In the 12 years since being founded, Emotiva Audio has built an almost cult-like following of loyal home theater and audio enthusiasts seeking value-priced quality electronics. Recently the company added loudspeakers to its product lineup, too. While I've listened to demos of Emotiva gear at several audio shows, this is the first time I had the opportunity for an extended audition of an Emotiva product. I was curious to hear what level of performance these new speakers could deliver given their value-oriented price point.
This review primarily focuses on the new T1 tower speaker, but Emotiva actually sent a complete 5.1 home theater speaker package consisting of the Airmotiv T1 floorstanders ($699/pair), the Airmotiv C1 center ($249), the Airmotiv B1 bookshelves ($299/pair), and the BasX S12 subwoofer ($399). I suspect that most buyers of the Emotiva T1 towers will be interested in a full home theater surround setup versus just a stereo pair. Emotiva sent me the BasX S12 sub because the Airmotiv S12 sub ($699) was out of stock during the review timeframe. I suppose having trouble keeping a product in stock is a good kind of problem. Doing the math, the 5.1 system I auditioned carries a total package price of $1,646. Substituting the Airmotiv S12 sub for an all Airmotiv system increases the package price to $1,946. That's still a very reasonable sum for a 5.1-channel package.
A couple other speaker options round out the Airmotiv lineup: the Airmotiv E1 on-wall surround ($269/pair) and the smaller Airmotiv S10 subwoofer ($549). Since all of the speakers in the line are timbre-matched, you can easily mix and match them to meet your particular needs.
The Airmotiv T1 tower is a rear-ported, three-way design with a 25x32mm Airmotiv folded ribbon tweeter, a 5.25-inch woven fabric cone midrange driver with a solid phase plug versus the more typical dust cap, and two six-inch woven fiber cone bass drivers. Finding ribbon tweeters in speakers at this price range is still a rarity. The T1 loudspeaker weighs 40.1 pounds and measures 37.63 inches high by 8.38 inches wide by 11.63 inches deep. The T1 has an efficiency rating of 88 dB, a nominal impedance of four ohms, and a frequency response of 37 to 28,000 Hz (+/-3 dB).
The front baffle is machined from 25mm HDF in a distinctive faceted design similar to Emotiva's studio monitors, intended to minimize diffraction effects and room interactions. The baffle is then painted a satin black lacquer. The sides and rear of the cabinet are made of 15mm HDF covered in a textured, satin black vinyl. Around back there are two sets of multi-way speaker terminals for optional bi-amping or bi-wiring. Also included are sets of adjustable spikes and rubber footers, as well as removable, magnetic speaker grills.
The Airmotiv C1 center is also a three-way design with the same 25x32mm Airmotiv folded ribbon tweeter placed above a three-inch woven fiber cone midrange driver, flanked by two 5.25-inch woven fiber cone bass drivers and covered by a removable magnetic grill. Cabinet dimensions are 8.38 inches high by 30.5 inches wide by 8.25 inches deep with a weight of 18.6 pounds. Similar to the T1 towers, there are dual multi-way speaker terminals around back. Frequency response is rated at 50 to 28,000Hz (+/-3 dB). Sensitivity is rated at 89 dB with a nominal impedance of four ohms.
The Airmotiv B1 bookshelf is a two-way design measuring 10.75 inches tall by 7.13 inches wide by 8.25 inches deep. It features the same 25x32mm Airmotiv folded ribbon tweeter with a single 5.25-inch woven fabric cone bass driver, and it has a nominal impedance of eight ohms. The 8.8-pound speaker has a rear-facing port for extended bass response and a single set of multi-way speaker terminals. Frequency response is rated at 48 to 28,000Hz (+/-3 dB).
