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Review: ENIGMAcoustics M1 Mythology speaker and Sopranino super-tweeter

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The Sopranino

There are various ways to launch a company. ENIGMAcoustics hit the scene a few years back with a blast an acuto sfogato, the first ever passive planar electrostatic super tweeter.

In music, the term ‘sopranino’ refers to a tonal range beyond the soprano, an opera singer that reaches the highest notes like the F6 in Mozart’s Magic Flute where the Queen of the Night can easily blow your tweeters sky-high during the aria.

In our case the Sopranino is a miniature electrostatic, horn-flared, driver that’s designed to match a wide variety of speakers in order to extend an upper frequency limit of 40,000 Hz. To do that, the California-based company employed innovative composite materials in order to create a membrane thickness of less than one-tenth of a human hair, and something hundreds-of-times lighter than a typical dynamic cone, with the result being a near-perfect acoustic diaphragm.

pic 1This unique driver has a staggering 100dBs sensitivity, so ENIGMAcoustics enigneers designed a passive electronic network in order to get the efficiency closer to classic speakers, resulting in a “mere” 90dBs. Still too much? There is a small lever in the back that chops off another 3dBs in order to match even less sensible speakers.

Also in the back, a gold rotary knob allows the user to choose the insertion frequency of the super-tweeter depending on personal taste and the main speaker’s characteristics. The three options are 8, 10 and 12KHz. I have measured these parameters with a calibrated digital microphone, and they seem to be spot on. Depending on the chosen insertion frequency, the super-tweeter will add a few dBs of energy and then slowly roll off; this was both audible and measurable. Don’t expect it to impact your sonic experience like using a sub-woofer, we are talking about a small but significant addition to the overall sound, something that I will discuss later on in this review.

Design-wise, the Sopranino is a stunner. The little black coated aluminum horn that houses the tweeter stands in a hollow cuboid crystal that looks more like art than machine, like something out of a Swarovski boutique. A golden stripe bears the company logo and indicates the correct positioning of the super tweeter, as these are directional designs. The quality is omnipresent, even in details such as the use of WBT Classic connection terminals, Cardas wiring and Mundorf capacitors.

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A soprano ain’t enough for a show

ENIGMAcoustics made a tweeter as super as it gets, one that can be combined with various speakers. As with opera, you need something more than just a soprano, even one with excellent characteristics, in order to give a performance. For example, you could probably use a tenor and a baritone.

After the super-tweeter, then, the next logical step was a complete speaker. The company chose a two-way design with a 7 inch woofer and a rather large 34mm tweeter housed in a cabinet at least as impressive as the Sopranino. They named this speaker M1 Mythology … and the price seems to match. Buying the complete package, with the matching stand and the necessary leads for connecting the Sopranino to the main speaker, sets the bill at $14,690, a move which automatically catapults it into company with the most expensive compact loudspeakers currently on the market.

The aesthetics play a big role when trying to explain such a price for a relatively small design. Despite not being a full range system, the M1 arrived in five boxes weighing more than 200lbs in total. There were two boxes containing the main speakers and another two for the stands. The fifth was dedicated for the pair of Sopraninos; a touch of luxury found them in a double boxed wooden crate with velvet lining and the necessary leads for the connection.

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The M1s have no protecting grills for the polypropylene and mica woofers, while the silk tweeters have a golden wire that won’t help much in case you mistreat them. Both are mounted on a black, solid and thick aluminum baffle while the rest of the cabinet is made out of laminated birch finished in piano black, Birdseye maple, or in my case red Makassar wood. Top and bottom plates are covered with dark tempered glass, an additional touch that combined with the exquisite stands (also in aluminum and glass) to make for a stunning pair of speakers that have “luxury” written all over them.

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Setting up the scene

Positioning these beauties in my listening room was tricky, to say the least. As the M1s depend on a 7” woofer with the bass reflex port in the back, I initially opted to place them closer than my resident ATC speakers, at 8 feet from my usual listening position and 7 feet, one from the other. The result was disastrous and nowhere close at what I heard at the Munich High End show last May, where I was particularly impressed by them. Before going back to repositioning the speakers, I gave the local importer a call only to find out that the speakers had less than twenty hours of burn in. Speaking with Wei Chang of Enigmacoustics, I was informed that they advise a 2 day break-in time; in my case, it took an entire week to make them sing. During this period several measurements were performed using the MiniDSP UMIK-1 calibrated microphone and REW 5 software, which led me to reposition the speakers in a perfect equilateral triangle of 6 feet per side, placed almost in the center of my 17′ x 14′ room.

