I gotta live here, ya know.
Having won the drawing for the second Emotiva UMC-1 surround sound processor give-away I found myself in a dilemma: Ive always been a integrated receiver guy and thus completely ignorant of what makes a good "separates" system, purchasing my first ever dedicated amplifier was in the near future and I had no idea where to begin! Buying a dedicated amplifier was new territory for me and, from what little I knew, it was going to be a pricey venture if it was to be done correctly. To make matters worst, I had just recently upgraded all audio in my home, the total spent on the new three-room system was about $6,000. This recent upgrade included a triple-zone receiver, speakers to include 7.2, 2.0, and 2.0, and a solid headphone rig. Frankly, six grand represents a significant investment for me and the girlfriend was not going to be pleased to see more
new gear entering our house on the heels of such a drastic and recent investment! While this new (and redundant) two-channel system may eventually be sold in the interest of marital harmony, I'm happy to report that this system will NEVER be sold because it wasn't considered a significant upgrade, I was very lucky to win it!
The amp of choice?
The choice in amplification was both difficult and easy, all at the same time. Love it or hate it Emotiva has one of the most unique looks you'll find in audio gear today. That and my being a miserable perfectionist there seemed to be only one answer: Be faithful to that unique Emotiva look and go with Emotiva amplifiers, easy enough. Don't get me wrong, this Emotiva option would have been eliminated if it had failed to make the budget or didn't come in as "highly recommended", luckily Emotiva surpassed those expectations with flying colors.
So with a budget of a mere $800 and starting with just two-channel power it quickly came down to two tough choices in amplification: Emotiva's flag-ship line, the extremely powerful two channel XPA-2 (300WPC into 8 Ohms) or from their entry-level line of products, a slick pair of UPA-1 (200WPC into 8 Ohms) mono-blocks.
After dispelling any notions of these two different amps actually sounding
any different, the not-so-simple choice became a matter of power needs. Driving a pair of Infinity P362 four-way towers (200WPC max into 8ohms), I got mixed opinions on what power was recommended. Some said the extra power of the XPA-2 could be of benefit for these particular speakers with their tendency to dip to lower impedance demands through certain audio bands. Also of note was the more powerful XPA-2 may not necessarily come in handy for these existing speakers but might benefit me when it comes to future
speaker needs. While still others stated the 200WPC UPA-1 mono-blocks would happily satisfy all but the most demanding of speakers and listening habits, and satisfy from here to many years from now to be sure. I came away with the idea that both would be a good choice but with the brute force of the XPA-2 being more future-proof. However, there were several reasons I went with the UPA-1 mono-blocks instead: First, a pair of 30 pound amplifiers are easier to manage than a single 80 pound (and 1" deeper) monster amplifier that is the XPA-2, and I just liked the look
of the mono-blocks more. Secondly, I found that Ive mellowed with age and I'm not demanding in regards to high listening volumes like I used to be, I figured 200WPC should be fine for my modest listening habits. Lastly, the mono-blocks were on sale! Emotiva's 10% off Memorial Day sale made the pair just $628 with free shipping and no sales tax and coming in fully $171 under the price of a new XPA-2.
I'll take two, please.
Ordered by phone and the pair shipped the same day from Emotiva, same day shipping = good service. Shipping from Tennessee the twins would be taking a short hop to my home on the Panhandle of Florida via Fed Ex. Ordered on a Tuesday, the day the Memorial Day sale expired. I thought it best to call rather than order online and, upon my verbal request, Emotiva had no problem extending their $60 savings just for me, many thanks to that 'mystery-manager-in-the-background.'
Just a day or two later I was connecting the new system with acoustic research two channel analog interconnects and their heavy-gauge speaker wire. Connection was simple enough but before doing any serious listening I would let the system run at moderate volumes for the next couple of days, just in case it made any difference.
The UMC-1 review, everything but the sound.
Assuming both are priced new, the UMC-1 with just 5 channels of separate amplification and a Onkyo TX-NR 3007 are roughly the same price. The benefits of separates verses an all-in-one solution of the Onkyo, but will there be compromises? Sadly, yes, the Emotiva falls short of the Onkyo in many regards and it starts with pure connectivity....
Receivers are well known for having all the right moves when it comes to connectivity and flexibility and the Onkyo 3007 is certainly a fine example of this: Five HDMI INs with dual OUTs, component and composite INs and OUTs, 9.2 PRE-OUTs, dual subwoofer support, and USB with on-board lossless support for PC-free media files. The UMC-1, on the other hand, has support for just one subwoofer (and lacks Audussey calibration anyway), only has one HDMI out (which is typical) and no composite out (which is not so typical). A lack of composite out may not be a big deal to most but try finding a LCD under 16" with component or HDMI INs that supports standard TV resolutions, don't forget it must be reasonably priced. I use small LCD panels as secondary displays in all three zones, handy for internet radio info, CD track info, Netflix, whatever, so for me this missing composite connection was noticed immediately. Considering the UMC-1 was launched within the last year omitting a USB for on-board support of digital files is, well, its just plain irresponsible in this day and age.
