Emotiva UMC-1 Processor and UPA-5 Amp Giveaway Review - Home Theater Forum and Systems - HomeTheaterShack.com

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post #1 of 12 Old 02-20-11, 10:28 PM Thread Starter
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Emotiva UMC-1 Processor and UPA-5 Amp Giveaway Review

Emotiva UMC-1 Processor and UPA-5 Amp Review
By Trick McKaha, winner of Home Theater Shack’s Giveaway



I’m grateful to Home Theater Shack and to Emotiva for this prize. Luck is really fun when it’s good. Their generosity makes me favorably inclined toward this equipment. I had a fairly good system before with an Emotiva XPA-5 amp that I am certainly still using, together with a Yamaha RX-V665 now replaced by the UMC-1, and the amplifier section of an older Yamaha RX-V1400 now replaced by the UPA-5. I had once been all Yamaha, and now I am All Emotiva. My main message is gratitude for the gift of these prizes, but let’s hope I can provide some useful information besides.

In my home theater, these electronics are driving a pair of Emerald Physics CS2 speakers as mains. I built a center channel to compliment the CS2s, and all three front speakers use active EQ requiring two channels of power amplification each. My two surround speakers and two rear speakers are from Cambridge Soundworks and are not full range. Two powered subwoofers compliment a 7.1 setup requiring a total of ten channels of power amplification - just right for the XPA-5 and UPA-5 together. The speakers are not particularly demanding on an amp, but the front three are open baffle so they can use a little power, and it is very nice for the amps to be clean because every detail comes through in the front three. Someday I’ll build four more speakers like my center and have timbre matched precision all around, but that will be another story.

Packaging and Delivery

The UPA-5 and the UMC-1 come double boxed and would probably arrive undamaged even if the shippers kicked them down my stairs. I wouldn’t blame them, because the Emotiva amps are heavy – built like Bradley Fighting Vehicles.

UPA-5 Amp Performance

My impressions of the Emotiva UPA-5 are short and sweet. It works great. It provides robust power for any moderate application. I was not using this amp to drive my mains, as I had the more powerful XPA-5 for that purpose. The new UPA-5 drives the compression driver for the higher registers in my active EQ center channel, plus the two surround and two rear channel speakers in my home theater. I am not pushing the UPA-5 to its extreme; it is a fine amp and will do a lot more than I am requiring of it.

Through the years, I noted how some manufacturers rate their amp’s power generously. Especially when shopping at retail stores, I would make distinctions between “Yamaha watts” vs. “Pioneer watts” in their consumer gear. Well, here we are talking about “Emotiva watts” and those are full and strong watts indeed. A hundred and twenty five of them is the amp equivalent of a stock Corvette. You might want a Porche 911 turbo, and in that case, get the XPA-5. You might want a Lamborghini, so then get the XPA-1. If you want a Bugatti Veyron - well, Emotiva doesn’t offer that. As for me, I prefer to be only the second fastest vehicle on my portion of the road, and at home I always have something else I also want to buy.

As far as I can tell, the Emotiva UPA-5 is great for any moderate application, such as for efficient main speakers or for surround speakers. The XPA series provides that extra juice to drive thirsty speakers whose efficiency drops into the 85 db range or whose resistance drops below 4 ohms. It is always nice to have more power than you need, and these Emotiva amps provide that for most every case.

These amps together drive my home theater speakers to any level I ever want, and beyond. The bass delivered through the mains is punchy and detailed – not at all restricted to one note. You can hear the finger action on an upright bass. Midrange is also detailed and balanced. Highs are, well, coming from a compression driver. They have percussive impact when the source is of that type, and they are smooth enough when the note is mellow, say from a dobro. Transients have great impact, so every pluck of a guitar string is detailed, and every drum hit is insistent. I’m a drummer, so I like the lively action. These amps never run out of steam – explosions, symphony crescendos, voice tremolo, coin tosses – you hear everything. The Emotiva amps are just great in every way.

UMC-1 Processor Performance

We want a processor to give clean sound, ample connectivity, great flexibility, good ease of use, and perfect reliability. The UMC-1 beat my older Yamaha in every category where they didn’t tie. The Emotiva piece opened the door to my wanting even more, however.

Clean sound: The Emotiva UMC-1 provides clean sound without coloring, distortion, clipping, or hiss. So too did my previous Yamaha.

