Review: Emotiva X-Ref Speakers Page 2

Setup

I set the X-Refs up first as a 2.1 (i.e., stereo with a subwoofer) system and listened to movies and music that way. Then I tried using one XRC-6.2 as a center speaker, with Sunfire CRM-2 speakers used for left, right, and surround channels, just to see how it’d do for movie dialogue. In all cases, I set my receiver for a crossover point of 80 Hz.

The XRC-6.2s were placed on 28-inch-high stands with the tweeters positioned toward the inside. The X-Ref 12 subwoofer went into my “subwoofer sweet spot,” the place where a single subwoofer sounds best in my room from my usual listening position.

The only aspect of setup that required any brains or serious effort was setting the subwoofer’s dual-band parametric EQ. For this, you’ll need a computer, a measurement microphone, a mic preamp, and measurement software. (For more on DIY measurement, read this and this.) I found that the acoustics of my room gave me a broad, +6 dB peak centered at 40 Hz and a narrower, +5 db peak at 80 Hz. A few minutes of experimentation with the X-Ref 12’s parametric EQs got the response nearly perfect at my listening chair.

By the way, I found the X-Ref 12’s single-knob control and alphanumeric display easier to navigate and more intuitive than similar systems I’ve tried on other subs.

Performance

When I dropped the needle on “Rhythm-A-Ning,” from side 3 of the Trio Music double LP by Chick Corea, Miroslav Vitous, and Roy Haynes, I simply couldn’t believe what I heard from the X-Refs. The sound was better than most of what I heard at the recent Rocky Mountain Audio Fest — and of course almost all of RMAF’s demos used vastly more expensive gear.

The sound had a huge ambience yet a precise focus. The piano, in particular, sounded especially realistic. When I closed my eyes, I felt as if Corea was about 12 feet in front of me, and that I could almost feel his fingers touching the keys. I distinctly heard Haynes’s snare and hi-hat echoing off the walls surrounding him, and the reflections themselves seemed to have character and detail. The pulp-cone woofers seemed to have a voice of their own, delivering incredibly natural reproduction, yet they also blended perfectly with the silk dome tweeter.

Same held true when I played my “torture test” CD packed with difficult-to-reproduce tracks. The XRC-6.2 sounded extraordinarily lush and detailed. Voices jumped to the fore, standing out as clear sonic images clearly delineated from the backing tracks. The ambience had that “mile-deep” sound that few dynamic (i.e., cones’n’domes) speakers deliver but that most electrostatic speakers easily produce.

No, this isn’t a perfect speaker for three bills and change. I did hear one flaw: just the tiniest amount of “cupped hands” coloration, as if singers had their mouths cupped around their hands. But I’m especially sensitive to that problem and even I barely noticed it — and I sure can’t say it ever bothered or distracted me.

Flipping the XRC-6.2 on its side and adding the Sunfires, I got extremely clear dialogue on all the movies I played. That’s largely due to what I perceived as a slight emphasis in the upper midrange. With most voices, that was just fine; with the little girls in the children’s classic Matilda, the sound got rather sibilant. It also got a little trebly when I really pushed the system (to about 102 dB in my listening chair, which sat 13 feet from the speakers).

The X-Ref 12 performed nicely for such a small sub, pumping out plenty of well-defined, punchy bass on music and movies. It sounds good even without the parametric EQ dialed in, but with the EQ set properly, it sounds exceptionally smooth, especially when playing music with melodic, scalar bass lines such as “Falling” from Olive’s Extra Virgin CD.

I did almost all of my listening with the sub in Music mode, because Movie mode seemed to do little more than raise the level. But raising the bass level a few dB can be a useful thing, especially because Movie mode can be triggered automatically by some receivers and surround processors.

Except for the 16 Hz tones in the Saint-Säens “Organ Symphony,” the X-Ref 12 reproduced every deep-bass test I threw at it, although it did sometimes sound as if I were pushing it to the edge of its capabilities. If you’re looking for a very good subwoofer that’ll give you by-the-book performance, this one will do it. If you want to shake your couch and annoy your neighbors, it probably won’t.

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