Emotiva RMC-1 16 Channel Reference Cinema Processor Reviewed

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Emotiva RMC-1 16 Channel Reference Cinema Processor Reviewed


This has been the single weirdest product review I've ever been part of. Weird not because of the product itself, but rather the process. I've had the opportunity to watch Emotiva's flagship RMC-1 16-Channel Reference Cinema Processor ($4,999) grow from a promising beta platform in late 2018 to a fully functioning product in mid-2019, by way of one of the biggest and most transparent crowdsourced beta testing programs I've seen in the specialty AV world to date. And yeah, that's unusual, but it's not the weird part.

Most of the time, when I review a product, I don't really hear from readers until the thing is published and the comments section opens. During this past year or so, though, I've been overwhelmed by readers asking me when my evaluation of the RMC-1 would be done (including one particularly creepy message back in January from a reader who ended his demand for a review with a stalker-ish, "I KNOW YOU HAVE ONE," just like that, in all capital letters). My answer has been the same, to both the kind messages and the creepy ones alike: "When it's done."

sharc.jpgBut here's the thing: I'm not really sure the RMC-1 will ever be "done." And if you read that as a slight against Emotiva, I assure you that it isn't. It's simply that the RMC-1 represents a further evolution of the "design it from the ground up and keep developing it" ethos employed on the XMC-1 from a few years back. That product was notable for the fact that it used a third-party HDMI board, which ended up causing some problems for Emotiva in terms of being able to keep up with changes in digital connectivity and standards. With the RMC-1, though, Emotiva controls every element and every line of code crunched by it, to the best of my knowledge, except for its room correction, which still isn't enabled just yet. Given all of the work the company has done whipping this new platform up from scratch, though, it stands to reason that the RMC-1 will serve as the basis for most if not all of Emotiva's home theater gear going forward, and will likely see further development and improvements throughout its natural life cycle.

That alone makes it interesting and worth following, even if you don't need a sixteen-channel AV preamp with expansion capabilities up to a reported 28 channels down the road. And let's be honest for a minute: that's practically all of us. Yes, I'm including myself in that "us." It's a stretch for me to set up a 7.1.4-channel system in my main media room, which measures a relatively modest 17 feet deep by 19 feet wide, with merely one row of seating (aka a sofa and an Elite HTS home theater recliner) positioned 6.5 feet away from a 75-inch screen.

9.1.4 would be overkill. 9.1.6 is just silly talk.

And yet, like the most vocal amongst HomeTheaterReview.com's readers, I find the RMC-1 entirely fascinating, mostly for the reasons mentioned above: its status as the foundation from which future Emotiva AV products will be built. We've already seen the first inklings of this in the RMC-1L, which runs $3,999 and replicates the functionality, performance, and connectivity of the $4,999 RMC-1 in every way except for its three expansion bays (which will, eventually, expand the RMC-1's output capabilities to the aforementioned 28 channels). The RMC-1L also stands a little shorter at 5.75 versus 7.525 inches.

But to understand what the RMC-1L is, we need to discuss the RMC-1 on its own terms. So, let's dig into that. As I mentioned above, and as all of you already know, it's a 16-channel fully differential preamp that includes three expansion bays for future use, all designed and assembled in Franklin, Tennessee. It features eight HDMI 2.0b inputs with HDCP 2.2 compliance, and two HDMI 2.0b outputs, one featuring CEC and ARC support. All current forms of HDR are passed through just fine, and the unit can pass along 3,840 x 2,160 video at up to 60Hz (though no upscaling is available for lower-resolution video). 

Emotiva_RMC-1_REAR.jpg

In addition, its gorgeous back panel includes four digital audio inputs, each with your choice of optical or coaxial, and one digital audio output, also with your choice of optical or coaxial. There's also an AES/EBU digital audio input, three stereo analog audio ins (RCA), a zone-two preamp output (RCA), a USB Type B digital audio input with support for sampling rates and word lengths up to 384/32, an Ethernet connection, four highly configurable 12-volt trigger outputs, an IR output, and an IR input (both 3.5mm). The preamp also includes inputs for AM and FM terrestrial radio antennas. Native DSD decoding is also supported via HDMI, and DSD over PCM is available via the USB input.