The BasX S12 subwoofer has a front-firing 12-inch long-throw polypropylene cone driver in a heavily braced HDF cabinet measuring 17.25 inches high by 16.75 inches wide by 18.25 inches deep. The sub weighs in at 48.5 pounds and has a slot-loaded rear port to maximize output. The BasX S12 uses a Class D amplifier rated at 300 watts RMS and a frequency response of 25 to 150 Hz (+/-3 dB). The rubber-footed cabinet is clad in the same textured black vinyl found on all the Airmotiv loudspeakers and features a removable framed black fabric grill. All connections and controls are around back, including two unbalanced line-level audio input jacks and a set of pass-through output jacks to connect a second subwoofer or a pair of full-range speakers in a second zone. There are dial controls for crossover, phase, and volume and a switch to select the power mode. The crossover consists of a 12 dB/octave low pass filter that can be set to LFE if your pre/pro or receiver has built-in bass management. The phase control can be adjusted from 0 to 180 to match the phase of your main speakers. The volume control sets the relative gain to best match the output of your main speakers. The power mode selector switch has on/auto/off settings and a LED light that changes color to indicate the selected setting. There is also a preset line voltage switch to match the voltage in your area. Finally, there is an AC power switch, IEC power receptacle, and fuse holder. There is no auto room correction software included with the BasX S12 sub; all adjustments must be made manually.
If you opt for the Airmotiv S12 sub instead, it adds a balanced input option to the unbalanced inputs found on the BasX, as well as a second 12-inch driver (passive) in a similarly sized cabinet. It also has a more powerful 500-watt amp, drops the rear port, and weighs in at a heftier 66.2 pounds.
Normally, I approach the process of setting up speakers with a bit of trepidation. My dedicated media room is located on the second floor, and that usually means lugging heavy speakers and subs up the stairs (and a sore back afterwards). However, the Emotiva speakers were quite manageable, making the task so much easier. I set up the Emotiva speakers by attaching the included spikes to the towers and then making the necessary connections to my Marantz AV8801 pre/pro, Classé CP-800 preamp, and Classé CA-5300 five-channel amp. Sources included an Oppo BDP-105 Blu-ray player and Esoteric K-03 CD/SACD player for physical discs, as well as a Mac Mini music server for streaming digital music from a Synology NAS. Connections were made using WireWorld Silver Eclipse 7 cabling.
I initially placed the Airmotiv T1 main speakers in the same location normally occupied by my reference Aerial Acoustics 7T towers (about five feet from the front wall and 7.5 feet apart. After some experimentation, I found the ribbon tweeters to be a bit low relative to the listening position for optimal results. If I scrunched down in my chair a few inches, the sound improved. So I extended the front spikes fully and shortened the rear spikes as much as possible to angle the front baffle up a little. That improved the high-octave energy a bit.
I placed the Airmotiv C1 center speaker on a Sound Anchors stand between the T1 towers, set about six inches closer to the front wall. I also angled the front baffle of the C1 center speaker up by placing a strip of half-inch maple under the front of the speaker.
I set the Airmotiv B1 bookshelf speakers on Pangea DS400 28-inch speaker stands for surround sound duty, and I placed them a couple of feet behind and angled toward the listening position.
Finally, I positioned the BasX S12 sub in the right front corner of my room in the same spot normally occupied by one of my reference JL Audio F110 subs. After connecting the sub to my Marantz pre/pro, I ran the Audyssey MultEQ XT32 auto room correction software built into the pre/pro. The first step was to adjust the sub's output from the listening position using an SPL meter. The tool I like to use is SkyPaw's Decibel 10th Pro Noise Meter app. Once the sub output was set correctly, I ran the Audyssey auto calibration on the rest of the speakers. Looking at the results for speaker size, distance, and crossover points, I wasn't optimistic about how the system would sound. Normally Audyssey does a really good job of calculating these parameters in my listening room, but in this case all of the proposed settings looked way off. I played a 5.1-channel test track from a Blu-ray disc that confirmed that I would need to make the settings manually. After measuring speaker distances to the listening position, setting speaker size and crossover points, I played the track again. The subwoofer was really overpowering the room. That rear port on the sub did not like the corner placement. I pulled the sub out from the corner by about 12 more inches and then turned down the sub's volume control until the output seamlessly blended with the rest of the speakers. The bass response was now more even, providing a more balanced overall presentation. With all of the speakers now dialed in, I let music play as much as possible over the next two weeks before doing any critical listening.
Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...