Emotiva Audio Airmotiv T2 loudspeaker

Visit any consumer audio show these days and you'll see rooms full of systems costing from six to seven figures. Manufacturers like to put their best foot forward, and demoing systems with loudspeakers designed to sell for $50,000/pair and up (often up) seems an obvious way to go.

It's also common for an audio company to launch its flagship models first, and only later release more affordable products, for a wider range of buyers. The hope is that the promotional shine of the dream products will be reflected onto the budget models. Infinity Systems' first loudspeaker system, introduced around 1970, was the Servo Static I, literally designed in Infinity cofounder Arnie Nudell's California garage. A few years later, Infinity had a small factory and a full line of speakers, including the POS, a budget model whose tongue-in-cheek initials aren't hard to figure out. (Nonetheless, the POS was apparently a success—it was succeeded by the POS II.)

With the growth of Internet retail, where liberal home-trial policies are common, companies still dependent on bricks-and-mortar sales have had to react quickly to remain relevant.

Emotiva Audio Corporation works both sides of the aisle, selling through dealers and on the Web. The company began with electronics, where it remains a significant player. But a few years ago it also began producing speakers, both the passive (externally powered) designs that dominate the audiophile market, and the self-powered models popular in professional audio (Emotiva's powered speakers are currently unavailable.)

Emotiva's latest entries are in its aggressively low-priced Airmotiv line, which comprises seven models; the T2 ($999/pair), which is one of three Airmotiv floorstanders, is the largest loudspeaker in the line. While Emotiva's amplifiers are largely assembled in the US, the Airmotivs, like most of today's affordable speakers and more than a few pricier ones, are manufactured in China.

Design
The three-way Airmotiv T2 has two 8" woofers, a 5.25" midrange (with a true phase plug at its center that doesn't move with the cone), and an "Airmotiv folded ribbon tweeter." No crossover details are specified.

The cabinet is ported at the back though no port plugs are provided for sealed operation. The side and rear panels are made of 18mm-thick HDF, and the front baffle and internal bracing of 25mm-thick HDF. When I rapped a knuckle on the side panels, the sound was a little hollower near the bottom than near the top, which is not unusual. Removable, magnetically attached cloth grilles are included.

The T2 stands just over 42" tall by 10.7" wide by 12.25" deep. The areas around the drivers, particularly the midrange and tweeter and at the cabinet bottom, are faceted. Whether or not this helps reduce diffraction of the higher frequencies is hard to say, but it does add a bit of style to an otherwise plain, rectangular box. The T2 can be ordered in any color, as long as it's Satin Black. On the rear panel, two pairs of terminals make possible biwiring or biamplification. I found these five-way binding posts a bit hard to firmly tighten down over my speaker cables' spade connectors, though I managed. Banana plugs—even bare, tinned wire—would be more secure.

One visitor during the review period felt that the T2's combination of height, narrowness, and relatively light weight (56.9 lb) might make it a little less stable than most speakers of its size, which tend to be more massive. Still, at 10.7", it's wider than many current tower models. If this is a concern, some sort of DIY plinth, or aftermarket outriggers, might help.

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The featured attraction here is the T2's folded ribbon tweeter, which Emotiva uses across the Airmotiv line. Calling it a ribbon isn't technically precise, though other companies using similar tweeters take the same liberty. In a true ribbon driver, a thin, flat diaphragm is suspended within a strong magnetic field, and is driven through a step-down transformer, to compensate for its very low impedance. A folded "ribbon" is a variation on an innovative early-1970s design by Dr. Oscar Heil, called an Air Motion Transformer (AMT). Like a true ribbon, an AMT employs a magnet, but its light, pleated diaphragm has a higher impedance and thus no need for an expensive transformer. When the diaphragm is driven, its movement sets air molecules in motion, and the resulting soundwaves are forced out from between the pleats much like a grape squeezed from its skin. That first Heil AMT was huge and bipolar; today's AMTs are much smaller and, typically, radiate soundwaves only to the front.

System and Setup
The floor area of my listening space is 21' by 16', with an oddly sloped ceiling at an estimated average height of 9'. The acoustic volume is actually much larger than these dimensions indicate, as the entire right side of the room opens into an adjoining kitchen and dining area. The space is also used as a home theater for my work for our sister publication Sound & Vision, but its two projection screens are fully retracted when I listen to music. Much of the floor area is covered with large, thick rugs, but the room remains relatively live. Shelves filled with books, CDs, and videos line the back wall, several feet behind the listening seats.

