There’s a longstanding consensus in hifi circles that the more you can break a system down into separate components dedicated to specific tasks, the better. Step forward the humble preamplifier, charged with taking the low level signals provided by your source components (CD players and the like) and amplifying these before handing them over to a partnering power amp, which raises the signal further to drive your loudspeakers.
Typically, preamps are also the control hubs of any system and can come festooned with features, from tone controls to internal DACs and more. They’re the brain of the amplifier chain if you like, with the power amp acting as the brawn.
Founded in Hastings by Lucy Gastall and Harry O’Sullivan, The Bespoke Audio Company takes the concept of stripping the features and internal components list back for a purer sound to a whole new level.
And rather than offer lots of products for customers to choose from, Bespoke prefers to focus on pouring all of its knowhow into a single offering, The Bespoke Audio Company Pre-amplifier, that can be built and tailored to each customer’s preferences.
The Bespoke’s preamp design uses multi tapped attenuation transformers to amplify the incoming signals, an evolution of the Stevens & Billington approach. This means it’s fully passive, with no mains supply needed in the amplification chain. This also means the musical signal is kept pure and uncontaminated from mains pollution.
Unlike most mass market preamps, the Bespoke has only one small internal circuit board (on the rear of the volume knob) to ensure artificial processing of the signal is kept to a minimum. And to prove the point, our review model was supplied with a transparent lid, revealing its meticulously hand finished and intentionally minimalist internals (a range of other lids are also available!).
Suits you sir
The amp really is bespoke in nature as well as name. A quick canter though Bespoke’s simple online configurator lets you select from a range of lavish fits and finishes, from exotic woods to rose gold dials. You can custom name each input that’s etched around the front panel’s source selector and specify connection types for the rear panel’s six input and two output sockets via balanced (XLR) and single-ended (RCA) sockets. The final choice is for transformer wiring, which can be copper as per our test model, or 99.99% pure silver. What’s more, having two outputs also means the Bespoke can drive two power amps, as dedicated monoblocks for example. Each amp takes around six weeks to make, with customers kept informed at each stage of the process.
Prices range from around £12,500 for a copper wound model through to £18,000 for a silver wound variant (excluding VAT). And with so many custom options available, this really is a lifelong investment.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
The quality product experience is made evident right from the off, with the amp shipped in a heavy duty flight case of the type you’d rely on to keep the crown jewels safe.
Lifting the lid and the sense you’re in exalted company continues, with the amp housed in an embroidered bag with accompanying white gloves to keep finger marks at bay.
In the metal, the amp feels granite solid and unexpectedly heavy at 14kg for its relatively compact dimensions at 110/305/345mm (HWD).
We requested a well run-in model for this review, to ensure what we hear mirrors what customers can expect to experience long term. Model number 007 arrived resplendent in stealthy black with matching nickel trims, a finish befitting its secret agent namesake. Also included was a matching remote control which operates via an accompanying wall wart PSU that plugs into the preamp’s rear panel.
As the old adage goes, you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone and in many ways, this is the Bespoke’s sonic signature. Swapping out my resident Musical Fidelity M6 PRE preamp to drive its partnering M6 PRX power amp and my reference Dynaudio Focus 260 speakers, the Bespoke conveys an immediate sense of less noise in the audio chain. It would be too easy to rely on the typical reviewer’s rhetoric of a veil being lifted from the music, as what the Bespoke does is much more subtle than this, which combines to tell you that you’re hearing the music in its purest form.
With an original pink rim pressing of John Martyn’s Solid Air gracing my VPI Scout 1.1’s platter, the protagonist’s finger play on The Man In The Station sounds better defined than I’ve ever heard it before, while also sounding more organic. These two traits combined are central to the Bespoke’s character, as there are many amps and preamps out there in this price bracket which can major on lifelike detail, but none I’ve heard can do it with such natural timbre, which makes each performance sound so convincingly honest.
This sense of realism is also in abundance with how the Bespoke presents the purity of the human voice. Lisa Hannigan’s lush tones on We The Drowned from her At Swim LP sound as full of body, texture and emotion as I’ve ever heard them. I can effortlessly detect layers of nuance in each note, while her higher registers sound so crystal clear they could shatter glass.
Clearly this amp can sing, but does it have the moves to match? Streaming a 16 bit/44 kHz ALAC rip of Devon Sproule’s The Unmarked Animals and hearing the deep and effortlessly articulated bass notes soon answers this question. I can appreciate each instruments’ contribution with ease, thanks to how well each one is defined and the absolute lack of any blurring between them.
Driving my Dynaudio’s with their 87dB sensitivity and 4ohm nominal impedance means winding the Bespoke’s wick up more than I’m used to compared to my MF preamp, and I’m well past the volume’s halfway mark before I’m heading into neighbour niggling levels, but this in no way impacts the dynamism and scale this amp brings to performances that demand it.
With a 180g slab of The Stone Roses‘ Second Coming on the VPI’s platter, the Bespoke sonically envelopes me as the opener Breaking Into Heaven‘s swamp sounds make way for the rhythm section to take the reins. And when they do, the Dynaudios sound unrestrained and effortlessly dynamic, more so than I’m used to hearing with my MF pairing. In short, this preamp not only demonstrates what it’s capable of, but gets the absolute best out of the kit it’s partnered with too.
One of the best built and sounding preamps available, regardless of price. There are similar approaches on offer, including those from Music First Audio, but none offer the level of refinement and tailoring you see here, which is why this truly is bespoke audio.