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At 45.000 Swiss, the W20 is positioned like a fine new car, say a Subaru Outback 2.5i Ltd with automatic transmission; or a very low-mileage 3.6R Executive. It thus also costs twice as much as the Aries Cerat Gladius from Cyprus it temporarily displaced in my living room. Since joining the Euro, I don't expect that this Mediterranean island offers any cheaper labor to qualify for offshore build advantages. On drivers the Gladius sports a premium Raal ribbon, Fostex widebander and Fostex 12-inch woofer plus ultra-quality external crossover. Like the Swiss it's crafted from wood even though its main body is horizontally stacked Plywood rather than vertically bonded solid wood. At this level of expense I could not separate expectations from a doubled price. And I preferred how the Gladius played my room. For that I wouldn't call it superior per se though to me it was in very particular ways. I would simply call it a most direct competitor. For half the cost. That blunt fact impacted how I looked at everything very close.

Starting with appearance, I'm on owning my second Boenicke model. I find most his designs exceptionally elegant. Not really the W20. The tweeter nose is quite the Pinocchioan protuberance. It makes technical sense but not so much visually. Its wood grain running counter to the main body adds emphasis. Whilst the lopped-off bottoms of wooden cylinder and tweeter mount plate are required clearance to insert the widebander assembly, they look inelegant; quite as though they'd been a corrective measure after the fact.

From the gold/black of the TG1 tweeter with quite a gap between it and the wood, the eye moves to the silver/black of the Supratek 165GMF. Here it encounters 32 exposed bolt heads and another very substantial gap between aluminum ring and surrounding wood. Because the baffle bows backward, this straight ring protrudes at uneven degrees top and bottom. Yet where the massive bull-nosing of the vertical cabinet edges interrupts, it sits flush. This doesn't look completely integrated.

Around back we get the previously shown midrange hatch with finger hole. A child might expect a bird's nest behind it. On the side we get the exposed 18Sound woofer. Add the zebraesque pattern from laminating blond and reddish Ash planks, the 'highly pregnant belly' profile of the rear baffle and the point it comes to at the top. At least to me the aggregate result on overall cosmetics had a somewhat home-baked quality. Rather than organic and smooth like Ring Audio's Master Horn Jazz, my eye stumbled and the overall flow of visual poetry interrupted repeatedly.

For 15.000 Swiss, my Boenicke B10 is expensive but looks the bomb. From any angle its proportions are well conceived. Everything integrates harmoniously. Each detail is carefully worked out. It's a fully dialled product which I'm proud to own and look at even if it doesn't play. A €30.000 Wilson Audio's Sasha sets a standard for fit'n'finish the big Boenicke does not match. Its invoice would actually cover two pairs of the already costly Voxativ Ampeggio. And that German speaker is clad in immaculate piano-gloss lacquer applied by the Schimmel Piano company. Made in Switzerland shouldn't just cost. It should also look, down to the smallest of details.

Given the fine precedents of previous Boenicke encounters, I'm inclined to believe that this very first pair probably came together just in the nick of time for the May Munich show. It's hard to believe then that certain details won't still get ironed out and gussied up in formal production. As far as the striped look goes, a buyer could surely specify a more toned-down appearance should the deliberate contrast of my sample pair not be to taste (my equally striped Gladius addresses that with automotive lacquers). But no matter what, the W20 remains a very expensive artisanal cottage-industry project and doesn't pretend to be otherwise.

The rear-firing tweeter does sport this central depression. This is not a damaged unit. We do however see more gaps and exposed edges because the tweeter is set in too deeply to mount flush and its cutout not shaped precise enough.

Those with the means to consider the W20 and who are happy to make certain concessions towards its artisanal nature will primarily focus on the sonic game of this proposition.

Thus let's refocus from visuals to sonics. This game is about a 300B-optimized statement loudspeaker that's neither a single-driver widebander like the Voxativ Ampeggio nor a widebander plus active bass system like the Rethm Maarga. At heart it's really a conventional ported 3-way, albeit of unconventionally high sensitivity. The particular drivers—pro woofer, exotic French widebander and matching main tweeter—reflect the need to hit the 95dB target figure. Drivers from the usual hifi suppliers don't support it. The W20's size reflects the same need. The total concept wants to deliver the full audible bandwidth but do so with just 8 watts. That's the small but big difference.

The terminal plate sports top-level WBT terminals

Having exhibited at Munich with Sven's M2Tech Young converter run directly into the amps with their top-notched attenuators, "the best preamp is none" was something Boenicke and Colombo agreed on not just in theory but with subsequent comments. When Marja & Henk awarded their exhibit Best of Show in their report, they indirectly signed beneath the same small print. These days I favor transistor amps of a rare sort that's technically even more single-ended triode than actual SETs. There I'm still partial to valve preamps at least on my speakers. But with the Colotube/Boenicke combo I clearly agreed with the Swiss. Eliminating the ModWright LS100 with bulbous Psvane 6SN7s was more lit up, lively and impactful. I already knew that the Eximus DP-1 with its analog volume control made for a very good preamp. It only lacks a remote for that final flourish in such usage. That's how I set up the majority of the audition since the focus was that the W20 is really groomed to perform on such an amp diet.