But as the saying goes, perseverance pays off - eventually. A few weeks before 2018's Munich HighEnd show, there was a window of opportunity to spend some time with a sample customized for the event. It arrived in its flight case complete with the TBAC signature customer-personalized documentation; glory in the details. Now we could spend time with two passive-magnetic units both with manual input from Harry and Lucy. Lucy was already winding transformers at Music First. When we unpacked the flight case which should withstand the roughest imaginable treatment, we were pleasantly surprised. First the pre was finished in radiant blue. Next, it was clad in exhibitionist's attire whereby the customizable cover was clear Plexiglas for an unhindered view on its innards. And to top that, both transformer cowls were finished in the same blue. On looks, the pre already scored the full 13 out of 12 points.

For the relatively short period we had it, we used only one speaker set, our Avantgarde Duo Omega high-impedance horns augmented by a pair of Zu Submission subwoofers and pair of BAT super tweeters. Amplifiers ran the gamut from Hypex nCore monos, Trafomatic Kaivalya EL34 push/pull monos and Audio Note Meishu 300B integrated in power-amp mode. Analog source was a Dr. Feickert Blackbird turntable with Trafomatic Reference One phonostage. For digital it was a Sound Galleries SGM streamer with either T+A DAC8 or Mytek Brooklyn. Each item in the setup was easily switched for another by just swapping interconnects.

Connecting the Bespoke was child's play and we used its XLR outputs with the nCore amps whilst the other amps connected RCA. The DACs connected XLR either way. From the first tones it was already clear that something special was happening. The sound was deeper than with the MFA used just prior. There also was a new sense of ease and tranquility enveloping the sound. Don't think added warmth but more a bath that's exactly at the right temperature—neither too cool nor too hot—which soothes the body, relaxes the muscles and opens your mind. [Having described the Bespoke's action as a mellowing/relaxing element myself, I found it very interesting how Marja & Henk went about describing this effect. It is very real yet quite hard to pin down - Ed.]

With 46 steps of attenuation, the Bespoke was rather more flexible too. We could set the volume at just the desired sweet spot where the amp ran most effortlessly. This could very well mean higher SPL but without negative effects on our hearing. Compare it to a car. At certain speeds, things run smoother than at others. There's less noise from the engine, tyres and wind. And to stay with this comparison, you might be slightly above the speed limit. "Yes officer - but the ride was sooo smooth." Imagine the amount of tickets the hifi police would have to write for such speeding at most audio shows...

To confirm what the Bespoke had on the MFA, we quickly switched back. With the MFA, the sound was still great even though getting the power amps perfectly into 'the zone' tended to be a miss just between two steps due to the their coarser progression. Also that peculiar ease and tranquility were less evident. It was still a perfectly lovely bath but once we returned to the Bespoke, it was just perfect. So we quickly reverted to that and played more music. Small ensembles showed up in all their intimacy and directness. Instruments had real 3D and stayed that way even when we vacated the dreaded sweet spot for other seating areas in the room. Big Band with lots of brassy snot and swagger was startlingly realistic without any artificial smoothing. Full-on orchestral with all hands on deck detached from the speakers in all directions and claimed its space across the full width of our room's front.

With all types of music, the O'Sullivan/Gastall passive-magnetic controller proved that craftsmanship & dedication—and let's not forget good old-fashioned perseverance—can open musical vaults previously unsuspected of being this worthwhile. We of course could live happily ever after with our current MFA but what a bummer it was to have to send back this Bespoke. We do miss this controller dearly already so acquiring one ranks high on our future hit list.     

The Bespoke Audio Company website