A brief review of 15 high-end speakers on home demo including B&W, Boenicke, Magico,Wilson

This is an article documenting my 15 month search for the perfect speaker.  I had published this review to a UK site, but it was suggested to me that Audiogon members, being mainly American, may find it of interest too.

I had previously bought a wonderful sounding Vitus amp (100W) and DAC/CD player. These were playing through my B&W 804D speakers. I wanted to upgrade the speakers. Worth noting is that the room has nasty bass issues around 48 Hz and 96 Hz. Some music produced in the last 20 years with prominent bass tends to activate these room modes and a resulting bass boom can occur.

My room is around 11 feet by 15 feet, mostly open plan at one of the long end of the room. The speakers fire across the room. There is no ability to reconfigure the room due to it being a family lounge. Speakers are located with the front end around 2 feet from the wall and 4 feet from side walls.

These are the 15 speakers.  Most came through my room over the period, with two being heard only at a dealer.

Following this list is a short review of each.

Audio Physic Codex

Avalon Idea

Avalon Transcendent

B&W 804D

Boenicke W8

Boenicke W13

Magico S1

Magico S3

ProAc K6

Sonus Faber Amati Tradition

Sonus Faber Guarneri Tradition

Tidal Piano

Wilson Sabrina

Wilson Benesch Discovery

Wilson Benesch Endeavour



B&W 804 Diamond (2012 model, so not the most recent 2016 iteration).

These floor-standers were the present incumbents, bought to match my old Naim 552 system. They provide a clean, easy sound with the diamond tweeters producing a good deal of top-end detail. There is no harshness. With the provided bungs in the ports the bass is light enough not to bother my room modes. With the bungs removed a small bass boom exist on some music in my room. By placing the speakers on granite chopping boards (the cheapest hifi upgrade I have ever done) and replacing the spikes with IsoAcoustic Gaia feet I found a noticeable improvement in the bass.

The mid-range is neutral. They don’t provide a great deal of depth or space although the IsoAcoustic Gaia feet definitely improved this aspect. The resolution, whilst OK, is improvable. Overall they do everything well. They are perhaps a little clinical and lacking a character. But for the money I would say they are an exceptional speaker. They also look fantastic and have a small footprint.

The reason I was looking to change them was to get more out of the Vitus source and amp.   I had changed from Naim to Vitus amplification to obtain a more neutral performance, and I could tell that there was more to get out of the Vitus and that the B&W speakers were holding them back.


The criteria for the new speakers were:

-         Neutral

-         Detailed yet not clinical

-         No listening fatigue from extended listening – for work I have to listen for long periods and so fatigue can become an issue

-         A spacious, holographic sound with good depth and width

-         Minimal bass boom

-         Good looking and not too large  – they are sited in the lounge shared with a TV and the family.

-         Sound good at low volumes which is often the volume I am playing at.



Avalon Idea (home demo)

First in the room were these smallish floor standers from the US company Avalon. The sound was fabulous with a real enveloping warmth. Acoustic music and the female vocal in particular sounded wonderful. Much better than the B&Ws in this department. They look good too. The downside was a looseness in the bass, which really affected my bass modes and I got an unpleasant boom, even in older music from pre-digital days.



Avalon Transcendent (home demo)

The bigger brother to the Ideal and these sounded  ‘big’.   Interestingly they did not trigger the boom like their smaller brother.   The top end was a little overbearing, but overall they had a very natural sound.  Size-wise they were too large for the room and whilst the sound was good, it didn’t ‘wow’ me and it felt that the sound was just too much for a 3.5m wide room.



Magico S1 mark ii/ Wilson Sabrina / Sonus Faber Amati Tradition (demoed at dealer, Wilson Sabrina also at home)

At a dealer I demoed these three speakers. I will briefly compare them as I heard all three together.

The Magico S1 sounded fabulous on the Daft Punk album, "Random Access Memories". It was taut and fast and yet completely disciplined. This track had never sounded so good. However on most other music it was disappointingly thin and clinical sounding.

The Wilson Sabrina impressed enormously and were the opposite of the Magico: here the music was rich and warm. A little toppy perhaps but it had real substance and weight. At best on Miles Davis and female vocals where the richness enveloped you. But it managed rock with ease too.

The Sonus Faber Amati would have walked home with me if I only played classical music. My word, this speaker made classical music incredible. It wasn’t just the timbre of the instrument but also the depth of the sound – instruments could be placed precisely in the 3D soundscape. Whilst it was also excellent on jazz and acoustic, compared to the Wilson and especially the Magico, it sounded confused on rock and much amplified music, confused and a bit muddy in the bass department.

I was so impressed by the Wilson that they came home for a home demo. Whilst it maintained the depth and resonant sound, unfortunately the weight of the sound in the bass area really bothered my room’s bass sensitivities and an unpleasant boom existed on a lot of music. Also they did have a slight tendency to be a little unrefined in the top end on some recordings. They look cute too, a lovely small floor stander which melt into the background. It’s a shame as in the shop demo I loved the sound dearly.



