After reviewing Sven Boenicke’s various speakers and cables the time has come to investigate his latest effort baptized ComDev. For many years he’s been silently using it at shows and now so can his customers at their homes. Enjoy!
It’s only natural that the vast majority of enthusiasts focus on the most impactful audio components that effectively keep accessories beyond their scopes. That’s why various filters, decouplers, fuses, cables etc. are destined to lose the battle against i.e. sources, amps and speakers… until they don’t. If your key hardware connects in a way that nets enjoyable results yet the upgrade itch is still there, accessories are the smart way to move forward without the risk of spoiling that effect. Instead of going after a costly new amp or DAC, you can try squeezing some extra performance out of machines you already have, especially if you like sound they produce. Just to be clear, tweaks rarely make a truly staggering difference, but a regular audio setup can accommodate quite a few and their input will stack. Most such supportive measures aren’t crazy expenses either, so apply them in time as you please and reap growing benefits, which is exactly what I did.To put the above into a more understandable perspective, my setup’s core hasn’t changed even one bit since March 2021. The Innuos Statement server/streamer reviewed then was my most recent major addition that had marked the last page of a rather substantial chapter shared with a LampizatOr Pacific DAC, Trilogy’s three-piece reference set and sound|kaos Vox 3afw monitors on rotation with Boenicke W11 SE+ floorstanders. The way how these ingredients interact keeps the upgrade bug at bay and me blissfully happy. Besides, any pursuits of products noticeably higher up in the food chain would’ve been very expensive adventures. My fairly small room with low ceiling won’t comfortably accommodate anything bigger anyway. That’s why I enjoy things I have instead of lustering for those I don’t. Although the 23m2 floor space at my disposal dictates what I can and can’t do, luckily it doesn’t say nay to accessories. Since those I got have a rather drastic impact on my reference setup, in large part they’re the reason why I enjoy it as much as I do.
If most accessories are supportive devices designed to alter sonics our setups’ main bits already make, mine behaves the way it does because of LessLoss cables and internal Firewall filtering modules, Boenicke Audio’s cables and power distributor, Fidelizer EtherStream switch, ISOL-8 linear PSU, multiple Carbide Audio decoupler pucks and 3+1 Wood Block Rack by Franc Audio Accessories. Whether I like it or not, without these products my platform becomes a mere shadow of itself. It would still make sound of course, just nowhere near as enjoyable. Boenicke Audio’s founder Sven has been well aware of the importance of tweaks and cables and those in his lineup I’ve sampled were no less than stunners. Just recently this Swiss designer reached out to ask whether I’d like to have a go at his latest commercial effort, interestingly not really comparable to anything else he did in the past. This question was rhetorical.The compact package Sven sent my way stored two small sealed wooden objects named ComDev and that was it. Each was quite hefty given its (W x H x D) 8 x 5 x 15cm size and featured two skinny 10cm legs finished with forks clearly meant to go with speaker terminals. Although I initially thought that this had to be a set of passive filters of sorts, or some signal conditioners at the very least, it wasn’t. Sven explained that these two nicely executed wooden items were his secret weapon he’s been using in his show rooms for years and now decided to make them accessible to his customers. He described the product as a signal emitter that impacts human reception system, but didn’t want to say what it stored inside, or even how it was supposed to achieve this goal. Questions piled up, I had to know more.
