120W x 2 into 6 ohms (works with 2-16 ohm speakers)
Inputs: USB 2.0 (32bit 192kHz), wi-fi and ethernet (24bit 192kHz), toslink (24bit 192kHz), mini-optical (24bit 96kHz), 2x coaxial (24bit 192kHz/DSD64), stereo line or MM/MC phono input, 3.5mm trigger; RS-232 control
Optional subwoofer/preamplifier/headphone outputs
SD card for configuration
Output impedance: .001 ohms
Bandwidth: DC-87kHz (-3dB)
Dimensions: 383mm L x 383mm W x 40mm H
Basic Setup and Connection
The Devialet can be installed either vertically (on the wall) with an optional bracket or set on a shelf like a typical stereo component. The main unit (and remote) are both carved out of a solid aluminum block and finished in a black chrome—they’re fingerprint magnets. The chassis itself is very solid and extremely well-constructed. A flat piece (on the back) is removable and helps to hide the wiring. On the top/front there is a small round display and a push-button power switch (giving the unit a clean, simple look).
From a “controls” standpoint there is no doubt the 120 is the simplest integrated amplifier I’ve ever seen. It has no source selection or volume control on the main unit, so the user is reliant on the remote or app to operate the amp. I found myself leaving the remote right next to the unit (for easy control access) and using my phone as an alternate in the listening seat. This lack of tactile controls may be bothersome for the knob twiddling crowd. One annoyance is that the display is invisible from a short distance (assuming the unit is not mounted to the wall). There is no way to know what source is selected when using the source toggle button on the remote. With the app you can go directly to an input though there is no source label—see below.
I used a USB cable for the computer, an optical cable from a Lyngdorf CD-2 disc player, a Rega RP6 w/ Exact cartridge for vinyl playback, my iPhone 4S for remote control and streaming, a desktop computer (also for streaming) and Bowers & Wilkins CM10s2 speakers.
Although the 120 can be used “out-of-the-box,” accessing Devialet’s website gives the user more control over the setup and remote layout. Once product registration is complete the user can download updated firmware, drivers and streaming software as well as select speaker correction and configure other aspects of the unit. I downloaded the control app for my iPhone and the streaming app for my computer (called Devialet Air). I downloaded a USB driver so I could run the computer direct into the 120 and new firmware (as the firmware was out of date on my sample).
There were no obvious instructions on how to install the firmware, but once I opened the zip file I found them. The configurator tool is actually called “Le Configurateur” in a tab under the EXPERT section of the website. On this page a lot of the text is in French (even though I was on the English site). I had to hunt around to find help with operational questions as well–although I later discovered a complete section devoted to helpful tips and instructions. The booklet that comes with the amp often leaves out additional detail that is necessary to completely understand the operation and setup of the 120—I expect more from a product of this price and sophistication.
Once I got to the next web page and logged in I was prompted to name the configuration file, select the model (the 120 in my case) and whether I had the preamplified/sub output installed (a $1000 option). This can be turned on even if you don’t have the capability on the unit, so you should be careful what you select. There are preset input names that can be associated with various inputs on the back of the Devialet, i.e. wifi, USB or Ethernet for the computer, coaxial or optical or line for the CD, phono on/off, etc. Interestingly, you can also limit the maximum power of the unit (to protect speakers and someone’s hearing I assume!) That concludes the basic adjustments.
For the advanced controls the user is shown a graphic of the back panel of the unit. Under “General setting” there are options for start-up volume and source, volume when a source change occurs and whether or not a subsonic filter is engaged. There is a sub/pre-out setting as well (but this was grayed out since I hadn’t selected this earlier in the setup). Additionally, there is a display brightness, mono or stereo setting for balance, and two frequency selectors labeled bass and treble. The bass adjustment can be set to be at any frequency from 20 to 500Hz and treble can be set from 1 to 20kHz. Cut and boost is adjustable from +/-18dB.
When the back panel is visible you can click on the various jacks/ports and turn them on or off. When they are active there are accompanying settings that can be accessed. Basic input settings including auto dimming, pass thru levels (for bypassing volume for AV sources), trigger out and ICM (Intelligent Cinema Mode). ICM “optimizes the dynamics of the incoming audio content.” For inputs like the wi-fi you can input network settings and for phono there are a wealth of options.
The phono input can be configured for two coaxial digital inputs, line inputs or with built-in eq and gain (for use with a turntable directly). One of the best things about this setup is the ability to simply input your phono cartridge and let the Devialet automatically pick the correct settings. Also, there are preset curve adjustments for those who are into vintage discs or who simply want to try different curves. The standard setting is the RIAA 1976, but there is RIAA 1953, NAB, AES and quite a few others! There are also different gain or loading options that can be adjusted, but the Devialet will select the best settings for your cartridge (if it’s listed).
The speaker settings allow for mono/stereo/mix, filtering with different slopes and delay. You get a built-in electronic crossover too! I left all the settings on full-range for the system under test. I should also mention that there are descriptions to the right explaining what all the controls do (which helped).
The remote control can be customized as well. There are two buttons aside from power and source (which are fixed) that can be reassigned to mute, balance and tone, ICM, subsonic filter, SAM (to be explained below) or disabled. The remote works via RF so no line-of-sight problems and the action was sensitive and quick. The labels on the remote are very hard to read, but there are only four, so it isn’t the end of the world. Two of the buttons can be altered in the software, so the label could be incorrect in that case anyway.
SAM processing (Speaker Active Matching) allows the Devialet to process the signal using DSP for up to 470 different speaker models (at time of this review)–see the list on the website for models currently available. Here is a link to read more about what is involved in the process: http://en.devialet.com/expert/#technologies/exclusive/sam/
I set a button on the remote to allow flipping between corrected and uncorrected signals for this review. There is also an adjustment that goes from zero to 100%.
