Affordable Emotiva

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 30Hz–22 kHz ±3dB.

Frank I's picture

Nice comments. Just ordered the XPA2 to drive my Maggie MMG

Chris Barker's picture

Great to see Stereophile give some press to Emotiva. At the risk of being labeled a "fanboy", I believe there products are truly giant killers. I hope that a Stereophile review of some of their products will appear in the future?Now I am off to setup my brand new Ray Samuels battery powered F-117 phono preamp. 2010 is shaping up to be a banner year for audio!

Nathan's picture

I'd also be interested in seeing a future review of Emotiva gear in future editions of Stereophile. A lot of these internet only companies never get reviews by big mags like yours, so it's difficult for a layman like myself to see how these types of products compare to the much more expensive products you normally review.

Lonnie's picture

Hello Jason and thanks for stopping by, it was a pleasure meeting you.Just one quick clarification here. The parent company is also based here in Franklin, TN only the factory is in China.Thanks to everyone who came by, we enjoyed meeting you all.

Ajani's picture

Good job Jason... I'm happy to see Emotiva getting some attention in Stereophile... I really hope a review is in the works for some of their gear...

thelordoftherings's picture

I'm also very surprised that Stereophile, which I subscribe since the early 70's, has not review these extaordinary products from Emotiva. Their power amplifiers in particular should be all the rage nowadays. And they make pre/pros, preamps, CD players, speakers, subwoofers, all for amazing prices and performance that is comparable to much more expensive products. It is your duty and responsability as a magazine that cater to an audio population thirsty for performance and blood value, to give these Emotiva products a fair chance at the spotlight in your pages. I'm sure eveyone would benefit including the staff at Stereophile. I'm just suggesting what I believe is the right thing to do.Also, if I may add, Emotiva as a company is very unique in the services they provide to their customers. They will go to great extends to fulfill their goals of total customer satisfaction. It is indeed a rare occurance these days. Add their excellent products, and you got the best audio recipe. Best regards,Bob

Dave's picture

I think Emotiva is wonderful. I have their amplifiers paired with high end gear from YBA, Focal, and Cardas to name a few. Emotiva can hang with the best amps and stand tall with pride. Good to see some coverage from Stereophile, which I have been a reader of for countless years. I'd like to see them featured in the magazine as well.

Angel G Prieto's picture

I was really impressed with the quality of construction of these affordable electronics,the sound was very pleasant even though the room didnt help for crital listening.What really left me exited was the cd out Rotel!!!Lonnie Vaughn is a very pleasant and humble person..There is still hope for affordable high end stereo.

John Costa's picture

I live at the Azores islands which belongs to Portugal so it was impossible to go there, but owning an Emotiva amplifier as fulfilled my audio "fantasies", excelent product! Congratulations Emotiva

Mark James's picture

What are the review requirements for Stereophile? For those of us looking for good unbiased reviews this is trusted mag and I would like to see more company's like Emotiva in it.

suits_me's picture

I'd like to see a review or two of tackily named "Emotiva" products, too, but I'd be surprised if any reader of Stereophile doesn't by now have at least a general sense of what the requirements for a component review are. This raises questions in my mind about where some of these ten posts are coming from. This is pretty much the most active thread in the show coverage. I'm not thinking shills, I'm thinking some other website where Emotiva owners have an official or unofficial congregation, and where they heard about this coverage. Not a one apart from the designer mentions being at the show....

Jonathan's picture

"suits_me": There is a link directing people here from the Emotiva forum which, while not restricted to Emotiva product owners, is largely populated by Emotiva product owners. I happen to be one of them, and a Stereophile reader (and nearly made it to the AXPONA show but was unable to attend). There's no conspiracy here. While I don't wish to speak for anyone else, I would guess that an internet-direct company such as Emotiva tends to attract people who are more active on the internet than owners or "fans" of some other brands, perhaps. I'm not sure what your concern is, exactly.

suits_me's picture

Thanks. That confirms exactly, in my view, what I speculated in my first post: "I'm not thinking shills, I'm thinking some other website where Emotiva owners have an official or unofficial congregation, and where they heard about this coverage." This doesn't make it a conspiracy; it raises the usual questions in my mind about credibility and depth of knowledge. That one reason I'd like to see a review or two of Emotiva gear.

Jonathan's picture

If you're actually interested you could also try listening to a "tackily named" Emotiva product yourself. There are reviews of Emotiva gear online, but not in the two American audio gear publications. Considering their 2-channel preamp sells for $399 I'm not sure what else you can compare it to, I haven't seen any other separates out there at that price. I would love to see a Sam Tellig review, though, coming from a background with the cheaper Music Hall and Cambridge Audio integrateds that Emotiva might be competing with.

billy's picture

The cables are hand drawn 7 nines silver hand made in Japan by Bukkake Audioworks, KK

suits_me's picture

No I don't want to take my time to listen to the tackily named Emotiva products. Now, if there's a review or two from respected sources and if I hear some people who actually can demonstrate a record of knowledge regarding high end audio then...sure. I'm all for cheeeep gear if it provides value. But I've seen these fad-horde syndromes before. Rocket speakers, anyone? And I'm not too keen on the idea of tens of thousands of dollars for interconnects, just so we can be clear.

