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I find it very interesting that electricity has become synonymous with “power”—an aspect of control heretofore relegated to deities, totalitarians, and politicians. This synonymy speaks to the control that electricity has over the modern way of life, permeating nearly every facet of daily operations to the point where electricity has become power. In the unique hobbies of home theater and audiophilia, every component is reliant on electricity for operation. Among these components, the power amplifier is the most demanding piece of audio reproduction hardware found in most systems, as the reproduction of sound can sometimes require copious amounts of electricity. There are two primary delivery methods for power required to accurately reproduce audio: Solid State and Tube-based. The former often offers hundreds of watts and exorbitantly high volume capabilities, while the latter generally hovers below the 100 watt per channel threshold, trading high volume potential for warmth and texture.
This is a review of the solid-state Emotiva XPR-1 monoblock amplifier, providing 1,000wpc into 8 Ohm speakers and 1,750wpc into 4 Ohm speakers. As a monoblock, each Emotiva XPR-1 retails for $1,499 and provides a single channel of amplification—an ideal solution for speakers with high power requirements. The XPR-1 is Class A for the first ten watts, after which point is switches to class A/B operation. Past the 1kw threshold, the XPR-1 switches again to class H operation. A world class two-channel system can be built on the foundation of two XPR-1 monoblocks. Let me not, however, get ahead of myself just yet by throwing around terms like "world class..."
After anxiously waiting all day, I answered a knock on my door and saw a FedEx delivery man who--with fear and desperation in his eyes—said: “Sir, I have some very heavy boxes for you. Do you think you could help me out? Is there anyone else home that can help too?” Of course, I agreed, although not before making a quip about my strength being equal to that of four men. I followed him to the delivery truck, after which point, the FedEx delivery man felt the need to slide the first box off the truck and into my arms. It was at this moment that the heft of these amplifiers truly sunk in...into my back. The delivery boxes were beat-up pretty badly (See Footnote 1); however, the handle cut-outs were intact and those were all I needed. I carried one inside, and we got the second one inside shortly thereafter, along with some other items I was receiving that day. Unboxing these double-boxed titanic amplifiers was a simple process, although I will warn you: Unbox each XPR-1 within a few feet of its final resting place. You will thank me for this—I promise.
Are Your Feet Tired? Because You’ve Been Running Through My Mind All Day
The Emotiva XPR-1 is the most gorgeous amplifier I’ve ever seen. Do not cage these amplifiers in an A/V rack if you don’t have to; you’ll want to show them off. I expect its aesthetic value to be ubiquitous, thanks to the subtle indentations, solid construction, and various lighting configuration options. There truly is something for everybody in this chassis design. There are two vertical accent lighting strips that grace the front faceplate and the amplifier has four buttons at the bottom of the fascia. What may be the most important visual feature of this amplifier is the ability to control which lights appear on the front faceplate. There are four options: 1) All on, 2) Accent lights off, 3) volt meter becomes stationary, 4) all off (except for power indicator). For each lighting configuration, the light intensity can be controlled in 4 steps as well. I find myself keeping all the lighting on for all applications except serious movie watching. I am grateful to Emotiva for including these features for its home theater customers. what is also useful is the ability to change the position of the meters. When used in tandem, this option allows me to configure the meters to extend toward the center from either side, resulting in an effect that can only be described utilized the following scientific term: cool.
The rear of the unit is quite clean, with a master power switch, trigger, balanced/single ended inputs, and a switch that allows the user to toggle between balanced and unbalanced inputs at will. Speaker terminals are quite hefty, although they would not accept my verylarge Banana Plugs (neither would my speakers, so this is a fault of the speaker termination and not the amplifier). I simply switched the terminations to a spade configuration and all went smoothly.
Time for a bit of listening...
For home theater enthusiasts and audiophiles, sound reproduction is about more than merely spewing a series of synchronized sound waves into a room. It is about capturing and conveying the essence of the recording. Some systems rely on the Preamplifier or Surround Processor to convey the essence of the recording while some systems require power amplification components to serve as the means to this end. While I believe that the Pre/Pro plays a significant role in the accuracy of sound, the effects of an amplifier on sound quality are rather significant. The Emotiva XPR-1 amplifiers provide (for all intents and purposes) limitless power; the effortlessness with which they reproduces recorded audio is an absolute joy to experience. I currently run my speakers in a full-range configuration (six drivers each), which means the amplifier demands can get extremely high at peaks. I have developed a torture regiment of dynamic clips for testing full range speakers at reference level (0db) that I will share:
The first scene in “Prometheus,” as the camera pans across the various landscapes. The waterfalls and the oval ship can really put an amplifier to the test.
The compound assault scene in "Zero Dark Thirty." This scene is a true test of dynamics for any system--subtelties and explosions truly flex the dynamic range of any system.
The highway chase scene in “Transformers: Dark of the Moon.” The entire scene ranges from deep low frequency to crisp high frequency effects.
The space shuttle launch in “Hubble 3D.” You'll think your house was just launched into space.
The plane crash scene in “knowing.” Just watch the scene...
The gas station scene in “Battle: Los Angeles” Another dynamic range monster.
The performance of “Somewhere” by Kathryn McPhee in “Hit Man: David Foster & Friends”
“Wild is the Wind” by Esperanza Spalding
“Helena” by Nickel Creek
The first two levels in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (audio design and use in games often surpasses that in movies)
The first level of Halo 4 is a dynamic tour-de-force (subtle echoes to large explosions provide one of the best audio tracks I’ve ever heard on any medium)
The XPR-1s sailed through each of the above clips with a level of aplomb that almost made them seem as if they were begging for more. I was not afraid to turn the volume up and I never wanted to turn it down. Through these amplifiers, I was (and continue to be) convinced that I am hearing what the audio mixers intended me to hear. In my moderately sized room, I have seen the meter rise to approximately 40% in some very dynamic peaks when testing out the above material at reference volume. That means that although my speakers are rated for 500wpc, the material demanded, at times, peaks of 700wpc. If peaks can demand 700wpc in my moderately sized room, then in a larger room, the extra amplification will indeed come in quite handy.
Conclusion The Emotiva XPR-1 amplifier is remarkable in price, performance, and aesthetics and will take your system up a notch, no matter how advanced you think your system already is. No audiophile snobbery here; I currently own three XPR-1 monoblocks and plan to order two more for a complete 5 channel XPR-1 setup. This money could be going to “cost no object” brands, but it is not. Instead, my hard earned money is going to a product that gives me far more than what I’m paying for. I’d rather pay for performance than pay the premium to have a 60 year old company's logo on my amplifier. I highly recommend this amplifier and challenge anyone to find a better sounding (and frankly, better looking) monoblock amplifier at any price-point.
This amplifier requires a 20 amp circuit to reach its maximum potential.
If you require a long power cable run, you must get a C-19 to NEMA 5-20 plug identical to the picture below. It took me a long time to figure this out, so I hope this saves someone a bit of time:
1. Apparently, I’m not the only one who complained about the condition of the boxes upon arrival—when I later ordered a third XPR-1 for my center channel, the box came with reinforced nylon brackets at multiple points on the box—keeping it pleasantly intact.