I was unable to download the configuration file with Windows 10’s Edge browser, but Firefox on Windows 7 worked fine. After reviewing all the options and setting the configuration file to my liking I saved it to the SD card included with the unit. After insertion and power up the configuration installed in about five seconds. This process could be a bit cumbersome if you are constantly changing configurations and I wished this was as easy as saving to the unit via Ethernet although the SD card route might be safer.
The app has two screens. The main screen looks similar to the top of the remote, but shows the level and source on the face. Moving your finger around the (picture of the) knob adjusts volume. Pushing where the source is shown advances to the selection screen. It shows the input types: phono 1, optical 1, wifi and not the sources named in the configuration which might be confusing for some users. At the bottom is a selection labeled “My Music.” This brings up music on the device which can be selected and then streamed to the Devialet. Wireless streaming was hit and miss. For the first few minutes everything worked smoothly. After that I got multiple interruptions, drop-outs and the music would stop completely. I figured a wired connection would be optimum and it was. Even though the device was working with the same wireless network, when the Devialet was wired I didn’t have any issues. [Wired is always more reliable than wireless…Ed.]
I found selecting music to play on the app was more difficult than I’m used to with other applications. There was no way to adjust the queue other than by adding more music. Whenever I went out of the screen and back it would replace the current queue. I would suggest using another player like Devialet’s own AIR to stream to the unit. This way you can pick the interface you like and have more control.
Devialet AIR Streaming Software
AIR isn’t really streaming software per se, it is more of a gateway or what’s called a “server” to allow you to use a standard music player to “push” music to the Devialet. Like the configuration software, I had trouble getting the software to work properly on my Windows 10 laptop, but the desktop running Windows 7 worked fine. Once AIR installed it ran in the background and you can set it to start automatically when the computer starts. There is an option for bit-perfect audio (which I enabled) and since I had the 120 hardwired I set it to send via a wired connection (wireless is also an option). The last thing that can be set is the buffer of the target device (the Devialet in this case). It comes standard at one second, but has settings from 50 ms to five seconds.
I used Foobar2000 to play files from my computer. Once I selected the Devialet as the output device in the software I got sound from the system. Whenever the source is changed on the 120 or the unit is off it is necessary to reset the connection in the AIR software or there is no sound. There was a delay on the playback on the computer and the sound coming out of the system. I tried the lowest buffer setting but it didn’t seem to have an effect. It was only noticeable when skipping tracks or changing levels from within the software itself. I had this same issue when I directly connected the laptop to the 120 and played over USB. There was a slight delay in Foobar2000, but not enough to account for the lag. Other sources were not affected.
Right off the bat I was very impressed with the sound of the Devialet. It was clean and clear like I’ve come to expect from high-end digital, but it also sounded very natural and musical. I hooked up a Lyngdorf CD-2 to use as a transport for the Devialet. I compared the sound from the streaming software to the CD directly. Although some tracks were close, I felt the sound from the CD was better in some key areas—clarity, sense of space and resolution. This was with Bit Perfect on from within the settings on the app. Even with the computer connected directly I still felt the sound from the CD player bested it. I’ve had some industry “professionals” tell me that physical media is doomed and that streaming audio just “sounds better.” As much as I’d like to believe this is the case, it hasn’t been my experience after sampling a wide variety of media and devices. [We heartily agree…Ed.]
Whatever type of music I tried I felt the 120 was doing it justice. The bass was full and round, the dynamics were good and I never felt the Devialet imparted any kind of noise or obvious coloration to the sound. Though I wouldn’t exactly consider the unit a powerhouse, I never felt the need to push it beyond its limits.
Playing LPs was another surprise. I should have realized that Devialet wouldn’t skimp on the analog portion of the amplifier, but the sound was even better than I expected. After many of the phono preamplifier tests I did a few years back it seemed clear to me that spending over $1000 on a dedicated piece was very reasonable in terms of the improvement with vinyl playback. With the Devialet I’d be willing to sell off my preamp in a heartbeat. Not only was the setup so simple (just select your cartridge from a drop-down list), but the adjustments are extensive if you choose to experiment.
I listened to variety of records and all sounded excellent. You might not think of the Devialet as an ideal piece for playing vinyl, but you’d be wrong. The unit is so flexible you are almost guaranteed to get the best sound out of this piece. For those who refuse to give up on their phono preamplifier or are looking for a particular tweak to the sound (from a piece of electronics), it is easy enough to switch the 120 to a line input and use it just like a standard line integrated amplifier. Still, I’d recommend giving the Devialet a shot first.
I was excited to try the Speaker Active Matching (SAM) in the Devialet. In the past I’ve heard other systems that can correct phase response and clearly improve the sound of a passive loudspeaker. Unfortunately, this is an area that offered little to no improvement with the speakers I was using. I did find my speaker listed in the selection area and loaded the configuration file. I found an adjustment that set the SAM from zero to 100%, but I’m not sure what it did. I also tried turning the feature on and off from the remote but the difference (if any) was so slight that I really can’t say anything about its operation. I was expected a much more obvious change, but perhaps the speakers and setup were either good enough or not good enough to show the differences? In any case the option is there and worth trying out.
Value isn’t something that is always easy to define—in fact, it often differs from person to person. Luckily, I don’t work at Consumer Reports, so I can just say that through the Devialet 120 each recording had its own character, but also sounded very much like music and not just a recording of music. This is perhaps some of the highest praise I can offer for any piece of audio equipment. Highly recommended!