Devialet Dione review: Ballsy design with the performance to match

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It's not every day that we can say an AV product has a ballsy design and mean it literally. Today, though, is one of those days.

The product in question is the Devialet Dione soundbar. Soundbars are hardly the sort of device you'd typically expect to have enough to accommodate a spherical element, yet there, right at the heart of the Dione's unique design, is a perfect sphere.

This ‘Orb' drive unit instantly helps the Dione stand out from the ever more crowded soundbar shelves, of course, as Devialet design is often wont to do. As we'll see, though, it's much more than just a unique design feature.

Design and build

  • Soundbar dimensions: 1200(w) x 88(h) x 165(d)mm
  • Weight: 12kg
  • No optional rear or subwoofer speakers

Everything about the Devialet Dione's design is extraordinary. Obviously the star of the show is that Orb centre channel driver, but the lovely curved trough in the main soundbar's top edge that houses the Orb is also beautifully realised.

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The combination of a nice brushed finish for the central three quarters of the soundbar's top edge with felt covers over the drivers along the front and at each end, including the meaty up-firers, is as easy on the eye as it is distinctive, too. The felt covers can be removed for anyone who prefers a more ‘high tech', industrial look.

The grilled, hard plastic finish of the Orb offers another effective contrast to the top edge's smoothness, and the ease with which it rotates in its mounting ‘hole' to suit specific positioning needs is a wonder of the design world.

A row of touch-sensitive controls along one side of the top edge is also gorgeously integrated, and the build quality throughout is outstanding. As evidenced in part by the soundbar's meaty 12kg weight. Chassis rattles and buzzes are not going to be something we need to worry about here.

One disappointing thing about the Dione's design is its lack of an LED display for tracking volume levels and input selection. But it's easy to understand why this might not have been practical given that the soundbar is designed to be oriented into different ways.

Connections and control

  • Single HDMI port with eARC
  • Wi-Fi/Bluetooth/Airplay 2/Spotify Connect support
  • Remote control is an optional extra - controlled via Devialet app by default

The Devialet Dione's connectivity is a little disappointing for its money. Not providing a single HDMI loop through is particularly unfortunate given that arguably its closest rival, the Sennheiser Ambeo, carries three HDMI inputs alongside an ARC-capable HDMI output. Also, while there is support for Airplay 2 (which opens the door to a multi-room set up), Spotify Connect and general Bluetooth/Wi-Fi file sharing, there's no support for Chromecast or Tidal Connect like there is with the Sennheiser.

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The HDMI input is at least eARC capable, though, meaning it can handle lossless Dolby Atmos soundtracks passed onto it via compatible TVs. So you can attached any Dolby Atmos carrying device, such as a 4K Blu-ray player or Xbox Series X games console, directly to your TV, and then simply pass its sound out to the Dione. This will work fine for most users, so long as their TV has the necessary eARC and Atmos support. However, it's not uncommon for the eARC approach to cause a loss of sync between TVs and soundbars with some set ups - hence why it's always good to provide at least one HDMI loop through option as a back up.

There are optical digital audio and ethernet ports alongside the single HDMI, but overall connectivity is an area where Devialet could definitely have gone further with such an expensive soundbar.

Also at odds with the Dione's price is its lack of any supplied remote control handset. To be fair, the Devialet app does a perfectly serviceable job of allowing you to both control the soundbar and monitor what it's up to in terms of sound formats, input selection, volume correction and so on. Provided you have your phone with you, and it isn't out of battery…

It's possible to cough up £185 to secure one of Devialet's gorgeous circular stand-alone 'Remote' control device. But it's hard not to think that maybe one of these distinctive handsets might have been included as standard with a nearly £2,000 soundbar.

There's no support for voice control either - though it is possible to take advantage of the Dione's support for the CEC TV/HDMI control platform.
One much more intuitive control option is the roster of touch-sensitive buttons range down the left side of the soundbar's top (or front, depending on which position you're using the Dione in) edge.

Features

  • 17 custom neodymium drivers
  • Dolby Atmos playback
  • 950W RMS of audio power
  • Rotatable centre speaker supports vertical or horizontal use

The Deviialet Dione's most headline grabbing feature, its rotatable Orb centre speaker, has already been covered pretty well. It's worth reiterating, though, that the lovely robust feeling of the rotating mechanism and the genius way a built-in gyroscope informs the Dione whether it's been used in a wall hanging or desk mounted orientation makes it the single most cleverly designed and flexible soundbar in town.

Accompanying the unique Orb centre speaker are no less than nine full-range aluminium drivers, and a whopping eight aluminium long-throw subwoofers that are claimed to help the Dione get all the way down to 24Khz - a phenomenally low frequency response for a soundbar that doesn't deploy an external subwoofer.

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The Dione's speakers are designed to cope with a mammoth total power load of 950W, too - a figure which joins its unique Orb-based design in starting to explain why the Dione costs so much.

Also potentially contributing to the Dione's high price is its use of some of the innovative technologies also found elsewhere in Devialet's high-end audio products. Analogue Digital Hybrid amplification is there, for instance, to supposedly blend the benefits of digital and analogue amplification for more accuracy and cleaner power. There's Adaptive Volume Level management too, which constantly analyses and tweaks sound to ensure that neither small details nor dialogue are lost in the mix. Finally and most usefully, Devialet's Speaker Active Matching technology is on hand to stop drivers from pushing beyond their limits, greatly reducing the potential for the sound to be affected by distortions, crackles and other signs of speaker breakdown.