Unsurprisingly, the RMC-1 supports both Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, the former in configurations up to 9.1.6 (for now), and the latter up to 7.1.4. The processor is incredibly flexible in terms of setup to accommodate these object-based audio formats, though, so let's dive right into that.

The Hookup
Along the bottom of the RMC-1's rear panel, you'll find sixteen XLR audio output broken into two groups. These, by the way, are the only main-channel audio outputs; there is no unbalanced option. The thirteen outputs on the left side are locked in terms of their channel configuration, with connections for the front left, right, and center, as well as left and right surround, left and right back surround, left and right front height, left and right rear height, and left and right front wide channels.

RMC-1_STACK.jpgThe three balanced outputs to the right require a little more explanation. These are labeled RSub/Ht, Csub, and LSub/Ht. If you opt for a setup with six overhead speakers, the RSub/Ht and LSub/Ht serve to output the left and right center height speakers and the Csub carries signal to your sub (or subs, with a little signal splitting). If you're not installing six overhead speakers... well, you've got some options. The CSub can be set to LFE, Mono, or None. If you opt for LFE, then that sub and only that sub receives the LFE content from surround sound or object-based sound mixes, while other low-frequency information (e.g. sounds below, say, 80Hz that would normally be sent to your satellite channels, if not for your crossover settings) get delivered to the other sub or subs, which can be set to Mono, Dual Mono, Height Channels, or None.

Why on earth would you want to do that? One potential scenario: say you use your home cinema system for both movies and music, and you've got a beast of a ported subwoofer that you only want to use for movies and not for music listening. But you've also got a pair of pretty musicals subs that you want engaged when you're listening to two channel music and movies alike, without having to fiddle with sound modes and setup on a daily basis. That's just one hypothetical, but it's the sort of setup that the RMC-1 accommodates. For what it's worth, you can also connect three subs, set the Center sub to Mono and the other two to Dual Mono, and all three will receive both LFE content as well as low-frequency information that your other speakers can't handle (with a default crossover point of 80Hz for any speaker set to Small, but which can be adjusted in 10Hz increments for each speaker pair). Unless, that is, your turn on Enhanced Bass, in which case each sub receives all of the above, in addition to any low-frequency information already being sent to any speakers in your system that are configured for full-range playback.

If you haven't already gotten the picture here, the RMC-1 can be incredibly in-depth in terms of configuration, depending on your specific needs, and I really only have room to scratch the surface of what's possible in terms of unique setups. So, instead of digging through every feature of that sort one by one, I would instead like to talk a bit about the physical process of configuring the preamp, because it's pretty cool. 

Emotiva_RMC-1_FRONT.jpg

The RMC-1 includes a dual-screen front panel, which in its default configuration splits puts setup menus and playback info (source, incoming signal, outgoing signal, etc.) on the left screen and a volume readout on the right. The nifty thing is, you can completely configure the preamp without ever connecting it to (or turning on) a display. Or even without touching the remote control. The big volume knob between the two screens also serves as a joystick of sorts. You can boop it to mute the audio, or long-press it to enter setup menus, then bump the volume knob left, right, up, or down to navigate all of the available options.

Or, you know, you can sit back on your sofa and navigate everything by remote control via the OSD, if that's your preference. Much as I like the front-panel display of the RMC-1, and much as I dig the multi-function knob, the couch-and-screen route was my preferred method of dialing in the RMC-1, mostly because any tweaks you make to the setup are updated in real time. So, you can instantly hear the differences (if any) your choices make.

