Emotiva X-Ref 12 DSP Powered Subwoofer
By Dale Rasco
The new Emotiva X-REF 12 DSP Powered Subwoofer is the company’s latest flagship subwoofer offering that has been nicknamed by the company “The Bedrock”. Of course after seeing that I had to test on whether or not this sub could actually provide the solid foundation that its nickname portends. To be honest, I have spent a lot of time with subs lately and to suggest that a $700 sub could truly provide such an audiophile experience was almost laughable. Almost…
Unpacking and Setup:
The X-Ref 12 came double boxed and packed in form fitting foam, which is what one should expect from a company such as Emotiva. I am familiar with the last generation Emotiva subs (Ultra Sub-12) and have recommended them to many friends on a budget, but to compare the two would be wrong as this sub is a whole new animal. Setup was brief however; I will note that the unit has contains balanced XLR input and unbalanced stereo inputs. There is not a typical ‘LFE’ input.
Construction and Aesthetics:
What can I say about the Emotiva brand that has not been said by so many others before me? Their products are solidly built yet they are able to ascertain a very refined and in some cases elegant aesthetic that would tame even the most discriminating critics. I am however a person of many opinions so I am sure I can dig down and find some more. The XREF-12 is a sleek little beast that falls right in line with the rest of the Emotiva line-up. I really appreciate the subtle lines and flat finish that do not draw too much attention.
This unit is as solidly built as they come. Emotiva really took the time to ensure proper bracing and uses 3/4 inch MDF with a full second sheet to anchor the driver to. This is definitely an A+ design that and will hold up against the most brutal punishment. You can see in the pictures below that the center brace is actually one solid brace going around the interior of the sub versus the typical edge bracing that is normally seen.
Ultra Sub 12 Vs. X-Ref 12
Features and Initial Impressions:
The X-Ref 12 sports a new DSP management system that offers a quick mode change for music and movies. Initially I found it to be a bit annoying as I had to remember to change between the two. Once I started using it regularly, the DSP gave the X-Ref a completely different personality. I ran a quick -0 db to -200 db sweep in both 'Flat' and 'Movie' mode. As you can see by the measurements below, the 'Movie' mode ran between -5 db and -3 db hotter than when the unit was in 'FLAT' mode.
I initially used the X-REF in the 'Temple of Boom' in a near field setup to get a feel of how it could perform in a large room. After about two weeks I moved it to the smaller setup in our living room. It is not that the unit did not perform well in the home theater; I just felt that it did not have to work too hard with the rest of my theater gear in play. Once I placed the unit in the living room in a .1 configuration, I was in a much better position to get a feel for the capabilities of this little gem. I ran through Audessey in about 20 minutes and jumped right in and began listening to reference material that I usually turn to for these things. I will make mention at this point that my lovely bride really liked the small foot print that this little unit has and that it could actually be tucked away under a table not in view.
Ok, back to what matter. As mentioned, I threw in some normal reference material just to get some initial impressions of how this unit performed. True to form, the XREF-12 was able to reproduce the audio wonderfully well and provided a great anchor for the rest of the audio to attach to. There were never any moments of polarizing bass that stood out and I never felt that there was anything missing; the XREF-12 produced perfectly clear and solid bass with the utmost fidelity.
Over the course of my time with the X-REF, I listened to everything from alternative to zydeco, and the X-REF performed admirably throughout. The bass was smooth and silky with absolute fidelity regardless of what I threw at it. Perfectly aligned with my Axioms, the X-REF waltzed across the spectrum of music with grace and beauty. Below are some of the results of my subjective listening time with the X-REF.
Primus - "My Name is Mud"
Les Claypool has long been regarded as one of the greatest bass players of all time. His funky thumping has often been praised for its creative and melodic delivery that inspired a generation of bass players to be more than just part of a rhythm section and no song exudes this, in my opinion of course, than Primus’ "My Name is Mudd". The slaptastic way that Claypool and Tim Alexander begin the song is a rhythm that is indubitably burned into my brain and once it gets going I am guaranteed a couple of days of that intro bouncing around in my head before it finally subsides. The X-REF delivers "My Name is Mudd" with spot on fidelity. All of the thumping and precision timing are presented in perfect clarity. I even went so far as to play the song with only the X-REF on by disconnecting the other speakers just to hear how it handled the song. What I heard was smooth and for lack of a better word; perfection.
