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.

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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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