Return of Enleum; High-Efficiency Addition by David Abramson
The return of Enleum.
The revenge? No. No need; it never lost and wasn’t wronged. It was more like regret. Yes. Regret of Enleum. I told designer extraordinaire Soo In and dealer/distributor extraordinaire Rob Fritz I simply really (really) regretted never getting to hear the Enleum Amp 23-R paired with the Devore O/96’s I lucked into a bit ago (and traded my Devore Super Nines toward). No, there wasn’t anything amiss with the Supers; I just always loved the look of the O’s and figured their higher efficiency, easier load, and more directive wider baffle might work better with lower powered amps and my somewhat acoustically challenged condo space.
The O’s came in just after the Amp 23-R left, so I wanted to make sure that this time, they didn’t pass each other in the night. Soo In the designer, and Rob Fritz the dealer, were both understanding. They’re also audiophiles. They said, ‘so we’ll arrange to send you another amp; relax and enjoy!’
In truth, I also knew I’d soon have here a veritable bevy of other well-regarded amps in-house, and I wanted to compare and contrast the Enleum with via the O’s. They included a Feliks Audio 300B amplifier kitted out with Audio Note 4300e 300B tubes and RCA Black glass 6sn7’s, a beautiful Leben CS-600x with NOS 5881 power tubes (a more powerful/ruggedized 6l6GB apparently “built to withstand high g-forces as it was used in Russian fighter jets amongst other applications”) and Telefunken 12au7 preamp tubes, an Aurorasound HFSA-01 EL84 hybrid integrated amp and my trusty Lejonklou Boazu 40 watt solid state integrated (which, when cabled correctly, pairs quite well with the O/96’s; an unexpected match!).
Now, I didn’t really plan this to be a ‘shoot out’ in which I arrive at some kind of sonic ‘king of the mountain,’ but rather an exploration of how well the Enleum fits in with high-efficiency speakers amidst a cadre of amplifiers that are simply made for the breed. These are amps everyone uses with high-efficiency speakers: EL84s, 300B, low-power exotic Japanese integrateds, etc. How would the highly regarded lower-powered South Korean solid-stater hold up in such company? Many say the Enleum sounds like a tube amp. Does it? Ha! We shall see….
Enleum by its Lonesome
Wanting to hear first what the Enleum could do sans pre with the O’s, I left my Luxman cl-38uc pre to the side and digitally ‘spun’ Kristian Bezuidenhout playing my favorite Mozart piano concerto no. 9 with the Freiburger Barockorchester on Harmonia Mundi. Who knew a fortepiano could hit so hard!? I guess that’s why it’s called a fortepiano. The Enleum really showed off its dynamism here both macro and micro, and the pianoforte entrances really stood out dynamically. Moreover, the original instruments on this recording were endearing rather than annoying, always a good sign.
Mitsuko Uchida’s Mozart piano concertos were up next. These gems are longstanding touchstones for me, as I love her phrasing and seeming inability to be heavy-handed and there was sparkle and momentum and great tonal color, just as there was with the Super Nine pairing, and just as there always is on a great system with these performances.
I began here to understand why various reviews of the AMP-23R just repeat how musical and ‘great’ it is without giving much in the way of actual sonic blow-by-blow descriptions. There isn’t really much to pick on or apart or dissect here; the AMP-23R, as a standalone unit with decently efficient speakers (and now with higher-efficiency, prettier speakers), is simply balanced, articulate, and nuanced. It isn’t too this or too that. It does not particularly stand out tonally in one way or another, though could be gently swayed warmer or brighter with cable swapping, etc. In sum, it is a great choice as a standalone unit for any given transducer of ‘decent’ efficiency on up.
Going back and forth on Eric Reed’s “Black Brown and Blue” album between the Enleum and the (legendary?) Leben CS-600x, kitted out with a quad of aftermarket Mig-fighter-jet-approved 5881 power tubes and classic Telefunken 12au7’s, yielded excellent albeit different results all around. While the Leben’s scale and pace were quite engaging (wow- the Leben is an unexpected toe tapper!), that bass was a bit more articulate via the Enleum. When Eric sings ‘Lean on me,’ the voice is a bit thicker and more forward with the Leben, but via the O/96s, there isn’t much in it between the two!
In general gestalt, the Leben is a bit larger and weightier sounding and a bit less sparkly on top or ‘precise’ sounding all around. It’s a bit ‘looser’ and seems to have some more texture on strings. So there are differences, sure, but the take home is the Enleum is definitely playing in the same playground as this 9k tubed classic. It just wears a slightly different tonal uniform. The hybrid EL84 and transistor-based Aurorasound HFSA-1 I flipped for recently has a take on the proceedings, which is cleaner and clearer than either amp with similar sparkle up top to the Enleum, though perhaps a bit less sheer bottom-end weight than either. Its background is blacker than either, and perhaps this, in conjunction with its slightly higher level of detail, contributes to the perception of more instrumental separation; a bit less homogenization of the images.
