Emotiva: Good Deal or the Real Deal? Page 2

An exploded view of Emotiva’s new XMC-1 surround processor.

My day and a half at Jade made evident that Laufman and Vaughn are, above all, audiophiles and music lovers. They are clearly jazzed about making new toys and bringing them to market, and they seem to be on a roll: Emotiva now has a line that includes preamps and surround processors; monoblock, stereo, and multichannel amplifiers; digital-to-analog converters for computer audiophiles; and speakers, all developed internally. A line of Emotiva Pro professional audio products includes powered studio monitors in several sizes. Then there’s the Sherbourn family, targeted toward custom integration, which includes a new surround processor, several amplifiers, and a soon to be released receiver. As I toured two of the company’s three buildings and passed through their offices and various engineering labs, listening rooms, and home theaters, I was greeted by many a naked component with its top stripped off to reveal its high-tech innards, and build quality that beckons back to the old days of hi-fi — heavy aluminum milled faceplates with etched (not printed) brand logos, machined metal knobs instead of the cheap plastic commonly found today, and well thought-out circuit topologies dropped into cleanly-wired and dressed chassis. Blue lights are a themed design feature across all the Emotiva products. At one point, we wandered into the small photo studio where they were shooting images of a new reference stereo amplifier, the XPR-2. It’s rated at 600 watts x 2 channels into 8 ohms or 1,000 watts into 4 ohms, both channels fully driven. The custom toroidal power transformer below the top cover was a thing of beauty, and contributed to the unit’s 92-pound weight. Behind the face of the front panel display were vertical LED power meters, and the backside sported some slick binding posts I’ve never seen before, along with high quality input connectors. The thing virtually screamed pride of ownership, and even without hearing it, I wanted it. It seemed like it could easily have fetched considerably more than its $1,700 asking price for this level of power and build quality.

Of course, the proof is in the sonics, and I can’t say how this or any of the other Emotiva electronics components really sounds until we test them in controlled conditions using our own reference systems. On the other hand, I was impressed with how the company’s Stealth 8 powered studio monitors brought their large listening room to life. Sold under the Emotiva Pro brand, this is the latest and largest in a line that uses high-velocity folded-motion tweeters similar to those that have pleased us recently in speakers from GoldenEar, MartinLogan, and Adam Audio. The Stealth 8 mates one of these with an 8-inch woofer in a ported box, powered by separate 200 watt RMS Class A/B amplifiers firing each driver. They are heavily braced and damped internally (we peeked inside a speaker with its amp removed), and gorgeous to look at with their black satin finish and sculpted baffles designed to minimize reflections. Mated with one of Emotiva’s powered subs playing just loud enough to bolster an already full bottom end, they had me and my press colleagues raising our eyebrows.

None of this is meant to suggest that you should go out tomorrow and buy Emotiva (although you have the option to do so mostly risk-free thanks to the company’s liberal return policy). But I couldn’t shake the feeling that this is a company with its heart in the right place—that is, in delivering an old-school, high-quality audio experience to its customers at a fair price. At a time when mainstream audio components, even top-end AVRs from the major brands, are having their corners cut in obvious ways, Emotiva’s approach is a welcome turnaround. Theirs is an entrepreneurial, well-funded, and smartly run operation with sophisticated engineering resources and access to state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities. And based on the products we saw in development and those that were hinted at, it is a firm that is always looking ahead, not just trying to figure where it’s financial opportunities are, but also where it can make a meaningful difference in the market and bring the joys of great sound to more people.

Build quality of the XPR-2 1200-watt stereo amp was evident beneath the top panel.

As a journalist, I’ve trained myself to always keep watch for the defining moment—the one that truly captures the essence of whatever story I’m reporting. It is usually not scripted, which is what makes it genuine. For this story, that came when Laufman plopped himself down on the carpeted floor of one of his demo rooms in front of the equipment rack and speakers, crossed his legs, and started playing one tune after another from the hard drive of a MacBook loaded with music. After honoring a few requests from his guests, he moved onto some favorites of his own, and he was as genuinely excited (or more so) to tell us why he loved each track or artist as he was to brag about his gear. It was a refreshing reminder of when I started my editorial career in the early 1980s at a small high-end audio magazine, and used to watch one startup after another waltz into our listening rooms with some new speaker or amplifier they were sure would set the world on fire. Those meetings were always about the music first—we couldn’t wait to get things hooked up to see if it would reveal some fresh nuance in our reference recordings. That was a time when we listened exclusively on vinyl LPs, which are now enjoying a surprising comeback. Perhaps with audio companies like Emotiva in the mix, a full return to the good old days won’t be far behind.


