For a quick overview, I'm running the UMC-200 with a UPA-700 in a dedicated 7.1 home theater. I don't do any real music listening on this system. My sources are a TiVo Premiere, an AppleTV, a PS3...
Inexpensive, fantastic sound, easy to use, powerful manual eq, Emotiva upgrade policy is unparalleled
Limited I/O, HDMI handshake issues, convoluted firmware upgrade procedure is PC only
For a quick overview, I'm running the UMC-200 with a UPA-700 in a dedicated 7.1 home theater. I don't do any real music listening on this system. My sources are a TiVo Premiere, an AppleTV, a PS3 and an Xbox 360. For display I use an Optoma HD-20 hitting a Seymour AV CenterStage XD 115" screen which is in front of my B&W LCR speakers.
This is a great unit. I'm not going to call it entry-level, because that would sell it short. I'll call it a value-unit. What you get from the UMC-200 for your money provides an excellent return on investment.
The UMC-200 does, however, come with quirks. I'm going to get them out of the way first and then we don't have to deal with them anymore - which is not unlike what I did when I set it up. I dealt with the quirks in the first week and haven't had to think about them since.
First of all, limited I/O. I initially ruled this unit out because I had 5 sources and it has 4 HDMI inputs (and no analog video inputs). I went with an AVR that cost just a few hundred less than the pre pro/amp combo from Emotiva and offered more HDMI inputs. That lasted about 3 months before I replaced it with the Emotiva. It wasn't much of a sacrifice - we just use the PS3 as a blu-ray player now and moved the blu-ray player up to the sunroom. Problem #1 solved in no time at all.
The other issue, which I was almost expecting when I ordered it, was an HDMI handshake issue with my TiVo DVR. When I initially set it up I had it connected via HDMI for both audio & video. Occasionally, when changing channels or going into or out of the menu or the guide, the audio would seemingly hang on a single bit of information and repeat that bit over and over, loudly, through all speakers. A quick channel change, pause/play, or other change would usually fix the problem. This is something I had read much about before my purchase. It seems to be a not uncommon problem with several different DVRs. I have no scientific proof of this, but it would seem to me that the UMC-200 needs a good, solid, robust HDMI signal, and DVRs tend to have a flicker in the stream when changing play status. I've had this TiVo through 3 different AVRs (a Pioneer, a Marantz, and a Sony ES) and have not had any issues like this until the Emotiva. The good news is when I researched it before my purchase, I found a simple solution. I connected an optical cable between the TiVo and the UMC-200 and routed audio through there. I lose no sound quality at all. Everyday use involves no extra button presses. I had the optical cable lying around. I didn't need the optical input for anything else anyway. Problem #2 solved in little to no time at all.
And that's really it for the problems. Problems is even a rough word, quirks is better. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not a fan of having to deal with workarounds on a brand new piece of gear. But I was aware of this possibility before the purchase. When I contacted Emotiva about the HDMI problem post-purchase they were responsive and helpful. My workarounds do not affect my daily enjoyment of this product. Any quirks were easily dealt with during the first week of ownership, I didn't have to ship the unit back to Emotiva, I added one cable that I already had lying around and rerouted something in the menu and that was it.
I guess one other thing I find odd is that the UMC-200 and UPA-700's 7-channel analog output and input don't line up. The order of channels from left to right are different. I find it weird. This is obviously nitpicking, but I purchased the two as well as a 7-channel RCA interconnect on the same order direct from Emotiva. I guess I just expected that the interconnect would look nice, dropping straight down from one box to the next, but at one end or the other, you're going to have it all twisted around because the L-C-R-RS-LS-RB-LB order is different between the two units. Like I said. Nitpicking.
ON TO THE GOOD STUFF! AND THERE'S A LOT!
This thing sounds fantastic. I've had some AVRs that I really enjoyed, but none compare to the UMC-200 (and UPA-700) right out of the box. Setup was simple. I plugged in the HDMI cables, connected the amp and turned it on. The first thing to pop up was whatever show was playing live via the TiVo. I don't even remember what it was, but I remember immediately thinking "Wow, the surrounds have really opened up, my room sounds bigger."
I popped into the menus and adjusted the speaker distances. Turned on the test tones and roughed in the levels. That was my setup for the night. We just started watching TV. And it sounded really good. I've never spent less time fiddling and tweaking to dial in a sound. And I hadn't really done anything yet. Which means it's just going to get better, right?
A few nights later I decided I would run EmoQ, the Emotiva room correction process. I ran it. All it really seemed to do was roll off a bit of the high end. I liked it better set to Flat, so I left it there. I also ordered a bunch of gear to take advantage of the 11-band parametric EQ it has for each channel (except for the surround back channels, and only 3-band for the sub), but it has been just sitting there. I have been enjoying the sound too much to justify taking the time to go through all that work!
I'm realizing that there's really NOT all that much good stuff. This thing just sounds great!
The upgrade program that Emotiva offers is incredible. By purchasing this from Emotiva, I receive 25% off any new pre/pro from Emotiva. You may or may not be aware that the XMC-1 is about to hit the market at $1999. If I were to decide to upgrade, that would be a $500 discount - essentially meaning I was able to use the UMC-200 for $100 until the XMC-1 was ready. And it's not a trade-in program, so I could either utilize the UMC-200 elsewhere or sell it, at which point I would be getting the XMC-1 for even less. I don't know of any other manufacturer that is offering anything close to this.
Other things worth noting:
• The HDMI does switch very quickly, though not quickly enough to keep my projector from having to re-sync, which slows the process down
• When it comes to automatically setting the surround mode based on the incoming signal, this has been the most "set it and forget it" box I've used
• The remote is okay. It could be better and backlit, but I've used much worse. It will be replaced eventually anyway
• I wish the front display could be turned down further, or off altogether
• The build quality is fantastic, and the design is very pretty
• The manual is more of a pamphlet that doesn't offer much insight on some of the more in-depth features of the UMC-200
The bottom line is that this is a fantastic pre/pro at any price. It has it's quirks. I'm not generally one to put up with that kind of thing. I've honestly kind of surprised myself with this. The fact that I am not only willing to put up with a product that required a work-around in the first week, but to give it 4.5 out of 5 stars really says something about the sound quality of the UMC-200. Honestly, I think if I had written this review during week 1 I would've given it 3.5 stars because of the quirks. But the sound quality and ease of use of the UMC-200 have far overshadowed the quirks. These are minor quirks. It's not like every time I turn it on I think "Man I wish the TiVo audio was routed via HDMI." It just doesn't matter. It takes no extra button presses. The sound quality is phenomenal from every source.
The UMC-200 is by far the best value, best quality, and best sounding piece of equipment in my theater. At this point it's irreplaceable. Perhaps the XMC-1 will prove to be its replacement, but until then I'm perfectly happy with the UMC-200. I doubt I'll ever own another AVR after experiencing this piece of equipment.