Audio Analogue Enigma - £1,295

Beautiful Italian design and one Russian valve makes this one-box system something of a wonder

Audio Analogue’s smartly designed products are familiar features in the pages of this magazine – we’ve reviewed quite a few of them over the years. This recent addition to the company’s range brings together radio, CD and an amplifier, though it lacks frills such as digital input, USB socket and iPod dock.

The use of a valve is an obvious talking point, though the usual question arises: when the circuit is otherwise resolutely solid-state, what is one valve going to do other than add some character? Still, it’s a nice visual feature, glowing gently behind its own little window.

The hard work of providing current for the speakers is handled by a pair of integrated-circuit amplifiers, mounted on an internal heatsink at the rear, next to the large toroidal mains transformer. Other internal appointments include a computer CD-ROM drive, connected via its S/PDIF output to a DAC board of AA’s own devising, and an FM/AM radio module. Assembly is ingenious, with the audio circuits stacked above the CD transport so as to make use of height while minimising width. The tall front panel allows a user-friendly layout, with a ‘nudge’-type volume control – it only rotates a few degrees each way, nudging the level up or down. As so often, the top (mostly useless) steps are small, the useful ones being rather coarse, and it’s tricky, we found, to get a single step at a time. At least the display shows volume setting so you know where you are.

Sound quality

Our listeners were notably keen on the quality of the bass from the Enigma. It’s not so much that it’s deep, but it’s very well controlled, powerful but precise and ‘fast’. This makes for a sound that’s well suited to driving rock – and as our listening programme for this group happened to start with some Led Zeppelin, this set things off on the right foot in no uncertain terms.

The same qualities served equally well in our large orchestral track, though, making the most of Rachmaninov’s arresting Symphonic Dances and making the most of the work’s rhythmic interest. One listener did point out that the bass extension is not the most astounding, but that’s a relatively minor drawback when its impact is so direct.

On a less positive note, smaller-scale music isn’t quite so flattered. Although the basics are there, the tight interplay between instruments that really makes this kind of music work seems a little blurred by the Enigma, and the tonal differences between parts are less clear, too. Still, there’s some good imaging to enjoy and the sweet treble is very welcome.

The FM radio is good though slightly less precise than some, while line inputs if anything are a shade more detailed than the onboard CD player, suggesting this may be the weak link.

LIKE: Smart design; tight bass; good imaging
DISLIKE: Twitchy volume control; limited inputs; less assured with small-scale music
WE SAY: A sleek, capable piece of kit that will suit lovers of lively music and simple systems

DETAILS
ORIGIN: Italy
WEIGHT: 9.3kg
DIMENSIONS: (WxHxD) 210x125x400mm
FEATURES:
• CD transport; FM/AM radio
• Inputs: 3x 3 line plus mini-jack
• Outputs: 1x headphone (mini-jack); 1x mono line
• 45-watt output
DISTRIBUTOR: Audio Futura
TELEPHONE: 0039 0572 954513
WEBSITE: audioanalogue.com