Boenicke W8 – A review

Boenicke W8-1

Years ago when I was a single driver (full range driver, wide bander) speaker tragic I had this check list written down of a speaker I would like to hear.  At the time the system I had used 8” single drivers complimented by two powered sub woofers.  It was one of those systems that had plenty of technical faults and yet when music was playing it became a highly addictive, very musical system.  I would never tire of the music and even after an extended listening session I still wanted to listen to just “one more” song.  My wife got pretty sick of just “one more” song when it was hitting the early hours of the morning.  I used to think of it as musical cocaine.  Highly addictive.

That system gave so much insight into music that many things afterwards have been somewhat pale in comparison.  However it wasn’t without fault.  Hence my personal ultimate speaker recipe was written.

Boenicke W8-2

So the recipe would capture the midrange insight that I enjoyed but extend on every other level.  Better integration with the bass.  Proper treble.  No frequency break up.  I wanted a speaker that still had a single driver in the mix.  Even if it meant some sort of first order crossover to make things behave.  A highly refined tweeter and some sort of passive driven bass driver.  It also needed to fit into standard size living areas and homes.  It needed an element of style that wasn’t offensive to the eye and the ability to pass the test of time.

The problem was a lot of this wish list started involving complex crossover networks that unless done exceptionally well killed the music.  It also involved some sort of active module to drive the bass.  I have found that texturally this hasn’t worked terribly well for me.  The kicker for crossovers was what you gained with refinement you lost in musical flow.  I always envision it as the music had become a prisoner withheld.  Sometimes seeing the light of day, held back behind steel bars and fences.  Never knowing what true freedom is.

I ended up spending large sums of money on an active WLM system that took me to great heights but at very high costs.  Not just for the system but also for the required ancillaries.  One preamplifier, three stereo amplifiers, endless metres of cabling.  Space to have such a set up.  It achieved a lot.  It showed me what was achievable and it allowed for me to enjoy music at a very high level.  However  I also lost the simplicity I was looking for.

So back to the idea of a simple (on the outside at least) speaker which captured my early days of single driver speakers was germinating.  However it was germinating in the mind of someone on the other side of the globe.  Someone who had the technical graft to make it a reality.

I became aware of Sven Boenicke many years ago.  I had bought a few of his B:There recordings and kept a close eye on what he was doing.  Here was a man unwilling to compromise on workmanship or style.  Unfortunately it also came at a cost.  What got me really interested was the design he carried out for Orpheus.  A behemoth of a speaker that retails for more than what I dare think about.  The part that caught my eye was the way Sven had designed the two mid speakers to run completely open.  No crossover to interfere.  Allowing the drivers to breathe.  In my eyes this gave me great insight into his thinking as a designer.  A willingness to push the design boundaries.

With the launch of the W8 speaker I noticed very few crossover components involved, that the two mid range drivers were doing something quite unique.  The 4” paper cone has a first order low pass filter, however with no other filter the driver is allowed to run free for the rest of its operating range.  The 3” wide bander has a similar first order high pass filter and likewise is able to run free through its remaining range.  The 6.5” bass driver runs completely crossover-less.  To complete the upper register, a rear facing tweeter with excellent radiation characteristics provides the speaker with exceptional ambiance recovery.  This was the speaker that finally made a lot of sense to me.  If the drivers are chosen very carefully there is a reliance for the natural roll off of the individual drivers to integrate with each other.  This needs very careful driver selection as well as tuning the driver in the speaker cabinet.  If you have a look at the cross section of the W8 these carved out cavities have a critical roll to play.

W8 Internal

So the price was right, the speaker design made sense to me and it had serious designer cred.  These won’t dominate the décor.  My wife and I had the ideal location within our living room for these.  They didn’t make it there.  I had them locked and loaded in my dedicated music room to run them in.  They haven’t moved since.

These little gems have displaced every speaker before them.  A speaker that integrates exceptionally well into my room.  They have given me hope that great musical systems are achievable at reasonable costs.  Not “giant killing” cheap prices but if you’re the average working man and you put your mind and savings into it, they are achievable.