Connectivity: The UMC-1 provides fifteen inputs for video and seventeen inputs for audio. Video inputs include Composite, S-video, Component, and HDMI. Audio connections include optical digital, coax digital, HDMI audio, stereo analogue, and one set of 7.1 analogue inputs. Any audio input can be played with any video input, except that only one HDMI input can be used at a time. Here is the first example of the UMC-1 teasing me with a capability that almost does all that I want it to do. I would really like to be able to watch one HDMI video source while listening to a different HDMI audio source. Maybe it is too expensive to build a processor that can manage two HDMI sources simultaneously, but that would suit my needs nicely.

I like to watch sports on TV while listening to music from my computer, so I do appreciate the connectivity flexibility the UMC-1 offers. I have one button on my universal remote for cable TV with cable sound, and another button on the remote for cable TV with computer sound. Easy, except to do that I must decide whether the cable video or the computer audio input will get to use HDMI, and some compromise is imposed either way. The UMC-1 isn’t quite letting me have it all.

It is best to not dwell on the burdens of HDMI. It imposes such a huge delay in switching from one source to another - reminds me of the old Windows ME. HDMI is all of the new with none of the good; it’s ill-designed to slow things down, like a Prius that weighs 4 tons. It fails in its primary goal of preventing piracy and hobbles toward its secondary goal of providing a high quality digital connection. Can’t blame Emotiva for that, though.

Flexibility: Here more than anywhere is where the UMC-1 defines itself in its niche. It offers a lot more flexibility than my older Yamaha did, but once you start flexing its muscles, you discover that every strength does have its limits.

One example is in the video scaling. There is only one global setting for the UMC-1 scaling. I need the processor to pass through the HDMI video signal from my computer to my projector without scaling. However, I would like the processor to down-scale the video from my cable box (because my projector is only 720p – but with a better projector I might want the UMC-1 to upscale certain sources.) It would be nice to set the video scaling differently for each input, but the UMC-1 cannot.

I use a 3D ready projector that gets 120 Hz 720p from my computer, and if I want to run that through the UMC-1 as an HDMI switch, I can, but that means that every other source cannot take advantage of the video scaling offered in this processor. I bet most people want their processor to scale every input to the native resolution of their display, so the UMC-1 is fine for them, but for a person with the setup that I have, the UMC-1 does not have quite the flexibility that I would wish. Still, it is better than my previous Yamaha, which could not pass that 120 Hz 3D video to my projector at all.

Another place where the UMC-1 flexibility shows both strength and limitation is in its Emo EQ processing. I found it to be significantly better than what my Yamaha had offered only two years ago. The UMC-1 will send test tones to all your speakers and set the EQ, the delay, and the sound levels for each automatically. You can place the calibration microphone in three different locations and save three different settings for use later. Then, the good part - you can take those automatically derived settings and tweak them. My old Yamaha had auto calibration, but it would not let you touch or even see those settings. The UMC-1 lets you customize its automatic settings to your heart’s content until – here is the catch Sonnie found – until you want to change the subwoofer settings. Those are locked away in a black box and the UMC-1 will not let you alter them. The UMC-1 is better than some in this regard, but it would be a whole lot better with just a little more flexibility. If only Emotiva allowed us the option of applying or not applying to the subwoofer all of the distance and EQ measurements from the satellite speakers, depending on our preference.

The sound generated by this Emotiva gear has more bass than my Yamaha setup gave, and the surround and back speakers are also now louder and more strongly defined. I’m confident this comes more from the Emo EQ settings generated by the UMC-1 than from limitations in the older Yamaha amp, although the UPA-5 is clearly a stronger amp. I see that any new processor now is as good as the EQ settings it uses. I’ll be playing with EQ settings for a while, but right now I like what I hear and I prefer it to what the Yamaha gear had delivered.

Ease of use: The UMC-1 is as about as easy to use as a computer. Now, in my experience with sound in various bands, we always preferred to use knobs to make adjustments instead of using a mouse. The UMC-1 doesn’t quite even let you use a mouse, but instead has nested menus navigated by arrow buttons on the remote. That brings a lot of functionality onto your screen, but it is not as easy to use as your car radio is.

The UMC-1 remote also offers a combination of ease and limitation. It has separate buttons to adjust each channel in your surround theater, so making those adjustments on the fly is easy and great. On the other hand, changing from one EQ preset to another requires navigating through those nested menus for a minute or so. You can assign an EQ setting to a specific input, so you don’t have to keep resetting that every time you switch from a Blu-Ray to an mp3, but when you want to step through each of your EQ presets to find the one that sounds best, you have that menu system to contend with, and you almost certainly have to have your TV on and visible.