And the Aurorasound is toe-tappingly fast, just like the Leben, but a bit less ‘tubey’ overall (read: a bit less rounded mid-bass and overall ‘warmth’). Yep, Aurorasound v. Enleum could go either way, depending on your power needs or convenience of the Enleum’s remote, etc. Now the Leben, Aurorasound, and Enleum all sport elite-level headphone amps, so take your pick there, and I was pleased to listen to any and all with either my aging Shure SRH-1540 (the rubber on the headband is decaying!) or my venerable Senn HD 600’s. To avoid a nuanced blow-by-blow, put it this way: I could alternate any of these integrateds with my ALO Studio Six headphone amp or the Schiit Magni 3 (which actually runs the ALO close(!) or with the THX 888 Monoprice amp I have and not miss the standalone head amps at all. Of course, with much pricier headphones and someone who cares more about that aspect of things, YMMV.
In sum here, were this a blinded test (glad it’s not because I just like looking at the pretty lights winking at me in the dark when the amps are on), you could certainly be forgiven for thinking the Enleum was just one of the boys; another (relatively linear) tube amp thrown into the mix with the Aurorasound or the Leben. Tonal differences, sure, but they fall out along lines more of preference, synergy, and power/remote requirements than this or that amp significantly elevates my listening experience over and above any other. I could happily and peacefully co-exist with any of the three.
Add preamp and salt to taste…
The Luxman cl38uc is, to me, everything a great preamp should be and nothing it shouldn’t be. It imposes just a wee bit of its own musically consonant character upon the proceedings as compared with no pre, and this ‘consonance’ is a touch of warmth coupled with wider dynamics and a bit of expansion of the stage both in width and depth. It also seems to add (let through?) a bit more bass depth and impact.
The Luxman again brought these lovely qualities to the Enleum. Hooked to the Luxman, there was some improvement upon the AMP-23R’s already superb space and scale and no apparent reduction in its resolving abilities. The pace of the music seems even to quicken a bit when I pair things with the Luxman, which to me always strikes me as at odds with its stately ‘retro’ appearance. You expect relaxation and get a bit more excitement instead. With apologies to various audio YouTube ‘stars’ whom, perhaps to (continue to) please their growing audience, profess not to believe in component break-in or warm-up, the Luxman very definitely does take about an hour of warm-up to come on song, and it is certainly not my ‘imagination’ that is warming up:) After an hour’ wait (I just leave it on most weekends), the Luxman/Enleum combo showed itself to be resolved and graceful, with some of the above-listed charms of the Luxman present while maintaining the Enleum’s own beautiful articulation and balance.
Eric Reed’s “Black, Brown and Blue” evidenced a bit more depth in the venue and a bit more texture on the stand-up bass. Piano decays lingered a bit longer, it seemed. Man! A tubed pre and a solid-state amp are said to be a great pairing, but take an exceptional tubed pre like the Luxman and an exceptional solid-state amp with a touch of tube-like qualities unfettered by the bottleneck of any degree of volume attenuation (due to the Enleum being, as you recall, a gain control design), and you have a seriously amazing combination. In fact, this combo, Luxman/Enleum, was perhaps my favorite I’ve had through here, bar none. I preferred it to the Leben used as a pure amplifier with the Luxman. Those two aren’t nearly as happy a pairing. The Leben seems to prefer its own preamp. (I can’t really use the Aurorasound with the Luxman as the Aurora has a built-in active preamp, so we would have a double preamp situation).
Sadly, as I say, you’ll need some patience when the listening mood strikes, as you’ll need to give the Luxman at least 30 minutes or more to begin to sound like it’s supposed to and maybe even an hour till cooked to perfection. The Enleum itself is raring to go practically out of the gate…
Further reindeer games (featuring additional reindeer)
I’m going to open with Charlie Haden and Keth Jarret’s “Last Dance” on ECM. The Enleum is fired up now, going on thirty minutes right next to a highly regarded point-to-point wired SET amp (the Feliks Audio Arioso 300B), which is, in its turn, cooling down after having played this self-same bass ‘n piano album for me. It’s ‘round midnight, and I’m tired, but this is MY time, the listening hour, and it’s the 23R against a well-regarded 7500.00 retail point-to-point wired 300B SET amp sporting upgraded Audio Note 4300e 300B tubes and a vintage pair of Kenrad black glass 6sn7 drivers, which I found added air and space and bass punch over and above the stock Psvane 6sn7’s. I don’t think Uncle Kevvy at Upscale sells them, though. You’ll have to hunt.
