This is a short review of the much-heralded Devialet Expert Pro 220 CI. I’ve been wanting to get my hands on one of the Devaliet units for well over a year, so when one popped up at a reasonable price, I had to jump on it.

The fully loaded Devialet Expert Pro 220 CI landed with me just before the Christmas Holidays, 2020, so it sat for a while before I could get around to messing with it.

The unit looks spectacular, a shiny chrome finish, sleek simple design, status indicator recessed on the front/top, with a single on/off illuminated button on the front. Connections are all to the rear, with a matching chrome cover that can be slipped into the main chassis to cover all of the connecting junk. Alternatively, if you’re not a fan of this minimalist aesthetic, then you could describe it as looking like a set of shiny bathroom scales. Still…

The thing is light, only 13lbs, and it’s slim, so not the easiest unit to hook-up, particularly when you’re using beefy power cords and such. (It does actually come with its own nice-looking PC, but I never used it.)

Specification for the Devialet Expert Pro 220 CI is impressive, too, given its size and weight:

  • 220 watts x 2 into 6 ohms (20-20,000 Hz) at <0.0005% THD
  • efficient hybrid amplifier offers the best of Class A and Class D technology
  • signal to noise ratio: 130 dB
  • built-in Wi-Fi creates a strong dual-band wireless connection
  • online configurator tool with manufacturer-specific speaker profiles lets you dial in custom settings
  • stream music via Spotify® Connect, Apple® AirPlay® and UPnP
  • can be configured as a monoblock amp
  • remote included
Connections:
  • Type-B USB input for connecting a computer
  • Ethernet port for connecting to a local network
  • Toslink optical input for connecting a digital source
  • two coaxial digital inputs (digital 1 & 2)
  • phono stage input for connecting a turntable with a moving magnet or moving coil cartridge
    • doubles as an RCA stereo analog line input
    • each input can also function as a coaxial digital input (digital 3 & 4)
  • balanced AES/EBU digital XLR input
  • SD card slot for configuration and setup (card included)
  • mini optical digital input is reconfigurable as an RS-232 port for remote triggering
  • one pair of binding post outputs for connecting speakers via bare wire or banana plug
Dimensions:
  • 15-1/8″W x 1-5/8″H x 15-1/8″D
  • weight: 13 lbs.

Devialet Expert Pro 220 Review

I won’t get into the ins and outs of this unit from a specification standpoint, if you want to know more about that you can just visit the manufacturer’s website here: https://www.devialet.com/en-us/amplifiers/expert-pro/expert-220-pro/

I will say that for your $10K you get just about everything imaginable in terms of connectivity and functionality. At a basic level it’s an integrated amp, at a higher level it’s a fully integrated network device with DAC, streaming capability, digital crossover, a powerful 220w output, an ultra-configurable phono stage designed for vinyl enthusiasts, and connectivity included for things like Airplay and Roon, and…SAM, which we’ll get to next.

SAM® real-time speaker active matching

The Expert 220 Pro CI comes with Devialet’s proprietary SAM® real-time speaker active matching software. In a nutshell – Devialet measure speaker response profiles of a range of popular speaker designs/models, and program their SAM® real-time speaker active matching software to actively compensate for measured anomalies in this range of measured speakers. Or, “From a mathematical model of your speakers, SAM® Speaker Active Matching enables your Expert Pro to adapt accurately the signal transmitted to them. For the first time, it is then possible to obtain a perfect time alignment between the recorded signal and the sound pressure generated by the speaker drivers.”I was of course anxious (prior to purchase) to see if any of my old speakers were included in the SAM database, my Dunlavy SC-111 were not, but lo and behold, a pair of Castle Acoustics Harlech were…so I was off to the races, albeit not with my first choice speaker.

So, don’t be surprised if you don’t find your speakers on the list of those in Devialet’s database, if they’re not there then you just disable that feature in the configurator. Speaking of which….

The Configurator.

I absolutely loved this feature – what a clever and simple way to set up a device with so many configurable options. Insert an SD Card into your card-reader, go to your account on the Devaliet website, load your configuration from your card, make parameter changes, save to the card, re-insert into the back of the Expert 220 Pro, reboot, and you’re up and running with a new set of variables. These variables include configuring what can be run to each input (Analog, Phono, SPDIF/Digi, etc), setting crossover points, configuring the phono stage for multiple inputs, selecting your speakers for use with SAM, selecting from a variety of cartridge configs, and more.