to use a universal remote is not an option in my book, especially for a product specifically designed to be at the heart of a elaborate home theater system, I simply demand and expect a good master remote! I suppose for most folks a good included
AVR remote is their last consideration when choosing a AVR but for me it's one of the first
considerations. Just to put that strong statement into perspective, I have two identical original Onkyo 3007 main remotes, they have no serious flaws Ive come across. My former remote was the master remote that came
with my previous AVR, a Harman Kardon AVR-7000. After ten years of serious usage it was the only remote I ever needed before it's retirement and upgrade to the Onkyo this last year. Unfortunately, the same can not be said for the UMC-1's included remote. The Good: Excellent look and feel. Solid and robust with well-spaced buttons of differing shapes and sizes. The bad: Huge and too heavy to be practical, short of using it on a table top. Batteries are type "N" (Really? Well that's not going to work with my existing battery-based IR repeater system like all my other included remotes did) and require the removal of 6 small phillips-head screws to access the battery compartment. No "CD" button on remote but a "VCR" made the cut? Buttons make an annoying clicking sound when pressed. No back lighting. No learning. No macros. Extremely poor off-angle performance. Lots of rarely-used buttons resulting in a bigger remote than it has to be. The UMC-1's included remote is usable depending on your situation but for most I suspect it will leave you wanting for a better solution, ironic for a $700 processor.
Let me say in advance that doing a blind comparison between my existing Onkyo rig and the new Emotiva was impossible. Instead, I painstakingly changed existing speaker wires to the towers, revealing what I thought was a very obvious
difference in performance between the two rigs. The Onkyo was fed a two channel analog signal from a Samsung BD-P1600 blu ray player, whereas the Emotiva was fed a two-channel analog signal from a Panasonic DMP-BD55K blu ray player. That having been said, any differences I noted with CD playback were also observed using the lowly FM tuner in both the Onkyo and in the Emotiva, leading me to believe the differences are inherent to the gear and not the source.
My first test was the high tones. Couldn't think of a better test than the finely mastered CD Nevermind
by the band Nirvana. Track 2 on this CD, In Bloom
is a constant crash of cymbals, very demanding. I must admit, I was shocked by the results. The Emotiva owned the Onkyo, it took the shrill defused and over saturated cymbals of this song and made them very pleasant by comparison! I dont know, maybe I need to adjust the EQ in the Onkyo, but Ive never messed with EQ settings in either system beyond the auto mic calibration.
The second test was a test of bass, this test was accomplished with the CD THE E.N.D.
by the band The Black Eyed Peas, track 1 Boom Boom Pow
revealing indeed. Despite SPL as close to the same as I could figure between the two systems, again the Emotiva rig dominated the Onkyo in the lower freqs. I had never heard the Infinity towers sound so good, tight and with a very good clean impact, I was blown away at the not-so-subtle differences. Keep in mind that none of these tests were done at high volumes, all moderate levels and as closely matched in volume as I could figure.
The final test was another very well-mastered CD, Sounds of Wood & Steel featuring many different artists. Track 5, How Great Tho Art
is a remarkable guitar instrumental performed by Vince Gill and Amy Grant. This entire CD is an unbelievable experience on a good system. Track 5 just happens to be one of my favorites, though I thought it might be a good comparison of mid-range performance and detail. Using this track the difference was more subtle between the two but the performance did seem more relaxed and less edgy on the Emotiva. Detail is intense, and equally so for both systems.
Yes FM radio is still used in our house, almost daily matter-of-fact. Over the last few days the Emotiva has made me double-take with its sonic performance and impact, even at low volumes and very comfortable listening levels. The same differences I observed in the Nirvana and Black Eyed Peas CD is readily apparent in basic FM tuner performance when comparing the two systems, the difference is obvious, striking, and very consistent.
And your point is...
Ill be honest, I wanted to see this Emotiva fail and hopefully impressively
fail! No one likes to spend big money on a receiver and be bested by a seemingly stripped-down version that is not nearly as well known as Onkyo (in my circles anyway). All the while Ive known that, even with an outlay of $628, I wasn't on the financial hook as Emotiva gear has a awesome resale value and can be re-sold for pretty much what you spent on it. Sure, Emotiva has a return policy but I didn't consider that an option in the greater scheme of honesty, no it was a matter of keep it or resell it. The sad part is that while less feature-rich and versatile than a good receiver, it's sonics bested my Onkyo TX-NR 3007 with gusto and flair across all frequency bands and made my simple ($177 each) tower speakers sound far better than I ever imagined possible. For all I know the Onkyo can sound just as good with outboard amplifiers and that will certainly be a consideration in the future. For now Ill simply accept that, for what the Emotiva UMC-1/UPA-1 combo does, it does it very well and looks good doing it. So much so that it's currently the finest sounding system Ive ever heard in my home and Im keeping the system with plans to add a Emotiva ERC-1 cd player in the near future. Do you think the girlfriend will understand? If she doesn't do you think I can crash at your house till it all blows over?
6 June 2011
Sorry for the low quality of this image, wanted to get my review posted and will take higher quality pics at a later time. Also pictured is the Panasonic blu ray player and 7.5" LCD being fed directly by the blu ray player.