Juliene Bergère has always kept in step with sound technology. It all started over breakfast as a boy of four years. His father brought out a newly acquired voice recorder and asked his son to speak into it. The impression of technology that could maintain, transmit, and replay sound with such clarity left a permanent impression on the boy. At thirteen, he assembled his first rudimentary audio kit.
Soon, he rose through the ranks in the Hong Kong branch of a big-name consumer electronics firm, starting as an engineer and eventually emerging as director of the sound and acoustics product range. In 2012, settled into a steady routine with his wife and children in the city, a new rhythm would play out as a start-up back in France needed someone to head their flagship project. “I have my wife to thank,” he admits. Initially set to leave in a month, she agreed to flying out in two days.
Breaking the sound barrier
Devialet is a start-up audio firm based in Paris, France. It’s named after a thinker who contributed entries to one of the world’s first modern encyclopedias in the 1700s. Its latest product, the Phantom Bluetooth speaker, has shaken not just the niche audiophile world, but the electronics scene as a whole. With a total of 88 patented parts, reviewers and industry experts alike have noted that the Phantom manages to push certain boundaries due to Devialet’s partnerships with manufacturers established across industries ranging from metallurgy to automotive engineering.
In the November Hi Fi Show, one of the largest conventions of audiophiles, experts, and manufacturers both independent and established, Devialet was one of the many names with a room in the Dusit Thani Manila. The hotel’s mezzanine and 6th floors were transformed into a mansion of sound systems for the event which happens yearly. Bergère brims with excitement as he narrates the science behind the Phantom. This is not a marketing man trying to sell me a product—I catch a glimpse of the 13-year old boy assembling his first audio kit. Our hotel room has been converted into a mini theatre of sorts, with chairs facing a huge flat screen TV flanked by two Phantoms pounding away.
Rather, they were dancing away.
The French engineer repeatedly stands up from our seats, asking me to take a closer look at the set-up, the reverberating bass, the layering of metals, telling me of oscillations and mechanical stress, of how a millimeter can make or break the durability of moving parts. “Sadly, I can’t take apart the speakers now,” he tells me, as we return to our seats for the nth time. It definitely tries to make the most of the physics available, looking more like a droid from Star Wars than your standard box-design speaker set.
A cursory web search of reviews reveals that its performance and durability lives up to the hype.
The Phantom of the (Audiophile) Opera
Devialet’s executives realized that each part of the Phantom required meticulous crafting to withstand the strain of its output – in terms of hertz, wattage, decibels, and the like – equivalent to those of stadium speakers. Like putting Goliath’s strength in David’s size. “We wanted to put the power and clarity of stadium speakers into something that was a 20th of the size, and price, as well as marry the high fidelity of analog audio and the power efficiency of modern, digital audio” says Bergère on Devialet’s vision.
“We did the calculations, and while your blueprints are theoretically sound, execution will be another story,” was the common, thinly-veiled no and ambiguous yes that the team would receive whenever approaching a potential partner for specific parts.
The speaker system even contains parts made through a process that’s listed as Intangible Heritage by the United Nations, from metal smiths based in Normandy, who also make luxury cutlery. Is it a vanity project? Perhaps. Who wouldn’t be proud of defying what many experts deemed impossible? But the people at Devialet are first and foremost audiophiles, and then engineers, and enjoyment of the nuances of sound comes before any pride derived from their pursuit.
In 2014, the Phantom was finally launched to the amazement of fans and skeptics alike, some of who turned down its creators when asked to partner with them during the development phase. A year later, Bergère returned to Hong Kong as Devialet general manager for the Asia-Pacific region.
Life so far seems to have come full circle for Juliene Bergère, since taking the leap of faith from a stable life, diving to pursue a childhood dream. The acoustic engineer slash manager is about to expound on the three-point bass, mid, and treble design when suddenly, Tonyboy de Leon, one of the main organizers of the Hi Fi Show, enters the room. Bergère checks his watch, and grinning again, cuts the conversation short. “Manila’s traffic may just take longer than my actual flight back to base,” he says, as we shake hands.
Devialet has a pop-up store exclusively run by local distributor AVDI, in Unit 442 - 443, Main Wing Shangri-La Plaza, EDSA Corner Shaw Boulevard, Mandaluyong City. All photos are courtesy of Ann Latagan of AVDI.