Enya Nova U Carbon Travel Concert Ukulele - REVIEW

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9 Sep 2019

Enya Nova U Carbon Travel Concert Ukulele - REVIEW

If my sneek peek photographs of this ukulele are anything to go by, this one could be one of the most anticipated ukulele reviews I have undertaken. Say hello to the Enya Nova U Carbon Fibre Travel Ukulele. I think this is also the FIRST independent look at the Nova there is. You read it here first!!

Enya Nova U Concert Ukulele

Enya are a Chinese brand I have featured before, perhaps best well known for their HPL models on this website at least, but always have shown a consistent QC to me and i've liked pretty much all i've come across. They are mainly sold through Amazon (a bugbear of mine), but to be fair, they are widely available in physical stores in the far east (we should remember that the UK and USA are NOT the centre of the universe), but are also starting to appear in physical stores in the west too.

This one has created quite the buzz on social media circles since they first announced it and it's perhaps not hard to see why. Plastic ukuleles always create something of a buzz, as I think they always have going back to the Maccaferri days, and this one seems to have proved no different. The bigger 'hook' here though, apart from the shape, is that this is listed as 'carbon fibre'. If that is the case it's not the first carbon fibre ukulele either, and those are another development in uke circles that create their own buzz. But what seemed to be foxing people is that it doesn't look like carbon fibre.

Well. Let's deal with that point first. The Nova is not purely carbon fibre, rather is a polycarbonate plastic body that has carbon fibre strands added to the mix for strength (25% I am told by Enya). If that sounds like a misrepresentation, I am not actually sure it is because the very well known Outdoor Ukulele brand released a black 'carbon' ukulele which uses exactly the same sort of mix. So there we have it, not fully plastic, and not fully carbon fibre either. Both Enya and Outdoor claim that the mix material helps give it a tone which sets it apart from the usual 'plasticky' sound of things like Waterman ukes. We shall see. Naturally, because of the building material, Enya bill it as a 'travel uke' and supply press shots of it dunked in water. Outdoor do the very same. I get why, and 99% of this ukulele is significantly more resiliant to dust, heat and water than a wooden ukulele is, but when it comes to water, it has metal tuners like the Outdoor and the Waterman. They are NOT waterproof and will rust over time if exposed to water. I've seen it happen. Still, that's a marketing issue because I can say for certain I have never felt the need to play a ukulele in the sea myself... Tough it certainly is though, lets leave it at that!

Enya Nova U Concert Ukulele body

Turning to the build details, the Nova is a concert scale instrument that immediately made me turn my head on account of the shaping. In general terms it is a standard double bout shaped instrument, but  one with a very swoopy body design and upper cutaway. The most obvious shape comparison that anyone will see here is that it is Les Paul shaped. I think it looks terrific myself. Inside the back of the cutaway is a delightful curve contour which you also get on the heel. These things are neither here nor there for playability, but  just look and feel nice. In fact all the angles are pretty, smooth and attractive here.  It's not just about the shape though, because the body differs from a standard uke in that it is also a thinline. That is to say, the body depth is narrow giving it a closer feel to an electric guitar. It is, however, not an electric and that body is still an acoustic sound chamber. Interestingly the scale length is actually 16 inches, which puts it half way between the 'average' scale lengths for the concert and the tenor. Scale naming convention is not quite so hard and fast a rule as some people think though, and I'm happy for them to call this a concert if they want to.

The construction is similar to most plastic ukuleles you will find, consisting of two main pieces. The slightly arched back, sides, back of the neck and back of the headstock are a monocoque single moulded piece creating one half of a chamber. Dropped on to this is another single piece which comprises the top, the fingerboard and the face of the headstock. They are then sandwiched together to create the ukulele 'box'. The finish throughout is a satin, not gloss, and that does mean that, on the black one at least, it picks up fingerprint smears easily, but I guess and what cloths are for. Talking of colours, it comes in black white, and some pastel colours like a pale blue, pink and pale orange. Each colour will have its fans, but for me I have a liking for 'none more black' ( © Nigel Tufnel). EDIT / STOP PRESS - As I only reviewed the black model I assumed it was just black material. The coloured models are also black and then painted on the outside - in fact even the black one is painted black...  I would have liked to see a coloured one in the flesh but haven't done. I'm not entirely sure why it matters, but it's a factual detail confirmed by Enya in the comments below..

The bridge is a kind of hybrid slot style. At first glance I thought it was a through body, but it's not. You tie a fat enough knot in the end of the string, pop it into the hole and tighten it back into the slot. Simple. It's made from the same material as the body and seems to be part of the same mould, though it could be glued on. The saddle is compensated, but the material is not specified. It seems to be a separate piece. You couldn't tell that on the 'all black model', but on the other colours you see that the saddle is a black piece too. It's all very tidy here.

