Emotiva UMC-200 Preamp/Processor Page 2
Let’s Get Ready to Rumble
In order to mimic the average consumer, I unboxed the UMC-200 and hooked it up to my source components and to an Anthem PVA 7 amplifier. I then ran the Emo-Q Gen2 routine and didn’t adjust any of its settings. Needless to say, I was a little underwhelmed. First off, the video output didn’t look right at all. Dark areas of the image were flat and lifeless, and bright images, such as sunshine coming through a window, were almost headache inducing. Additionally, I found the soundstage to be a little lackluster, especially in the surround channels.
Sure enough, there was something amiss with the video. It turned out that the HDMI EDID information—that is, the digital identification tag—being sent from my Oppo BDP-103 to the UMC-200 were in conflict, prompting the Oppo to alter its video settings to where its output was clipping blacker than black information and severely clipping whites when viewed with typical display settings. This explained the poor picture quality. After some back and forth, Emotiva’s engineers identified the problem and quickly shipped me a new unit with a beta firmware revision that totally resolved the issue. That fix was to be included with a new firmware release scheduled for late March or early April pending completion of some unrelated tweaks the company was working on. Note that this issue was not endemic to all Blu-ray players or source components—the last-generation Oppo BDP-93 player in place at Emotiva was said to work fine, and a couple of players from other brands did and didn’t exhibit the same behavior. Emotiva says the firmware fix will address all source component matings going forward, but you can always check your video settings with a calibration disc such as Spears & Munsil or Disney WOW when you introduce a new component to your system to ensure everything looks right.
My new sample still had the uninspiring audio output, and upon further investigation I discovered that while the front channels all had equal audio output, the surround channels were set between 2 and 6 decibels too low when I checked them with my RadioShack SPL meter. This isn’t uncommon due to the dipole speakers I use, and once I made some manual adjustments, the soundstage came alive and I was much happier with the audio quality.
My home theater is treated with an assortment of acoustic panels, and most pre/pros and AVRs sound pretty good without the use of any room correction. I compared the UMC-200 with its stock Flat setting and the results from the Emo-Q Gen2, and I found the latter to be the superior output. Its midrange was more open and created separation between the main and background vocals. For example, Don Henley’s “New York Minute” from the DTS audio disc features the vocal group Take 6 as his background singers. The Flat setting gave the impression that Henley was standing next to the a cappella vocal group on stage. Engaging Emo-Q Gen2 produced the necessary separation and an additional layer to the music.
No matter what type of music I played—rock, pop, classical, and even a little country—I experienced the same phenomenon with Emo-Q Gen2 engaged, so I just left it there for the remainder of my audition.
Zero Dark Thirty won an Academy Award for its sound editing, and the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track on the Blu-ray showcases 2012’s best. The film opens on September 11, 2001, with a black screen. Suddenly, the frantic 911 calls from that day are played in the darkened room, and a chill goes down your spine knowing that these are the last words those poor victims of terror will ever utter. The audio doesn’t come from one particular speaker but floats throughout the room, and the UMC-200 competed with the imaging supplied by my reference Marantz AV8801 pre/pro—which costs six times the price! This wasn’t the only scene in which the Emotiva held its own. Dialogue reproduction was spot on, and the ambient effects like wind, rain, and nighttime insects placed me right into the scenes of the movie. And when the action heats up, the UMC-200 rolls with the punches, providing lifelike gunshots and window-rattling explosions.
The Sum of Its Parts
I wish I had more space to expound on this pre/pro’s audio prowess. As with the Outlaw Model 975, I’m blown away by this unit’s price/performance quotient. One of the negatives of an A/V receiver is that the internal amplifiers have to share the same power supply with all the other internal components. Generally speaking, when you go up in price class in the AVR market, the power supplies get bigger, but so do the power outputs, and one could argue that there’s always some type of sacrifice being made. At $599, you could pair the UMC-200 with a robust, higher-end five- or seven-channel amplifier that mates well with your speakers and likely get superior performance for similar or less cost than what an elite AVR will run you.
Granted, many of the $1,000-plus AVRs offer networking capabilities, Internet streaming options, and iDevice (and Android) apps to replace the remote control. But streaming media servers like a Roku can be had for less than $100 if that’s important to you, and the UMC-200 does offer a Bluetooth dongle for $49 to stream your music library or Internet services from your smartphone or tablet.
I really enjoyed my time with the UMC-200 and found it to be a stellar performer. If you’re on a tight budget and can live with its modest sacrifices, note that it’s only available factory direct via online purchase, though the company offers a full 30-day money-back guarantee (minus the return shipping costs) to allow you to audition its products in your own home for little financial risk. Additionally, Emotiva has an Upgrade for Life program, which offers any original owner of one of its processors 25 percent off any processor it sells, whether it’s a current model in stock or a model in the distant future. If you should decide later to purchase, say, the company’s pending flagship XMC-1 processor set to retail at $1,499, the discount alone would net you back more than half the cost of this high-value UMC-200 pre/pro.