Emotiva UMC-200 Preamp/Processor


Emotiva UMC-200 Preamp/Processor
Audio Performance
Video Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
 
Price: $599 At A Glance: Audiophile audio quality at a bargain price • Customizable EQ solution • Outstanding value

I’m not an engineer, and no, I don’t play one on TV either, although I’ve been around the A/V business long enough to know the technological challenges manufacturers face when creating a new pre/pro or AVR from the ground up. This is especially hard for smaller companies with limited budgets in an HDMI-enabled world.

Over the last few years, we’ve seen this firsthand. In late 2009, Parasound posted a letter from its president, Richard Schram, telling its customers the company was scrapping three of its much-anticipated 7.1 surround processors due to engineering challenges, exorbitant costs, and concerns that even if these projects were completed, it couldn’t assure that its high quality standards could be met.

A few months later, Web-direct Outlaw Audio cancelled its Model 997 surround processor due to numerous factors, including engineering delays and the subsequent release of HDMI 1.4 chipsets that came to market sooner than the company expected. Its flagship pre/pro would have been obsolete the day it hit the street—which is never a good thing.

Emotiva, another Web-based direct-sales audio company, experienced its own troubles when it released its first HDMI-enabled preamp/processor, the UMC-1. Anyone who frequents the various A/V forums on the Internet is well aware of the various firmware issues the company had with the product. To its credit, Emotiva issued a public apology to its customers and extended a money-back trial period as well as a 40 percent off trade-up to all UMC-1 purchasers for one of its next-generation processors. That’s how you build brand loyalty in the 21st century!

Time Moves On
So here we are some time later, and the folks at Emotiva have finally released their next-generation pre/pro, the UMC-200. Like its online competitor Outlaw Audio, Emotiva has targeted the entry-level preamp/processor market by aggressively pricing its unit at $600. While the UMC-200 doesn’t have all the bells and whistles found on many of the mainstream AVRs and pre/pros on the market, it serves up an astounding value.

Much like the Outlaw Model 975 I reviewed recently, the UMC-200 isn’t much to look at. At only 10 pounds, it won’t have you running to the chiropractor for an adjustment after placing it in your equipment rack (admittedly, no preamp really should), but it sports solid build quality and isn’t flimsy by any stretch. The simple but effective front panel is absent of any knobs. Instead, the pre/pro possesses an array of push buttons that includes directional controls, menu, standby, return, and volume. There’s also a headphone jack and a microphone input for use with the Emo-Q Gen2 proprietary automatic room correction system. A dimmable LCD display rests in the center of the unit, but unfortunately for those who practice dark-room viewing, it can’t be turned off completely.

The rear panel is well laid out and organized. It sports unbalanced 7.1-channel analog RCA inputs and outputs, an additional balanced subwoofer output (which can be used simultaneously with the unbalanced sub output), four analog stereo inputs, and AM/FM antenna inputs. Digital connections include two coax and TosLink ports, four HDMI 1.4 inputs, one HDMI output (with ARC—Audio Return Channel), and two USB inputs—one for software updates and the other for an optional proprietary Bluetooth dongle to stream music from your iDevice, Android, or other Bluetooth-enabled audio platform. Rounding things out are a couple of 12-volt triggers, zone 2 and 3 stereo analog outputs, a removable power cord, and a master on/off switch.

UMC-200 is built for a digital video world and includes no legacy support for analog video. This may limit its overall marketability but isn’t a bad trade-off in a budget pre/pro in these days of digital sources. Since I haven’t used an analog video source in a few years, I didn’t miss them one bit. Furthermore, the unit offers no video processing capabilities and passes through any HDMI video to your display. The unit does include Xpressview switching technology, which in theory promises to switch between HDMI inputs in less than a second. In practice, it doesn’t work quite as fast—usually the handshake between changing components is 5 to 7 seconds with my equipment. This includes an Oppo BDP-103 Blu-ray player and TiVo Series3 DVR connected with AudioQuest Carbon HDMI cables to the pre/pro, which are then output to a JVC RS-40 1080p projector with a Monoprice RedMere 50-foot HDMI cable. My main audio source is a Logitech Squeezebox Touch hooked up to a Windows Home Server that stores all of my music in various audio formats (FLAC, WMA-Lossless, and MP3).

Other features include a Video-On-Standby function, which can be configured to send audio and video to your TV even when the UMC-200 is switched into standby mode, making it easier for the kids to watch cartoons without having to power on your entire A/V system.