That's especially handy when it comes to adjusting the RMC-1's 11-band-per-channel parametric EQ, which for now is a necessary element of the setup process, as Dirac 2 isn't available yet as I write this, although the unit does come with a very nice microphone for Dirac. Given the rate of progress I've seen in the development of the RMC-1 since December of 2018, though, the software could very well be available by the time this review is published. If not, though, just know that for now you'll need to use something like Room EQ Wizard to analyze your room on a speaker-by-speaker basis and apply filters accordingly. For my room, I only need a few high-Q-value cuts applied to my front mains and subwoofers below 300Hz or so and a relatively low-Q-value cut to my right surround speaker centered on 100Hz to compensate for some corner loading.

Would Dirac do a better and more precise job with those adjustments? It would. Is this a deal breaker for me? It's not, though your mileage may vary. The only real frustrating part of this process for me was the fact that the RMC-1 does lag a little when you're changing setup options. This goes back to what I mentioned before about all of these minute changes being updated in real time, so I understand it on an intellectual level, and I appreciate the feedback. It's still somewhat frustrating in the moment.

Emotiva_RMC-1_internals.jpgThe good news is, given the extensiveness of the RMC-1's setup features and functionality, I almost never have to make treks back into the setup menus. The preamp is designed such that you can set preferences for pretty much any incoming audio signal and decide what kind of processing you'd like applied to those diverse signals. Want HDMI 1 to process a stereo signal with full Atmos upmixing by default, while HDMI 2 engages Reference Stereo in the presence of a two-channel signal? Totally easy and intuitive to do ahead of time. So, on a day-to-day basis, all you really need to do is select inputs, adjust volume, and power the unit on and off.

In terms of more advanced control, I know that an IP driver for Control4 and other automation systems is in the works, but it's not quite ready yet (as of this writing). So, for now, IR it is. As mentioned above, there is a rear-panel 3.5mm IR input, so you don't have to worry about sticking blasters on the front of the unit. And the same IR codes that worked for the XMC-1 work for the RMC-1--mostly. I have stumbled across some issues trying to send a standby code to the unit via the rear-panel port (it simply powers the unit off, resulting in longer startup times). But for the most part, I was able to simply modify the Control4 driver that I wrote for the XMC-1 to handle a few new functions that I wanted to use on the RMC-1.

As for the rest of the system: as some of you may know, I tend to configure preamps and receivers in a few different ways during the review process. I have to admit: at no point during my evaluation of the RMC-1 have I maxed out its channel outputs, simply because my room can't accommodate such. I tried a configuration with front-width channels for a day or so and found that it really impeded the flow of traffic in and out of the room.  I also at one point hung six height channels from the ceiling in a 5.2.6 configuration, but I  really couldn't tell any difference between six overheads and four, mostly because I only have one row of seating. Add a few rows of recliners behind me and I'm sure the folks at the back of the room would have appreciated the more expansive overhead coverage.

I also tinkered with a 7.2.4 setup, but due to the layout of my room, 7.1 on the ground doesn't really make much sense, either. So, the bulk of my testing was done in a 5.2.4 configuration, with GoldenEar's Triton One.R towers at the front, Triton Ones in the rear, a SuperCenter Reference Center below my 75-inch Vizio display, four GoldenEar SuperSat 3s overhead, and a pair of SVS PB-4000 subs at the front of the room.

Amplification for this system consisted of my reference Anthem A5, along with a B&K Reference 200.7 S2, and sources for all setups included a Kaleidescape Strato, my trusty Roku Ultra media streamer, PlayStation 4, and an Oppo UDP-205 universal disc player. I also briefly added an RSL Speedwoofer 10S to the mix, assigned to the Center Sub output, not really for performance reasons but merely to test out the sub configuration and wrap my brain around how the various bass management modes work.

After a good bit of Atmos/DTS:X testing, I scaled the system back to 5.2 so I could better evaluate the RMC-1 purely from the perspective of sound quality. (As I've mentioned numerous times in the past, I find most Atmos movie mixes to be distracting, and distraction isn't a state of mind one wants to be in when evaluating the finer nuances of audio performance.)

Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...

HTR Product Rating for Emotiva RMC-1 16 Channel Reference Cinema Processor

Criteria Rating

Performance

4.5

Value

3.5

Overall

4

Disagree with our product rating? Email us and tell us why you think this product should receive a higher rating.