kevon27's picture

How can Emotiva, Outlaw Audio, ATI and others produce amps, pre/pro, cd players, speakers, etc which perform on the level of the "High End" big boys of the business (Krell, Mark Levison, Classe, Bryston) yet cost so much less?
I've seen the reviews of Emotiva gear, and the measurement numbers are impressive.
There are people with really high end speakers, B&W Diamonds, Paradigms Ref Signatures, Focal Utopia's, Dynaudio Confidence Signatures, they've slapped Emotiva XPA's or XPR's monoblocks on their speakers and are extremely happy with the outcome.
And these are people who can afford the good "High End" amps from the likes of Classe, Bryston, etc.. One guy on a site even sold his Byston monoblocks and got the Emotiva XPR-1's and said the Emotiva hands down is better the the Bryston.

So what the hell gives? What are the "High End" big boys putting in their gear for it to be so expensive?

Jarod's picture

Great article! I love my Emotiva XPA-3 I use to run my LCR's. Power house.

emotivalover's picture

What gives is:

These products while designed here, are made in China where labor costs are significantly less..

They are sold direct to the enduser with no distributor and no brick and mortar storefront (dealers). This alone can save 50% or more from MSRP.

Emotiva is happy with reasonable margins and it shows in their pricing. The small, N. American companies that build "high end" A/V need huge margins to stay afloat. Many need ten times their build cost to remain in the game.

There is also "snob appeal". Believe it or not, there are many well heeled people who actually think if something cost a lot it must be better. They don't mind paying. Well, there is only so much you can put in a power amp for parts, and when I look at at mono blocs for $22,000 a piece I laugh... Sure they sound great, but at what cost and how much better than an Emotiva or Outlaw or ATI or whatever. A/V is truly a bell curve with very little gained by spending 4-5 times more.....

The traditional high end industry is dying. Why should I give a 50% markup to some dealer just for ordering me some piece of A/V and handing to me when it comes in? Those days are soon gone...

The internet has changed everything...

I am Porscheguy...

Rob Sabin's picture
My observation is that EmotivaGuy is generally correct about Emotiva's philosophy, which calls for not being greedy on their own margin and selling direct to offer aggressive pricing. We could add to this mix Outlaw, and a number of web-direct speaker companies that do some awesome work (Aperion Audio, SVS, NHT, HSU Research, Axiom come immediately to mind). There are also a couple of speaker companies I can think of that still sell exclusively through dealers who specialize in delivering astounding value and real high-end sound at more affordable prices. Paradigm inhabits this space, along with Definitive Technology and GoldenEar. With great high end electronics behind them, these companies best (and often their most traditional) speakers deliver sound that rivals some of the best high end demos I've heard, at prices that seem ridiculous for that level of performance. If only these respected brands would take their model fully direct and drop prices even further, the audio world would be a better place, though I suspect the need to get in front of non-audiophile customers in walk-in, brick-and-mortar environments is still important to them. For how much longer, I don't know, especially for brands that are so well-reviewed and recommended on the Internet.

While I don't condone the crazy mark-ups and pricing associated with the most expensive high end gear, I do think there's another side to that. In the end, all this gear, including the electronics, does indeed sound different on a high resolution system. High end audiophiles get hooked because little things and big things can make quite audible differences, and it does become a matter of degrees after a while. The snob appeal factor put aside, there's only one way to get a late generation Dan D'Agostino amplifier design executed to his highest standards, and that's to buy one of his uber-expensive amplifiers that not only sounds but also looks incredible and is built like a tank. If that's the amp that opens up the sound of your system a little more and gets you a few degrees closer to the holy grail and lets you hear all of your best reference recordings anew, and money is not an object for you, how much would you pay? For all I know, an Emotiva monoblock for $1,500 might deliver a similar ephiphany (though not necessarily the same sound) with your mix of ancillary gear, and without the fancy brand name or crazy price attached. But my experience tells me I would hesitate to make that judgement short of a direct A/B comparison with the source, preamp, and speakers you're mating them with, and I certainly wouldn't make it off the specs alone.

chilipalm's picture

So is this a precursor to you reviewing their products?

maj0crk's picture

A well-written article, but, until you DO that direct A/B comparison, it's just that - words!
Emotiva has advertised a long time in Home Theater, as have the other traditional firms, yet, to date, no review(s) have been forthcoming for poor ol Emotiva. There seems to be a definate disconnect here. Traditional independent or chain dealers who carry some of the products you always review (they CAN carry just so much) get all the play. Despite it's loyal advertising in Home Theater, Emotiva continues to be ignored.
Come on Rob! Until you finally assign one of Emotiva's product to a reviewer & put that review in the magazine (not just on-line), no article such as we have here will cut it.