Emotiva is first and foremost an audio company, and it knows that one of the most important aspects of a pre/pro is audio decoding. For the UMC-200, the company has chosen Twin Cirrus 32-bit dual-core fixed-point DSPs that support virtually every surround format, including Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio. The aforementioned proprietary Emo-Q Gen2 room correction is unique in certain respects because it gives the end user complete control to customize its output with an 11-band parametric EQ for five channels (FL, FR, C, SR, SL) and includes four different memories to store the settings. So if you’re an audio geek who wants to use REW (Room EQ Wizard) to get the most out of your audio system, the free software and Emotiva UMC-200 are a marriage made in heaven.

The UMC-200 includes an onscreen menu system that’s very intuitive, and setting up the unit for the first time is a breeze, especially with the Emo-Q Gen2 on board. All you need to do is place the supplied microphone on a tripod in the money seat and follow the onscreen instructions. From start to finish, the entire process takes about 10 minutes, and in my particular case, it nailed the distances to my speakers right on the nose. The crossover settings for my M&K S150 monitors were set a little low at 70 hertz for the left and right and 60 Hz for the center, which is slightly lower than the 80 Hz THX recommends. But the real head-scratcher was that it set my SVS subwoofer at 175 Hz—much too high, in my opinion.

The stock remote is non-backlit and made of plastic, but I found it fit well in my hand and offers many unique controls. It’s not a universal remote but may be able to control your Blu-ray player if you enable CEC control in both the pre/pro and player. It also offers direct access buttons to each HDMI input, toggles to control the audio output (Direct, Stereo, Mode +/–), and direct access to trim controls for the back surround, surround, subwoofer, and center speaker to make adjustments on the fly—a very nice touch.

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Emotiva
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COMMENTS
mdanderson's picture

Very nice review David. I am really enjoying my UMC-200 mated with the Emotiva XPA-5 amp and Oppo 105. I am using the 7.1 analog inputs of the UMC-200 for music and movies and the sound is incredible. It functions very well as a preamp.

David Vaughn's picture
Thanks for the nice words. I recommended this product to someone else I know and they are blown away by its performance, especially at the price. Glad you are enjoying your system!
rightslot's picture

OK David,

Of course you knew this question was coming. So let me go ahead and ask it.

You recently looked at the Outlaw version of a affordable processor. Very similar in price.

All other things being equal, if you HAD to make a choice which one would it be? And of course--why?

I am in the market. I need to replace my Harman Kardon that I'm using as a processor. It doesn't have any HDMI at all. And some of the processing features are yesteryear.

So I REALLY do need to know.

Also, since the new Marantz pre/pro was in the latest HOME THEATER mag, can you explain why anyone would purchase it if both the Outlaw and Emotiva are so great. YOU GAVE THEM 5 STARS!

Thanks,

I'll keep reading.

David Vaughn's picture
Rightslot,

You honestly can't go wrong with either one audio wise, but there are differences in the video. First, the Outlaw offers legacy video support, which the Emotiva has left out. So if you have older non-HDMI video equipment (like a VCR) that you want to run through the pre/pro, then the Outlaw is your only option at this price (unless you go with an AVR). If this isn't an issue and all you are using is HDMI, then either will fit the bill. One thing that Emotiva has that the Outlaw doesn't is the room correction software, which did make the unit sound better overall. If this is important to you, then choose the Emotiva.

As for your question comparing these units to the Marantz, it's really an apples to oranges comparison. First, the Outlaw and Emotiva are both 1/6 the cost of the Marantz. The Marantz offers 11.2 channels versus 7, has a bevy of streaming options versus none, and many other "upgrades" that justify the price difference. Second, since the Marantz isn't sold direct, its price is higher due to multiple profit centers that must be fed versus just one for Outlaw and Emotiva. If either of the latter two products were sold in the "traditional" distribution model, they would retail in the $1200 range. If the Marantz was sold direct to consumers its retail price would be somewhere in the range of $1800-$2000.

In the end it comes down to what you need out of your pre/pro. If you have an elaborate system that needs three zones and 11.2 channels, legacy video support, room correction, and Internet streaming, then the Marantz is the only way to go--at substantially more money. If you have a more basic system with only one zone, don't need balanced ouputs, Internet streaming, or are on a limited budget, then the Emotiva and Outlaw fits your needs better.

One thing to keep in mind, when we do the ratings on products they are rated versus other products in their price class. For example, a 4 star rating in a $10,000 pre/pro doesn't necessarily mean it's inferior to a 5 star rating for a $1,000 pre/pro. Does this make sense?
rightslot's picture

Makes all the sense.

