Interview with Julien Bergère, General Manager of Devialet Asia Pacific
1. How does Devialet reshape and revolutionize the audio industry?
Our ambition is to be the pioneering role model of technology at the service of emotion throughout the world. We want to be a global tech brand and leader in our industry and are driven by the company’s core missions: excellence, innovation and challenging the status quo.
The brand was founded in France in 2007 by great inventor and engineer Pierre-Emmanuel Calmel, visionary entrepreneur Quentin Sannié and pre-eminent designer Emmanuel Nardin. It was born out of the desire to provide everyone in the world with access to the best possible sound, and a vision of bringing music to life in a way that showcases the artist replicates their music in the purest way and relays the incredible emotional power behind it.
Strangely enough, on the side of music reproduction system, there had not been any major innovation in the past 40 years. Many audiophiles still consider the best audio system to be a vynil turntable connected to a huge class A (analog) amplifier, powering large floor standing speakers. Old-fashioned it may seem (and indeed few people today would be ready to accept such a huge beast into their living rooms), yet indeed a great audiophile system from 40 years ago can give you a thrill that few modern ‘lifestyle’ audio systems will give you.
We realized that it wouldn’t be possible without expertly designed hardware and significant innovation in sound processing, a space that had seen little change in decades. Once the breakthrough was made by Calmel with ADH amplification technology (Analog Digital Hybrid), a breakthrough technology that amplifies sound without adding any distortion nor any noise, from a miniaturized device, Devialet naturally came to life.
It is key to our mission to continuously push forward the limits of sound reproduction and to make these accessible and desirable to a larger number of people. Our aim is for everyone to get access to the emotions that the highest quality audio reproduction allows, both for music and movie.
The key is the quality of the experience – the genuine and unprecedented emotion from the music, the visual appeal of your home, the simplicity and elegance of everyday usage. A product like Phantom or Expert Pro (our range of ultra-high-end amplifiers) is meant to be timeless, constantly meeting your expectations in terms of connectivity and usage. Audio formats may evolve, so will a Devialet system, which is through free software upgrades that help your system to get better with time, offering compatibility with latest audio formats, improved connectivity, and even better sound performance.
Being a high-technology company that specializes in audio, Devialet is leading the creation of a new market segment generating new values, and more comparable to tech startups than to the rest of the traditional audio industry. Our fastest growing region worldwide is currently APAC, based on the expansion of our retail stores where we deliver consumers the unique music experiences.
2. Can you tell us more about the patented technology (ADH)?
Amongst the dozens of key patented inventions pioneered by Devialet engineers, our first major invention more than ten years ago was a new sound amplification technology called ADH, which not only constitutes the state of the art in sound amplification performance (performing 10 to 1000 times better than traditional audio technology on any measurable parameter), but also features a very high energy efficiency, drastically miniaturizing a high-end audio system.
More than a decade ago, Calmel invented a revolutionary technology that transformed sound amplification across the global: the ADH (Analogue Digital Hybrid) Intelligence is the key revolutionary invention that enables, for the first time, the combination of sophisticated Analog amplification (Class A) and the power and compactness of the Digital Amplification (Class D).
In other words, it is a super powerful microprocessor that hybridizes digital and analog technologies. It amplifies the sound signal in the purest way and rules the mechanical functions with absolute precision. This technology is included in the Phantom and also in Devialet’s Expert Products. It amplifies the sound signal with the utmost clarity and transparency.
3. What is the most important innovation edge at Devialet?
The key to Devialet’s success so far comes down to our groundbreaking and innovative technologies that have quite literally transformed the listening experience.
ADH Intelligence was the spark upon which Devialet was created 10 years ago by its 3 co-founders: Pierre-Emmanuel Calmel, a genius engineer and inventor, Emmanuel Nardin, a pre-eminent French designer, and Quentin Sannié, a visionary entrepreneur. The first in a series of more than 100 patents enabling the Devialet revolution, ADH amplification allows to push further the boundaries of analog sound amplification performance as never before, and at the same time to miniaturize the complete high-end audio system.
This aspect of miniaturization is key, as it allows to design audiophile systems that are compact and highly desirable, bringing a new perspective to modern home interior design. Just like high resolution flat screen TVs have changed our acceptance criteria for how bulky a TV can be in our homes (no one today would buy the old bulky CRT TVs from 20 years ago), Devialet’s ADH Intelligence opens the path to world-class audiophile experiences in your home, from elegant objects twenty times more compact than classic audiophile systems.
From there, we also decided to miniaturized our technology to create state of the art speakers. Hence, we launched in 2015 Phantom, a wireless (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Spotify Connect etc.) speaker with 750W (Phantom), 3000W (Silver Phantom) and 4,500W (Gold Phantom) of power that delivers ultra-dense sound with physical impact and can be controlled directly from your smartphone. Phantom’s incredibly powerful and distinct sound has no distortion, saturation, or background noise. It integrates revolutionary technologies to process and emit the most implosive sound in the world.
Phantom is completely unique. It emits sound through a new revolutionary process in accordance with the absolute rules of acoustic perfection. This is thanks to special and completely exclusive Devialet technologies. And its latest iteration, Gold Phantom is 8x more powerful than Phantom with flawless reproduction of the audio spectrum from the deepest bass ever emitted (14 Hz) all the way up to crystal-clear high frequencies (27 kHz).
