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Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Financial Interests: click here
Source: Esoteric UX-1;Yamamoto YDA-01
Preamp/Integrated: ModWright DM-36.5; Esoteric C-03

Amp: FirstWatt F5, ModWright KWA-150, Octave MRE-130, MiniWatt, Yamamoto A-09S
Speakers: Acoustic System Tango R; Zu Audio Essence
Cables: Acoustic System Liveline interconnects, speaker cables and power cords

Stands: 2 x Ikea Molger with Ikea butcher block platforms and Acoustic System footers
Powerline conditioning: 2 x Walker Audio Velocitor S
Sundry accessories: Furutech RD-2 CD demagnetizer; Nanotech Nespa Pro; full-house installation of Acoustic System resonators, noise filters and phase inverters; Advanced Acoustics UK Orbis Wall and Corner
Room size: Sound platform 3 x 4.5m with 2-story slanted ceiling; four steps below continues into 8m long open kitchen, dining room and office which widen to 5.2m with 2.8m ceiling; sound platform space is open to 2nd story landing and 3rd-floor studio; concrete floor, concrete and brick walls, converted barn with no parallel walls nor perfect right angles; short-wall setup with speaker backs facing the 8-meter expanse
Review Component Retail: starting at CHF 36,820/pr

Free radicals unite!
Sven Boenicke in Basel/Switzerland makes purist recordings under B:There Records. He also makes purist loudspeakers for the audiophile connoisseur. And, he has one PA project with an air motion transformer in the works [below in 1000sqm hall] that applies his design philosophies to extreme output demands. Our focus of course are his home audio speakers though Sven who has "operated for 15 years" would be quick to paint the connection with the B:There label: "I do not design speakers with tastes or matches in mind but the original. As you know I am a recording engineer so I sit in concerts and around true live sound almost every week. I have the ability to store and remember that sound -- especially the color of a sound -- to a very high degree somewhere in my body and compare it to a playback sound no matter at which time. This is a true advantage I have over other speaker manufacturers. Only with my own recordings do I really know what I am doing, even more so since I made the recording equipment myself (with Serge)."

The Serge in question is the Schmidlin of Audio Consulting, an audio radical if ever there was one (I've been to his house). If you've heard of the Silver Rock or Rubanoïde, you'll have come across the man. Audio Manufacture by Boenicke Audio presently makes three speaker models, all of them 1.5-ways like Zu's discontinued Druid and its Essence replacement. Such numerology means that the Boenicke speakers' consecutively larger and either quad- or bi-paralleled Vifa mid/woofers run wide open. The only electrical filter is a 6dB/octave high-pass for the tweeter. For the 5-driver W10 model with 4 x 12cm cones, that tweeter is a conventional 1-inch silk dome. For the twin-paralleled WE18 and WE20SE models, we step up to a large Raal ribbon. In case you missed it from our RoadTour Serbia, that's a state-of-the-art transducer which is quickly becoming popular with ambitious offerings, from husband-and-wife team Crystal Cable and Siltech to Akustikbau Kaiser and BPT and Sonics by Joachim Gerhard.

What distinguishes Sven's two ribbon-fitted models are enclosure size (at 24 x 124 x 47cm WxHxD, the top one is significantly larger and heavier than its Raal mate at 20 x 92 x 33); cone diameter (18 vs 20cm) and cone orientation (twin front-firing vs one front, one up, the latter for full omni radiation). Anyone collaborating with Serge Schmidlin is of course bound to be a conceptual kinsman, i.e. tweaker. For Boenicke's W-Series speakers, this means Combak/Harmonix tuning devices on the magnets. It involves Marigo Labs VTS tuning dots on the cones; Dieter Ennemoser's infamous C37 violin lacquer on the diaphragms (6 coats), voice coils, motor assemblies and custom Apple Tree phase plug (one coat); and exotic Duelund capacitors. More radical considering its rarity in this sector is Sven's enclosure technique. He bonds two solid wooden clam-shell halves together whose innards sport serpentine lines carved out by machine and hand. Here we also come across tone woods like Swiss Silver Spruce and Moonwood (standard) as well as Walnut (surcharge). While in theory, all wood varietals are possible, practically their respective expansion and shrinkage potential based on temperature and moisture exposure makes some more suitable than others. Consult with the maker if you have specific requests. Under Tuning, his stylish website further references solid-core lacquer-coated cotton-shrouded cables; Audio Consulting resistors; and various affordable tweaks which are openly credited to their inventors and makers.

