I started off my evaluation by listening to several very familiar test tracks of two-channel music with just the T1 towers in full-range mode. To evaluate how the Emotiva T1 towers reproduce a female vocal, guitar, and the acoustic space of recordings, I played the track "Estate" by Antonio Forcione and Sabina Sciubba from their album Meet Me in London (Naim Records, 192-kHz/24-bit). Through the Airmotiv T1 towers, there was a luscious amount of air and space between and around Sabina's warm vocals and Antonio's acoustic guitar playing. With all of the spatial cues evident, it was easy to believe the performers were right there in my room. That's something that doesn't happen very often, so the experience was special. As they should be, Sabina's vocals were just inside the location of the left speaker, while Antonio was playing his guitar just inside the location of the right speaker. Both the tonal quality of Sabina's voice and the attack transients of Antonio's guitar were palpable. The speakers' midrange drivers reproduced the familiar track without any noticeable coloration.
For a real test of the Airmotiv's bass and soundstaging performance, I next played "Deeper," the title track from Pete Belasco's second CD (Sheridan Square Records, 44.1 kHz/16 Bit). The Airmotiv T1s reproduced the deep bass of this slow-groove R&B-style track with accuracy, although with a bit less energy and impact than I've heard through larger (and much more expensive) speakers. A six-inch bass driver can only go so low, after all. But I didn't notice any distortion in the bass that the speaker did reproduce, which is a very positive attribute. The Airmotiv T1 not only accurately reproduced the high-frequency notes in this track, it also managed to place those notes within the soundstage space appropriately. Soundstage width and depth were not quite as impressive as through my reference speakers, but I was taken aback with the T1's performance given the ridiculously low price point in comparison.
Moving on to 5.1-channel music, I played the Imagine Dragons track "Shots" from their concert Blu-ray 'Smoke & Mirrors Live' (Eagle Rock Entertainment). The Airmotiv speakers combined with the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio format to portray a palpable sense of the large acoustic space of the 15,000-seat Air Canada Centre arena in Toronto. There is a lot going on in this high-volume, high-energy introductory track to the concert, and the Airmotiv 5.1 speaker system was always in control. There is effective use of the surrounds in this concert disc without resorting to a lot of gimmickry, which results in a very natural sound experience. The mix places the listener in the center, about 10 rows back from the stage. With crowd noise surrounding the listening space, it really did feel as if you were at the show. Even playing the concert at about 85 dB, the highs of lead guitarist Wayne Sermon's electric guitar came through with great clarity and detail without ever sounding harsh. The shimmer of the cymbals could be heard with great detail even through Daniel Platzman's enthusiastic playing of the balance of the drum kit. And the timbre of lead singer Dan Reynolds's voice was spot on, or at least as I remember it when I saw the band live during their tour. Experiencing this concert through the Airmotiv speakers was just plain fun.
I next played Chapter 12 from the Blu-ray disc of the movie Passengers (Columbia Pictures) in Dolby TrueHD. In this scene, while Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence) swims laps in the starship Avalon's pool, mechanical systems can be heard abruptly shutting down overhead, leading to a loss of gravity onboard. Suddenly the room is filled with the sounds of waves of water splashing up the walls and off the ceiling as Aurora struggles to escape the giant water bubble rising from the pool to get a breath. The gravity system is suddenly reinitiated, and the water thunderously splashes back to the pool and deck, with the speakers producing the appropriate bass weight to bring a great sense of realism. The high-resolution sound effects coming from the Airmotiv speakers were so realistic they had me feeling like I was in the pool, with water splashing all around and over me.
Playing chapter two from the 4K UHD Blu-ray version of the movie 3:10 to Yuma (Lionsgate), I happily discovered a new reference disc for both sound and picture. While the 4K UHD disc with HDR caused the colors of the red rock canyon in the scene to really pop, the DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack also provided the most realistic gunfire sounds I've ever experienced in a film. (There's also a DTS:X soundtrack option available if your system is set up for it. Mine is not yet.) In this scene, Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) looks on from a ridge as his gang is about to rob an armored stagecoach carrying railroad money and guarded by Pinkertons. The Airmotiv speakers deliver the goods in terms of accurately portraying the numerous sound effects in this scene. The ambience channels are put to full use, as numerous bullets are heard ricocheting off the stagecoach armor or splintering wood. Bullets fly past the listener's head, drawing you into the middle of the action. The Airmotiv T1 bass drivers and BasX S12 subwoofer blended well to provide the audible impact from an explosion in the scene, as well as when the stagecoach overturns. I would have liked to have a bit more power from the sub bass to also "feel" more of the mayhem, as I did when viewing the same scene using my two reference subs. Perhaps the sealed Airmotiv S12 sub (or two) would be the ticket, given its bigger amp and second driver.
The Airmotiv T1 speakers require careful placement consideration for optimal high-frequency results. Likewise, the rear ports mean that the speakers will need to be at least a couple of feet from the front wall to provide clean, clear bass.
Lastly, the industrial aesthetic of the black T1 towers may not appeal to everyone. Of course, if you want slick custom paint jobs and highly polished hardware - expect to pay more than what Emotiva is asking here.
Comparison & Competition
Potential buyers of the Emotiva T1 towers will be audiophiles and home theater enthusiasts that have real-world budget constraints but are still seeking high performance ... and perhaps aren't as concerned about aesthetics. Competitors to the Airmotiv T1 speakers include the Elac Debut F5 ($560/pair), Aperion Audio's Intimus 4T ($698/pair), Polk's Signature S55 ($659.90/pair), and Fluance's Signature Series HFF Tower ($699/pair) recently reviewed by Brent Butterworth here. You may want to visit one of the growing number of regional audio shows to listen to as many of these models as possible for comparison.
The Emotiva T1 tower speakers deliver stellar performance for their price, making them not only a real value but also a real performance front-runner in affordable high-end audio. The fact that you can have this much fun with a full 5.1 Airmotiv home theater speaker system for under $2,000 would have been unheard of just a few years ago. Emotiva has been shaking up the electronics market for a while. I have a feeling they are going to do the same to the loudspeaker market based on their newest offering. Can you get noticeably better performance? Yes, but you would have to spend more ... maybe considerably more.
• Check out our Floorstanding Speakers category page to read similar reviews.
• Visit the Emotiva website for more product information.
• Emotiva XMC-1 7.2-Channel AV Pre/Pro Reviewed at HomeTheaterReview.com.