Reviewer: John Darko
Financial interests: click here
Turntable sources: Rega RP6 w/Exact, Pioneer PLX-1000 w/Dynavector 10x5, Vinnie Rossi LIO module
Digital sources and DACs: Schiit Gungnir MultiBit, PS Audio DirectStream Junior, Sonos Connect (W4S modded), Google Chromecast Audio, Antipodes Audio DX server, AURALiC Aries/Mini
Pre/Power & integrated amplifiers: Red Dragon S500 monos, Vinnie Rossi LIO w/ RVC and tube pre + MOSFET amp module
Loudspeakers: KEF LS50, Spatial M4, Devialet Phantom
Review component retail in Europe: €6'990

Whadda remote!

Part I with John Darko.
One unit, many functions.
That's the seduction of the 21st century's integrated amplifier. Adding DAC and/or phono stage to amplification casts a powerful spell. Side effects may include lower box count; fewer interconnects; fewer power cords; tidiness. French company Devialet have taken this concept to the next level with their Expert series of amplifiers which, stop sign alert, are so much more than just amplifiers. The €6'990 Expert 200 wants for nothing but a headphone socket. Everything else is taken care of within. Just add loudspeakers and maybe a turntable. The multiple personalities of our mirrored box don't arrive from hardware module options à la Vinnie Rossi's LIO. They live in software. The Expert series' operating system dubbed EVO is our first example of this manufacturer's unabashed love affair with three-letter abbreviations. (Stand by still for SAM, ADH, RAM and AIR). EVO runs on an Analog Devices SHARC chip and is field upgradeable. It talks to your local network via Ethernet or WiFi.

It helps to view the Expert 200 as an audio computer complete with its own operating system. Similarly, it's instructive to see Devialet as a software company as much as an audio hardware manufacturer - the Apple of the audio world if you will. And just like any Windows-powered PC or OSXing Mac, the EVO operating system provides an interface between hardware and user. Connectivity configuration for all Expert models takes place on the Devialet website. 'Le Configurateur' displays a clickable mock-up of the registered device's rear panel. The end user activates/configures the connections according to preference. Upon completion, a downloadable text file is generated which is then saved to an SD card and inserted into the rear of the 200 for installation. A library of SD cards can be maintained for each specific purpose but I opted to keep only one and edit online (and re-download) as required.

Think your own mug is a pain to photograph? Try a Devialet without finger prints and reflections.

Sliding off the panel at the 200's rear reveals loudspeaker binding posts, 2 x Toslink, AES/EBU, Ethernet—fairly standard—but the USB port goes bi-directional and the 6 x RCA sockets can be configured as either outputs or inputs, analogue or digital. At heart the 200 is an integrated amplifier but 'Le Configurateur' means it can convert into a DAC, USB-S/PDIF converter, phono stage, preamplifier, digital streamer or digitiser. That's magic! The 200 defies configuration expectations even for this seasoned (super-)integrated amplifier follower.

Given all this talk of software, it'll probably come as no surprise that the 200 routes and processes signals purely in the digital domain. Digital inputs remain ones and zeroes whilst all analogue inputs are immediately encoded/converted as 96kHz or 192kHz PCM. (Only when an analogue output is required does the internal Burr Brown PCM1792 D/A converter come into play). Devialet's RAM (Record Active Matching) phono is therefore all digital. Did that make you wince? It shouldn't. To assert that a 96kHz/192kHz PCM encode isn't capable of remaining faithful to the incoming signal is to challenge well-established sampling theory. But, the Devialet probably won't satisfy those who cling to an analogue-or-die sensibility. Once more, configuration convenience is our friend. Settings for more well-known cartridges can be applied with a single click from a drop-down menu. Owners of other cartridges—or who don't trust Devialet's pre-configuration—can DIY with impedance and capacitance sliders.

In moving my vinyl rig/s from Vinnie Rossi's LIO (kitted out with Mosfet amplifier, tube preamp, RVC attenuator and phono modules) to Devialet, I noted nothing that made me think less of the sound of either a Rega RP6 w/Exact or Pioneer PLX-1000 w/Dynavector 10x5, only that the 200 had a tendency to emphasise the clean lean tendencies of each cartridge. That's spot on for electronic music, specifically Monolake's CG or Surgeon's Farthest Known Objects. Unpicking that nit means that a cartridge with a fatter warmer personality would be my preference moving forward with catalogue-summing box sets from the likes of Suede or Robyn Hitchcock. Also worth noting here is that differences between the two turntable setups proved more discernible through the Expert than LIO yet if ultimate seduction is what you're after, the LIO is more likely to satisfy. The 200's personality is one of wide-eyed enthusiasm.

Digital-domain turntabling colliding with RCA connector flexibility means that the 200's internal ADC can be tapped by an RCA socket configured as coaxial S/PDIF output. That's useful for those running a DAC as preamplifier. Or pick USB if you wish to digitise your record collection. Those with deeper pockets could apply a coax/Toslink or USB/Toslink converter box (hello Wyred4Sound µLINK) to divert ones and zeroes from the 200 into the Devialet Phantom Toslink-only Dialog interpreter. Devialet's fluorescent illumination of stage players and powerful dynamic enthusiasm carry over to its role as standalone DAC. Its closest cousin might be Chord Electronics' Mojo where the Schiit Bifrost, heavier on acoustic mass and tonality, lights up the scene with inherently softer high-wattage filament bulbs. PS Audio's DirectStream Junior is a few degrees warmer still in its tonal balance. These sideshows support the main attraction: the Expert 200 is primarily a loudspeaker amplifier; one that promises 0.00025% THD + noise (at full power!) and 133dB SNR. Its spec-sheet game is strong. Expert 200 means 200 watts per channel. Playing a little cute with the facts, Devialet's rating is given into 6Ω and not the usual 8Ω (into which it pushes 170wpc). Into 4Ω we get 300wpc. Need double the juice from twice the green? Bridging a pair of 200s gives you the Expert 400 (untested here).