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Performance
Given my experience with Emotiva's XMC-1 over the past few years, and my love for its two-channel performance, my serious evaluation of the RMC-1 (after quite a few firmware updates, including one in August that completely rewrote the way RMC-1 performs bass management) began with some hardcore stereo music listening. For what it's worth, all of the following observations are relevant to beta firmware version 1.6.5, which I received in October, 2019. By the time this review goes live, public firmware version 1.7 will likely be released, with further refinements to Audio Return Channel functionality, as well as a few other fixes.

At any rate, Pat Metheny's "Ferry Cross the Mersey," from the CD release of One Quiet Night, really told me pretty much everything I needed to know about the RMC-1's performance. The preamp's handling of the nuanced textures and timbres of this track was unimpeachable. More impressive, though, was the deft nimbleness of its attack and decay. The stereo image of this simple mix also caught me off guard, especially in its depth. And the preamp's handling of the room reverb was simply... *chef's kiss*

I put this track on a loop to spend some time A/Bing back and forth between the RMC-1's Reference Stereo and Direct modes, the former of which takes a stereo input and gives you stereo output, and the latter of which does mostly the same, but adds bass management capabilities, with no additional processing aside from level trims. It's a testament to the bass management capabilities of the system that I frankly couldn't hear any appreciable differences between the two. But this gets straight to the heart of what makes reviewing a component like the RMC-1 so difficult from a performance perspective. The benefits here mostly come not from what I'm hearing, but rather what I'm not hearing. And it can be difficult to hang adjectives on that sort of observation.

Another, perhaps more difficult test of this came in the form of "Yoda's Theme" from the Deluxe Edition CD/DCD release of Across the Stars by Anne-Sophie Mutter and John Williams. For those of you unfamiliar with this project, it's a collection of William's greatest hits, re-orchestrated specifically for the virtuoso violinist. In this arrangement, Williams uses a lot of bass punctuation to offset the very high pitch of Mutter's delivery of the main melody (which, by the way, the RMC-1 delivers with haunting verisimilitude), and I kept returning to key moments in the piece expecting there to be some meaningful difference between listening purely through my Triton One.Rs versus the One.Rs flanked by a pair of SVS PB-4000s. With my eyes closed, though, and my wife handling the mode switching, I couldn't reliably and consistently identify which was which.

I know I said this of the XMC-1, but it's even truer of the RMC-1: I would put this multichannel processor up against any two-channel preamp in its price range and defy even the stodgiest of audiophiles to besmirch the fidelity of the Emotiva's two-channel performance.

Moving on to multichannel material, I put the RMC-1 through my standard battery of dialogue-intelligibility torture tests and found its performance in that regard above reproach (this, of course, was true of the XMC-1, as well). I then moved on to some Atmos experimentation, using two of the only Atmos mixes that I truly enjoy--Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Wonder Woman, both on UHD Blu-ray. These were my test beds for the tinkering with six versus four overhead channels that I mentioned above, and although, as reported, I couldn't hear any meaningful difference between the two configurations, that's down to my room layout and the size thereof, not the RMC-1's processing. If you have three rows of seating, you probably want those six overhead speakers. Either way, the processor performed beautifully, extracting every ounce of detail and nuance from each soundtrack. The early scene in Wonder Woman in which Diana visits Steve Trevor in the bathing cave positively sparkled with ambience and a delightful sense of space.

I then loaded up the new UHD Blu-ray release of the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie, which also comes with an Atmos mix (and which, true to Disney form, has to be boosted quite a few decibels to get up to reference listening levels). Skipping to the first post-credits sequence, where our hero Star-Lord searches for the Orb on the planet Morag, I was struck by the RMC-1's handling of the finest details of the mix: the rustling of Star-Lord's leather coat, the jingling of his accoutrements, the swishing of the wind and the spray of the geysers on the planet's surface.

