However, winning my vote for the most relaxed and liquid musical delivery of all the digital inputs if by a small margin was the 200's Ethernet to which one can stream directly from Devialet's own AIR app (available for OS X or Windows). AIR creates a virtual sound card within the host OS which then forwards digital audio streams asynchronously to the 200. One can direct audio to the virtual AIR sound card at both the app level (Audirvana+) or operating system level (iTunes or Google Chrome). AIR synchronises the 200 and host OS's volume controls. Playback therefore fails the Bitperfect test. It also stumbles in its compatibility with Roon. Working as a virtual Endpoint, AIR playback for me was still plagued by intermittent crackling sounds of (what I assume to be) buffer underrun. Let's hope the Roon guys patch that up soon. The broader implications of AIR should not be missed. For many users it could obviate the need for a third-party streamer altogether. And with direct code control over both ends of the chain—transmitter (PC or Mac app) and receiver (the 200 itself)—fresh functionality like streaming service integration can be introduced via software update, at zero cost to the end user and with zero changes to the hardware config. Like successive operating system versions supplied by Apple or Microsoft, EVO updates not only stamp out bugs and strange behaviour but add features and (in rarer cases) more output power. Each new version is released as a website download and installed by the end user via the 200's rear-paneled SD card slot.
Forum chatter indicates how the Expert user base reckons that each new version of EVO sounds a little different to the last. I concur. Firmware v9.0.1 wrestled a little more pre-SAM bass extension from the KEF LS50 than v8.1.3 but in doing so also surrendered a little reflexive bounce. Organised folk will keep an archive of releases should they ever wish to roll back to a previous version to suit preference or mood. With SD card primed, it takes all of 10 seconds. With a heavier emphasis on software, Devialet are fundamentally changing the audio hardware game. Everything is under one roof and highly configurable. The Expert 200 urges us to wave goodbye to that multi-shelf audio rack and hang the 200 on the wall for a game of "Mirror, Mirror". Who be the fairest in the all the land? Devialet indeed.

We've so far covered the Expert 200's function. What of its form? To more dismissive folk, it's a chrome pizza box or a mirrored set of bathroom scales. In actuality it's chrome-plated aluminium but like all radical departures from the norm, it's sure to be met with some resistance, especially when one considers the dominant demographic of the audiophile world. Our ability to embrace the new can be eroded by time. Age sees us more inclined to the emotional stability of what we know and less willing to risk the emotional instability of the unfamiliar. A heightened emotional response is of course one fundamental reward of better sound. That's the aural domain. But do our visual surroundings not influence our moods too? A lounge room with white walls, a stone floor and stark furnishings will make us feel different to that same room fitted with carpet, rugs, bookshelves and a fake fireplace.

Loudspeakers are first and foremost audio furniture. Their appearance affects our mood. The Magnepan 3.6 owner sharing a house with others might come under regular fire for the two monoliths standing tall in the lounge room. Their imposing size makes us feel small/er. A red KEF LS50 might excite some, alarm those who prefer the cooler sensation connoted by an ice blue lacquer. Our buying choices are made on how a product's aesthetic and ergonomic qualities resonate (or not) with who we are. Changes to mood in the long term can ultimately influence our personality.

Design not only changes how we feel but speaks to others of our identity. Consider the humble lemon squeezer: $5.99 net a Spritta from Ikea. It's fit for purpose but would you put it on display in your kitchen where it might serve as constant reminder of its cheapness not just in terms of monetary value but its form? Multiple plastic and stainless steel parts rattle together. The Swedish Spritta is a long way from Alessi's Juicy Salif designed by Philippe Starck. It doesn't function any more effectively than the Ikea juicer but many of us will say that it looks better. Why? Because looking at the Alessi causes us a different emotional response to looking at the Ikea piece.

And so it goes with the Devialet Expert series. Looking at the Expert 200 makes us feel different to when we look at Vinnie Rossi's LIO. It's as if Philippe Starck were given carte blanche to design an amplifier. Its clean lines communicate simplicity and tidiness. These are feelings that resonate with yours truly. The 200 makes a strong aesthetic case for sitting next to the turntable and not beneath it; which in turn mandates a daily dust and polish. Fingerprints have become a new nemesis. Starck's Juicy Salif hasn't been without criticism. Some rate it as functionally weak. Starck's rumoured retort: "It wasn't meant to squeeze lemons but to start conversations". The unspoken message is that the Alessi juicer is an aspirational product. You want it even before you've ascertained its fitness for purpose. Whilst no such functional or SQ-centred qualms plague the 200 for this user, the possibility of building a separates system that bests the sound of Devialet's Expert 200 isn't in doubt. What very much is in doubt is the ease of that task. And when you're done, will it be as flexible as the 200? Will it look as good? I'd wager not a chance. Arguably the finest looking and best sounding all-in-one system available right now, Devialet's Expert 200 is peerless.
For more writings by John Darko, visit his own website DigitalAudioReview.
Still to come? Peter Familari's take on the Devialet Expert 200 in Part II...

Devialet website