The top plate of the M1s has a series of marks, parallel to the front baffle, that help aligning the Sopranino in the desired position; it ended up placed in the second major mark, while the preferred insertion frequency was 12 KHz. The M1s are rated at 85dB of sensitivity so I had the super-tweeters set at -3 dBs with the small lever on the back. With all these options to consider, and eventually measure, this has been the longest, most critical speaker placement I have ever faced, a bit like waiting on a long queue in the pre-internet era for a pair of tickets to the opera. Expectations, or should I say my impatience, was growing fast.

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During the review period I had the new Pathos Acoustics Classic Remix integrated amplifier equipped with the company’s optional HiDAC module and the Pioneer U-05 DAC (not yet available in the US) playing side by side with my usual reference system, an ASR Emitter I Exclusive integrated amplifier with external battery, and the ASR Basis exclusive phono stage. A Garrard 401 in custom birch plinth with SAEC 308L tonearm and ZYX 1000 airy3 X cartridge have been my long time analog reference and served me well for the Mythology listening sessions.

Finally, the opera gala!

Cover 1No worries, I have no intention of throwing an entire review based on opera tracks, though the idea has crossed my mind. Still, let me begin with a great Italian duet, Mina singing “Amore” with Riccardo Cocciante from the Canarrino Mannaro album (PDU records, FLAC). Mina, despite being a pop icon, is considered to be a soprano drammatico when it comes to her vocal capabilities. Cocciante creates a sentimental crescendo during the first half of the song and then Mina comes in with an acuto which let the M1-Sopranino combination shine in all its glory. The timbre of her voice was perfect, faithful in every detail and articulated without the slightest sibilance or grain. By the end of the song, the duet turns into a swirling contraposition of the two Italian singers, but the M1 never lost control and the music, even when played loud, remained focused and well-defined. The second-order low-pass crossover performed flawlessly — I did not notice its footprint during playback

I was thinking that this was as good as it could be with the M1’s, but during a jazz fusion session, I played Al Di Meola interpreting Piazzola (Atlantic records, FLAC) and oh my, did this set up nail it or what? Percussion was decisive and created a picturesque atmosphere during the first Tango suite while the bandoneon got me thinking of Argentina and a strange desire to actually tango was overwhelming. The M1, driven by the small Pathos, was showing real character and I was having a great time listening to them. It was more than plain auditioning, it was engaging! Di Meola’s guitar was vibrant and melodic with a sense of distinct space separating it from the other instruments of this recording, which led me to think that this presentation had some of the best imaging I had ever experienced in my room.

But was this true? Getting to place a couple of guitars, a bandoneon and a conga, all in their imaginary positions during a jazz session is not that hard; actually managing a 47 percussion instrument ensemble is a whole different story. All record collectors know exactly where I am heading by now.

Back in the late sixties, the undisputed star of world ballet was Maya Plisetskaya, but before becoming the ballerina assoluta and amazing the world, she managed to enchant a young Russian composer, Rodion Shchedrin. They eventually got married and Shchedrin composed several ballet suites for her, the most famous being an adaptation of Bizet’s Carmen. Interestingly, Shchedrin was collaborating with the Bolshoi orchestra and aside from string instruments, they simply excelled in percussion. In the Carmen Ballet (EMI ASD 2448, LP) you can hear just about every imaginable combination of marimbas and maracas, tom-toms and congas, tambourines and bells and every other piece of percussion instrument imaginable. The M1-Sopranino combination managed to get the best out of this pandemonium of a ballet, portraying the rows of musicians striking, rattling and beating their instruments. Soundstage depth was immense; it went beyond the physical barriers of the room. Actually, the scene projected was as holographic as it gets with extension well above and to the side of the speakers. This had definitely to do with the Sopranino super-tweeter which was performing in a subtle fashion above 12 Khz, thus projecting this immersive soundstage in all directions.

The ballet has a series of rhythmic twists that result in huge dynamic variations; the Toreador movement is a brilliant example of macro-dynamics, and the M1, driven by the massive ASR, demonstrated some exceptional properties for the size of the speaker. Nothing less than 20 dBs of dynamic range were measured in my listening position during the most explosive passages.