Detour – Solid timber for the household.  Once every year the local council allows home owners the chance to clear out large unused household items.  We put items out on the kerb and a week later whatever is left, after the scavengers, gets picked up to be crushed and made into landfill.  When I walk the local streets during this time I see more heavily processed timber board (MDF and particle board) than possibly anything else.  Never have I seen a solid piece of timber in any of this furniture.  People regard the solid timber as a collectable.  Possibly of heirloom quality.  Something that will last the ages and be handed down to future generations.  George-NakashimaWhen asked about the use of veneered board, the late George Nakashima had the following to say:  A primary decision in the making of wood pieces is the question of solids versus veneers. They both have advantages and disadvantages. Basically, veneers are dimensionally more stable than solids and lend themselves to almost exact bookmatching. A whole room can be veneered with several inches of lumber. Veneers can be cut from the thickness of a thin board to such a thickness that light can pass through the pores of the wood. Solid wood is a challenge. It is continually “alive” and “moves”, depending on weather conditions, moisture content of the air and temperature. Each board of each species is individual and must be understood, the good characteristics exploited. It is not a “dead” object like veneer trussed to a core, which is often not even wood, but particles of wood embedded in plastic.

People are often indoctrinated with the fragility of wood. This is true of veneers where the actual surface is only 1/28 to 1/40 of an inch thick sometimes thinner. Unless they are treated with care, their surface will be destroyed. Because of this fragility, a thick, heavy, “protective” coating, usually polished to an unnatural degree, must be applied. No weathering or improvement with age is possible. If this surface begins to deteriorate, it must be refinished. Good solid wood, with a penetrating oil finish, on the other hand, is a very different material—it is an actual surface, and not merely a protective skin.  The philosophy of solid wood is usage. Naturally, wood can be destroyed, especially if it is pressed beyond what it is meant to do; but in a sense, the harder a piece is used, the better the surface becomes. Furniture should be lived with and not considered something overly precious. 

Nakashima Studio

I’m not sure if Sven Boenicke feels the same way as George Nakashima.  Perhaps it was purely for sonic reasons to build speakers from solid timber.  To talk with Sven I get the impression that it is much more than this.  There is a passion to offer more to the end user.  Something that will last beyond the owners’ lifespan.  For me solid timber, whether it is in the form of a single board or multiple segments such as the W8 offers far greater pride in ownership than what a cheaply sourced MDF board can ever offer. – End of detour.

Boenicke W8-3

By positioning these speakers correctly, (trust me this will take time), the W8 integrates exceptionally well into most living spaces.  Being able to get these speakers to be less than 3dB of deviation (from 25hz to 20khz) in my listening room without any room correction was a very pleasant surprise.  I put this down to the bass driver orientation, the rear facing tweeter and the wooden body of the cabinet.  By choosing the type of amplification you like these speakers can go from highly neutral and accurate to what I consider to be in the vein of a musical instrument.  When I say musical instrument, I’m not meaning a thin-bodied resonate instrument that some solid wood cabinets are made from, but rather a completely open, expansive, musical presentation that allows me to relax completely into.  It is rare for a speaker to allow me to plumb to these depths.  In fact the only time I reach them consistently is when I go to a live performance.  I can only describe it as a trance like state where I become completely enveloped by the music.  The only time I break out of it is at the end of the performance.  My wife thinks I have fallen asleep sometimes but when I come out of it I am completely in tune with the performers.  There are no distractions.

With the right ancillaries these are the type of speakers that provide enough of everything.  Bass may not have the punch in the face effect that hard rock fans would be looking for, however what is there is full of tone, body and communicates all of the subtleties of the musical performance.  The rear facing tweeter allows for a performance where you can focus in on each performer within the soundstage.  To say that the W8 captures the ambiance of the recording would be an understatement.  Each fine brush on a cymbal, the bottle slide on a guitar string.  These are the subtle reminders that no detail is lost but at the same time they aren’t pushed forward into your face to become a hyper detailed, over emphasized feature.  As the tweeter faces backwards there is no beaming to be concerned with.  The midrange is open and transparent in the same vein as the best of what a single driver can offer.  Combined together this is simply a speaker that performs on a level where you can say that no more is required.