The system driving the T2s for this review included a Marantz AV8805 surround-sound processor (a recent replacement for the AV8802a), only two channels of which I used for this review. This drove two channels of a Parasound Halo A 52+, a five-channel, class-AB amplifier designed by John Curl and specified to output 180Wpc into 8 ohms, all five channels driven—or, more relevant here, 350Wpc into 4 ohms, two channels driven (the T2's specified nominal impedance is 4 ohms). The pre-pro and my Marantz UD7007 universal BD player were plugged into a Tripp Lite Isobar 6 surge suppressor, and the Parasound Halo amp directly into the wall. All IEC power cords were generic.

The BD player and pre-pro were digitally connected with a Kimber Kable AGDL link. Other connections were via unbalanced, vintage Cardas Hexlink interconnects (pre-pro to power amp) and AudioQuest Rocket 88 speaker cables.

I set up the Airmotiv T2s about 9' apart, angled in to face my listening seat roughly 11' away and, as in all of my speaker reviews, roughly 3.5' from the bay-shaped wall behind them. While the left speaker had a full sidewall about 4' away, to the right of the right speaker was the open space of the adjoining kitchen and dining area.

The speakers were single-wired. To spare my hardwood floors, I didn't use the included spikes. As usual, I left the grilles off. All reference recordings were CDs.

Listening
I began my listening, as I've done before, with The DALI CD Vol.3, a demo sampler from the Danish speaker manufacturer DALI A/S. (This disc is not commercially available except on eBay at outrageous prices; some of its tracks can be found on the original albums.) In "Moonlight on Spring River" (originally released on Sound of China), Zhao Cong plays the pipa, an ancient, four-stringed instrument sometimes called the Chinese lute. The sound was clear and open, with impressive depth, a detailed yet subtle bottom end, tight imaging, and excellent transient snap. The T2's AMT tweeter impressed me immediately, not because it loudly proclaimed its presence but the exact opposite: all of the expected detail was there, and then some, but without excess fizz or obvious distortion. My only experience with a similar AMT tweeter had been with Dayton Audio's B652-AIR bookshelf speaker, reviewed by John Atkinson in February 2015. That speaker was competent for its ridiculously low price (currently $50.88/pair!), but no miracle worker. The Dayton's tweeter didn't measure particularly well, but we've seen worse from speakers selling for far more.

COMPANY INFO
Emotiva Audio Corporation
135 Southeast Parkway Court
Franklin, TN 37064
(877) 366-8324
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COMMENTS
supamark's picture

Kinda surprised Emotiva sent review samples of a product that's being discontinued - what's the point?

Jim Austin's picture
The T1s are on closeout. The T2s are on sale but not listed in the Closeouts section.
supamark's picture

T1 and T2 are on closeout, T-Zero and B1 are reduced in price - https://emotiva.com/collections/airmotiv.

Stinks that they don't make active monitors any more, the Airmotiv4 (reviewed here, which helped me decide to buy a pair) are great li'l speakers.

Big Dan's picture

Please note that the T1 and the T2 are being updated with minor cosmetic revisions. They will continue in the line at the same prices with idential specifications and performance. The new versions are called the T1+ and the T2+.

Axiom05's picture

Who knows how long the review samples were in Stereophile's hands...

John Atkinson's picture
Axiom05 wrote:
Who knows how long the review samples were in Stereophile's hands...

Thomas J. Norton received the review samples of this speaker at the beginning of January 2019 and submitted his review text on February 9. As far as we aware, the T2s have not been discontinued.

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

Axiom05's picture

OK, that is pretty fast turn around. Now we know! Thanks.

er1c's picture

Fascinating shift in hi fi world around use of EQ and tone controls. My Rogue Sphinx has no pre out so I can't experiment with the Schiit EQ or similar, but I think this is a good trend. Also I just bought Emotiva's (end of life) ERC 3 HDCD player. The Grateful Dead, those pioneers of live and studio sound, still release CDs using this process. Wrote them to ask why but sadly no reply.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

You can still use an external EQ and/or DSP unit between your main source and the input of your integrated amp, if the EQ/DSP unit has a bypass switch .......... dbx makes some very good quality pro EQ units under $500, available at Sweetwater :-) ...........

dbx EQ units I'm referring to are all analog :-) ..........

Schiit Loki parametric EQ unit also has a passive bypass switch :-) .........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

An ideal situation would be to have a processor loop in the pre-amp section of an integrated or a stand alone pre-amp, which can be switched in and out :-) .........

mns3dhm's picture

Thanks for reviewing another reasonably priced speaker in Stereophile. The KEF product on this months cover is within the means of most households as well. Keep this up please.

Sea Otter's picture

"That first Heil AMT was huge and bipolar; today's AMTs are much smaller and, typically, radiate soundwaves only to the front."

Heil's amt tweeters are Dipoles, meaning that the front wave and back wave are out of phase.

Bipolar indicates that the front and back waves are in phase with each other, and generally requires a separate driver array mounted on the rear wired in positive polarity. A good example of this would be many of past and current Definitive Technology speakers.

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