Still, playing the ballet through the resident ATC speakers a few differences emerged, especially in the lower registers. During the Dance movement where the orchestra performs a “tutti” the 7″ woofer of the M1 was not on par with the British monitor’s 8″ one, something to be expected, not because of the small difference in size, but due to the fact that the M1’s unit has to cover a wider frequency range, namely from 40 to 1100Hz. For comparison reasons, let me point out that the ATC woofer of this classic three-way design handles only the 48-380Hz region, meaning slightly less than 3 octaves when the M1 counterpart covers almost 5. This translates in a better defined bass for the ATC, or in other words, a slight congestion during the most demanding, high-energy passages for the M1. Nothing major, but it was there in other “bass heavy” complex recordings, so do not expect it to play Wagner at 100 dBs with aplomb.

cover 4Expect it to excel in timbre though. With the right electronics it will reproduce faithfully not only human voices, but those nasty piano notes that all so often sound fake even with some so called “high end” speakers. In Harasiewicz’ take on Chopin’s Scherzos (Philips 6747 017, LP) the piano had a tonal accuracy that was neither overblown nor overdamped; it was just right.

Finally, let me come back to the Queen of the Night, and the majestic performance of the coloratura soprano Roberta Peters, a star of the Metropolitan Opera with many accolades in this side of the ocean too. Peters recorded Die Zauberflöte with Karl Bohm in Berlin (DGG 138 981/83, LP), a role that marked her career right from the beginning. Rudolf Bing, at the time the general manager of the Metropolitan, made her sing “Der Hölle Rache” seven consecutive times while he was moving around, just to make sure that Peter’s voice was strong enough to cover the entire theater. In the DGG recording her sparkling voice is a showcase for the Mythology tweeter; that 34mm silk dome performs truly well, as it provides all the colorations, thrilling and power without signs of sibilance, harshness or audible distortion. On top of that, the Sopranino adds that sense of space making her voice even more vivid while pushing the soudstage higher above the level of the speakers.

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Back to the star of the night

That would be the Sopranino super tweeter. A true Prima Donna, one that attracts all lights when she enters the scene, one that makes us applaud a scena aperta. The M1 by itself is a great two channel loudspeaker but it reaches a far superior level with the Sopranino on top of it. What this super-tweeter does is to create an airy aura in the room, by adding a few dBs of energy in the upper frequencies, and helps unfold the most three-dimensional sound stage that most classic/dynamic speakers can only dream of. I must admit that I was more than suspicious about the actual effects of this addition as our auditory capabilities are quite limited above the 13-14KHz, depending on the listener’s age mostly, and the Sopranino is quite expensive for something that several skeptics might even classify as “snake oil”. My scientific background pushed me to question its audible effects, but my measuring equipment proved to me that what I was hearing was actually there.

Obviously I could not resist pairing the Sopranino with my ATCs, and yes, the miracle of this immersive soundstage happened again. By itself, the Sopranino could be the answer to many audiophiles seeking that ethereal sensation of “openness” for their systems.

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Applause!

This show ends up with a big applause. The M1-Sopranino combination hits all the right buttons in terms of timbre, detail and a glowing soundstage. It has a sweet sound, but not too mellow, while it manages voices and acoustic instruments with finesse. Despite being relatively insensitive with a declared 85dbs, it performed well with the Pathos hybrid tube –solid state integrated, but really showed the full capabilities with the massive ASR emitter.

So is everything perfect? Yes and no.

The “no” part has to do with the lower octave, which suffers a bit, but that it is something to be expected from a compact two way speaker, super-tweeter on top notwithstanding. No, it will not replace your four- or five-way, 6′ tall floor-standers, and no, it will not shine on the Symphony of a Thousand (of course, all those instruments will wreak havoc on most speakers independently of size). If you want your personal opera show to have a bass singer that shakes the foundations of your house, in addition to the baritone (7’ midwoofer), tenor (34 mm tweeter) and Sopranino, then you will have to wait — ENIGMAcoustics is working on a full range model for the future. In the meantime, what the M1 will do is become your faithful companion for just about every musical genre — except maybe for those nasty, full scale, highly complex orchestral pieces — and this is not a small thing.

I tried to imagine who the potential buyer for this gorgeous combination of luxury, style and sound is, and the song “Big Spender” came in mind. Originally composed for the musical Sweet Charity, gained fame later on when Shirley Bassey sung it for the first time in 1967 (Ariola, Flac).

cover 6The story goes like this:

The minute you walked in the joint,
I could see you were a man of distinction,
A real big spender,
Good looking, so refined.
Say, wouldn’t you like to know
What’s going on in my mind?
So, let me get right to the point,
I don’t pop my cork for every man I see.
Hey, big spender, spend…
A little time with…me…me…me!
Do you wanna have fun?
How’s about (fun) a few laughs?
I can show you a…good time…

So if you are the classy (classical?) kind of guy, do yourself a favor and make sure you audition the ENIGMAcoustics M1 Mythology with matching Sopranino super-tweeter, it is definitely worth the time!

