Jay Z-backed Devialet launches $300 Apple AirPods Pro rival

(CNBC) – French audio tech firm Devialet is better known for premium speakers that cost as much as $3,000. Now, it’s taking on the likes of Apple and Samsung in the more affordable wireless earphones market.

The company on Friday debuted a pair of totally wireless earbuds, its first new product in two years. Called Gemini, the gadget will ship on Nov. 25 in the U.S. for $299, U.K. for £279, France and Germany for 299 euros and China for 2,380 yuan, with pre-orders opening on Oct. 10.

Devialet, backed by Jay Z and LVMH’s billionaire CEO Bernard Arnault among others, is entering a fiercely competitive market dominated by Apple. At $299, Gemini is more expensive than Apple’s $249 AirPods Pro and Samsung’s $169 Galaxy Buds Live. However, Devialet CEO Franck Lebouchard told CNBC that the pricing was in line with other high-end wireless earbuds.

“Two years ago, we were struggling to decide which product we would want to launch next,” Lebouchard said in an interview. “The reason why we made that decision on true wireless was really around offering a great sound experience to many people, not only audiophiles.”

He said Gemini stands out because it comes from a company whose specialty is high-end audio products. Devialet’s loud, bass-heavy Phantom speakers have won fans ranging from Tesla CEO Elon Musk to YouTube star Marques Brownlee, though they’re very much targeted at the luxury end of the music tech sector.

With Gemini, Devialet is touting “market-leading” noise cancellation and a patented technology that adjusts to movements from the wearer. Other notable specs include up to 8 hours of battery life, wireless charging and the option to open the charging case up to replace its battery.

Devialet, which has yet to turn a profit, will face an uphill battle launching Gemini in the U.S. due to the level of competition from Apple. The company is expecting more success in China, where it’s partnered with Huawei to help build the latter’s own smart speaker, Sound X.

“We’ve been investing a lot in China,” Lebouchard told CNBC, adding it’s the firm’s “second-largest” market by revenues after France. The company’s wireless headphones would also face heavy competition in China from both Xiaomi and Huawei.

Devialet’s chief said the firm had been working on Gemini for around two years and took the decision to continue working on the product from home as the coronavirus pandemic began to spread across Europe earlier this year. He admitted having “no clue on how many we’re going to sell” but that he was adamant on launching them in time for the holidays.

Shoppers will be spoiled for choice when it comes to consumer electronics this year, with Apple expected to launch new 5G iPhones and new video game consoles from Microsoft and Sony dropping next month. But the Covid-19 crisis has created more uncertainty for consumers, and it’s not clear how a fresh product from a lesser-known name like Devialet will be received at launch.


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