Processing, meanwhile, is provided by 4 x ARM Cortext-A53 1.25GHz processor, with 1GB of DDR3-800 memory.

While the Dione supports Dolby Atmos soundtracks, and includes a pair of up-firing drivers in its 5.1.2 channel configuration to deliver that format's overhead/height channel effects, it doesn't support the DTS:X format. This is disappointing on such a premium soundbar, given that there are plenty of films on Blu-ray and 4K Blu-ray - including all the Jurassic Park releases - that favour DTS:X over Dolby Atmos. Devialet does suggest a solution of sorts for this issue, though, in the form of its proprietary SPACE listening modes. These convert DTS:X sound to PCM and configure it to play as a multi-channel soundtrack that takes advantage of all the soundbar's drivers. This is not, of course, as desirable as a native DTS:X approach, but it proves to be a heck of a lot better than nothing.

The SPACE system can also be used to convert stereo (or even mono) music into multi-channel music, though a Music mode is provided that disables the soundbar's spatialisation technology for purists who want to hear music in its original stereo form. The SPACE technology is available in Movie and more musical Spatial Modes, with a further option tweaking the spatial presentation so that voices sound more prominent.

Wrapping the Dione's features up is an Auto Calibration tool that uses built-in mics and a short test signal sequence to adjust the characteristics of its sound to suit the specific layout and characteristics of your room.

Performance

For anyone prepared to put the convenience of a single-bar soundbar solution ahead of the full surround experience provided by premium soundbars that also provide rear speakers, the Devialet Dione proves to be an incredibly powerful and precise performer.

Particularly outstanding - unique, even - is how much bass it manages to produce. Even the absurd levels of deep rumble that accompany the air combat scenes in Top Gun: Maverick are handled with aplomb by the Dione's huge array of bass drivers, hitting depths that are almost impossible to reconcile with the absence of a dedicated external subwoofer.

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Even more impressively, the quality of the Dione's bass drivers together, most likely, with Devialet's Speaker Active Matching technology, allows the soundbar to deliver its colossal quantities of bass without it falling prey to problems such as rattling, drop outs, chassis buzzing or driver crackling.

More evidence of just how good the Dione's driver design is comes from the way its peerlessly epic bass performance doesn't overwhelm the rest of a Dolby Atmos soundstage. On the contrary, the mid-range drivers are so powerful and so precise that the enormous bass only functions as a potent foundation for the rest of a complex mix - exactly as it should.

Voices from the Orb, for instance, are always delivered with absolute clarity and strikingly precise placement at the heart of a mix, no matter how dense the rest of the soundstage action might be. The circular dispersion of the centre-channel sound, too, ensures that voices don't sound boxed in or locked into too small an area of the mix. The spherical centre channel shape also helps to lift vocals vertically, so that they appear to be coming more from the pictures on the screen above the soundbar rather than sounding like they're coming from some dislocated place below the screen.

The general scale of the Dione's sound stage is outstanding. The side-firing and up-firing drivers add huge width and height to the already potent room-filling sound delivered by the front-firing left and right speakers, creating a genuine three dimensional space for Dolby Atmos sound effects to populate.

And populate this space they certainly do. The power and precision of all of the Dione's drivers helps effects of all sizes, volumes and tones appear in the right place with the right level of clarity and the right level of weight in the mix. Nothing overwhelms anything else, not even the tiniest details are lost in translation, and the impact levels of different sounds are handled perfectly.

Transitions are also superbly realised by soundbar standards. This is especially true with height effects; for instance, as the ‘spirit' erupts from the mine shaft in Ghostbusters: Afterlife it's easy to track the entity's rapid upwards trajectory into your ceiling. But left and right movements are perfectly traced, too.

The Dione handles atmospheric effects and score work every bit as effectively as it handles more specific placement and effect details, too. In fact, with that monster bass performance always on hand to give big sound moments a convincing foundation, it's tough to think of any soundbar that better handles the epic score and ambient sound effects of Denis Villeneuve's Dune.

The bottom line is that the Dione consistently delivers huge amounts of power, bass and detail without ever succumbing ever to distortions or imbalances. So much so that it seems almost unfeasible from a single, actually fairly slender soundbar design. It's not quite flat out perfect, though.

For one thing, while the Orb typically does a remarkably effective job of placing dialogue clearly and accurately in the mix, it can sound just a touch too pronounced with very high pitched vocals. Making sure you've run the Auto Calibration system can improve this a bit, but it doesn't completely make the problem go away.

Inevitably with a single-bar soundbar, even the powerful side-firing drivers can't conjure up any sense of sound coming from behind you. Or even to the side of you, really. So you only experience the forward half of a Dolby Atmos ‘sound hemisphere' rather than sitting right in the middle of a full 360-degree mix.

Finally, while the SPACE system for upconverting content with limited native channels of sound works pretty effectively with movies - including DTS:X soundtracks - it proves more of a mixed bag with music. Relatively sparse tracks typically sound very convincing; more immersive and atmospheric without losing any of their clarity or ‘feel'. Denser tracks topped off with either fairly strident guitars or vocals, though, can sound a little strained in places, making them less convincing and ultimately quite tiring to listen to.

Before music fans write the Dione off for this, though, remember that the option is provided to stick with stereo playback of stereo music if desired. And in this ‘native' stereo configuration the Dione actually sounds fantastic - immaculately staged, clean, detailed without being clinical, and powerful enough to put the listener right there in the studio with the artist.

Original Article