Enya Nova U Concert Ukulele bridge

Turning to sound holes and we have a couple of things to note here. First up, the traditional sound hole position is filled with a flame type Enya logo cut into the top. I don't normally like sound holes like this on wooden ukuleles as they can be fragile, but I think it works here, looks great and strength shouldn't be an issue. You also get a side sound port on the upper shoulder. I'm neither hear nor there on those, but don't object to them.

Enya Nova U Concert Ukulele soundhole

That side port is the only way I can see inside and there's not much to say. It's tidy (understandably) and simple. The back is smooth with no braces, but the top has a number of strengthening bars running sideways and vertically to stop it collapsing on itself.

Other than those points there is no other decoration on the top to speak of, but I quite like it for that. You do however get a couple of strap buttons in gold though. I think these would have looked better (on the black model at least) in anodised black as they stand out a little starkly against the dark body. Perhaps that is not so noticeable on the paler colours.

Up to the neck which is moulded, in the main, into the body piece and this is shallow rounded in profile. Because it is part of the body, it has no heel as such, rather a swooping curve away from the body which is attractive. Disappointingly for a concert the nut width is only 35mm and 25mm from G to A which is too narrow for me.  I come on to that point futher below when I deal with playing it. Looking at the Enya press shots it is strengthened with ribs inside and what looks like a further strengthening bar halfway up.

Topping that is a fingerboard made of the same material with 18 integral moulded frets with 13 at the top shoulder.  They also look very slightly radiused which is nice. Being integral there should be no intonation issues caused by mis set frets and they are equally smooth on the edges. How they stand up to play only time will tell but I always test plastic frets the same way by repeatedly pressing a metal straight edge into them to mimic months of string pressure. I can confirm, based on this test at least, that I can create no marks so suspect they will stand up ok. The fingerboard has some nice curved shaping at the end and is fitted with outward star position markers at the 5th, 7th, 10th and 12th. These are white, but it's nice to see that if you buy a coloured one, the markers seem to be the colour of the body which is a nice touch. Obviously making them the colour of the body on the black model would render them useless!  They look like plastic inlays so should not rub off with use. Sadly there are no side dots at all... Sheeeesh...

Enya Nova U Concert Ukulele fingerboard

Beyond the integral nut and we have an attractive asymmetrical headstock shape which I like. This has the Enya logo in a screen print at the top.

Enya Nova U Concert Ukulele headstock

Tuners are unbranded open gears with button colours to match the body colour. They look decent enough, but I don't really have much more to say other than the fact that they are gold and kind of jar with me in the same way as the strap buttons. Again, this will be less of a contrast on the paler colours, but on the black model I would like to see these in anodised black / gun metal. Another minor point, but even silver would look better.

Enya Nova U Concert Ukulele tuners

Finishing that off is a semi hard branded pod case which fits the slightly unusual shape perfectly, a strap (to match the body colour in each case),  a capo (also to match the body colour!) and some spare strings. Being an Enya these are their own name fluorocarbon, a string I've never much liked, but are easily changed. And that comes in at a price of £79.99. Good value.


(See STOP PRESS section at the end of the review to put the following paragraph in context!)
That's not the end of story on the price though as you have to import these from China at a cost of £23.99 in the UK. So the more accurate total price is about £104 all in. Compared to cheap plastic ukuleles that's quite a bit more than something like the Kala Waterman Concert. However, I don't think this is pitched against those instruments rather more as an alternative to the Outdoor Carbon. Outdoor don't make a concert for a direct comparison on price, but their standard carbon soprano will come in at $145 (£120) and the tenor is $195 ($160). But remember that Outdoor also have delivery charges for us in the UK which I have long pointed out make them prohibitively expensive over here. To get the Outdoor Soprano to the UK will cost me around £150 and the tenor will cost a whopping £190. So for the UK at least this is significantly cheaper and getting on to half the cost of the Outdoor tenor delivered price. For those in the USA, it's not quite the saving, not least because Outdoor shipping is free in the USA, but is still cheaper than either Outdoor model in any event. Bear in mind you might get stung for import taxes, in the UK but then that also applies to the Outdoor too. Yes, it's still good value. To be fair, some would point out that the Outdoor has claims about extreme temperature resilience, and if such things matter to you perhaps that's where your money goes. To me, it matters less as I don't intend to play one in a furnace or the south pole but there you are.

Finally, you can also get these with a pickup option. That's not really for me as I'd treat this as an outdoor (excuse the pun) uke for knocking about with. Add to that, the pickup option is not my kind of setup (side panel, battery pack, no thanks). So this review is just for the acoustic!

Let's have a play.

