The Emotiva Challenge

A few days ago I posted a review of the Emotiva amps after testing a XPA-3 and XPA-2 that my friend had recently bought. I was so impressed that I ordered a XPA-3 for my own home theater and then spent more time evaluating the amp against some other gear's my continued review of the Emotiva XPA-3 amp......I call it a challenge, but that's a tad dramatic!

Associated gear for use and comparison, some of which is not mine......!

Def Tech BP7004 speakers
Paradigm Studio 20 version4 on Skyland 4 post stands
Rogue Metis preamp-stock tubes
Denon AVR series receiver (standing in as a processor for home theater)
Oppo CD player with upgraded output and a few other mods I can't remember
Sony 360 and Playstation III for Blu-ray playback
SVS PC 16-46 sub (the big water cooler!)
MJ Acoustics 150 MKII sub (10 inch sub that bests REL in the same range)

Gear I had on hand for comparison:

Odyssey Stratos red board version with upgraded caps....1700 dollar amp
Rotel 1090
Manley Stingray II....the latest version of this well respect design costing 3K, but thank god for the remote!

So now the XPA from Emotiva has been running for quite a while. Perhaps it's not fully broken in yet, but then neither is the Manley Stingray.

For Home Theater Use
The XPA-3 let it's power be felt 100% of the time. It produced insane volumes in my large theater room. Surprisingly it also created sensational bass that my other amps did not manage. I AM AT A LOSS AS TO WHY. All 3 front speakers have powered subs, so all other things being equal it would seem that the XPA is sending out bass content that the Rotel & Odyssey are not. In virtually every respect the XPA sounded every bit as good as the Rotel and Odyssey (which only drove two channels for the comparison). But the XPA was simply more fun for it's huge bass display. With the Paradigms driven full range this effect was also apparent. As a home theater amp the XPA seems faultless and if you have a dedicated theater a far more expensive Rotel or Wyred for Sound or Parasound is just going to leave you with less money for your music system.

For Music
Okay, this is where it gets a bit upsetting, since I had spent a lot on some SS amps previously! The Rogue Metis pre is a reasonably nice tube pre-amp. But it's not super high end. I think it's a reasonably priced unit and might be a "expected" pick for those seeking to get some music in two channel mode out of the Emotiva. The Rotel was darker. Much to my surprise it managed to sound brighter, but space around instruments or "air" was less present compared to the XPA. Imaging from both the XPA and Rotel was rather two dimensional. There was left to right coherency, but little depth. I could almost always tell where the speakers were in the room. But once again the XPA seemed to have bass content that was missing from the Rotel. I ended up adjusting the sub controls, but I still got a superior bass presentation from the XPA. Next up was the Odyssey and this was a clear step up in one important respect: Image depth. Now I could not as easily hear the "box effect" and the speakers were harder to locate. Next up was the expensive Manley Stingray II. This integrated amp has less than around 70-80 hours on it, so it's still breaking in. In 18 watt triode mode, with a 30 minute warm-up, the Stingray made the Def Techs and Paradigms vanish. Voices sounded "in the room" and David Bowie's Andy Warhol sounded more life than any of the solid state amps could manage. The Stingray seemed to even catch the room tone on various recordings and easily gave a sense of space around many instruments. In short...18 watts of triode stomped on the big amps big time. I also used the Denon as a pre and got mediocre results with the XPA, which now sounded somewhat dull. It's clear that a good pre is important if you plan to use the XPA for music. That leaves out processors on the whole. The Denon/Rotel combo was more musical in this case and this simply proves that you should only judge a component with YOUR gear in YOUR room in the final analysis.

The pre-amp and other associated gear will make big differences of course. But I've been listening to a lot of amps in recent months as I upgrade my theater and dedicated music system. I've passed on Wyred for Sound, Rotel, Parasound Halo (which I really like), Outlaw and a few others. I sold my Odyssey, but have a borrowed one which I may buy for another room.
For home theater the XPA is nothing less than amazingly good and I'm not basing that on price. I just spend a lot of cash on 18 watts, so I'm not basing my purchases on "value." If the XPA underperformed it would be sent back and I'd happily pay for a Bryston again. For music this becomes more complicated. I think the Odyssey is more musical than the other SS amps above and there is a great 3 channel version available. That may be the best value if you plan to use your theater setup for music a lot.
ALL of this gear sounds good and good matching can elevate any amp above another these days. High end technology is now commonly found in low cost gear and today's mid-fi is yesterday's high end. If you must consider cost per watt, then the Emotiva amps are the best I've ever heard. It's easily able to keep pace with gear costing 3 times more and may even be better than many for home theater applications.