This. is. close. Maybe, just maybe, the Enleum (now again flying solo sans pre) is a bit more resolved and a bit more spacious than the Feliks, and maybe there’s a bit more ‘pop’ on Charlie Haden’s more forte plucks on the bass. Maybe the SET amp has a tiny bit more tonal color? Both have admirably black backgrounds, with the Feliks the darker of the two by a hair. An impressive feat for a triode amp! Both have an endearing, inviting presentation that draws you in and keeps you up later when it’s too late already by SST (Suburban Standard Time). When one amp plays, you don’t wish for the other and vice versa. You cannot, of course, at my late-night levels with the Devore O/96’s, in any way tell which amp has what kind of power (and it’s 25 watts versus like 8). For that, I’d have to push it (Kid Rock, maybe?), and for that, it’d have to be daytime. I’d probably have to be playing more complex music (Mahler?) to boot and probably have to have less efficient speakers (ATCs?) than the Devores. But right now, late at night, with the same Audio Art statement e, cryo cables, and ICs on both, there’s not much in it.
Maybe Soo In, the head man at Enleum, was right to put his Nagra tubed pre-out to pasture (told me his Nagra is now in storage). But YOU don’t have to. Though no such ‘gilding’ of this particular 25-watt lilly is needed, if you own an Enleum and would like to take it a bit more in the direction of texture, present mids, and expansive staging, a great tubed pre like the Luxman CL-38uC may indeed get you there. A lesser, more colored pre, not so much as I think it wouldn’t be hard, given the Enleum’s superb tonal balance, low self-noise, and articulation, to ruin things a bit with a colored one. As a hint, I have heard tell from a dealer or two that the Enleum pairs quite well with EAR preamps.
I’m sure it pairs well with Soo In’s old Nagra, too. Probably available at a great price if he ever sells. I originally thought I’d revisit the 23R when acquiring the Devore Orangutans, as I thought it might have special synergy with high-efficiency speakers like them. I was wrong. The Enleum has a ‘special synergy’/sounds great with every speaker (and headphone) I’ve tried it with so far, and I think that’s the reason most reviews of it, if you read between the lines, don’t seem to say very much specifically about exactly how it sounds.
It simply does not do much wrong, and what it does ‘right’ it doesn’t really call attention to. It is simply a balanced, articulate, and versatile performer that works beautifully as a standalone compact integrated, though it can be paired with the pre of your choice, should you wish to ‘season to taste’ or simply up the ante in terms of number of inputs.
Unless you own 2-Ohm speakers or listen VERY loudly constantly in a palatial room with cathedral ceilings overlooking your Napa vineyard, I can’t really see anyone disliking the Enleum AMP-23R. I could happily live with a 23R plus or minus great pre and a DAC and be done forever. Of course, I can’t do that; be done forever, I mean. They’d revoke my audiophile card. I can’t risk it. Otherwise, I swear I would be…
I bid you peace
25 watts (8 Ω, 1 kHz) | 45 watts (4 Ω, 1 kHz) | 4 watts (60 Ω, 1 kHz)
22.5 dB max (Speaker, Headphone High) | 7 dB max (Headphone Low)
MPU Controlled Stepped Attenuator
10 Hz ~ 100 kHz
10 kΩ (Voltage) | 10 Ω (ENLINK)
2 Voltage (RCA) | 1 ENLINK (BNC)
5-Way Speaker Binding Post | 1/4″ Headphone Out
One Button & Gain Phase Control | Remote Controller
30 watts (Idle) | 100 watts (Max)
230 mm (W) x 230 mm (D) x 55 mm or 82.5 mm incl. Isolation (H)
4.0 kg (net) | 4.5 kg (shipping)
Enleum – Official Website
David’s Associated Equipment
Innuos Pulse streamer; Mac Mini 2014 w/Roon and/or Audirvana Studio; Holo Audio KTE May DAC
Leben 600x integrated amplifier; Aurorasound HFSA-01 hybrid integrated amplifier; Feliks Audio Arioso 300B integrated amplifier; Lejonklou Boazu integrated amplifier; Luxman cl-38uc preamplifier
Devore 0/96’s; Xavian Perla Esclusivas
Audio Art Cable Statement e SC Cryo speaker wires and interconnects; Belden 8402 interconnects; Audio Note ISIS interconnects; Audioquest Carbon USB cable
Symposium Svelte Shelf Plus and Rollerblock Jr. footers (under Holo KTE May DAC); PS Audio P12 power conditioner
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