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This review first appeared in the January 2013 issue of hi-end hifi magazine High Fidelity of Poland. You can also read it in its original Polish version here. We publish its English translation in a mutual syndication arrangement with publisher Wojciech Pacula. As is customary for our own articles, the writer's signature at review's end shows an e-mail address should you have questions or wish to send feedback. All images contained in this review are the property of High Fidelity or Devialet - Ed

Reviewer: Wojciech Pacula
CD player: Ancient Audio Lektor Air V-edition
Phono preamplifier: RCM Audio Sensor Prelude IC
Cartridges: Miyajima Laboratory Shilabe & Kansui
Preamplifier: Ayon Audio Polaris III Signature with Regenerator power supply
Power amplifier: Soulution 710
Integrated amplifier/headphone amplifier: Leben CS300 XS Custom
Loudspeakers: Harbeth M40.1 Domestic + Acoustic Revive custom speaker stand
Headphones: Sennheiser HD800, AKG K701, Beyerdynamic DT-990 Pro 600Ω vintage, HifiMan HE6
Interconnects: CD/preamp Acrolink Mexcel 7N-DA6300, preamp/power amp Acrolink 8N-A2080III Evo
Speaker cable: Tara Labs Omega Onyx
Power cables (all equipment): Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC9300
Power strip: Acoustic Revive RTP-4eu Ultimate
Stand: Base IV custom under all components
Resonance control: Finite Elemente Ceraball under CD player, Audio Revive RAF-48 platform under CD player and preamplifier, Pro Audio Bono PAB SE platform under Leben CS300 XS
Review component retail in Poland: 50.430zł

Publisher's foreword. With already three Devialet D-Premier sightings in these pages—a Turkish syndication from May 2010 here, an award-winning May 2011 feature review from Marja & Henk here and their April 2012 follow-up on the AIR feature here—you might wonder why yet another writeup. My reason is simple. 'Digital' amplifiers are just beginning to shed their reputation as being fit for only midfi and perhaps entry-level high-end purposes. That the best of this breed have already crossed over into being directly competitive with the very best of the traditional topologies is a fact which a present can't be reiterated often enough. Hence our fourth review on the Devialet D-Premier - Ed.

Five years in a company's existence aren't much. High-end hifi companies often introduce new products in more or less such intervals. If a company is only five years old, that's a truly short span and likely still Gen I product from which one shouldn't expect too much. But obviously this isn't a rule etched in stone. With proper effort it can be broken or bypassed. In 2007, just a bit more than five years ago, Devialet SAS was founded in France. At first it appeared to be just another slightly eccentric Gallic brand hoping to find its own market niche whilst appealing to specific customer habits and preferences somewhere in-between all the other competitors that had been to market far longer offering their own amplifiers, players and speakers. But it would be a mistake to think that this crippled Devialet's rise. How this firm was founded, how it operates, its target and purpose and most of all its product all differentiate it from what we're used to. But surely one thing which Devialet has in common with absolutely everyone else is that it all began with an idea.

In 2004 Pierre-Emmanuel Calmel quit Nortel R&D Lab to work on the first prototype of a new kind of hybrid amplification technology. The effects of his work piqued the interest of former Nortel colleague Mathias Moronvalle to join the budding enterprise. By 2006 these two passionate engineers had met three other entrepreneurs—musicians and audiophiles alike—who came rom the industrial design, marketing and management consulting sectors. Those gentlemen were Emmanuel Nardin, Quentin Sannié and Manuel de la Fuente. Usually the word 'hybrid' in association with amplifiers denotes that the preamp stage uses different active device types than the output stage. The most common solution involves tubes in the gain stage and transistors in the output stage. Czech company KR Audio inverts that recipe. In the case of Devialet 'hybrid' means something else altogether though as we'll see soon enough, the popular association of the word isn't that far off. The company's engineers created and applied a technology they call ADH which is shorthand for analog digital hybrid. This innovative technology parallels a low-power class A amplifier with a powerful switching class D amp.

I remember a maintenance engineer in the Juliusz Slowacki Theater where I worked at the time telling me that he had a cool idea for an audio amplifier. In fact I was building my own small tube amp then. Seeing it he came upon the idea for a hybrid amplifier that would combine tubes and transistors in parallel. The key part of that project was supposed to be a small class A SET amplifier that would work solo within the first few watts. With greater power demands the solid-state amp would kick in. At the time I wasn't aware that this wasn't the first time this idea had been proposed. It had in fact been presented in the 1970s already when Quad paralleled two transistor amps, a small class A and a far more powerful class AB stage. Their execution was called feed forward and implemented in the 405 power amplifier. I have no idea what happened to my guy's idea as I lost contact with this engineer many years ago. In general the idea of two amplifiers working in parallel seems to remain attractive to certain designers because at least in theory it promises to combine specific strengths of certain topologies

Obviously it's rather difficult to realize. One hardly finds any such commercial realizations. But then there's the Devialet D-Premier AIR which puts into practice an idea which might—and here I'm not afraid to use that expression—revolutionize the audio market: a hybrid analog/digital integrated which includes A/D and D/A converters. You can feed it analog or digital signal. The latter can arrive on coax and Toslink or HDMI directly from a Blu-ray player. The French designers [now also Swiss as the personnel associated with Stenheim which previously was at Goldmund migrated to Devialet – Ed] used their knowledge and experience in the field of wireless communication to create their asynchronous intelligent router aka AIR which exploits an exclusive async wifi protocol written by their team. There's even a digital-domain phono stage function with online custom configurator for impedance and gain settings.

To configure the D-Premier relies on a special application on Devialet's website which gets downloaded to a memory card whence it is uploaded to the machine. Using this app one can name the inputs, assign different functions to the socketry and set maximum power between 160 and 240 watts. The machine can even be bridged to output 500 watts per side in a master/slave config. The other key feature that differentiates the Devialet is its industrial design. When you see it for the first time you're sure to be surprised by its innovative aesthetics. Using it is quite intuitive. My son who is a true fan of McIntosh and tube devices was stunned when he first saw this flat shiny device on my rack (the Devialet can be placed horizontally or hung vertically from a wall). He said it was the coolest thing I ever had in my system. He must know. He's 18.

And I can completely understand his reaction. The enclosure is a solid aluminum casing in one of three finishes: chrome silver, matte black or high-gloss white. Whilst the D-Premier looks awesome, its RF remote is even cooler. Using it is amazingly user-friendly. I miss it already. There is just one more thing I'd love to see: the readout of the main display replicated on that remote.