Although I’ve told the Swiss that his latest creation had to be explained to at least some degree, the man saw no point. He was certain that most people will see him as a fraudster into the snake oil biz anyway. Then I put my nice face on and asked again. Here let’s take a detour towards one Allen Wright (1947-2011) of Vacuum State Electronics, who was famous for his “The Tube Preamp CookBook” and “The SuperCables CookBook” and Sven’s dear friend. At its core ComDev was in fact Allen’s design that he gave to the Swiss prior to passing away. That said, the latter knows how to put together these products as he owns the schematic, but their exact MO is the deceased inventor’s sweet secret. We know that today’s affair neither is a filter nor signal conditioner and that it emits something. It’s also a passive device that forms a resistive load in parallel to speakers and keeps their impedance below 23Ω across the entire frequency range. Inside each wooden enclosure there’s a resistor trimmer that has to be precisely and manually adjusted to a 1/200th of an Ω. Hookup wiring is by LessLoss and Sven personally assembles and adjusts each ComDev. Since it can connect either to binding posts of speakers or amp, apply where it suits you most is the motto. As long as the product’s two runs meet these terminals, it’s instantly engaged and there’s no ramp up time. It sells for CHF 1’100/pr, which is nothing all that crazy given Swiss labor and its maker’s usual prices. As for the name itself, ComDev expands into a communication device. Sven asked about that was a bit enigmatic just to not have me biased in any way prior to my auditions, but he did mention that any passive speakers supported by this object audibly improve the link between a listener and music. Now the time was right to find out for myself how that felt like.The choice of a juncture where Boenicke Audio ComDev should connect was a quick easy decision. Call me lazy, but binding posts of my speakers were two steps closer than those on Trilogy 995R monos’ rear plates. I had to attach each Swiss module’s two skinny legs to these terminals, have a listen, then disengage one run, listen again and repeat the procedure as many times as it was necessary. Needless to say, these swaps were very easy to execute, which was helpful in quickly understanding what today’s unusual loaner was designed to do.
Although ComDev wasn’t a filtering device of any sort, early on I considered it as such just to start somewhere. That said, just prior to any auditions my money were on the usual benefits associated with a particular type of silence that kicks in upon trimming excess noise. Here I mean somewhat denser darker overall perspective, greater smoothness so lesser grit, more air, expanded tonal palette, upped clarity, wider dynamic contrast ratio and backdrop cleanliness manifested via increased blackness behind the closest sound sources. All these measures injected via various accessories and cables nicely stack. The more of them, the better and my setup houses quite a few primarily built upon LessLoss’ noise-killing tech. More importantly, their combined action translates into a performance that to me is as fetching and flowing as it’s sensual and meticulous. Recently one manufacturer described the sound in my room as processed in just the right way; generously buttery, highly informative and proper elastic yet free from any excess fat and/or abnormal gloss and not hooded at all. Digressions aside, ComDev clearly wasn’t yet another noise assassin. It cleverly operated outside of the trait list above and struck me as even more interesting because of that.Introductory auditions with and without ComDev didn’t result in any firm observations I could hold on to, but the notion that the product did something was there after each back and forth. Although I couldn’t target from the get-go what that was exactly, elusive or not it was sensible nonetheless. Upon paying attention to the lead singer on “Homeless” by Ladysmith Black Mambazo I had my first solid clue. That virtual projection was closer and more specific on eyes than it normally is, albeit with the supportive choir just behind as present as usual. Caetano Veloso’s voice as heard on his awesome take on “Come as You Are” originally by Nirvana followed suit and so did that track’s more pronounced bass guitar. These two ingredients and my ears now occupied the same aural space that normally feels more distant thus less touchable. Värttinä’s folk song “Linnunmieli” opens up with a happy female voice just to the right that also felt fleshier, was finer outlined and portrayed in a way that the sensation of me sharing floor with the singer was on yet again. Type O Negative’s front man Peter Steele preached about forgiveness on “Chrisitian Woman” as if his entire focus was targeted directly at me. Aha, I had my behavioral pattern. ComDev’s ability to somehow up each song’s aural articulation right in front of the listening chair seemed to be it.