I encountered one ease of use snag early on. The UMC-1 remote has an insulator placed between the batteries that prevents them from discharging until the unit gets to you. However, the remote has six – count them six – small Phillips head screws holding the battery compartment door on. Once you figure out that maybe the remote is not working because the batteries aren’t working, all you have to do is go to your garage, find the right screwdriver, remove the screws, keep them from rolling off your desk, remove the cardboard insulator hidden between the batteries, and then reassemble. Emotiva makes you disassemble the remote for sure, rather than just providing an extra set of batteries in case the original ones inside the remote have discharged. Not as easy as can be.

One more ease of use issue - again a plus and a minus. The UMC-1 sets itself to be used as an “ir blaster.” It always retransmits ir signals it receives, blasting them out of its front so other equipment in the space nearby will receive them if they haven’t already. However, I already have an ir blaster installed, and ir signals were getting sent and resent back and forth like a silent reverberation. The only piece of equipment that got confused by this was the UMC-1 itself. After some days of frustration trying to get the remote to work – almost sending the UMC-1 back as defective – I saw the mention of this in the manual and unplugged my own ir blaster. I confess I had experience with my previous Yamaha when it sometimes got confused by multiple ir signals, but the UMC-1 is more sensitive to this, for sure. This is another instance fairly unique to my situation, and it was not so big a deal, but in my view the UMC-1 went a bridge too far in implementing this feature. Simpler would have been even better.

Reliability: The only defect I have found is in the 12 v. trigger outputs on the UMC-1. Each sends only 5 v. by my measurement, and they won’t start up the Emotiva amps. I’ll contact Emotiva and they surely will make good on that. Yes, I have programmed the triggers to come on when I have the UMC-1 set to play various inputs, and I kind of didn’t like that the triggers were powered off by default. I didn’t see what harm could come from the triggers just being on whether you used them or not, and it would save the user time and effort just like if the remote worked without taking it apart. Once again, not too big a deal, but I wasn’t sure that my time was being respected. Even with this little problem with the 12 v. triggers, I still count the UMC-1 as better in this regard than my Yamaha, because the RX-V665 had only one trigger out and that wasn’t enough. For sure all four of the UMC-1 triggers will work when all is said and done.

In weeks of using the UMC-1, sometimes the audio did drop out, and sometimes that would happen with a snap sound. As I said, my speakers are very percussive, so I heard it well. Switching the input away and then switching back brought back the sound. To its credit, the UMC-1 sound dropped only with my computer as the source, and that has always been a little jittery. The old Yamaha receiver would drop out the sound, too, but not as often. I’ve read that Emotiva thought they had this little glitch fixed, but there is some further to go to achieve reliable audio playback from unreliable sources, which is what we want. This UMC-1 does have recent firmware: version W7.02.00.05.

And In The End...

I love the UMC-1 and the UPA-5. There are niggling points with the UMC-1, but each stems from a strength that is not as fully refined as it might be. Remember I'm basically a drummer who pushes everything harder and faster. In most every respect, this Emotiva gear surpasses the equipment I had before, and I will appreciate it for a long time.

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post #2 of 12 Old 02-21-11, 03:05 PM
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Re: Emotiva UMC-1 Processor and UPA-5 Amp Giveaway review

Are you keeping the umc above the xpa? Is heat an issue that way? Have you noticed any difficulties with bass management?

Thanks for the review!
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post #3 of 12 Old 02-21-11, 03:32 PM Thread Starter
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Re: Emotiva UMC-1 Processor and UPA-5 Amp Giveaway review

Quote:
digital desire wrote: View Post
Are you keeping the umc above the xpa? Is heat an issue that way? Have you noticed any difficulties with bass management?

Thanks for the review!

Actually, I am not stacking the UMC above the XPA. I have the power amps spread out on a piece of plywood that is set on my floor below a coffee table. I would worry about heat if I had either of those amps stacked with anything above or below. I want them spread out each with its own air.

I have the UMC-1 stacked above the old Yamaha receiver for now, which in turn is stacked above my cable box/recorder. I have each of those pieces standing on wood blocks, to give more clearance between them. It sounds like it would look messy, but they are out of sight. All of that is up in a balcony overlooking my great room, and I control everything with a universal remote that sends radio signals to an ir blaster upstairs.

I believe home theater electronics should be heard and not seen.