And mind you, I'm not going to sit here and claim that the RMC-1 made every other multichannel preamp in its class sound like poo. We're fortunate to live in an amazing time for audio at attainable price points. It's just that, to my ears, there was more transparency to the audio, not to mention better integration between the subs and mains. It's like the difference between cleaning your glasses with a good microfiber cloth and using those fancy Zeiss lens wipes.

When Star-Lord put on his headphones and cued up "Come and Get Your Love" by Redbone, though, that's where the processor's strengths really revealed themselves. Simply put, the RMC-1 loves some music, and thrives on recreating it. No real surprise there, since explosions and Foley effects don't really demand the Nth degree in terms of fidelity. But in my time with the RMC-1, I've honestly found myself gravitating more and more toward films with a heavy reliance on music, like Yesterday and A Star is Born, just for the sure delight that comes from hearing this preamp deliver it. With "Come and Get Your Love" from GotG in particular, the sheer depth of the front soundstage simply left me gobsmacked.

As I've repeated ad nauseum, I'm not the biggest fan of Dolby Atmos or DTS:X with movies, a few rare exceptions aside, but I do dig the hell out of it with gaming. Sadly, my preferred console, the PS4, doesn't support Atmos for games the way Xbox One does. But that didn't stop me from using the RMC-1's Dolby Atmos Upmixer to enjoy the next best thing.

I'm a little slow on the uptake with this one, I know, but for the past couple months or so I've finally started diving into Insomniac's Spider-Man Game of the Year Edition for PlayStation 4, and my enjoyment of the game has only been enhanced by the RMC-1's upmixing of its 7.1-channel PCM soundtrack. Swinging through the digitally recreated landscape of Manhattan with a roomful of speakers is such a visceral audiovisual experience that I feel bad for folks who only get to experience it via a soundbar or (heaven forbid) the speakers built into their TVs.

Granted, most of the time the action in Spider-Man happens below you. But the whooshing of skyscrapers whizzing by still gives the Atmos Upmixer a good bit to chew on. As does the procedurally generated sound mix, which often leads to effects whereby you will, for example, press play on a voice recorder in a science lab then walk around the lab in multiple directions, causing the audio from the voice recorder to pan from speaker to speaker.

One of my favorite moments in the game, though--especially via the Dolby Atmos upmixing of the RMC-1--is swinging through the skyscrapers of Manhattan during a thunderstorm. The crackle of energy surrounding you, the crash of lightning when it strikes, the rolling thunder and the torrent of rain--the RMC-1 handles all of this beautifully, and has really brought this game to life for me in often tangible ways. Especially its wonderfully cinematic score, which... can I use that hackneyed "chef's kiss" gag again? Forgive me, folks; I'm running out of pithy verbiage.

(For what it's worth, by the way, if you're planning on playing Spider-Man in a proper home cinema setup, make sure you change the sound mode from the default "Home Theater," which is really mixed more for HTiB systems and soundbars, to "Maximum," which is intended for, as the game text points out, "premium home theater systems or studio playback." And for heaven's sake, make sure to turn on HDR video rendering.)

The Downside
Interestingly enough, though, Spider-Man for the PlayStation 4 has also been the trigger for one of the RMC-1's most peculiar and inexplicable recurring bugs, even with the latest beta firmware. There have been a handful of occasions (maybe three out of the dozens of times I've fired up the game?) where I would start up the system, load up the game, start playing, and quickly realize that I was only getting audio from the front left and right channel.

And forgive me if this seems overly pedantic, but I want to be extra clear about what I mean by this: I don't mean that the RMC-1 was downmixing the multichannel audio to stereo. I mean that I was only hearing what was mixed in the front left and right channels. Audio from the center channel (like J. Jonah Jameson's conspiracy theory radio broadcasts, as well as mobile phone calls to allies and other dialogue), along with the surround channels, was completely missing. Thankfully, simply switching to a different input and back to the PS4 input always immediately rectifies this.