ProAc K6 (home demo)

Wow. The ribbon tweeter on this speaker captivated me the moment I switched the system on. Music was oh-so-smooth, and in a good way.   This isn’t veiled smoothness but delightful, smile-inducing sweetness.  The combination of the Vitus sound with the ProAc meant on a blind listen I am sure I would have sworn it was an LP playing through a valve amp. I fell in love with the top-end and the mid-range of the K6. Some may find the top too smooth perhaps, but I loved it. Even Alison Krauss, who on her early bluegrass recordings can sound a bit shrill, even she sounded sweet and golden through these.   Yes the detail wasn’t as precise as the Wilson’s, and not at all like the Magicos, but I actually preferred the sweeter sound. This was less hi-fi and more a natural phenomenon. I could listen to this speaker for hours and hours without tiring.

Unfortunately the speaker has a substantial bass output and on bass-heavy modern productions the bass overwhelmed my small room with its sensitive room modes. And they are physically a little large for a small room. But that ribbon tweeter, oh my word it’s a thing of aural beauty. If the bass had been more contained I would have tried to persuade my wife that these rather large, and fairly ugly, beasts were a compromise worth making.


Sonus Faber Guarneri Tradition (home demo)

The first stand-mounted speaker makes an entry. In the red wood these look amazing. Very beautiful speakers indeed. The sound had the airiness I had experienced in the Sonus Faber floorstanders (see shop demo above). They had the same articulated sound on classical and acoustic as the floorstanding Sonus Faber.   Two things let them down: firstly compared to the B&Ws resident in the room the smaller cabinet made them sound a little light in substance. Not in the bass department, in fact the bass was bigger than on the floorstanding B&Ws and actually triggered a bass boom in the room, but the overall weight of the mids was light. That’s the nature of the smaller box I guess. This, and the fact that the boom agitated the bass modes, meant they were not staying.


Tidal Piano (dealer demo)

The Tidal Piano had a clean clean sound. This was music transmitted totally transparently. They sounded closest to the Magico S1 in texture and detail. More musical though. They were too large for me to request a home demo, I knew the size would be an issue. But I liked what I heard and I liked that the bass can be toned down, or up, so that may have helped my room’s bass issues.


Audio Physic Codex (Home demo)

I had heard the Audio Physic Structure and Codex at the HiFi show in Munich and been mighty impressed. The speakers have a really interesting way with the woofer: it is enclosed entirely within the cabinet facing the side internal closed wall of the speaker unit. Sounds crazy but it works a treat. When the Codex hit my room I was optimistic. Sadly it didn’t work out for me, the speaker was not bad in any way, but it failed to excite me. It all sounded a bit bland. The bass was contained, it boomed a bit but not as much as some speakers, and the highs were tame and controlled. The detail was there. Everything was good. But when it all hung together it just didn’t sound great. There were high points – "Dark Side of The Moon" by Pink Floyd sounded fantastic. It had weight and balance. But it lacked depth, the music was coming from a flat plane. Maybe they need to be away from the wall more, something I can’t do in the physical limitations of my room.



Wilson Benesch Discovery (home demo)

These stand-mounters were brought out of a car by the dealer on a frosty morning after a long drive. I don’t believe they fully warmed up before they left later that day. They sounded good, and actually not dissimilar to the B&W 804 D which is my current speaker and which these potentially replace. But they didn’t raise the sound quality much above the B&W, if at all, though as they were cold I wonder what they would do warmed up. The fact that the Endeavours (see below) changed a lot when warmed up suggests I didn’t hear the best of these.



Wilson Benesch Endeavour (home demo)

The people from Wilson Benesch brought these stand-mounters down too. I was immediately impressed and so I was left them for the weekend for me to try out. If there was one speaker which was jaw-droppingly good on certain types of music it was his one. I find it hard to explain what these did as they were often both extraordinary and difficult in the same song. With smooth acoustic music they were a revelation. The detail they drew out exposed subtle rhythms in the music that I had never heard before, they found parts of songs that came from nowhere, they dug deep into the music and brought everything out to hear. So at times they would just leave you speechless. But...but…but the problem was at other times they were so harsh as to be unpleasant. Take the aforementioned Alison Krauss early bluegrass recordings or the Dixie Chicks Home album, on both of these the mandolins, the guitars, the subliminal percussive rhythms created were mind-blowing, but the vocals would sometimes tear at your ears. It was weird. Rock music didn’t work as the speakers made too much noise in the top end and it had to be turned down. Over the weekend the bass drivers warmed up and they started to activate my bass boom, which they had not done when cold.

Maybe they need valve amplification, or maybe they need a higher powered amp, I don’t know. They did struggle at low volumes too. What I do know is that they were both sublime and problematic, often simultaneously.

The other downside was that they were too big for the room, even on their slender stands. But anyone in the market for a high-end speaker should hear these babies as they have something incredible about them, and if your system does not expose the harsh side of them they could be outstanding.



