Emotiva X-Ref XRC-5.2 Speaker System
Are you one of those people who can’t resist a supermarket circular? Do you trawl the Internet looking for coupon codes that can be pasted into online purchases? Loudspeaker pricing doesn’t often indulge us with the same feeling of satisfaction that we get from buying a jumbo jar of marinara sauce or a cashmere scarf at an extremely low price. But while researching this review last December, I couldn’t help noting that Emotiva’s factory-direct speakers offered some wiggle room to the timely shopper. The XRC-5.2 LCR speaker normally sold for $299/each—not a bad price to begin with—but was momentarily going for an introductory price of $239/each. Same for the XRS-4.1 surrounds, marked down from $349/pair to $279/pair. This being December, there was also a holiday markdown for the X-Ref 10 subwoofer, from $499 to $419. Add up the discounts and the reviewed system had been re-priced from $1,745 to $1,415, a reduction of $330. You could buy an adequate audio/video receiver for that, and a much better one for just a little more. How many loudspeaker manufacturers are willing, in essence, to throw in the receiver for free? Let me hasten to add that Emotiva would probably prefer you to power the system with some of its affordable surround separates.
Emotiva’s founder, Dan Laufman, got his start making products for other companies, but now offers them under his own full-service audio brand. In addition to three lines of speakers and subwoofers, Emotiva offers amplifiers ranging from one to five channels, a surround pre-pro, a stereo preamp, a stereo DAC, cables, and accessories. For the moment, the speaker lines include in-wall, in-ceiling, and outdoor models, as well as two in-room lines. Among the latter, the one not reviewed here is the Reference line. It offers two sizes of LCR/monitors plus single tower and surround models, but was being closed out as we went to press, leaving the subject of this review, the X-Ref line, as Emotiva’s only in-room speaker family. X-Ref includes two sizes of stand-mount speakers variously described as LCRs, centers, and monitors; two models described as monitors; two towers; and one bipole sur- round. This review’s configuration includes three matched XRC-5.2 LCRs across the front and two XRS-4.1 bipole surrounds, along with the X-Ref 10 subwoofer, all cosmetically united by the subtle painted lacquer satin finish and softened edges of their fiberboard enclosures.
The XRC-5.2 LCR is the only member of the X-Ref line with a sealed enclosure. Even the other LCR speaker in the line—the XRC-6.2, with a slightly larger woofer—includes a ported enclosure. But the designers felt that the XRC-5.2’s sealed en- closure provided this particular speaker size with the best voice- matching and low-frequency performance. Behind its fabric grille, the XRC-5.2 has two 5.25-inch woofers with blended-pulp cones. They’re outfitted with copper-clad pole pieces, which reduce distortion by counteracting the counter-electromotive force (CEMF) generated by movement of the voice coil, and aluminum shorting rings, which further reduce distortion, especially second-order distortion, by controlling eddy currents.
The 1-inch, silk-dome tweeter sits off-center in what Emotiva calls the Nested Array. The tweeter is mounted in a discrete, solid-aluminum plate. The Nested Array claims to widen the sweet spot when the speaker is used as a horizontal center. This arrangement elevates the tweeter slightly—probably a good thing for users who insist on having the left/right speakers flank the screen but who still want all three front tweeters at the same height so objects track evenly across the soundstage. Also advancing that worthy goal is an optional stand that allows for upward or downward tilting. When you’re using a pair of the LCRs as vertical left/right speakers, the off-center tweeter allows two choices: position the tweeter on the outside—for wider imaging, or on the inside—for denser imaging. Because the badge is not removable, this will place it on one side or the other, unless you’re a no-grilles kind of person.
The XRS-4.1 surround uses a triple-faced baffle and a bipole design with one driver per face. Two 1-inch, silk-dome tweeters flank a single, blended-pulp coned woofer. Bipole surrounds use dual drivers (in this case, dual tweeters) that operate in electrical phase to produce more diffuse surround effects and keep the audience’s attention on the screen and front speakers. Unlike the main speakers, this surround has a port located below one of the tweeters. This model is sold in mirror-imaged pairs.
After you’ve noticed these subtle, think-different signs, you probably won’t be surprised by some of the unusual design features in the X-Ref 10 subwoofer. One is XLR connectivity, which is better at resisting noise and interference over long cable runs. Even more noteworthy for the majority of users are the top-mounted control and 1.25- by 0.5-inch, backlit, liquid-crystal display. A single push-to-engage rotary encoder can adjust volume, phase, crossover, and presets.
The crossover is continuously variable from 40 to 150 hertz in 1Hz increments, so if you have your heart set on a 41Hz or 149Hz crossover point, this subwoofer will let you (literally) dial it in. Or, you could select the Direct mode and set the crossover point in your surround processor, as I did. The presets include what the manual identifies as a Music (Flat) setting and a more aggressive Movie setting, which adds 6 decibels at 45 Hz. You can also customize and invoke two parametric equalizer modes, so if your room has a standing-wave-induced bass hump below the subwoofer crossover, as mine does, you have considerable latitude to adjust it into oblivion. I would call this a transformative feature since most rooms have a bass anomaly, or anomalies. Having this feature in a subwoofer listing for $499 (and sometimes selling for less) is part of the reason this system won a five-star value rating.