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- French audio technology company Devialet sells high-end speakers that retail for over £1,000.
- CEO Quentin Sannié wants to become the “Apple of sound” by partnering with other companies.
- Apple CEO Tim Cook is a fan, and Android co-creator Andy Rubin bought 160 Devialet Phantom speakers.
It was 3 a.m. on a morning late in 2009 and Quentin Sannié, CEO of French luxury speaker maker Devialet, was crying alone in his house in Normandy while listening to a recording of Queen performing at Wembley Stadium in 1986.
“I had the first Devialet amplifier at home,” Sannié recalled in a recent interview with Business Insider. “[I was] listening to the music of my life and crying all night.”
Sannié is passionate about music, and talks about audio technology with the kind of enthusiasm that art collectors use to refer to their most prized artworks.
There has been no breakthrough in audio technology in 40 years, Sannié claimed. “Audio is the only domain where you can consider that one century-old technology could be considered by a lot of people [to be] the best technology ever.”
“The vacuum amplifier is considered by a lot of people [to be] the best technology ever to amplify sound … there is no domain, even the quality of the colours for the painting, the tools to cook, everything now is better than it was, except for audio.”
Sannié’s company Devialet is known for its flagship line of high-end speakers, named “Phantom,” which were launched in 2015. The devices can produce around 100 decibels (roughly the same volume as a jet taking off) of sound, and they retail from £1,390 in the UK.
Devialet’s speakers use a combination of analogue and digital amplification, a technology created by the company in 2004 which means that the analogue amplification delivers clear audio that’s played at high volume by the digital components of the speaker.
But Devialet has ambitions far broader than a range of oddly shaped speakers.
Devialet is working towards a ‘final goal’ — but Sannié won’t say what it is
Sannié said in his interview with Business Insider that the company is working towards a mysterious final goal and will partner with carmakers and television producers.
He told Business Insider that since his company was established in 2007, its goal has been to produce a definitive audio product. “It’s like you can imagine if Steve Jobs created Apple with the idea of the iPhone,” he said. “The goal of Devialet is to achieve that. But we know we need 10 to 15 years to be able to achieve it.”
So what is Devialet’s mysterious end goal? Sannié laughed when we asked what the product is and said he can’t tell us. But he explained that “the idea is everything we are doing is connected to that final goal.” He continued his comparison with Apple by likening his Phantom speakers to Apple’s first Macintosh computer — he sees them as the product line that introduces the purpose of the company.
The link between Devialet and Apple go beyond the company’s product strategy: Phantom speakers have been sold in some Apple Stores since 2015.
Devialet announced in November that it had raised €100 million (£89.1 million) in funding from investors including iPhone manufacturer Foxconn and Jay Z’s entertainment company Roc Nation.
Sannié said that one area the money is being spent on is developing its technology. Devialet sees itself as becoming “the Apple of sound” or perhaps “the sound Intel,” Sannié said. To do that, he’s focusing on partnering with other manufacturers to embed Devialet’s technology in their devices.
“Our goal is to put our technology everywhere,” Sannié said. “You have to consider that the audio market is about 100 million units a year. But the whole sound market, [including] devices [such as] TVs, laptops, the smartphone, cars, is about 3 billion units a year. The audio market is only 3% of the global market we can reach with our technology.”
Devialet announced in July that it had collaborated with Sky on the Sky Soundbox, a soundbar speaker for televisions. It was the first evidence of Devialet’s strategy to embed its technology in other products.
Cars are the next frontier for the company
But soundbars are a far cry from cars, which is another key area for Devialet. Sannié explained that he sees the potential widespread use of self-driving cars in the future as an opportunity for Devialet.
“What are you going to do with a completely autonomous car when you are spending one or two hours a day in that car? You have to be connected to the others,” he said. “You want to have a virtual presence through sound and video in your car. Our goal is to put our technology in this industry.”
Sure enough, Devialet announced in December that its speaker technology would be included in Renault’s SYMBIOZ demonstration self-driving car.
Which other car brands is Devialet interested in working with? The company’s speakers are some of the most expensive on the market, so will it follow the same strategy when choosing which automakers it works with?
“If I’m putting a Devialet product in a car, a completely design product, a kind of Phantom in a car, it should be in a luxury product,” Sannié said. But he doesn’t rule out working on cheaper cars. Instead of a Devialet chip, cheaper cars could use Devialet’s software. “It could be affordable, quite easy to implement and it could be massive,” he said of Devialet’s software.
Sannié named Rolls-Royce, Bentley, and Aston Martin as three car manufacturers he’s keen to meet. Business Insider asked whether he’d met with Tesla — a high-tech company which seems like a good fit for Devialet. “Never,” Sannié laughed — as he showed us a Tesla visitor pass sticker on his laptop sleeve.
Devialet wants famous and influential customers — and its own network of shops
Devialet has been opening shops around the world to build its own retail presence outside of places like the Apple Store and Harrods in London.
Devialet shops have listening areas where people can hear what it’s like to play music through a speaker, and the shops often have a high-end design to match the products.
Sannié said Devialet wants to have presences at major travel locations, such as “St Pancras, Heathrow, Charles de Gaulle, JFK … like a luxury brand.”
Another part of Devialet’s marketing strategy is getting its products in front of famous and influential people. “Our goal is not to be massive at this moment,” Sannié said, “but to be recognised by the happy few influential people as the coming big thing.”
“Marc Benioff, the founder of Salesforce, connected us to [Apple retail head] Angela Ahrendts and a friend of mine connected me to Tim Cook,” Sannié said.
It hasn’t all been smooth sailing, though. “The first time I met Angela Ahrendts at Apple,” Sannié said. “My smartphone crashed three minutes before the meeting.”
The company is also in contact with Essential CEO Andy Rubin, the former head of Android at Google, who invested in Devialet through his venture capital fund Playground.
TechCrunch reported in 2016 that Rubin has purchased 160 Phantom speakers from Devialet. If he had bought them at retail price, that would have cost around £222,000.
Is it true? “Yes,” Sannié said. We asked if that’s normal. “For Andy, yes,” Sannié said. “He’s very generous.”
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