BAC's attenuation transformers—one expects some Stevens & Billington DNA given the Music First Audio connection—allow the free mixing of i/o without the usual summing/symmetrizing circuits. Going in RCA and out XLR or vice versa is an integral part of this passive concept. So is the ratio thing. Because transformers work in winding ratios, reducing the input voltage results in increased output current. It's why this breed is known for excellent low-level resolution or transparency. On the other hand, it's not really known for the audible drive of actives which might be called forward momentum, pressurization, musical urgency or slam. Owning a Wyred STP SE Stage II, Vinnie Rossi Lio with autoformer volume control* and Nagra Jazz tube preamp, I had three relevant competitors for contrast. How would bespoke build and cost relate to sonics?

*As a collaboration between Vinnie Rossie and John Chapman, the Lio uses David Slagle attenuation magnetics. For his brand Bent Audio, Chapman had been an early Stevens & Billington OEM. When that license expired, he worked with Slagle to replace the S&B transformers with autoformers, eliminate excess wiring and incorporate remote control and balance. Showing up in various preamps, this very neat Chapman/Slagle solution is also a modular option for the Vinnie Rossi platform. And that makes for a historical connection with today's review subject and a conceptually most direct competitor. Even the bespoke angle factors for Lio's à-la-carte menu though there it eclipses The Bespoke Audio Company on raw functionality by a country mile.

Nagra Audio's 2017 launch of their nearly €60K flagship HD Preamplifier was studded with interesting specs: a virtual battery supply of Vinnie Rossi-style ultracaps; and clutched Nagra-wound dual mono precision attenuation transformers for volume. Whilst their tube circuit is fully active, sighting a TVC embedded within it documents again how this technology isn't exclusive to passive designs; and how it appears in ne-plus-ultra efforts. Bespoke's translucent demonstrator model above shows their complex wiring harness of secondary taps as they connect to the rotary switch. That underlines how a transformer volume control is far more laborious of execution than soldering up even the fanciest on-chip attenuator; never mind the finesse required to wind coils that generate very accurate perfectly matched steps in the first place (matched to 1/100th of a decibel between channels!). Of course there's a flip side to that. Electronic volume controls will offer at least 0.5dB steps if not smaller. Those for a TVC tend to start at 1dB but often are coarser. And numerical readouts for the former are nearly required whilst rare for the latter. Unlike Vinnie Rossi's Lio, Bespoke's passive preamp makes do without any display. If you sit far away and/or in the dark, there's no visual confirmation for your volume setting though there is remote control; unless you opt for the LED set into the volume knob which could be any colour and brightness you choose.

RCA by WBT, XLR by Neutrik, allocation by client.

Harry & Lucy's demonstrator was this gold-anodized unit with veneered top plate and an XLR output in the variable bay. A single bolt affixes the inset top plate from the base. Undone, the innards proved as immaculate as the outers. The bee's wax potted transformers encased in matching anodized mu-metal canisters proudly showed the engraved company logo. The two sidewall supports for the cable loom were red leather from the haberdashery—that's hat maker to mainlanders—where Lucy works one day per week.

Though nobody will see such fastidious attention to inner detail unless they drive with the top down, BAC went back to haute horology standards. There the innards of a luxury watch are as dialled as the outside even if they aren't skeletal designs who display them fully or partially through glass. Perhaps call this a deck with very high mechanical resolution; or top fidelity to CAD drawings?

Even this power supply for the motorized volume knob goes the extra mile. It's actually a massively over-dimensioned linear not switch-mode affair just because "for £9'000 [incl. VAT], we wouldn't be happy to send you a lousy switching wall wart; and neither should you". For the remote wand, the customer can choose between Apple's which arrives pre-paired with special code (a store-bought Apple remote won't run this code); or John Chapman's popular full-metal Bent Audio 2-button version. Also doable but for an obvious surcharge is adding remote-controlled source switching. In that case Bent Audio's multi-button wand would provide the direct access controls 1 through 6.

The preamp casing is put together with mitered corners. Those entail precision feather edges without the slightest gap. And those rely on perfect execution of right angles before any panels bolt together. For this, BAC use a special assembly jig. It locks everything in place, then bolt torquing gets committed to. None of these fasteners are visible outside. The aesthetic idea and ideal was that of a monolithic carved-from-solid. It's basic on paper but tough to execute at this level. So it's not anything most luxury hifi gear attempts. In fact, a very established major UK electronics house tried to for their six-figure flagship. They could not sort the associated challenges. One of their chaps walked over to a BAC exhibit during a show. He openly congratulated his newbie colleagues on pulling off this stunt.

In short, the Bespoke Audio Company preamp was obviously conceptualized as a heirloom piece. It's not only built to last. It's crafted in that old-timey way of serious pride of ownership. As such it could make a treasured gift from father to son or mother to daughter; if the love of top-quality playback and concomitant appreciation for luxury componentry could be passed down like a fancy time piece or vintage jewelry. Here we invoke that famous slogan: "You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely take care of it for the next generation."

This preamp has that ambition. It's not for everyone. Nobody needs a hifi component executed to these nines. Neither does anyone need custom-fitted boots or bespoke suits. For those who appreciate such indulgences, Harry & Lucy simply hijack their standards and graft them atop a passive pre. Unless growing sales create back orders—to control quality, our pair won't hire assembly help—turnaround from order to delivery is five weeks. This entails weekly progress reports of transformer winding videos, photos of acceptance of machined panels anodized to the specified colour and so forth. That's how the expectant new owners get involved in the full assembly process; step by step. "We won't sell you what we make. We build you what you want; exactly." Is that such an outlandish concept?