In other words it’s (the stars) all about values and the comparisons are relative.

I got it and if I can get a good bead on the actual sonics presented by all three then I feel I can make a good decision.

Seems that after HDMI and the requisite decoding formats, I’m not sure if the other “features” will be used more that some of the trendy games that were downloaded when the cellphones became smartphones.

I am actually after that light, airy, sound. If I can get that sound from a smaller box, and actually have less bells and whistles to go bad later then great.

Thanks for your reply, I’m about to make the plunge.

chilipalm's picture

I wouldn't go with Outlaw Audio. One channel stopped outputting in of their amps in less than a year. I had to ship it back AT MY COST to get it repaired. You know how expensive it is to ship back an 80 lb amp?

Liviu's picture

Hi,

I want to create a home theater system. What I have in mind is an OPPO BDP-105, connected to a preamp/pro Emotiva UMC-200, amplified by Emotiva XPA-5, through a Martin Logan system composed by 2xEM ESL, EM C2, 2xEM FX2, and a Dynamo 1000. The flat panel would be a Panasonic TC-P65ZT60. Is this a good system? Can be improved in the same range of money? I need your opinion, please!

Seattle Chuck's picture

I have been reading every Hi-Fi/HT/Video magazine I could get my hands on since 1969. The fairly rare excellent equipment reviews really stand out. Your outstanding review is just one of the few. Great relevant background lead-in for the first five paragraphs. No creative writing fluff here, just straight forward facts and opinions delivered in a logical style with lab measurements.

I already own some Emotiva gear but not this pre-pro. You hit the nail on the head as to why after all these years I have finally found a high quality brand that offers an incredible value ratio for my frugal budget when you wrote: "I’m blown away by this unit’s price/performance quotient."

Thanks much for a very fair and balanced review. As you clearly point out this unit doesn't have all the bells and whistles of much more expensive units and the auto room setup isn't perfect but it can be manually changed and that is all I care about. Most the left out features are not of any interest to me.

Excellent, objective reviews like this including the very important lab tests will keep me subscribing to your magazine for many more years.

Very fine review Mr. Vaughn!

David Vaughn's picture
Thank you for the kind words.
Zed's picture

The Emotiva UMC-200 seems to be a fine Pre/Pro in many ways. I would point out that the implementation of Dolby Pro Logic IIz is lacking, if not out of compliance with the Dolby spec.

To quote from:
http://www.dolby.com/us/en/professional/technology/home-theater/dolby-pr...

"Dolby® Pro Logic® IIz adds front height channels to surround sound, creating a 7.1 or 9.1 playback system for home music, movies, and video games
Enables increased flexibility for expanding a 5.1 playback system to a 7.1, or a 7.1 system to a 9.1"

The UMC-200 does not expand a 7.1 system to a 9.1 system instead it becomes a 5.1 system with height or as some would say a 7.1 system. The UMC-200 in Dolby IIz mode reconfigures it output so that the right and left front height channels now come out the outputs formally used as right and left rear. That is to say using the UMC-200 it is impossible to achieve a 9.1 system as called for in the Dolby specification.

While I have not examined all 7.1 Dolby Pro Logic IIz implementations, of the ones I have looked at none have chosen this method. In my limited sample all others have kept with the Dolby spec and allowed users to realize 9.1 outputs from 7.1 devices when operated in Pro Logic IIz mode.

Even given rear panel hardware limitations I believe that Emotiva could have easily chosen to have the height outputs reconfigure the Zone 2 outputs and replace Zone 2 outputs with height channel outputs allowing for compliance with Dolby IIz specified up-mixing of a 7.1 device to a 9.1 device.

Conjecture on my part
A possible reason for this choice on Emotivas’ part might be that their DSP ran out of power and can not realize a 9.1 system.

Flame retardant
Please note I am NOT addressing the pros and cons of Pro Logic IIz. I am simply calling attention what may be misleading statements on the part of Emotiva regarding their otherwise well reviewed UMC-200.

newandlearn's picture

You did your review on a "beta" software which was to be released in March.

There is no such software todate (months later) and you actually have no idea whether the edition you listened to will ever be available.

Reviewers like you who clearly ignore realities of the CE industry and review non-existant iterations are giving inaccurate information to the buying public.

David Vaughn's picture
Emotiva finally released the upgrade last Friday and it can be found on their website (http://shop.emotiva.com/collections/processors/products/umc200/) at the bottom of the page. We took Emotiva at their word that the software was going to be released in short order, which sadly, did not happen. I'll let Rob respond from the Editor's point of view.
Rob Sabin's picture
"Reviewers like you who clearly ignore realities of the CE industry and review non-existant iterations are giving inaccurate information to the buying public."