These are speakers that will be very dependent on what you feed them.  For tuning purposes Sven uses a very neutral class D amplifier.  For personal enjoyment both Sven and I use high quality at reasonable cost tube amplifiers.  This combination of high quality tubes and such a transparent and yet tone full speaker have brought me to personal contentment that I never expected.  If this is what can be achieved in such a small stature then large boxes will have no requirement in my home.  The days of having a shrine to the over bloated hi-fi gods where speaker cabinets overpower the room both visually and audibly are possibly over.

There are many speaker manufacturers out there.  More than I dare even think about.  Some will push the measured performance of the speaker to the limits of technology.  Yet when I sit and listen on a superficial basis I can say that yes I believe they sound true to the source.  This doesn’t mean that I can actually feel it in the same way as being at the live event.  It is one thing to hear it, it’s a completely different story to feel it.  If you visit the Boenicke website you may read a quote from Sven that reads “Perhaps I have spent more time in concert halls recording live music than most other loudspeaker manufacturers.   Wherever I go, the tone of real instruments is with me.  In my memory, in my body – and I promise you can hear it in our products.”

Maybe in some subconscious way Sven Boenicke goes beyond just hearing the live event.  Maybe he has found a way to replicate the way a live event feels.  The Boenicke W8 not only sound true to the live event, they feel it.

 

W8 Standard 2

 

Technical Specs

Sensitivity: 87 dB / watt / m

Nom. impedance: 4 ohms

  •  6.5″ long throw bass driver, tuned to 28 Hz, running without crossover.
  •  4″ paper cone bass-midrange driver, 1st order low pass filter, no high pass filter, apple tree phase plug, maple wood cone mounted to magnet.
  •  3″ widebander, 1st order high pass filter, unique electromechanical parallel resonator installed.
  •  Internal wiring orientation-optimised silk-wrapped high-frequency stranded litz.
  •  WBT NextGen binding posts.
  •  Rear ambient tweeter with a 1st order filter
  • Cabinet CNC machined from laminated solid timber segmented board.  By using segmented board over single section boards allows for great dimensional stability while still retaining the living attributes of solid wood.

Optional extra Swing Base shown in all photos.  All listening impressions taken with the swing base in place.

Setup and suitable amplifiers.

Please keep in mind the set up guide is applicable to my room only.  This is a guide only.  Physical positioning of these speakers can be a challenge but ultimately very rewarding.  Due to the rear facing tweeter I found having the tweeter directly facing the back wall caused harshness in the treble region.  Most likely caused by a direct reflection off the back wall.  Having enough toe in with the speaker allowed the tweeter to angle towards the side wall and completely alleviated this issue.  To achieve excellent sound stage depth the W8 like to be out from the back wall by one metre as a minimum.  I preferred the bass driver to be facing towards the outside walls.  With the toe in this allowed the bass driver to be angled forwards.  This created excellent in room response.  Tone was spot on, imaging and soundstaging is as good as can ever be achieved and ambient recovery is expansive.

Amplifier types.

My personal preference with these speakers are good quality tube amps.  I highly rate the Trafomatic Kaivalya or EOS.EOS  Weston Acoustics Topaz KT120 and Cary CAD-120S would also be good starting points.  Tone colour and fleshed out vocals come to the fore with tubes.  For fans of solid state look at Crayon Audio, higher powered Bakoon, ME or similar.  High quality Class A will push all of the right buttons.  I didn’t particularly enjoy amplifiers that push the soundstage too far forward or felt in general that things were being pushed too hard.  I suspect that due to the very high gain the Job225 didn’t allow for the subtle nuances that the Boenicke W8 is capable of producing.  High quality with refined taste will reward you long after you forget about the wallet pain.