Will bugs like this be worked out eventually? Given the substantial improvements and bug fixes I've seen from the last few firmware updates, I feel pretty confident in thinking they will. [[Editor's Note: After this review was prepped for publication, Emotiva VP/CTO Lonnie Vaughn informed me that as a result of my reporting, the company has discovered the cause of the intermittent channel-loss issue I experienced infrequently in Spider-Man PS4. As of this writing, the code fix is being internally vetted and should be released to the public by week's end]]. 

Whether or not you consider the RMC-1's current lack of room correction a significant hindrance probably depends on your room, of course. I have to assume that most people in the market for a 16-channel AV preamp that will eventually be expandable to 28 channels have pretty well-treated, if not dedicated home cinema spaces. Even such spaces greatly benefit from digital room correction to deal with room resonances below 200 to 300 Hz, though. Again, though, I write this fully aware of the fact that Dirac Labs could deliver its full API to Emotiva tomorrow and we could be rocking advanced room correction ASAP. But as I write this, it's still an unknown, and the present lack of room correction on the RMC-1 certainly leaves a substantial hole in its features list.

I also personally feel that a product of this caliber needs--needs, I tell you--the two-way IP control drivers that I know have been in the works for a while. IP control simply gives you a level of instant accessibility, reliability, and feedback that's missing when attempting to control the RMC-1 via IR by way of an advanced control system. That, though, is another critique that could be addressed at any time.

Quirks that I suspect will linger mostly boil down to the fact that the RMC-1 takes some time to do the things it does, mostly because it does those things a little differently than the mass-market competition. HDMI source switching, for example, takes a solid five seconds. Also in the five-second range is the time it takes for the processor to lock onto a Dolby or DTS audio signal and start making its beautiful music. This isn't really a downside so much as it is a thing you should be aware of.

One thing I can say with absolute certainty that won't be changed by any number of firmware updates is that the RMC-1 lacks 7.1-channel analog audio inputs, which may be of concern for those of you who are clinging to your Oppo UDP-205s (as am I). Could that be addressed with an expansion module? It's certainly possible. But that would, of course, limit future expansion in terms of channel outputs.

Comparison and Competition
Funny enough, I honestly feel like the RMC-1's most direct competition comes from Emotiva itself. The aforementioned $3,999 RMC-1L is probably where most people will head, since it offers virtually all of the RMC-1's capabilities and functionality, just minus the expansion bays and minus a thousand bucks. It also comes in a smaller chassis that will likely find a more comfortable home in most gear racks. As I understand it, the RMC-1L features fully differential output, just like the RMC-1, and delivers the exact same 9.1.6-channel output that its bigger sibling does for now. If you're looking for bang-for-your buck without sacrificing an ounce of performance, the RMC-1L is the real value proposition.

You can also get 9.1.6 channels' worth of Emotiva output from the $2,999 XMC-2. From what I can tell, the XMC-2 seems to be less of a scaling down of the RMC-1 and more of an upgrade of the XMC-1, and if I've got my facts and figures right here, it only offers fully differential output for the front three channels and the subs, despite the fact that all sixteen channels are output via XLR only.

Okay, I hear you saying, but what about non-Emotiva competition? Well, in terms of price, the Marantz AV8805 (reviewed here) is a pretty close match at $4,499. The Marantz is limited to 13.2 channels of processing, and to my ears it lacks that last little bit of sonic refinement that the Emotiva delivers. And as good as Audyssey MultEQ XT32 room correction is when you add the MulEQ Editor app to the mix, it's not quite as capable as Dirac (although, there is the fact that it's available now). So, yeah, you do give up a bit in terms of transparency and finessed in terms of audio performance with the AV8805. But there's also the fact that it's a little more reliable in terms of operation, and its input switching is much snappier. It's also supported by a fantastic IP driver for Control4 systems. So, it really comes down to a matter of priorities: do you value the utmost in sonic performance and the ultimate in tweakability, or are you willing to give up that last few percent in terms of sound quality for a more dependable AV switching and signal routing experience day-to-day, along with wireless audio capabilities? I'm not here to tell which answer is correct, but it's a question you need to answer before you plunk down your credit card.