Jonathan's picture

I wouldn't claim to be able to demonstrate a record of knowledge regarding high end audio. I have about five years of experience with relatively low-priced value-oriented audio and I am pleased with what I got from Emotiva, which I can't say about the Class C Stereophile recommended Music Hall A25.2 or the Class B Music Hall CD25.2. The latter was a pleasing product when it worked properly, but despite touting its Philips VAM 1202/19 transport, it was incredibly wonky at reading discs to the point of becoming unusable. I had the same problem with the highly rated Denon DVD-2900 universal player. While the Emotiva CD player (ERC-1) was a hair less pleasing to listen to than the CD25.2, it comes with a 5 year warranty. If I want to close the sound-quality gap I can run it to an external DAC and still probably save money over the long run. I didn't need to read a professional review to make up my mind that I had made, for me, a value-oriented purchase. I did not join a fan-horde, at least not knowingly.

Lyonel's picture

I am a current subscriber to the magazine, and every now and then I stop my subscription, because it appears that the only equipment that the magazine wants to, or sem to evaluate, are those that are out of most peoples price range. I have owrked in many high end audio stores, and I will say this much Emotiva makes a great product at any price, they well built, and I am very happy with their power amps. They drive my Magnepans quite well, and the only other amp I can really compare them to in that price range is Adcom's, Rotels, and Brystons. They will give all of these companies a good run for the money. However I wish this magazine would take the time to review some of the less expensive audio gear that is out there. Because everyone does not have the finance to buy a $10K amp or $20k speakers.

Mark Morrison's picture

I have been an audiophile for over 40 years and owned lots of different gear. Though never having the funds to aquire ultra expensive high end equipment I can still appreciate it.I recently purchased an Emotiva EXP-3A & have been grinning from ear to ear since. The amp sounds great and not "just for the money". Bryston & BAT aren't quaking in their boots but this amp delivers a huge slice of that high end sound satisfaction we all crave. Thanks Emotiva.

wavydavy's picture

Been doing the "critical listening" thing for 30 years ( enjoying the music too! ).

Until recenty I have been using budget receivers ( Denon / Onkyo ) and entry level bookshelf speakers ( Wharfedale 10.1 / KEF IQ30 ) .

My main system has 2 x 15" sealed box subwoofers ( 250W each ), bass is no problem.

My gear always sounded great for the money, but I figured there was always another "step".

I had been using AV amps to do bass management to save the bookshelves and the AV amp from the heavy lifting . I think it's a great way to go on a $ / space budget.

*** NEW SYSTEM *** got a pair of Martin Logan Sources *** FANTASTIC ***

BUT - I don't think the AV receiver did them justice.

I needed some HIGH CURRENT power to drive them.


EMOTIVA   UPA-1 350 / 4 ohms  + PRE-AMP / DAC XDA-1

NOW : no need for bass management, filtering / RUN full signal to Sources

SUBWOOFERS Only cover 20Hz to 50Hz then roll off via built in x-over

They mate with Sources which have ~45 Hz Acoustic Roll Off.


The end result : I hear cleanly and deeply INTO recordings, detailed and sweet.

I don't sense any harshness; cymbals, and triangles sound very textured.

Kick Drums have KICK.

I am NOT LOOKING to UPGRADE anytime soon ... HAH !!!!! we'll see.

System : Win7 / Foobar 2k (FLAC) > Hiface USB > SPDIF > EMOTIVA XDA-1 > 2x UPA-1 > ML Source + 2 x 15" Subs ( 2 cu ft sealed )




iListen's picture

I would love a review of the XPA-2 as well. 

I have an active subscription because my daughter was selling magazines for school last year, so I picked up Stereophile. 

I just received notice that I have one or two mags left. I am not going to re-sub.

95% of the reviews are for equipment WAY out of my price range.  Example, while typing this a reached over and grabbed a random issue of Stereophile.  Feb 2011: Wilson speakers $17,000 a pair :(  Luxman B1000f mono blocks $55,000 

Come on, get real. Anyone who can afford stuff like this is NOT reading this magazine. 

They are paying some "expert" to throw together something to impress their friends. 

Review ONE exotic piece and 3-4 REAL LIFE pieces in each magazine. Needless to say, Feb 2011 was useless. I didn't even read the reviews of the ridiculously priced electronics. 

I like reviews like the exposure 2010 with the monitor audio RS6 ($1000 a set?) and amazingly said they enjoyed every minute with the system. 

Point being, it doesn't take $17,000 speakers nor $55,000 amps to enjoy music and decent sound. 