Wow, them's pretty harsh words. Fact is, we do occassionally encounter firmware glitches in our reviews of virtually every product category these days due to the software-based nature of things, but I think we should get credit here for protecting consumers, not be scolded for doing a disservice.

Had David not been so thorough in his evaluation and found the video processing glitch that virtually every other reviewer had missed in their raves of this product up to that point, unsuspecting and less video-savvy consumers would have continued to think their picture was just dandy, and no one would have been able to make the call for themselves on how critical this particular fault was in their own installation. Others who hadn't yet purchased the product without full knowledge would have done so unsuspectingly, again without being able to make the call for themselves or know to check for the problem in their own systems.

This was not "beta" software running this unit -- the product had been released, and only the fix provided for the video problem we identified was early. Also, we did not publish the review until we had in our posession a firmware fix that allowed us to verify for readers that Emotiva had acknowledged that there was a problem, understood what caused it, and knew how to fix it. Had they not been able to resolve it in a timely fashion, or especially if it had been an issue that caused the unit to become completely disabled or dramatically affected picture or sound quality for everyone using it, we still would have published without the promise of a firmware update. But the unit's ratings would have been downgraded and it would not have been recommended as a Top Pick. In this case, the glitch affected only people with certain Blu-ray disc players, it was something that could typically be overridden by manually adjusting the player settings, and Emotiva--once they identified the issue with the EDID--came up with a fix very quickly that I knew would eventually make its way to consumers. So I felt we could comfortably release a positive review lauding the unit as long as we provided full disclosure of what we found and made sure people knew they could have an issue in this area with certain BD players pending the software update.

The writer here seems to imply that somehow, our review is "invalid" because we accepted at face value the manufacturer's promise that they would quickly distribute the fix that they had already proven to us they had in hand. That might have some validity if we had ignored what we found on the thinking that it was all fixed, "so why bring it up?" But we didn't do that, and we were clear that we had verified the pending patch. Why they didn't push it out sooner I don't know, other than to say that Emotiva clearly had a number of other minor tweaks and perhaps didn't want to release them in drips and drabs. But if a magazine/Website with the clout of a Home Theater had not found this problem and insisted on a response before publication, it might still be inherent in every unit leaving the factory. Go back and read the review. There's not a single word in it that's "inaccurate" or "invalid." The disservice would have been if we had gone two more months waiting for a firmware update before highlighting for our readers the performance of an excellent high value prepro that many enthusiasts were hungering to know more about.

maj0crk's picture

I left out the name of that high-end amp on the assumption this review would have read the same way had the Emotiva been connected to most any other high-ender you & others have used or own.
My question really gets into the deeply-subjective. Your past reviews of pre-pro/amp high-end sound systems (sans speakers)usually deal with each separately, then in combination. Words use generally convey to me a sense of awe & wonder in what you're listening to as interpreted by the devices under review. I draw the conclusion that I should either buy a matched pair by a single manufacturer or utilize 1 or the other with a product you've reviewed &/or own from someone else. This is the 1st time I recall a HT reviewer mating an entry-level pre/pro with a high-end amp, yet your verbiage comes across to me as equal to that of higher-quality gear.
Emotive is factory-direct, thus lowering costs. Just what quality each part of an Emotiva is goes beyond the scope of your review, but in sum, leaves you very impressed.
So, to my question. If this test were done blindfolded without any knowledge on your part as to which of the 2 components was which, in which of the 3 categories would you rate Emotiva? Entry, Mid-Level, or High-End?

ptloftcgj's picture

Thanks for the great review.

I currently own a Rotel RSP-1066 and looking for a surround processor that supports hdmi (in this hdmi world). I would like to know you ropinion (and others) on replacing my Rotel to this Emotiva UMC-200.

I'm on a bit of a tight budget ;)

Mesonto's picture

I have had my Krell Showcase for many years now... 8+, and it is beginning to show its age, DAC (old Burr Browns) and component connection wise. Not having HDMI is starting to get really difficult when selecting other components that will work with it.

I am thinking about buying this Emotiva UMC-200 Preamp/Processor as a fair upgrade. Am I right or wrong in assuming that this $600.00 Processor will now outperform my (once $4000) Krell Showcase.

BTW, my Krell is connected to a Conrad Johnson 5 channel, (Balanced audio cables need not apply) then out to Wilson Sophias and JM Lab Electras for a complete 5.1 experience. (oh, and a James sub)

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