The thing I really love about this hobby is that sometimes you can have a surprising new-gear-happy moment. This is the moment that happens when I get new gear, turn it on and I’m amazed by how good it sounds. To me, this is one of the best things in this hobby. I want to play all my favorite albums to hear how they sound on my new treasure. Even better if the unit is a complete gamble, not something many people know and recommend. It does not happen often – few pieces I’ve experienced it with before were my first vintage Marantz receiver – Marantz Model 2230B (big step up from what I’d used before), Exposure Super XX amp, Sonab R3000 receiver, Onkyo C-S5VL CD/SACD player, Bonsai speakers.
And recently with pre and power amp set, Enbee ZX1 and Enbee ZX80.
I was browsing our local auction site and spotted a name that did not ring any bells. At all. Now, that’s rare. It was a pre/power amp combo, with a price that was barely within my “experimenting” budget. I figured, about 135 dollars for a pre/power amp combo would be OK. No further info, no specs, just a vague reference to a minor problem with the preamp. Few bad photos, but what I could see kept me interested.
I hit google and found some info about the manufacturer and about audio gear in India. Audio gear was basically not imported to India until the late 1990s due to high customs duty on electronics. So they simply had to make it themselves, including higher end gear. Local brands that made these things had enough customers to flourish. Enbee was based in Delhi and run by a Mr. YM Nishi Nakra who’d been making audio gear (radios, speakers and amps) since the early 1950s. Mr. Nakra was making audio gear until 2005 or so, when he shut down his business due to old age and continued to provide service for his products at home. He was in mid-80s at the time. The units I have were manufactured from the early 1990s, apparently until mid-2000s. This means that they were designed and made by a guy in his 70s. All units were hand assembled. The brand had a cult following in India, supplied gear to recording studios and was praised for a very natural sound presentation. Enbee units are still recommended on local hi-fi websites and appear to hold their value – used set of Enbee ZX1 + ZX80 sells for it’s original retail price or more.
So, not 5 minutes later, I was on the phone with the seller, inquired about the problem with the preamp (hum with EQ controls on, fine with the controls off, and they can be switched off), I bargained a bit, because why not, got the price down 20% and bought the set.
2 days later, the Enbee separates arrived. I turned the power amp on, measured DC on speaker terminals (6 mV on one channel, 10 mV on the other, nice!). I fed a source to the power amp and checked it with headphones first, just to be sure. Good sound, no apparent problems.
The system I had on at this moment was an Inkel pre/power amp (similar power, mos fet, same as Sherwood CP-6040S/CP-6020S). So I first tried the ENBEE power amp with the Inkel preamp. I liked it! Not as much bass as with the Inkel power amp, but not bass-shy either, a bit cleaner, fast, detailed, pleasant, and pushed my Quadral Aurum 5 towers without any effort. I later tried this set with Quadral Amun MKV speakers, which are more difficult to drive than the Aurums, and the results were great. Deep and clear bass, pleasant midrange, clear highs and wide soundstage.
I checked the pre with headphones first – I do that to spot any problems with pre amps before they have a chance to play tricks on power amp and my speakers, I plug headphones to pre amp output sockets via an adapter. There was indeed some hum when I turned on and adjusted EQ controls, but with EQ off, and even with EQ on but flat, the pre amp worked perfectly. So I put it in the system.
The sound is very, very good. Lively, engaging, dynamic, but not aggressive. Vocals sound natural, details are nicely emphasized, and overall it sounds very well-balanced and fun at the same time. And that’s a real achievement in my book.
I’ve had two bad moments with this system. When I first listened to both power and pre, it sounded a bit gritty (particularly vocals). I was powering the power amp from a power strip and the pre from a socket in the power amp. After I plugged the pre directly into the power strip – no more gritty sound.
The other was when I decided to listen an LP. I put on a record and simply hated the sound: it was squeaky, lacked bass, basically crap. I tried to run my TT through an external phono pre to line level input to exclude problems with the TT, record, cables – no, it sounded OK. Then I noticed that the switch for MM/MC carts was depressed to MC position. I must have accidentally pushed it. I switched it back to MM and voila! perfect sound. Phono stage in this pre amp is really good by the way.
So, the only things left were a bit of cleaning and getting rid of the EQ controls bug. I will probably never use them anyway, but I wanted them to work all the same. Luckily it turned out to be quite simple. One of the 741 op-amps on the right channel EQ board was bad. Replaced, and no more hum! Due to these op-amps the EQ circuit has a fairly high noise floor (compared to the pre amp’s overall performance), but that’s not a big issue, and it can be completely bypassed.
Internally the units are reasonably well built, for an artisan product. Particular stages of pre and power amp are on separate boards (each stage in each channel has its separate board), which makes servicing easier. Power transformer is huge, output transistors are good old 2N3055s on an external heat sink. My only complaints are plastic knobs and buttons, and internally the slightly noisy EQ and it’s location after the volume pot. If the EQ circuits were before the volume pot it could attenuate the noise from the circuits. Maybe I’ll modify the pre amp at some point, but I’m in no rush – the noise is minor and I don’t use the EQ anyway. The things I could try if I decide to do that is ether move the volume pot downstream, so that it’s after the EQ boards, or replace the 741 op-amps, which are known for being noisy, with low-noise substitutes like TL071CP, or both.
If you can find these units in a good shape under 200 euros, I highly recommend them. Unfortunately the chances of that are slim – not many can be found outside India.
ENBEE ZX1 control amplifier:
Rated output – 0.775 volts,
Max Drive Capability – 10 volts,
Frequence Response – CD, Tape, Tuner, Aux-10 Hz to 80 KHz +/- 0.01 dB,
THD – 0.001 % 20 Hz to 20 KHz,
IMD – 0.01%,
S/N Ratio – >96dB
9 band per channel equalizer controls (switchable)
Built-in Phono Stage (MM & MC)
ENBEE ZX80 power amplifier:
Nominal power – 80 Watts per channel at 8 Ohms
Frequence Response at 1 Watt – 10 Hz to 80 KHz +/- 0.2 dB,
Power Response – 80 Watts per channel at 8 Ohms- +0-0dB-20 Hz to 20 KHz,
IMD for any combination of frequencies for instantaneous peak power of 200 watts or less – <0.1%,
Distortion at 1 Khz – 0.01%.