Like pretty much everything I have seen from Enya, the build, finishing and presentation of the instrument is mostly excellent.  Unlike some cheaper plastic ukuleles I have seen there are no sharp edges, moulding lines or flaws in the construction I can find. There are, however a couple of small rub marks on the back which may have happened in transit. They are not life and death, but it would be wrong for me to ignore them and they are annoying. They are not scratches as such and may polish off and doubtless would be far less visible, if at all, on the coloured models. The whole thing is super tactile and made me want to keep picking it up. It's extremely comfortable, light and well balanced. And despite that narrow nut and string spacing, I don't find the neck play too uncomfortable at all. That may be down to the feel of the plastic, the shallower profile or the slight radius, but either way it doesn't bother me like a normal narrow nut does. Your mileage may vary of course but I was pleasantly surprised here. What I will also say here is that despite being made of plastic, it doesn't display any of the flaws I've found with several other plastic ukes. In other words the top is not flexible and dipping leading to a raised saddle action (Waterman) and the neck isn't bendy (Korala Explore). That's a big relief.

Enya Nova U Concert Ukulele sound port

Sound wise, it would have been nice to compare it to the Outdoor Ukulele on tone, but my attempts to get one on loan for review have fallen on deaf ears. I know people like them though, particularly the tenors and from what I have heard on video, they stand above the usual plastic sound (despite being, essentially, plastic themselves). The best I can do here is compare it to the concert Waterman. I quite liked the tone of the concert Waterman, but it STILL sounded like a plastic ukulele. My impressions of the Nova is that it stands apart on that front too. Far nicer in fact.

Sure, it doesn't sound like a wooden ukulele either, but it has a pleasant tone of it's own. Volume is decent, whilst not 'wake the dead' but louder than the HPL Enya models, and no doubt easily improved further with a string change. Sustain is better than I would expect from plastic too, particularly on a narrow body. Again, whilst it's not achingly long, it's above average and helps give it some character.  Intonation and setup are very good too and it's a very playable instrument because of those things. The only real negative so far is that I am not, however a fan of the strings, but as you know, don't affect my scores for that reason. I like their tone, but find them a bit flabby feeling under the fingers despite them not being thick gauged. The tension is too low for me.

The tone though is really rather enjoyable. It has a brightess and chime i've not heard before from plastic and doesn't sound boxy to my ears at all. Strum it and you can easily get a sparkly jangle going, and each note is still clear in the mix and all harmonise well. Each note in a mix is extremely clear and the jangle happens because the strings are harmonising and it's accurate. It's a lot of fun to strum on!

But it's perhaps fingerpicking that was the eye opener for me with a very clear, well balanced sound that chimes and sings. The clarity is great, and playing up the neck in particular is a joy and doesn't lose volume with some real crisp highs further up. It really surprised me here.

Enya Nova U Concert Ukulele back

I'm not getting ahead of myself, and no, it's not a high end wooden tone by any means, but a ubiquitous plastic tone it isn't either. If you MUST have a wooden character, you probably won't like this, but if you are merely dismissive of plastic sounds because you've not liked the cheaper ones you might be pleasantly surprised here. All in all it's pleased me (and you know how picky I am!). It pleases me to play and I think it looks just great too. It 'is what it is' and I'd be glad to own one and travel with one.

Once again Enya seem to have a knack of turning out an instrument that is put together very well, plays well, sounds decent and does so for a very good price.  It won't suit everyone, plastics never do, but for a tough knockabout uke which perfoms very well, I think these should fly off the shelves. Baz likes it!

They are out know via Amazon UK, and coming soon (I believe) in the USA. Recommended!

STOP PRESSES! I am putting these as STOP PRESS as it appears Enya are offering some deals on pricing - I will leave my pricing comments as above as these may be reverted to in due course, but note the following..

STOP PRESS 1 - Immediately after publishing the review, and eagle eyed reader told me that these are now available to order into the USA direct from the Enya site at only $69.99 with free shipping to the USA. A no brainer folks!

STOP PRESS 2 - Since publishing, Enya have offered free shipping on certain UK models via Amazon.

https://www.enya-music.com





SPECS ROUNDUP

Scale: Concert
Body Material: Polycarbonate with carbon fiber addition throughout
Neck: As per body
Bridge: Slot style made of body material
Fingerboard: Made of body material
Frets: 18
Nut Width: 35mm, 25mm G to A
Tuners: Unbranded gold open gears
Strings: Enya Flouorocarbon
Extras: Semi hard case, strap, capo, spare strings
Price: £79.99 (ex postage!)