My system consists of Rotel Amp, Paradigm Studio 60's and a Lynn CD player and I enjoy my system. Of course I want better, but I need to spend less than $5,000 on the WHOLE system, not just on the speaker wires.  $5,000 is a lot of money in my opinion. The way I see it, if I can't get good sound for $5,000 I may as well give up on audio completely. 

obin robinson's picture

After being on the fence for two years I finally decided to order an Emotiva XDA-1 DAC. We have a computer in our home office / guest bedroom which we use to download music from and listen to while we are online. The signal goes through a USB cable Emotiva XDA-1 which then travels through a pair of custom LAT International silver interconnects and then drives our trusty Adcom GFA-535 amplifier. The sound travels to a pair of Pioneer bookshelf monitors. The signal path is simple, pure, and uncomplicated by tone controls, filters, or other processing. The sound is absolutely fantastic. Music in 24 bit / 192 kHz sounds so vivid and lifelike through the Emotiva XDA-1. We only paid $300 for this device but the look, feel, and sound quality is more like something we would have happily paid $1,000 for.

From the moment you unbox the Emotiva XDA-1 you can tell you spent your money well. The unit is heavy, solid, and feels like a million bucks. The remote is built like a tank and the buttons are easy to to manipulate. I feel good knowing that this product was built with care and attention to detail regardless of whether it was in China or the USA. All I ask is that the electronics we buy are built well and will last us a lifetime. I have every bit of faith to believe that we'll have this XDA-1 for years to come. Emotiva backs their products with a 5 year warranty. That alone shows you they are willing to stand behind the quality of the items they sell.

My wife, which is a very tough audio equipment critic, agrees with the XDA-1 purchase. It was a simple and cost effective way to drastically increase the sound quality of our guest bedroom / home office system. We will happily be buying more products from Emotiva in the future.

TN's picture

According to Jason - "Welcome to Emotiva land," the system seemed to sing. The word SEEMED is still questionable or unclear. As I searching forum to forum hearing bad and good reviews about this company, I was going to try out their XPA-1 mono block and went ahead called up their sale line asking bunch of questions, they seem like didn't care much if you buy it or not so right off the bat, hence that warranty will be FUN once the $$ is in their pocket. A young comany plus poor services, I would definitely stay away.

njacres's picture

Tried to read between the lines of your post. Unfortunately I didn't have a decoder ring. You're not the sharpest stick in the pile, are ya? Idjot

musiclover_123's picture

THis is just to share a first-hand experience and not an attempt to "convince" the skeptics who believe that "reviews" are final words. The list of gear will help but you skeptic get to figure out what they are. 

I am a long time tube gear owner, currently running two REF-5s (L/R/C), one LS27 (SL/SR) and one LS17 (RR/RL), one PH2SE, one CD-1 from Canada, one Ovation TT, all feeding and driving three 3.7s and four SCS4s with two SS2s in support on as-needed basis. This is a stereo system doubling as a HT. 

Amplifers are Emotiva XPA-1s for the three 3.7s and XPA-5 for the SCS4s. 

We enjoy HD BR concert videos and HD multi-channel music and have a huge collection of wonderful stereo CDs and LPs that the collective gear renders with exquisite beauty. 

Our amplifier hunt started with a need to upgrade three 12-yr old VT200's to drive our new 3.7s. We looked at 7Bs, REF-600s and 28Bs. 

The key question here is what I can hear. Is the value in audible differences worth the purchase? Is there audible differences at all? Whatever a review says is just a start and helps to narrow the choices; audible differences are what drive a purchase decision. 

Is the XPA-1 as exquisitely refined as the delightful REF-600? No. Is the audible differences then overwhelmingly in favor of the REF? No. For the heat, power consumption, continuing tube costs and purchase costs, I can live with XPA-1's slightly less airiness, slightly less mid-range richness and slightly less melt-me-away magic. The XPA-1 actually wins by a hair in total control and articulation of the very low registers. Deep deep bass notes low in the background sometimes get lost by the REF-600 but the XPA-1 lets me hear them. The REF-5s more than make up for the slight deficiency in highs and mids. The audible differences do not justify the huge difference in price; at least to me. Just "thawing" into my chair is wonderful enough; there is no need to melt away. :)  

Is the XPA-1 as "good" as the 28s? Comparison is not applicable because they sound different. The 28 is a hair "wimpy" and a hair "hard" and "sterile" or "dead" when compared against the neutral but livelier XPA-1. There is nothing spectacularly overwhelming about the 28s when comapred against the XPA-1. It does everything "better" than the 7B as it should do but it still has the same sonic characteristics as the 7B; so my personal taste and preference wins. 

Is the XPA-1 as good as the 7Bs? No, the XPA-1 beats the pants off the 7B when driving the 3.7; hands down, every time. 

For those who own XPA-1s, I have absolutely NO DOUBT that you have made an excellent decision. The amplifiers are so good at such a low price, one can afford to start upgrading upstream components and even cables. You actually owe it to yourself to try really good to excellent components upstream and get some really good speakers.  

For those who are skeptical strictly because of price, you owe it to yourself to hear this piece of equipment just for comparison. 

For those who simply look down on "cheap gear", your loss is not our concern. 

Cheers all!