4. How does the partnership with Paris Opera create synergy with Devialet?
In October, we will launch a unique partnership and license agreement with the Paris Opera – the primary opera company in France founded in 1669 by Louis XIV – for the next 10 years. The three main focuses for the partnership will include: a Devialet sound discovery area within the opera house – the Palais Garnier, a co-branded product line, and an Opera “hors les murs” (outside the walls) project, offering a new way to listen to and experience opera by streaming live opera performances from the comfort of your home – exclusively on Devialet.
Devialet is driven by a desire to serve musical creation and this partnership will enable the brand to amplify the opera’s voice beyond the opera house and to a wider community. Thanks to Devialet’s technologies, opera fans will be able to listen to live transmissions of operas from the 2017/2018 season in their own homes. This project is about contributing to the influence of French creativity around the world
5. The Asian audio market is developing at such a fast pace, what are the reason behind?
When you look at it globally and across Asia, the audio market as a whole is actually not really growing, but it is going through profound changes. Some market segments have been growing fast over the last 10 years, such as headphones, and portable audio in general – think of Bluetooth portable speakers.
The traditional high-end home audio market is addressing fewer and fewer customers, at prices that reserve it only to pure aficionados; our Expert range of ultra-high-end amplifiers are leading this market in terms of performance and aesthetics.
Devialet is managing with Phantom to create a new market segment, at the confluence of high-end audio performance, lifestyle desirability (compactness and design), and compatibility with modern usages such as streaming music from online music services.
6. What are the current recruitment challenges for firms like Devialet when looking for talent?
At Devialet, we are constantly looking for talented people who are eager to develop themselves and passionate about innovations. People who share our vision, are ready to positively challenge consumer accepted beliefs about audio and are willing to make a difference in a formatted luxury world where brands are too often interchangeable.
Despite being 10 years in existence and 7 years with world-acclaimed high-end products on the market (our award-winning Expert Pro range of audiophile amplifiers), Devialet was a company that was largely unknown to anyone outside the audiophile sphere in Hong Kong just a year ago. One of our key challenges was to explain who we are and share our goal to revolutionize the emotion that people get from listening to music.
The best way to do this is through demonstrations of our products. No one is insensible to music, music is a universal language that connects people, and Devialet products always offer mind-blowing experiences to audiences. This is why it has become increasingly easier to recruit top talent in Hong Kong since we opened our first flagship store at IFC in January this year, following the end of June by a second store at Harbour City. We are creating a new market segment, affordable and cool luxury audio. The best way for us to recruit is to allow candidates to experience the emotion our products bring, and to ask themselves whether they want to be part of a pioneering expansion, creating a new market segment and a new retail experience.
Not everyone is comfortable with or suited for the life in a startup or fast-growing company. It takes courage to decide to put on your CV the name of a company that may not be known by your friends yet, but ambitions to be the global leader in sound technology by 2020. It takes a lot of effort for Retail staff to adapt to a new way of selling luxury: one that focuses not just on the pride of ownership of the product, but on the pleasure and emotion, you will feel every day as you listen to it. You, of course, have to be among the bests at what you do, be ready to work hard – and feel you will fulfill yourself professionally and personally into taking part in this incredible entrepreneurial adventure.
7. Can you shed some light on the recent trends in the audio industry and tech start-ups particularly in Asia Pacific region?
In the past 50 years, most of the innovations in the consumer audio industry have been focusing on making it possible to enjoy music and sound everywhere, while making compromises on sound quality when compared to what the artist and the recording engineers created in the studio.
Think about the cassette tape and then the CD opening up the car audio market, portable cassette-based then digital-based audio players, home theaters to soundbars… Audio formats and the source of content have evolved to make it possible for us to enjoy music and movies anywhere – yet, very often this has been at the expense of quality, and therefore enjoyment and emotion. You may have a wireless speaker in your living room, connected to your phone – this is very practical, yet does it give you even 10% of the emotion you had when listening to this same music on your father or grandfather’s hi-fi when you were a child? The chances are high that it does not.
Music storage and streaming capabilities are now finally reaching a stage where most of us will be able to access the music we love in high resolution –sound quality that is better than CD, closest to what audio engineers were crafting in the heart of their studios. Some music online streaming services like Qobuz in Europe or Tidal in a more global way have already started to give access to studio quality files as part of their offer. This opens new possibilities for everyone to experience the music or the movie soundtrack as the artist truly intended.
Asia and especially Hong Kong has always been a pioneering city in terms of audio excellence. Blessed with a strong music culture as well as a profound tech culture, the audiophile market is probably the highest per capita in the world. Every year the HK AV show attracts tens of thousands of visitors, which is massive for a city of 7 million people.
Choosing Hong Kong as our base for APAC development was a great choice, that has been confirmed by the early adoption of our Phantom and Expert product range not only the city’s audiophile community but as well as luxury customers and lifestylers simply looking for the best performing, most exclusive audio systems around.
Other startups in the audio field have interesting projects directed towards musicians, such as the connected vibrating metronome Pulse from Soundbrenner. In the consumer field, audio startups often failed because of not having a truly disruptive proprietary technology that would distinguish themselves from the market.