I am one of "THOSE PEOPLE" who enjoys spending a silly amount of money at times on audio gear. Most human beings consider my purchase of Merlin TSM-XMr speakers extravagant. Some might call them a bargain, but that's a small group! Over the years I've come to realize that the high end is often more about price and individuality. We often express ourselves through researching and finally owning a product which we consider rarefied. Unfortunately in most cases the owners get gear that's not truly superior or they lack the know-how to extract what superior aspects may be present. It's a tricky hobby that is often a difficult balance between perception and performance, with the winds of ego ever threatening to tip the whole affair over. And with that in mind there are people who will dismiss fine efforts from Emotiva, and other companies like them, out of hand. I did the same thing when I first heard of Outlaw and later I smartened up and bought some of their gear. In some sort of bazaar way it seems that the Emotiva does not belong in the same room as the Manley tube amp. But pushing it's cost out of my head and focusing on it's performance for the task at hand I slowly realize that it is just as high end as the Manley. My suggestion to anyone interested in fine audio, either for music or home theater, is to audition amps like these whenever possible and with a wide variety of associated gear. I heard a Wyred for Sound amp sound dreary with a expensive Cary pre and sound lively and musical with a Parasound pre costing far less. Forget cost. Focus on system synergy and keep an open mind!

Bottom line: The XPA-3 is a winner and I plan to add their XPA-2 to my theater next!

You can few my theater room at this link....

Thanks for reading...

I should add however that the Stingray is driving appropriate speakers and was bought to specifically made with new Merlin TSM's, which is a highly regarded amp for the Merlins.

Driving the big Def Techs with the Manley is only notable because it still managed to out-perform the well regarded Rotel 1090, which I find on par or slightly better than the ST-500. In my case I'm building up two systems, one for theater and the other for music. Like the Emotiva I find these budget SS amps (W4S, Rotel, Outlaw) more at home in home theater applications than for music only systems.

I was considering purchasing a Berensford 2-way Amp switcher to jump amps between my "Music" system ( Prima Luna Prologue 8 tube based CD player into Prima Luna Dialogue Premium integrated tube amp into Martin Logan Electro Motion ESL hybrids) and my "Home Theater " (Oppo 105D into Emotive UMC200 pre-pro into Emotiva XPA3 three channel 200 watt amp into mentioned Martin Logans / 2 Genelec active surrounds - SVS 13"Ultra Sub. Does anyone know if the Berensford is a good choice to use as a passive A/B Amp Switcher? Any alternatives?
Bob Carver proved he could voice an amplifier to match the presentation any other amplifier including exaggerated bass output. I think its fair to say that we all have our own sonic priorities when it comes to amplification and speaker selection.

I purchased an XPA-2 and subjectively found the mid-bass region to be overly voiced compared to my Hypex switching amplifiers and my 200 watt push pull tube mono's. Driving my 87dB 3.75 ohm dynamic three way speakers at realistic listening levels the XPA provided an undeniable fatiguing and closed in presentation compared to the other mono block pairs.

During the second week of normal use the right channel failed. An inspection under the hood revealed the stunningly thin wire boards and many other laughably economical components used to keep part of their manufacturing costs down.

Considering their lack of response to a potential customers question in the link below I leave it to you to imagine what methods are used during their offshore manufacture, assembly, and the possibility of an unregulated and staggering carbon footprint caused by their manufacturing process.

After reading the refusal to answer Archie's understandable question by the companies representative, the immature fanboi attacks, along with my personal experience with their product, I realized I now have idealistic as well as sonic priorities with this hobby.

I returned the amplifier.
That doesn't sound very good. Sorry you had to go through that. Anyway, I'm not surprised at the quality (or lack of quality) of the Emotiva stuff. Let 'em say "better or as good as Bryston, Pass Labs, McIntosh, etc." I really don't care anymore. I'm not buying into that notion, and I never will. Emotiva is a just a flash in the pan as far as I'm concerned. Their 15 minutes of fame will soon end. That's what I predict.
Emotiva will probably be around for a while. They have a powerful niche...low prices. There will always be a place in audio for low prices...even if it only serves as an entry point for higher end stuff later on. Those that truly love the hobby will move up to better gear as their pocketbook allows.

Emotiva is lowering the price of admission to the hobby. That's a good thing.