As I walked into the Emotiva room, a blast from the distant past greeted me with a smile. It was the Eagles, live, welcoming me to Hotel California. Resisting the temptation to declare, "But I've just come from there," I instead noted the solidity of the bass line, the powerful slam, and the sonic warmth that really did feel like a welcome. "Welcome to Emotiva land," the system seemed to sing.
Emotiva, as it turns out, is designed in Franklin, TN, south of Nashville, but made in China. Hence the astoundingly low prices you'll see a few paragraphs down. According to Lonnie Vaughn (shown in the photo), Emotiva's VP and Chief Technology Officer (CTO), aka chief designer, Emotiva's parent company, J. Design, is headquartered in Guangzhou, China. There, it serves as OEM manufacturer for a host of high-end companies whose products fetch much higher prices than Emotiva's. Five and a half years ago, J. Design began manufacturing its own products under the Emotiva brand name.
More listening revealed Emotiva doing a more than credible job reproducing the high, leading edge on baritone Matthias Goerne's voice, and rendering its middle with admirable warmth. It also did a fine job conveying depth and layers of sound on the Ebony Band's colorful recording of Revueltas' Sensemaya.
Just a few minutes after I scribbled, "Astounding for the price" in my notes, Vaughn told me that when audiophile publications review his products, they inevitably write something like, "Really good for the price." Clearly he'd prefer to read, "Really good at any price." Regardless, at the risk of discovering my mouth taped shut, or receiving universal condemnation for not inventing new catch phrases for a bargain if I've ever seen one, I think I'll stick to my guns.
Emotiva's guns include the USP-1 stereo preamp ($399), ERC-1 CD player ($399), and seven amplifiers, including the two I heard, the entry level UPA-1 monoblocks ($329/each) and the top of the line XPA-1 monoblocks ($999/each). According to Vaughn, the amps have built-in power conditioning, surge protection, and voltage regulation. Also heard was the top of a line of four speakers, the ERT-8.3 ($1598/pair), whose frequency response is 30Hz22 kHz ±3dB.