The top W20 SE review subject [upper right] runs a ca. 7kHz 1
st-order high-pass filter on its massive Raal ribbon with Audio Consulting custom transformer and two intersecting transmission lines behind its two direct-coupled and paralleled mid/woofers*. Claimed frequency response is 20Hz to 100,000Hz, voltage sensitivity 95dB and nominal impedance 3 ohms (due to the paralleled widebanders). The speaker is said to require at least 300 hours to come on song and 4 days of settling in after transportation. Footers are "custom-made supports from bell-bronze to allow for a very small but essential horizontal freedom of movement. You will lose a little bit of punch in the bass but will get a clearly more relaxed and airy midrange and treble." With his Basel residence a mere two hours removed from 6moons HQ, Sven would personally deliver a fully conditioned pair, then retrieve it two weeks later and deliver it to its next destination. While that time frame was narrower than usual, this pair's availability was quite booked in advance so I was to view it as opportunity, not imposition.

* As to imposition, the review pair which Sven Boenicke eventually delivered by car many months after the original promise date was fitted with prototype Ennemoser-designed drivers which TangBand had manufactured to spec. At the Munich HighEnd 2009 show, Sven had approached other drive-unit houses for willingness to make this driver in low volume batches. At the time of his visit to Chardonne, a final commitment to a specific manufacturer had not yet been made. Had Boenicke not sneakily presented me with this switch from Vifa upon delivery and thus the very last moment (we don't review prototypes), I for a change would have postponed the review once more in favor of final production drive units to assure that what I reviewed would be identical in every way to what customers will purchase.
The high-pass cap on the Raal ribbon is an ultra-expensive Duelund unit, the parallel resistor an Audio Consulting unit. Two Golden Goddess Bybee filters and Audio Consulting silver-in-cotton hookup wiring complete the internal hardware while silver posts with wooden screw-downs complete the outer (don't apply gorilla torque on those to prevent stripping the wooden threads). Boenicke believes in ball-bearing footers and supplies five per speaker (the usual square plus a 5th in the back) but he forgot to account for uneven flooring by providing built-in leveling provisions. The ball-bearing receivers mounted to the metal plinth are fixed and non-adjustable. That flaw is in need of rectification particularly with five contact points. Anyone shopping this price sector can't be expected to shim up speakers with card board slivers or pennies.

The review pair enclosure was instrument-grade Spruce Fir, a soft wood whose oil finish turns it a very pale yellow. One sample had two very minor shallow cracks Sven had to point out to notice. He had originally wanted to deliver dark Walnut units but applied too much pressure during the clamshell bonding process and cracked one badly. I encouraged him to bring the flawed Fir demonstrator pair rather than craft a pristine new one to document what he considers a worst-case crack that might develop over time (even age-cured wood can respond to moisture and temperature). On 'flawed', on one of the enclosures, a white pigment applied hadn't taken evenly so instead of ruining the mate, Sven had used a different finish. What it means when a local maker solicits one for review in February, then doesn't manage to deliver review samples until late June only to show up with non-respresentational units and prototype drivers I'm not certain. The transport flight cases hadn't been finished in time either, forcing Sven to carry the speakers wrapped in wool blankets in his car. As he discovered, the Spruce Fir was soft enough to show minor indentations from this treatment. The line between artisanal and corporate perfection is fine. It takes real skill and resources to walk. (The masking tape on the crossover/terminal board was another item on that subject).

Sermon on the mole hill interlude: Reviews create publicity which can stimulate sales which can help build a business. At what juncture in this process exactly a manufacturer enters the press is different in each case. Regardless, one must come fully prepared. The reviewer is the eyes and ears of the potential customer. The latter relies on the former for a comprehensive fitness check on everything pertaining to a purchase. As sell costs increase, standards must sharpen. Once we get into new car prices for audio components, only a patron saint to the audio arts would be lenient when certain basic items aren't handled to satisfaction. What to think when implications of 'best foot forward' and 'be ready' are handled in cavalier fashion or not considered at all? Lack of experience? Premature interface with the press?

In the US, the Boenicke Audio brand has come under the aegis of Sam Laufer of import house Laufer Teknik who, among others, also brings Ascendo, Bolzano Villetri, Lansche and behold into the country to suggest selectivity and a keen nose for unusual products. His CES 2009 room above garnered some quite enthusiastic responses which, in conjunction with related due diligence, had convinced me to accept this solicitation. Now it became time for the fun and, as it turned out, truly exciting part: the audition.