iconic profile. As for Phantom owners, I imagine they probably appreciate these points too, but they often talk about the perception of luxurious objects, their sympathetic aspect, and the hypnotic movement of the bass membranes.

What did you learn from creating Phantom?

Phantom confirmed that no detail must escape from our attention. Due to lack of time, we accepted that the first version of the power cable be built based on the standards of one of our suppliers, which were not our standards. It’s no coincidence that this is the only aspect of the product that has received limited success.

Your stores seem to have a similarly clean, pure aesthetic to the Phantom – although one is very rounded and the other quite angular. What was the thinking here?

The design for our stores combines sophisticated, elegant settings – that still feel cosy – with the soft envelope of walls, which also helps the acoustics. The stands and other furniture borrow their hexagonal shape from the Giant Causeway of Northern Ireland. The spaces highlight Phantom not only through the contrast of shapes, but also through the sense of movement, which expresses the versatile, carefree and joyful character of our brand’s products.

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