Emotiva Airmotiv 5CH Speaker System Review Page 2

Thus arrayed, the Airmotivs came impressively close to my image of perfect neutrality, with ample and airy but not overstated treble, open and warm-but-not-boomy male vocals, and strong, reasonably smooth bass. In fact, the T1s matched up almost identically to my everyday monitors, which, if they were still being produced, would be many times the T1s’ price. And since those monitors are stand-mount three-ways with dome tweeter and midrange, the conclusion is that there is, indeed, more than one way to skin the loudspeaker cat.

In consequence, a first-class recording like “I Know You Know” from Lyle Lovett and His Large Band sounded just right: gooey, rich, but not overdone bloom from the stand-up bass right down to the 45-hertz-ish low-F; overarching, depth-y wash of brushed-snare ride; and crystalline ping from the Ellingtonian piano accents—all with Lovett’s unmistakable baritone: full, warm, and defined by its intrinsic “honk” but carrying not a shade more. (Again, the match to my everydays was uncanny. The T1s did produce a touch greater sense of depth and were just barely warmer over the top two octaves, but otherwise the different speakers were nigh on indistinguishable.)

1216emot.250.jpgI was similarly pleased with the T1s’ sound on a hi-res file of the Tokyo String Quartet performing the first of Beethoven’s “Razumovsky” quartets. The close-perspective strings had the requisite woody bite but retained all their sweetness of tone. Yet the bloom of the room was eminently present, and the rosin-y bite when the players really dig into the strings for an accent was highly satisfying.

The T1s went easily low enough for serious listening to almost any sort of music, in my room. The bottom-most octave, below perhaps 35 Hz, was no doubt rolling off when probed by a select few pipe-organ and dubstep tracks. Yet there was plenty of foundation to convey the musical sense. In fact, the Airmotivs produced impressive deep-dive bass, right up to moderately high levels. And perhaps more important, they didn’t face-plant with clacking or overt chuffing—though at nearlimit volume, some port turbulence was detectable on the more extreme dubstep passages.

Moving on to multichannel, I dialed in my long-term sub with very little difficulty, employing a 60-Hz crossover point. That done, my first assignments were to evaluate the C1 center’s vocal sound and assess that speaker’s tonal match to the T1 stereo pair. The C1 passed both tests strongly. It gave an honest account of a wide variety of male (and female) voices. And it made a very good match to the towers— not quite world-class, since it had a slight but just-audible deficit in lower-mid weight (easily discernible on most male announcers), but otherwise very close indeed, and plenty close enough in overall timbre to deliver a seamless front-stage presentation.

This paid dividends on high-production film soundtracks, such as the one for the somewhat lackluster Sean Penn vehicle The Gunman, on Blu-ray, where Emotiva’s setup produced a truly theatergrade surround envelope. A busy, ambience-dense segment like the pub scene in chapter 7 was perfectly knit and convincingly solid, while the flick’s many fast-panning chase and fight scenes played smoothly across the front with no jumping or hotspotting. As surrounds, the shallow E1 two-ways proved entirely adequate, as would most reasonably competent small monitors. On my high shelves, angled to wash along the side walls a good bit, they served well enough that I never found my attention diverted to the speakers themselves, even at near-reference levels, which is all I ask.

I briefly reconfigured the system for full-range listening to examine the Airmotivs’ aptitude in a subwoofer-less setup. Over a quick survey of familiar scenes from The Fugitive, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, and a fistful of other Blu-rays and DVDs, I concluded that the T1s certainly produce enough foundation on their own for serious movie playback. The bottom-octave deficit is less than that from many speakers of similar size and shape. A movie’s critical sub-40-Hz booms and rumbles probably won’t impart their full impact, especially at cinema-like levels and in larger rooms, but this isn’t at all a glaring omission— until you hook up a true-extension subwoofer for comparison. Even so, a nosubwoofer Airmotiv system is by no means unreasonable, especially if a future sub addition is planned.


Multichannel music showed off Emotiva’s suite to perhaps the best effect. A recent SACD acquisition, a Pentatone set of orchestral suites from Bizet chestnuts Carmen and L’Arlésienne (performed by Sir Neville Marriner and the London Symphony Orchestra), sounded simply lovely. These are original Philips quad recordings from the 1970s but quite effectively transferred to SACD, and the Airmotivs presented their rich, endlessly varying palette of string and brass colors with striking quality. Bizet’s sensuous string harmonies were convincingly resonant, and color touches like Carmen’s off-stage trumpet call were impressively believable.

The speakers proved able to absorb considerable power, too. In multichannel mode, they produced high-decibel rock—such as the SACD of the Allman Brothers Band’s At Fillmore East—at convincingly concert-like levels, without any overt sign of strain or compression, though the easygoingness of the topmost octave seemed a touch less at the extremes. And the T1s themselves in full-range stereo playback were sufficiently dynamic on high-impact big-orchestra classical music and rock alike.

Emotiva’s Airmotiv lineup is a most impressive debut, even in the light of similarly noteworthy recent debuts of other value-intensive surround groupings from European, Canadian, and American brands. With the Airmotiv line, the Tennesseeans give us still another expertly engineered, well-executed, budget loudspeaker option, one of the best yet. And the value proposition seems to get better with each new iteration. (Ain’t competition grand?) Even with a generous allowance for a subwoofer, Emotiva’s suite should weigh in well under $2,000. This is a simply astonishing bargain, especially when compared with what three or four grand could buy you a few short years ago. If you’re shopping for a surround loudspeaker system these days—well, lucky you!

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