Magico S3 (home demo)

The S3 was bigger than I was expecting in the room, a little overwhelming. The sound was impressive. Like the S1s I had heard at the dealers a few months before these had detail and speed in buckets, but this time they had weight too. Unfortunately too much weight as they really excited my room modes and boomed badly. I enjoyed them a great deal. They are certainly immediately very impressive. My reservation is that I fear they would be tiring after a long extended listen, I just had them for a couple of hours and was beginning to suffer fatigue by the end, reaching to turn them down. They were a little dry sounding too, and I felt the heart of the music was often missing. That, and with a sound and size that was a bit too much for my small room too (and the bass boom), meant they did not stay. They are impressive for sure, very impressive, but not for this room right now, and ultimately a little too clinical.



Boenicke W8 (home demo)

A hifi industry insider heard my system with the B&Ws and recommended I try Boenicke speakers as he felt I would like them. Man was he right! These are little beauties, to look at and to listen to. They are the smallest floor standers I have come across and yet have a sound that bares no relation to the diminutive size of the cabinet. Close your eyes and you’d think you had a regular sized floor-stander in your room.   And the sound? Oh my word, nothing prepared me for the sound of these. The space in the sound, the airiness in the sound, was quite magical. The detail is all present, the timing is spot-on, and yet they remained calm and so easy to listen to. And that space in the music…it is just incredible. There was no fatigue from extended hours of listening. Being small I could bring them further into the room for listening sessions and when there they shone even more. What’s more my wife loved them as they just look gorgeous.

They were the cheapest speaker I demoed and cost considerably less than the B&W 804D, which to me represents relatively terrific value. So why did they not stay? I chatted to the dealer and to Sven, the chap who makes these in Switzerland, and said how I really loved them. They sounded like bigger floor standers but my only issue was on big orchestral numbers or in driving rock I would like a bit more weight in the sound. We discussed this as well as my booming bass, which actually these W8s didn’t affect, and Sven had a suggestion. He said I should try the Boenicke W13 which has an active bass unit which has DSP, so he said he could easily program it to be in tune with my room modes and therefore would be a big speaker with a big bass but should overcome that boom I get when a bass driver over a certain size comes into the room.


And so in came the Boenicke W13…


Boenicke W13 (home demo, and purchase)

Well, I finally found speaker nirvana with this speaker. Everything I had been searching for over the past 18 months came together in this one speaker.   It had the best of all the speakers I had tried with none of the negatives. The speed of the Magicos, the weight of the Wilsons, the smoothness of the ProAcs, the acoustic instrument timbre of the Sonus Faber, the detail of the Wilson Benesch and to top it all there is a space and holographic nature to the sound that no other speaker got anywhere close to (with the exception of Boenicke’s own W8). I don’t know how they do it but the W13s allow music to have space around it and within it. Instruments are placed precisely in 3D space, whilst the air surrounding the music is extraordinary. This combination make music sound like it is in the room, live and there in front of you. It is a beguiling thing, a haunting thing, and an intangible thing to articulate in words well.

The top-end is silky smooth and the mids are rendered perfectly and transparently. As the bass amplification duties have been taken away from the Vitus amp I wonder if the amp is working more efficiently and effectively on everything over 120kHz? They also sound excellent at low volumes, again this may be because of the separate bass amplification?  Fatigue is non-existent. They are very musical and less “hi-fi” sounding which to me is a very good thing.

The DSP software within the active bass amps in the speakers tunes down the exact bass frequencies that affect my room thereby eliminating any bass boom, so for the first time I can hear a big bass sound in music from a big speaker in my room but with no boom. I am in aural heaven.    The bass, which the active bass amps deliver, is well-balanced and lean.

All types of music seem to shine. Acoustic music and vocal, female or male, has a real wow-factor with the voice sounding so natural and hanging in all that space. Symphonic classical music is rich and deep with instruments easy to locate and place, whilst chamber music is delicate and the timbres, even the troublesome violins, accurate and natural. Full blown rock sounds amazing. Neil Young’s "Ragged Glory", recorded raw and lean and often sounding a bit thin on some hifi, sounds literally like he is playing live in front of you. The rock rhythms pump, the vocals sit out front, the guitar up and behind the speaker.

The icing on the cake is that they look beautiful. No taller than the B&W 804s, and smaller than most other speakers which have been in the room, and just outstanding to look at.

Downsides? I really can’t think of any.   If I clutch at straws then I guess if you love the characteristic extremes of the Hi-Fi sound you get from a sealed aluminium cabinet you may prefer that to the more organic natural sound which a W13 produces, but the way these still have that speed and accuracy AND the rest, and that space and air in the sound, it is a revelation.

It has been an interesting year, and toward the end I really felt I would never find the speaker I was looking for. I began to feel that the B&W 804D which are good at everything but not brilliant at anything, would be kept on as the option committing no offence. The Boenicke W13s saved the day.


Great review of Boenicke W11’s


If if you are in the U.K. and interested in hearing them, we would be delighted to demonstrate.

@calvinj I checked those Gato's out online, very cool looking speakers I bet they sound fantastic!
Do you live in Switzerland? On their website I can't see any dealers in the U.S.?
They look great, btw--love the wood look rather than things that resemble R2D2 with a stiff neck....
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Would you mind letting us know what cables you are using and if you have any mains conditioning?