Pink Floyd - "Money"
This may come as a shock to some of you and almost blasphemous to others, but I am not a Pink Floyd fan. I actually find the whole thing odd myself due to the fact that many of my favorite bands such as Dream Theater, Fates Warning and Queensryche (Pre-Empire era) were so heavily influenced by Pink Floyd and David Gilmour that there are portions of songs that I would consider blatant rip-offs of Pink Floyd, such as "Silent Lucidity", or the intro to "Eyes of a Stranger" by Queensryche. That being said, I do not hate Pink Floyd by any means; I am just indifferent to them. That all being said, there is no denying that "Money" has to be considered as on of the quintessential rock songs for bass production. Again the X-REF managed to provide wonderfully smooth bass with no unintended thuds or distortion; just a wonderful blend of lows and miss.
Bassotronics, Bass Mekanik - "Bass I Love You"
"Bass I Love You" has become one of my favorite reference tracks for testing bass. I am not usually a fan of 'thumping' bass', but in the case of the haunting melody of "Bass I Love You", I will make an exception. For the first couple of bars of the song the bass is non-existent, however at the 20 second mark the bass pops in and anchors the rest of the tune solidly. The Emotiva X-Ref 12 delivers a room filling experience of rich and accurate bass that will have you repeating your favorite songs over and over.
War of the Worlds
It has been quite a while since I have reviewed anything on Blu-Ray so for this review I had to consciously decide which of my old favorites would play to the X-Ref’s strengths as well as highlight any potential weaknesses. There can be no question then, that this bass-head favorite deserves a spin in the old blu-ray player. I never get tired of watching the emergence scene when the proper bass is applied to the audio of this sci-fi classic. The X-Ref delivered a solid and impactful experience, but I do feel it struggled a bit in the ELF, sub 20 Hz range. That being said, the DSP operated wonderfully by adding that little extra kick to the overall soundscape. Overall the X-Ref performed admirably and reproduced the bass clearly and accurately.
A definite must hear for any bass lover, Cloverfield often escapes me for some reason when I normally do my subjective listening tests, which is crazy because it has some of the most impactful and foundation shaking bass on Blu-Ray. I tested a couple of scenes, the first being the suspension bridge scene. I love the entire segment that kicks off on the bridge and ends once the group reaches the subway entrance. This segment of the film is filled with some very dynamic bass that has a ton of character. When the suspension bridge gives way, the bass volleys between a low-to-mid groan and that foundation shaking bass I mentioned earlier. It is an awesome seen to hear with the proper bass. The second part of the segment involves a lot of impactful bass from Clover stomping around while he is being relentlessly attacked by the military. The X-Ref 12 again was able to produce an accurate and clear representation that was free of distortion and strain.
Battle: Los Angeles
I still find Battle: Los Angeles to be one of the smoothest and perfectly balanced sound deliveries to date on a Blu-Ray. I think this is an important test for the X-Ref 12 in order to try and callout any deficiencies in the DSP design. I picked the overpass battle scene because the bass design in that scene is very dynamic and does not try to just bombard the audience with constant booming. This is where the X-Ref 12 really stood out in my opinion. The atmospheric bass was subtle enough to add just the right amount of tension while the quick throaty impacts rumbled through and dissipated as it was passing through the overpass and then gone. Overall I was very surprised at how accurately the X-Ref was able to reproduce this balanced and dynamic bass.
Since first receiving the unit from Emotiva, I have spent a lot of time tweaking and changing things trying to get a feel for where this unit fits in and I think I have finally pinpointed it. Based on what I have seen and heard and measured, The XREF-12 is the most dynamic subwoofer in the sub $800 market at this time. Now, that does not mean that it produces the deepest bass nor does it mean it produces the smoothest bass for music or most impactful for movies. What it does do, in my opinion, is give the listener the most ‘complete’ bass experience in an incredibly elegant package.
That being said, there are a couple of things that I should point out that may not appeal to some of our more hardcore bassheads on the forum. First, as mentioned above, the unit does not produce overwhelmingly deep bass and by that I mean the sub 20Hz area. Second, I would not recommend a single unit for large home theaters. I would however recommend a dual or even quad setup.
The bass that the XREF-12 produces can range from impactful and RUDE to exquisite with a quick adjustment. The quality of the bass is as perfect as I have heard in this class and the overall performance, coupled with this elegant design, will make it easy for me to recommend to about 90% of the general inquiries I receive.
The DSP feature takes a bit to get used to turning on, unless you remember to connect the trigger that will provide instant on of the feature and the movie mode provides a perfect ‘bump’ in the volume to add that impactful bass to your movie experience. Sadly, now that I have gotten used to using the DSP, it is going to be extremely difficult going back to the way it was…
Result: Highly Recommended!
Please use the Emotiva XREF-12 DSP Review: Discussion Thread for Questions and Comments!