Rob Sabin's picture
We are acquiring a sample of the new budget prepro, the UMC-200, and will be mating it with their more affordable amps. We have also just completed a review of the new Sherbourn prepro and matching amp. Please note: lack of Emotiva reviews to date has not been for lack of trying! Every time we've asked for something, we were told something newer was coming out and they were more interested in waiting for the new units in development. And then, if those models get delayed... etc. So to date we've only done their latest gen speakers. http://www.hometheater.com/content/emotiva-x-ref-xrc-52-speaker-system

But the electronics are coming now...I promise!

cavchameleon's picture

Thanks for the nice review! I've tried many amps in the past. I'm very happy with my XPA-3 and XPA-2. For the price, I think Emotiva gear is extremely hard to beat. They also have great customer service, at least from what I have experienced.

Mike McLachlan's picture

in this article of Emotiva's XMC-1 pre-pro, awaited by the Emo faithful for 4 years. Given the checkered history of its forerunner, the UMC-1, Mr. Laufmann's reticence is understandable. Depending on whom one asks, Emotiva's handling of the UMC-1 problems are either laudable or woefully negligent.

Still, problems with bringing a complicated piece of equipment like a SOTA pre-pro to market should not overshadow the quality, success, and genuine value of their amps and pre-amps. And unlike their erstwhile competitor, Outlaw who has had its own share of misery in bringing a next generation pre-pro to market, Emotiva appears to have real breadth and depth in it product lines to sustain continued R&D.

Companies like Marantz and Integra continue to advance the goal line for the next generation pre-pro so it remains to be seen, for me anyway, whether the XMC-1, should it ever appear, will have been worth the wait. In the meantime, I am giving very serious consideration to trying the XPR-5 five-channel amp in my own system.

Maggie1.7's's picture

It's highly recommended to have 12/2 Romex with a 20amp receptacle to power "The XPR-5 Monster". Just a heads up. I'm going with the XPA-2 & 3 for my 5.1. Let us know how it sounds if you get it.

mdanderson's picture

I am an Emotiva owner of the UMC-200 and XPA-5 amp and I have been very statisfied with the outstanding performance of these quality components. I can attest to Emotiva's customer service which is excellent and I look forward to your future reviews of their products.
Thank you Rob for this article and getting to know Emotiva closeup.

choirboyjw's picture

I have wanted Mcintosh since the 90's. Now that I can afford it, I'm ready to make the jump. However, how can I justify purchasing a $5k processor and $7.5k amp when I can get the same from Emotiva for $2100 (which is probably what I paid for the SAE equipment I purchased in the 80's). I want you guys to review the product. I need you guys to review the product. But for some strange reason, I think you guys won't. Call me a conspiracy theorist but until you prove me looney.......

David Vaughn's picture
I have the UMC-200 in for review right now. Just unboxed it today and have installed it. So no conspiracy theories needed :)
BrolicBeast's picture

I am a long-time Emotiva fan and owner. I am currently awaiting delivery of a very high-end set of speakers. As I have been researching an amplifier to go with these speakers, I realized--why leave a company that makes the product I currently own and love (XPA-5)? I'll be pulling the trigger on three XPR-1 Monoblocks next week. My point is, even when higher-end products are an option, there are folks like myself who are pleased enough with their Emotiva products to buy MORE Emotiva products.

Maggie1.7's's picture

I saw your arsenal on Youtube. Beautiful clean setup. I'm looking forward to start building mine.

golfer77's picture

Give Emotiva a try, they give you 30 days to return their
products, so you have nothing to lose!! And a ton of $
to save!!

hermanvisser's picture

I received my new Emotiva XMC-1 today. After listening to it for a few hours, I can report that Emotiva is the real deal. I upgraded from a Integra DHC 80.1. The Emtotiva, for me at least, is a much better processor and the sound struck me even before I set up my speakers correctly.
Happy customer.
Will keep you posted as I spend more time with it.