UKULELE PROS

Great looks
Good build quality
Comfortable to play
Comfortable to fret despite narrow nut (see below)
Surprisingly bright chimey tone with character
Good volume
Good sustain
Decent case and extras
Great price

UKULELE CONS

No side markers
Gold hardware jars with the black
Narrow nut (but see above)

UKULELE SCORES

Looks: 9 out of 10
Fit and finish: 8.5 out of 10
Sound: 8.5 out of 10
Value for money: 9.5 out of 10

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 9 out of 10

UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW





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11 comments :

  1. Thanks, Barry, very interesting review. I bought an Outdoor soprano carbon gold Uke earlier this year before stirling dropped out of the sky against the dollar. Yes, certainly more expensive than this, but I was happy with the intonation and sustain which I felt was surprisingly good for plastic, and the tuners I think look a better quality than these. Sorry, yes, gold buttons (extra to pay for, and I bought a leather strap from them, also ridiculously expensive,) and I had to paint gold side fret markers on, which worked well. A comparison from you would be very interesting, too! Hope Outdoor send you one so you can do this. There is something reassuring about knowing I'm not going to go back to my uke in the back of my car and find the bridge has pinged off in the heat, though!!!

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  2. Couldn't resist. Just ordered mine today. Does anyone have suggestions for strings that would complementinstrument? Worth Browns maybe?

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  3. Looks interesting! I have just seen a model is available with a built in transducer, no info about it on the Enya web site though ...

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  4. Thank you for this review Barry. I have been interested in this new model from Enya since I first learned of it. There are a few sound samples on YouTube, but I don't know if they have been enhanced in any way.
    I wrote to Enya asking for info about the transducer and just received this reply.
    "We are working on creating a video shows the different tones between normal acoustic and transacoustic on the Nova Ukulele. The video is expected to be available around the middle of the month."
    I don't have any experience with a pickup of any kind. This might be a good way to play with that technology at an affordable price point.
    I love the look of this instrument and wish it came in lipstick red with the black fretboard!
    Thought I'd go for the black, but not sure about those fingerprints. I think that would bother me, but I do like the look. Hummm, maybe white.
    Barry, I am a very new ukulele student and just want to say how much I appreciate your site! Thank you for all you share.

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  5. Hi Barry, I read with interest your review of the Enya Nova U Carbon Ukulele. It looked very cool in black and sounded good. Being resident in China, I searched the big online market out here to find dealers. There are many offering it in the full range of colors both with and without pickup. While cruising around customer comments I noticed a weird one. The user liked its look and sound The uke was white body, black fingerboard/neck and white headstock. The user commented that the uke has to be handled with care because it’s actually all black and that the white parts were painted on. This makes the uke delicate because the paint rubs off or is knocked off easily. He’d attached pictures of where a chip of white paint was off the head stock and black showed clearly. There was a second picture of a spot near the joining of the fingerboard to the body where the white paint had chipped. I would be very skeptical if someone told me Enya was trying to paint ABS carbon fiber uke bodies and expecting the paint to stick, but the user had put up pictures. Be aware of this possibility. I learned a lot from your site and your YouTube videos. Thank you.

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    1. Dear Anonymous, Thank you for sharing this. A finish that chips off is a huge disappointment in build quality. I hope someone from Enya will reply. That could be a deal breaker. Maybe the finish on the black one is more stable (as in not painted).
      I like the look and I like the sound.
      I am waiting for Enya's review showcasing the tonal differences of the acoustic versus transacoustic possibilities.
      I was quite sure I would be ordering one, but with the possibilities of chipped paint now I am not so sure.

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    2. I can’t speak for finish chips as the black one doesn’t appear to be painted as such. Saying all that though, if I bang one of my gloss ukuleles, the finish will chip off those too. But I wouldn’t dismiss a Kamaka for that reason. Surely the answer is not to bash it??

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    3. Thank you very much for sharing the feedback about painting issue, we would like to be honest and provide some information may be helpful to everyone.

      1. The base color of Nova U is gloss black, which is actually NOT the same black as the black model. This means the black model still needs the painting job.
      2. YES, we have met a few cases with the painting issue, and they all happen on the first batch of products produced back in early August.
      3. The painting process has been improved and it's now a lot better. So far in September we haven't received any claims.
      4. The Nova U model does need attention to avoid dropping or hitting which may damage the paint.
      5. Warranty covers the peeling paint issue (accidents are not covered).

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  6. Thank you for this review. and anonymous, thanks for your info. I'm thinking about a white one.
    Our ensemble has 2 loaner Kala Watermans that we offer the kids to use to play along with us.
    To put it plainly, they suck as instruments, as toys, they're fine. The tone is icky, the tuners are dodgy, and the thing is just plain ugly. The fact is, I hate the Waterman. I Think they're worth half what they cost.
    I'm not sure I"d loan an Enya to a kid, though, I'd be having too much fun playing it.It doesn't look like a toy, and it sure doesn't sound like a toy.

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  7. I note you can get a pink one (if that is your thing) currently from Amazon with free delivery to the UK for £79.99...

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  8. Barry, Thanks for your reviews, very fun and informative. I was looking for ukulele's for my kids (6 and almost 8), and was pretty set on the Flight travel. Any thoughts on the Nova U vs the Flight travel?

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