It all worked beautifully and glitch-free.

How does the Devialet Expert Pro 220 CI sound?

Those who’ve read my long rambling review in the past must be wondering where the rest of the preamble went. Let me just say that I wanted to get to this point as quickly as possible, And here’s why:

I did NOT like the sound of the Devialet Expert Pro 220 CI.

Using the internal DAC and shooting over a signal from my CD transport, I spun a few tracks from Roger Water’s ‘Amused to Death’ CD. Not everyone’s favorite cup of tea musically, and I understand why, but few CD’s are better able to lay bare the strengths and weaknesses of a component like Amused To Death. On the Expert 220 Pro, images appeared all over the room. Vocals were eerily present center-stage, with underlapping backing vocals perfectly positioned in relation to Waters’ own voice. Q-Sound spatial effects reached far and wide, an unbelievable sonic panorama, more exciting and engaging than anything I’ve heard since Bob Carver’s own Sonic Holography.

So what’s the problem?

A couple of things lept out of that initial assessment.

Phaseyness…I have a peculiar hearing sensitivity when it comes to hearing something that’s wired out of phase. Or when the phasing has been tampered with, let’s say to create some unusual sound effect. It manifests in a similar way to a sudden pressure change, like the sensation you get when the airplane descends a few thousand feet – that sensation in your ears where you need to ‘swallow’ to try to clear it. I know, I’m a freak. But it’s there. And it was very much present throughout my time with the Devialet.

And, what’s worse, the sound was simply too ‘digitized’. After a few minutes, I lost all connection to the music and began to become irritated with what I was hearing. I can’t think of a better adjective here than ‘digitized’. Digital sounding, a stream of 1’s and 0’s.

Now you’re waiting for me to say that I changed power cords, flicked a switch, changed an Interconnect, and everything became….wow! That didn’t happen. I mean, I did change stuff out, everything pretty much. I tried different sources, including my Aurender N100H, I tried using my Moon Audio DAC and driving an analog input. I tried changing the sampling rate, isolation devices, power cords….. Nothing.

And then one day the penny dropped. I have no proof or physical evidence of what I’m about to say, it’s just my opinion, supported by 40 years of listening to various stuff. I believe there’s something in the software behind the Devialet that performs some kind of digital signal manipulation to create a sense of enhanced image specificity, sound staging, and spaciousness. I think there’s a ‘Sonic Holography’ algorithm at play which we’re not being told about. The downside of this software manipulation is that it knocks a hole in the fluidity of the music and creates a signal which sounds discontinuous, digital. It explains the ‘phase’ sensation I get, which, was always present when listening to Carver’s gear with Sonic Holography engaged.

Nonsense! I hear you shout. That’s fine. It’s my opinion. I tried to get the Devialet to work. I would’ve gladly kept it for the second system. It would’ve replaced a whole lot of boxes. I loved the configuration tools, the aesthetic, the ergonomics, just not the sound.

To complete the assessment, I can also add that the phono-stage was a delight to configure. There’s even a database of cartridges, and if you’re very lucky you might find one of yours listed. I didn’t. But it’s a digitized signal, like all the others through this unit. It sounds spectacular for a half hour or so until you begin to realize that there’s something amiss.

I did not use the SAM feature. This would have meant removing my Dunlavy and wheeling in the Castle Harlech. I certainly wasn’t averse to doing that at the start, in fact, I was looking forward to doing it. But by the time I’d spent a few days trying to get this thing to sound acceptable, I’d lost all enthusiasm for any further swapping of components. There’ll be some who won’t appreciate this decision (not to test out SAM) and some who will no doubt say that the whole raison d’être of the Devialet Expert Pro is to capitalize on the benefits of SAM. If you’re in the latter camp, I simply don’t believe you. The database of SAM-enabled speakers is a tiny fraction of what’s on the market, so this unit should perform well regardless of whether your speakers exist in their database, or not.

Wrapping Up.

I spent a lot of time on the active Devialet forum among users many of whom couldn’t praise the unit highly enough. Some of these people seemed credible, had nice systems, were honest and forthright etc. Perhaps one post in thirty would be someone who seemed to be hesitantly nudging towards a negative comment about the Devialet’s musicality and its ability to retain your attention beyond an hour or so.

Of course, your mileage may vary, and I accept fully that I’m in the minority. And no, I do not believe my unit was defective.

CAH – 3/2021