If, on the other hand, you want to go super crazy with tweakability, performance, room correction capabilities, and even speaker remapping, and you don't want to do any of it yourself, there's the Trinnov Altitude16 (reviewed here), which starts at $16,000 but delivers some of the most advanced processing I've ever heard. Even further down that road you'll find the Trinnov Altitude32, which features 32 channels of processing starting at $33,500, but that's before you opt for add-ons like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X and their companion upmixers, which add another $2,750 to the price tag. Either way you go, Trinnov's room correction is unparalleled, and the system is, shockingly, even more tweakable than the RMC-1. There aren't even any default channel mappings or room correction curves in the Altitude interface, so you could create a truly wacky speaker setup if your heart desires. But all of that does come at a cost. A big one.

JBL Synthesis's SDP-55 is also just around the corner, with an expected ship date of January 2020 and a price tag of $5,999. It too supports 9.1.6-channel audio and features Dirac room correction, but adds Logic16 upmixing and support for Auro3D, as well as IMAX Enhanced certification (although I wouldn't consider the latter to be a major selling point).

Arcam also has its new AV40, which is available now for $4,500. This one seems to be built on the same platform as the JBL Synthesis SDP-55, although it does lack the SDP-55's Dante media networking capabilities, along with a few other features. Both the Arcam and the JBL Synthesis do boast a couple of big features that the RMC-1 lacks, including Bluetooth with aptX, as well as AirPlay 2 and Chromecast. But having put hands on neither unit, I can't speak intelligently about any potential shortcomings.

Conclusion
Wrapping up my evaluation of the RMC-1--or at least pausing that evaluation long enough to get a review done now that the product is being marketed and sold without major caveats--feels like the end of an era for me. This unit has been in and out and in and out of my system multiple times since December of last year, and I've watched it grow from, "Damn this thing sounds amazing, but it needs some work" to "Daaaaaamn, this thing sounds even better, and most of its remaining kinks can be tolerated until they're finally worked out, if that's the price I have to pay for this level of performance."

I know many early adopters have grumbled about the long-lasting growing pangs, and I'm not here to tell them they're wrong to grumble. But I will say this: I'm utterly grateful to them for the work they put into field testing the RMC-1 on a scale that wouldn't have been possible for Emotiva to handle in-house. Early problems with DTS audio playback seem to have been entirely sorted out (at least on my end), video incompatibility with certain HDMI sources (like my Kaleidescape movie server) have also been nipped in the bud. Are there still minor grievances? Of course. I really, really wish I could dial this unit in with Dirac, like right this very now.

But my biggest wish is simply to see this platform grow in the future. I'd love to see Emotiva introduce a new 7.2 (or 7.3, or whatever) preamp based on this platform, as a step-up alternative to the MC-700. Atmos may be hogging a lot of the oxygen in the room in terms of discussion, but let's face it: most of you are still perfectly happy with ear-level surround sound.

Hell, as much as I love surround sound myself, I would also like to see the company come out with a two-channel version of the RMC-1 complete with all of the AV switching and configurability, simply to address the growing demand for stereo home theater systems that I know so many of you are starting to gravitate toward. The world-class two-channel music performance of the RMC-1 is proof that Emotiva's Kung Fu is strong that department, and to be frank there's a bit of a void since so many of the stereo home theater components tumbling into the market are still somewhat lacking on the video side of things. Throw in some amplification and make it an integrated stereo AV receiver and I think Emotiva would have a hot seller on its hands.

But any way things end up developing, I think Emotiva has a heck of a foundation to build on here. The RMC-1 isn't perfect. Not yet, anyway. And it's not the right preamp for everyone. But its sonic performance is amongst the best I've heard, and its installation flexibility is of the sort that you normally just don't get in consumer-direct products. With a couple more minor bug fixes and the addition of a few missing features (mostly Dirac), the RMC-1 will be a big win for Emotiva.

Additional Resources
• Visit the Emotiva website for more product information.
• Visit our AV Preamps category page to read similar reviews.
• Read Is the AV Preamp Making a Comeback? at HomeTheaterReview.com.


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