Specifications

Sopranino super tweeter

  • Nominal impedance       4 ohm
  • Sensitivity (1m/2.83V)   90dB with 0/-3dB switch
  • Crossover frequency      8/10/12 kHz
  • Crossover slope                 -12dB/oct.
  • Frequency response       8-40kHz(+/- 3dB)
  • Recommended input power       50W
  • Dimensions        7.13″Wx7.60″Hx8.15″D(W181xH193xD207mm)
  • Weight (Net/Shipping)   6 lb./27 lb.(2.7 Kg / 12.3 Kg)

M1 Mythology speaker

  • Sensitivity            85dB(2.83V/1m)
  • Recommended amplifier power                50–200W/channel
  • Peak power handling     80/150W
  • Nominal impedance       4Ω
  • Minimum impedance    4Ω/47Hz
  • Frequency response       40-50,000Hz(w/Sopranino)*
  • Bass type              Bass reflex
  • Woofer                   180mm PP cone
  • Tweeter                 34mm soft textile dome
  • Crossover frequency      1,100 Hz
  • Net Weight (main speaker)          19 Kg

 

*Though the Sopranino declares an effective range of 8-40KHz the M1 appears to reach 50KHz. This was confirmed by the ENIGMAcoustics.

MSRP

  • $14,690 (monitor/Sopranino/jumper/stand)
  • $13,690 (without stand)

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Contact details

ENIGMAcoustics

11 Chrysler, Irvine, CA 92618

(949)340-7590 – office

sales@ENIGMAcoustics.com

Associated equipment

 

  • Garrard 401 turntable/ NSC motor controller/ SAEC 308 L tonearm/ ZYX 1000 airy3 X (0.24 mV output) moving coil cartridge/ SAEC ULS-2 headshell (Loaded at 100 Ohms)
  • ATC SCM 40 speakers
  • ASR Emitter I HD amplifier with external Akku
  • ASR Basis HD phono stage with external Akku
  • Pathos Acoustics Classic Remix integrated amplifier with HiDAC module
  • Pioneer U-05 DAC
  • Van Damme speaker cables, Nordost Spellbinder IC , Jelco 506 balanced tonearm cable, Belkin Gold USB cable
  • MiniDSP UMIK-1 digital calibrated microphone, Second calibration by Cross Spectrum Labs
  • Room Equalization Wizard acoustics software V5.00
  • All CDs ripped with Exact Audio Copy V1.0 beta 4
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About Panagiotis Karavitis (180 Articles)

Doctor and Editor @ Part-Time Audiophile
Publisher @ Audiohub.gr

2 Comments on Review: ENIGMAcoustics M1 Mythology speaker and Sopranino super-tweeter

  1. jesmond enriquez // February 2, 2015 at 2:53 PM //

    How come your reviews pictures and words are much better then Sterophile or the Absolute sound. Thanks for being honest and straight foward. These qualities seem to have disappeared.

  2. I am continually amazed at the finish quality of some audiophile gear, and this brand is certainly up there with the best.

    The following is not a criticism, just an observation, because I have not had the great pleasure of auditioning the lovely Sopranino tweeter. General speaker design recommends maximum distance between acoustic center of two drivers is one-half the shortest wave length in the pass band. The greater does distance exceed this theoretical maximum, the greater the potential for “lobing” AKA “venetian blind effect.”

    In the case of the gorgeous Sopranino tweeter, a 12k Hz wavelength is 1.13″ (speed of sound 1130fps x 12″ = 13,560 inch per second/12k Hz = 1.13″/2 = .565″. Purely theoretical maximum distance between acoustic center of the Sopranino tweeter and the acoustic center of the farthest driver sharing same pass band (the main speaker system’s tweeter) is .565″.

    Theories sometimes do not hold true in practice, and that appears to be the case here!

2 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. ENIGMAcoustics M1 Mythology Loudspeaker and Sopranino Super-Tweeter | Ultra High-End Audio and Home Theater Review
  2. CES 2015: Dazzled by ENIGMAcoustics, NuPrime and Celsus | The Audio Traveler

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