Newport 2012: Emotiva

In an ideal world, you’d be able to buy whatever it is you set your heart and mind on. You’d get the very best whateveritis and enjoy the snot out of it. The whateveritis would be very finely made, of impeccable fit and finish, and you could feel happy and secure knowing that the whateveritis was made by hand by the artisan that’s lived down the street from you your whole life.

It’s a good picture.

It’s also something of a fantasy. Not always, mind you, but most of the time. And audio’s high-end is rife with insanely priced products that offer little in the way or real value — other than possibly bragging rights, that is.

This is a serious problem for those of us looking to break into the hobby. You want great sound? Sure, who doesn’t? Great! But can you afford great sound? Define “afford”? Yeah …. Much to my everlasting shame and regret, the Lotto Fairy still hasn’t shown up with my check (that bitch!), so any plans I might have had to pick up a matched-pair of $150,000 Onedof turntables, are on an indefinite hold. In the meantime, affordable = good, which is a sentiment I think shared by quite a few of the 99%. But is affordable actually good?

I think this tension is one of the main threads that underlie the … ah … emotion … that propels some of the more trollish behaving in online forums. We all want it to be true — that we really can afford “great sound”, even if we’re not Mitt Romney. The problem is that it isn’t always so, and while quality doesn’t necessarily correlate with price — it tends to do so with far greater regularity than we’re, perhaps, comfortable admitting.

So, when CEOs of audio companies start asking questions like: “Why can’t we have amazing audio – at prices that don’t threaten our mortgage?” I think it’s time to sit up and take notice. Enter, Emotiva, stage left.

Emotiva has been around for a while, quietly building up quite a name for itself providing quality audio gear at price points that many of us, used to the raping and pillaging common in the high-end, would find shocking. The secret to their prices is a mix of good business, smart packaging, economies of scale, and savvy marketing. As is more common these days than not, all of the equipment is made in China, but as a “factory-direct”, Internet-based business, Emotiva has no brick-and-mortar overhead, so many of the traditional costs can be (and are) eliminated outright. If and when you need to talk to someone about features, ordering, or support, the folks in Franklin, Tennessee are ready to chat.

Emotiva’s business is brisk, which isn’t surprising. They make everything — from speakers and wires, all the way up the chain to the source, which means that customers can lock into the brand and remain there as they upgrade up through the models. Given this, and the fact that the room here at Newport (and the one last year at RMAF) was stupid-good for the offered price point — a lot of manufacturers really ought to consider panicking.

So, let’s talk about what they had here at Newport. First off, they had lots of blue LEDs, all over the room. This made the room terrifically striking and gave my camera headaches like you wouldn’t believe. Okay, other than that, Emotiva was showing a new stereo preamp, the XSP-1. A fully-differential unit from input to output, this preamp should list for $899 and ship sometime around September-ish.

You want a big amp? How about 500wpc into 8ohms, doubling down into 4ohms? Yes, that’s 1000wpc into your starving Magnepans. Um, hellooooo! The XPA-1 is  currently running $900 each.

The ERC-2 is a $450 fully balanced slot-loading CD player/CD-Transport. The unit has AES/EBU, coax and Toslink outputs, in addition to the XLR/RCA analog outs. Got a DAC?

No? Well, how about the soon-to-be-released XDA-2? This ~$400 DAC will sort you out. Availability will be in the September time-frame.

I enjoyed the sound in the Emotiva room, which was very much on par with the sound quality at the Newport Show — which actually happened to be, overall, very good. But was surprising, at least to me, is that this quality of sound was coming from speakers that are all of $630 for the pair. The XRT 6.2 tower loudspeakers, which are currently on sale, are 4ohm nominal, have an 88dB sensitivity and are good for 40Hz up to 22kHz. They’re also front-ported, so placement should be a bit simpler.

I have to say, blue LEDs aside, this is an equation that balances out pretty well and the value prop is hard to argue with. $3,200 get’s you a pile of audiophile-grade gear, without having to do weird compromises that require pairing low-sensitivity speakers and under-powered amps and just “hoping for the best”. There’s actually very little in the way of compromise here — the only thing I think most folks will miss is the high price. Which is a refreshing change, now that I think about it.


  1. Well, I sold the Emotiva XSP-1 preamp. Soon after, I purchased a pair of Emotiva XPA-1L monoblocks. I started wondering how the XSP-1 would sound with the amps since I’m sure they were designed to work together. I sold my Bose 901 VI’s. I now have Energy Veritas 6.3 speakers. So my system is different from what I had above. I still have a McIntosh MCD201 CD player. All my cables are now Emotiva X-series. I decided to by another Emotiva XSP-1 preamp. Emotiva was sold out so I ended up purchasing a used one. First, let me tell you, there is absolutely no harshness coming from this preamp. The harshness I mentioned above must have either been coming from the other cables I was using or from the Bose 901’s. I doubt it was coming from the McIntosh MC275 V amp I had. I no longer have the McIntosh so I can’t compare it to the XPA-1L’s. But I can tell you, I believe the Emotiva monoblocks can go head-to-head with the McIntosh. If they couldn’t, I would have noticed it the minute they were turned on. Two days after I purchased the Emotiva, someone was selling a mint condition Krell KRC-3 preamp, and I bought it. So I am now comparing the Krell to the Emotiva. The Krell is smoother while the Emotiva is more detailed. The Emotive preamp also has amazing channel seperation. I actually like both preamps, but one has to go. Hmmm….Stay tuned.