Blixa Bargeld’s and Teho Teardo’s brilliant collaboration resulted in albums “Still Smiling” and “Spring”, while their tracks “Mi Scusi”, “A Quiet Life” and “Soli Si Muore” are those I constantly keep getting back to. These recordings are a bit odd and I’m not sure whether this was intentional or not, but Bargeld’s silhouette is spatially blown out of proportions on them. In any case, Einstürzende Neubauten’s main man was as tall and wide as per usual, but on each listed song he sounded as if he had something to say primarily to me. His omnipresent act wasn’t an issue in the slightest. Rather, it was a finely crafted asset that stood out as the key focal point I now observed from a position that secured better view. The weight of Bargeld’s calm words meticulously delivered one at a time felt majestic but noticeably more intimate than ever before. That was new and unexpected, but interestingly this one change had a major impact on how each listed track was portrayed in my room. The more hours ComDev had on the clock, the more it had flourished into a potent perspective altering tool that didn’t want anything in return for its service. That was key.Although at this point my understanding of ComDev’s input was firm, just to make sure whether I got everything right I still had to cue up several well-known songs on my daily playlist. “Vienna” by Ultravox, Recoil’s “Breath Control”, Portishead’s “Threads”, “The Louvre” by Lorde, Tool’s “Prison Sex” and Eivør Pálsdóttir’s “Trøllabundin” further reinforced the product’s method of making vocal lines pop out in a new and highly enjoyable way. Although here and there I’ve also mapped expanded dynamics and some residual grain shaved off, ComDev’s ability to rework spatial frames the closest to my ears remained its primary attractor. After several leisurely listening days that action was pronounced to a point where I wondered how it remained under my radar early on, but that’s how it is at times.
The way how the Swiss product executed its core task struck me as the most interesting thing about it. It managed to go about its business without cutting distance to the main vocal frames, or making them any larger than they originally were. My DAC does that to like so boost the here and now sensation. Although ComDev partially worked to that effect, by maintaining vocal and instrumental sizing in check it also produced a more subtle outcome I deemed as spatially normalized. To describe today’s sonic contribution in utmost simple terms, please think of all the closest sound sources just in front as inhabitants of rectangular frames locked inside one major landscape that’s as wide and tall as your room and speakers allow. ComDev moves these critical renders from their original flat planes to individual round cylinders and injects extra air in-between to make them stand out even more. The main change that occurs when we go from two to three dimensions like so is volume and the exact ace Sven’s latest portfolio addition had up its sleeve to my ears. This extra substance was what made all the difference. Considering the above, I also think that ComDev’s name brilliantly describes its main utility. It enhanced comms between my ears and hardware indeed, but on a refreshingly new level that was beyond reach of all other tweaks I’m familiar with.
Audio accessories aren’t mandatory by any stretch. You don’t need them to enjoy music and your system will make it regardless. Their input is also best witnessed after applying and then disengaging them, otherwise you won’t know what you’re missing. Not only this, such developments inherently are for shoppers who have all the major bits in their setups already sorted yet still are inclined to pushing these platforms further without spending an arm and leg’s worth. If you’re one such an individual, Boenicke Audio ComDev fits that profile to perfection and offers a rare imaging service not achievable elsewhere to my knowledge. That’s not too shabby for a set of two petite wooden boxes most people will see as a snake oil case anyway. Not too shabby at all…
- Amplifier: Trilogy 995R, FirstWatt F7, Enleum AMP-23R
- DAC: LampizatOr Pacific (KR Audio T-100 / Living Voice 300B + KR Audio 5U4G Ltd. Ed.)
- Speakers: Boenicke Audio W11 SE+, sound|kaos Vox 3afw
- Transport: Innuos Statement, fidata HFAS1-S10U
- Preamplifier: Trilogy 915R, Thöress DFP
- Speaker cables: Boenicke Audio S3, LessLoss C-MARC
- Headphones: HifiMan Susvara
- Speaker signal conditioning: LessLoss Firewall for Loudspeakers
- Anti-vibration conditioning: 12x Carbide Audio Carbide Bases (under DAC, preamp and speakers)
- Interconnects: LessLoss Entropic Process C-MARC, Boenicke Audio IC3 CG
- Power components: Gigawatt PC-3 SE EVO+/LC-3 EVO, LessLoss C-MARC, LessLoss Entropic Process C-MARC, Boenicke Audio Power Gate, ISOL-8 Prometheus
- USB components: iFi audio Mercury3.0
- Rack: Franc Audio Accesories Wood Block Rack 1+3
- Network: Fidelizer EtherStream, Linksys WRT160N
- Music: NativeDSD
Retail prices of reviewed components in EU (incl. VAT):
- Boenicke Audio ComDev: CHF 1’100/pr
Manufacturer: Boenicke Audio