Emotiva AirMotiv Speakers 3D Immersive Audio Demo: Best of AXPONA 2017

Emotiva Airmotiv Dolby Atmos and DTS:X Demo at AXPONA 2017

2017 is a huge year for the Emotiva Audio Corporation; I sometimes struggle to wrap my head around all the new products it’s introduced in the past year. At AXPONA, the company showed off an impressive 3D immersive audio home theater system, powered by its XPA Gen 3 amps, with Emotiva Airmotiv speakers handling all the transducing.

Emotiva’s presence at AXPONA cements a notion that I’ve held for some time but is truer today than ever: The quality of affordable gear has reached a threshold where little or nothing differentiates it from the rarefied high-end systems that occupied many of the rooms at this show. It also reaffirmed my belief that 3D immersive audio represents one of the greatest advancements in audio reproduction since surround-sound was introduced.

Emotiva’s home theater demo system was the only fully Atmos-compatible rig at the show, and to my ears that elevated it above the competition, both figuratively and literally.

The system was set up in a small ballroom that also housed a couple of smaller demo spaces and a static display of the company’s wide array of products.

Emotiva Airmotiv Dolby Atmos and DTS:X Demo at AXPONA 2017

The front stage of Emotiva’s AXPONA 2017 Dolby Atmos and DTS:X compatible 3D immerisive audio system.

That space was significantly larger than what you typically find in a residence. And yet, Emotiva managed to fill it with crisp, dynamic, impactful sound. It was surprisingly close in effect to what I’ve experienced from dedicated home theaters equipped with high-efficiency pro-style speakers. Plus, the kicker was that with Dolby Atmos and DTS:X content, 3D immersion added that extra something, making it the most gratifying system I auditioned at the show.

The system consisted of Emotiva Airmotiv T2 towers ($999/pair) for the L/R mains, a C2 center ($399), and four T1 towers ($699/pair) used as side surrounds plus rears. This combo gave Emotiva a great foundation for a kick-ass demo at the only consumer high-end audio show I’ve been to that gives home theater the respect it deserves: AXPONA

B-roll of XPA electronics and Airmotiv speakers plus subs Emotiva brought to AXPONA 2017

Four 15″ Airmotiv S15 subs ($899 each) located up front pumped the bass while two S10 subs ($549 each) placed on the sides walls helped smooth out the in-room bass response. It was very effective, the quality and quantity of bass produced by those subs was remarkable considering the price; they moved serious amounts of air.

The elevation channels were handled by clusters of four E1 wall-mount surround speakers ($269/pair), for a total of sixteen speakers mounted overhead.

Even though the Emotiva Airmotiv system demoed at AXPONA contains 23 separate speakers and six subwoofers, the total cost of it is $10,042. While that may look like a big number; in the context of high-end 2-channel audio, it’s puny.

There were two options when it came to powering the system: Emotiva switched between a single-chassis 11-channel solution, and a three-chassis amplifier stack that provided considerably more power. The idea is to show how the XPA Gen3 amps may be configured for different uses.

The all-in-one 11-channel amp contains three 200-watt mono modules, to power the front L/C/R speakers. It also contains four 75-watt/channel stereo modules, giving the system 11 total channels. Meanwhile, the powerful three-stack of amps consisted of one chassis equipped with three double-wide monoblock modules outputting 450 watts each for the front stage, and two four-channel amps that each contain four 250-watt modules.

Emotiva XPA Gen3 Amps for AXPONA 2017 Demo

Here are the two XPA Gen3 chassis amplification options Emotiva demoed at AXPONA 2017.

The idea behind switching between the two amplification options was to show how flexible the XPA Gen3 chassis configuration options are, and to use an A/B demo to show how the extra power expands the dynamic headroom of the system, thus taking full advantage of the speakers’ capabilities.

A Japanese “mystery pre/pro” handled processing because Emotiva’s mighty RMC-1 processor is waiting for Atmos DSP CODECs from Dolby. I promised not to reveal what was used, but I will note the brand name starts with either a D or an M.

While audio enthusiasts may be familiar with the value proposition of the company’s amplifiers, the passive Emotiva Airmotiv speakers are newer and less well known. So here’s the scoop, now that I’ve checked out demos at CES and AXPONA, it is clear the company offers some of the best price/performance ratio speakers and subs you will find.

As for content, at the show, I watched about 15 minutes of Oblivion and marveled at how well the system created a bubble of believable sound around the listeners. The same held true for Deepwater Horizon, which is filled with excellent Atmos sound effects. And the “CYMATICS: Science Vs. Music” music video by Nigel Stanford—from the DTS:X demo disc—cemented the system’s status as a top performer.

In a show where you’ll find power cords that cost more than this whole speaker system, and where the sales tax alone on some pairs of speakers can be much higher than ten grand, the absurdity of the value proposition offered by Emotiva is all the more obvious.

The AXPONA home theater rig Emotiva presented performed on a higher level than the already impressive system the company showed at CES 2017. It allowed me to understand the true capabilities of the Airmotiv passive speaker lineup, and right now I can’t think of a better value among AMT tweeter-equipped tower speakers than the dual 8″ T2s.
The C2 center proved to be every bit the powerhouse performer its design hints at; there’s no other center channel speaker of such quality at anywhere near its $399 asking price.

Emotiva’s lineup at AXPONA in 2017 is a revelation; high quality audio gear does not have to carry astronomical pricing. When it comes to speakers and subs and amps, Emotiva  Airmotiv speakers and XPA Gen3 amps offer performance that many other manufacturers charge much more for. Unless you are seduced by the aesthetics of the high-end audiophile offerings, there’s little to be gained from leaving Emotiva’s room and wandering the halls of the show.

I’m at home in a world where DSP and room correction and subwoofers and price/performance ratio and support for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X are embraced. This year, at AXPONA 2017, I heard how superior this approach is. At its price point, you’d be hard-pressed to find a 2-channel system that can come close to offering the same overall audio experience as what Emotiva showed off. Add Emotiva’s commitment to assembling its electronics in the U.S., and it’s an easy call to give it a Best of Show nod.