  2. I do have to say I thought Mogami Gold Neglex XLR cables were outstanding until I tried Emotivas. Emotiva XLRs are far better in my system than the Mogami. I noticed with the Emotiva XLRs that instruments are clearly separated, with tight bass. With the Mogami, instruments sound as though they are bunched up. I didn’t notice this until I tried the Emotiva XLRs. I also purchased Emotiva RCA cables which I have not tried yet. I want to try their powercord. Although I love tubes, I may want to try one of their amps. As far as the Emotiva XSP-1 preamp, I sold it. I’m still wondering if I gave it enough time to break-in??? I am also wondering if the cables I was using had compatability issues with the Emotiva preamp?? I am extremely fussy when it comes to the sound of preamps. I didn’t like the McIntosh C2300 either. I find most preamps to be lacking in some way or another. The YS Audio Balanced A2SE preamp seems to have become a little noisy. I changed the tubes but that didn’t help. I don’t like hiss coming from my speakers. Especially since I sit only six feet from them. I have had dozens of preamps and the only one I have found to sound just right is the YS Audio. I highly recommend Emotivas XLR cables. They are an oustanding value.

  3. Unfortunately, I turned my system on the other day and it sounded really harsh. I had warmed it up for an hour so I knew it couldn’t be that. I took the Emotiva preamp out of my system and replaced it with the YS Audio preamp, and the harsness completely disappeared and sounded wonderful. So the jury is still out on the Emotiva preamp although I think I will sell it. It’s just not for me. Too solid state for my tast. Because of this inconsistancy, I can not recommend the Emotiva XSP-1 preamp.

  4. I sold my Sony SCD-1 cd player and no longer have the Paragon regent speakers. I am using an McIntosh MCD201 cd player and Bose 901 speakers. This combination along with an McIntosh MC275 and some signal processing(yes, I believe in signal processing. I am not a purest)is a much better combination. The preamp is starting to open up nicely(a burn-in process is required). It is no longer grainy or two dimentional. The soundstage has opened up quite a bit and I only have about 25 hours on it. My first report I only had about three hours on it. Bass has improved, although it still does not equal my YS Audio Balanced A2SE preamp in that department. The fact that the Emotiva is still in my system says something. I still don’t care for the looks, but the sound is really starting to impress me. I have had much more expensive preamps in my system(some costing more than six times the price of the Emotiva)and I am starting to think the Emotiva can compete with them!

    • I have the 901’s and planning to buy MC275 and Aphex Exciter.. I also am using currently HEGEL25 DAC a superb equipment as preamp.. What kind of signal processor are you using please? Thank you for your reply..

  5. I own the Emotiva XSP-1 preamp which I purchased directly from Emotiva. I see nothing great about it. Athough it offers plenty of features, I find it strange that the tape monitor loop is bypassed by the balanced inputs. So if you have a sound processor connected to the tape monitor loop, the only way it will remain in the circuit is if you use the unbalanced inputs. I sent Emotiva four E-mails regarding this because the on-line quick owners manual does not mention this. So I wanted to know if my unit was defective (I know Emotiva has had quality control issues with some of their components), but Emotiva refuses to respond to any of my E-mails. So much for great customer service. You also can not record from what ever you connect to the balanced inputs. So if you have a cassette deck, DAT recorder or CD recorder hooked-up to the tape monitor-loop and want to record from your CD player that is hooked up to the preamp in balanced mode, you would have to connect the unbalanced output of your CD player to the preamp. I feel this preamp is the equal to any $500.00 preamp on the market that I have heard. The sound is very solid state(and I mean that not in a good way), in that it imparts a haze on the music. A bit grainy and two dimentional. The bass from my YS Audio Balanced A2SE preamp makes the bass on the XSP-1 sound anemic. It is one of the ugliest preamps I have ever owned(though beauty is indeed, in the eye of the beholder). The blue lights really cheapen the appearance of the preamp. Although the all-aluminum remote is nicely made, it does not quite fit the hand in a comfortable manner. It’s a bit on the bulky side. My components are as follows: Speakers: Paragon “The Regent”, CD player: Sony SCD-1, Amp.: McIntosh MC275 V, All Nordost cables, Fosex D-15 DAT recorder, Aphex Exciter. Unfortunately, I do not recommend this preamp.

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