As far as bass management difficulties, I keep my subwoofers fairly quiet anyway, because I like to hear the detail in the bass produced by my (open baffle) mains. I haven't perceived the difficulties documented by Sonnie, but I know they are there. Well, I have noticed more bass produced in this Emotiva setup than I got with the Yamaha gear, but most of the increased bass is coming from my mains and not my subwoofers. It sounds good so far.
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post #4 of 12 Old 02-24-11, 03:51 AM
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Re: Emotiva UMC-1 Processor and UPA-5 Amp Giveaway review

I had considered the UMC-1/UPA-5 combo, but the folks in another forum all said to steer clear of the UMC-1 because it had a lot of issues. Has the latest firmware update fixed all the bugs that made it an undesireable processor in the past? I'm more than willing to give it a second look if it is now a working product.

Edit: I noticed you were using 7.02 firmware. 7.04 was released on the 17th... would love to hear an update on how that works out, and if it solves your audio drops when using your PC.

Last edited by danlw; 02-24-11 at 10:31 AM.
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post #5 of 12 Old 02-24-11, 09:14 PM
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Re: Emotiva UMC-1 Processor and UPA-5 Amp Giveaway review

Thanks for the review, quite thorough. I've been running the UMC-1 with an XPA-5 since April and have never had a problem triggering the XPA-5, so hopefully you've contacted Emotiva to have this issue addressed, as they've been very quick to address any issues I've had. Enjoy your winnings!
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post #6 of 12 Old 02-24-11, 09:27 PM
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Re: Emotiva UMC-1 Processor and UPA-5 Amp Giveaway review

Quote:
danlw wrote: View Post
I had considered the UMC-1/UPA-5 combo, but the folks in another forum all said to steer clear of the UMC-1 because it had a lot of issues. Has the latest firmware update fixed all the bugs that made it an undesireable processor in the past? I'm more than willing to give it a second look if it is now a working product.

Edit: I noticed you were using 7.02 firmware. 7.04 was released on the 17th... would love to hear an update on how that works out, and if it solves your audio drops when using your PC.
I can only guess what other forum in which you are referring. Yes there have been problems with the UMC-1 since it's release, but to what degree is another story. Like much of what is read on any internet forum, you have to take it with a grain of salt and judge for yourself. I've had only two minor problems which have long since been addressed, and apparently the newest software version, v7.04.00.00 for the UMC-1 has further taken steps to address known problems. Why not take them up on their 30 day trial period and see if this setup is for you, if your not satisfied you'll only be out return shipping.
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post #7 of 12 Old 03-01-11, 09:30 AM
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Re: Emotiva UMC-1 Processor and UPA-5 Amp Giveaway review

Thank you for the in depth review of the emotiva umc-1 processor and upa-5 amp. I didn't realize that processors were being built to be used as ir blasters now too. That is kind of a cool feature.
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post #8 of 12 Old 03-01-11, 01:38 PM
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Re: Emotiva UMC-1 Processor and UPA-5 Amp Giveaway review

I'd be curious to know it you have you made any direct comparisons between the xpa and upa power amps. Other than power, are there any sonic differences is air, soundstage, resolution, PRat, and so on?
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post #9 of 12 Old 03-06-11, 01:09 PM Thread Starter
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Re: Emotiva UMC-1 Processor and UPA-5 Amp Giveaway review

Quote:
mjcmt wrote: View Post
I'd be curious to know it you have you made any direct comparisons between the xpa and upa power amps. Other than power, are there any sonic differences is air, soundstage, resolution, PRat, and so on?
I hope to make some direct comparisons, but haven't yet. I think I will wire up a set of switches for the speaker wires so I can do A-B comparisons between the two amps. If so, I will get someone else to flip the switch so my comparisons can be blind. It will be a while, though, because I have some 3D video projects I'm working on first.

I will be sending in the UMC-1 for repair of the trigger outputs & I'll track how long they take.
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post #10 of 12 Old 03-07-11, 07:03 PM
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Re: Emotiva UMC-1 Processor and UPA-5 Amp Giveaway review

I don't hear a difference between my three Emo amps except in output level. I have a UPA-2, a UPA-5, and an XPA-3. The XPA-3 drives my subs and the center channels mid-woofer. The UPA-5 drives the R/L/C tweeters, and the R/L mid-woofers. The UPA-2 powers the surrounds. I really don't think there is a difference in sound quality other than the XPA-3 getting louder.
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