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Emotiva XMC-1 First Impressions and Listening Tests

By RichB

XMC-1TopFront.jpgThe first thing I noticed when the XMC-1 arrived was that the box was devoid of additional logos. There is only the Emotiva branding and the model number. Unboxing, the unit was well packed in an elegant bag. It is hefty, weighing in at 30 lbs. The styling is Emotiva but much more subdued than I expected after viewing the online images. It can be quite difficult to assess the aesthetics of a product from a web site. Camera flashes often accentuate lettering and colors are not quite right. I found the XMC-1 style quite pleasing and at home with my Oppo BDP-105D and Parasound amps. 

The first power-on was in my basement with no connections. The power usage, measured with a Kill-a-watt meter, clocked in at 34 watts and the unit took about 40 seconds to initialize. Video stand-by provides instantaneous startup but uses 30 watts. Basically, in Video Standby, the unit is on with the front panel lights off. The startup time did not bother me so I opted for the energy efficient mode (.5 watts stand-by).

The XMC-1 is an exceedingly quiet processor.

I can’t say I was fond of the color match between the OLED display and the button backlighting but having this display was certainly a feather in Emotiva's cap for embracing the latest technology. The front panel and on-screen displays have a complete set of information that includes the input, source audio, source video, video output, and speaker setting. This data is available on the front display and on-screen popup at any time using the Info button. The buttons and power indicator are a classic LED blue and the display is bluish turquoise. I would prefer a white OLED display. The front panel LEDs and display are dimmable to completely off. Once I turned them off, the OLED display illuminates momentarily when adjusting settings or when the menu system is active. This configuration is completely satisfactory. Thankfully, Emotiva separated all sound modes and illumination options; it does not matter if you are using Dirac, PEQ, or Reference Stereo, the front display and button illumination can be full, dimmed, or off. Wonderful!

XMC-1 in Rack

After connecting the amplifiers, I walked over to my Revel Salon2’s, removed the covers and brought my ear right up to the tweeters and midrange. Only then, could I hear anything and it was barely audible. I disconnected the amplifier inputs and the sound was the same. The XMC-1 was adding no audible noise. All processors I have had prior to this had an audible hiss that could be detected when within a few inches of the tweeter. The XMC-1 is an exceedingly quiet processor.

Setup

I connected the XMC-1 balanced outputs to my Parasound amplifiers, connected the HDMI inputs from the BDP-105D, HTPC, Apple TV, and Dune HD. All worked well except for an occasional color space HDMI handshake that resulted in purple people and green backgrounds which seems to occur when switching between devices with differing color-spaces. My remote is programmed to reselect current input which forces a handshake that corrects the problem. I reported the issue to Emotiva tech support.

The menu systems of all AVRs/Processors I have experienced require some acclamation. Many have a mixture of per-input and global settings and it is not always clear which is which. The XMC-1 is quite clear in this regard. Permanent settings are accessed via the Setup menu. The menu system begins with the Main menu, and I started there but, since the options provide temporary adjustment, the “Setup” menu is the right choice. From here you can select the permanent (preserved through power cycle) settings. Once understood, this Main Zone feature is extremely versatile and straightforward. Just use the Main Zone to override to adjust from the settings for the current input. For example, you can adjust the trims or select a sound mode to override the Setup settings for this input.

XMC-1MenuBlue.jpg


From the Setup menu, each input can be adjusted separately and among the choices are:

  • Selectable default two-channel and multi-channel sound modes
  • Three speaker settings: Dirac, Preset 1, and Preset 2
  • Independent crossover settings and for all speaker modes
  • Preset 1 and Preset 2 settings including 11 programmable Parametric Equalizers (PEQ) per channel. Each PEQ includes selectable frequency from 20Hz to 20 kHz, filter width, and filter Level (from -64 to +6 dB). Emotiva recommends using the fewest number of PEQ filters required.
  • Multi-channel format selector (labeled 5.1 Mode) to set the default decoding or matrix setting for multi-channel sources.
  • Stereo Mode (labeled 2.0 Mode) to set the default decoding or matrix sound format for 2-channel sources
  • Trim Level for that input for overall volume matching.
  • Thee remote/front panel button that selects this input.

The input based menu system allows theXMC-1Remote.jpg audio and video selection to be made independently and the user may assign the remote/front panel button that activates it. I configured Input button 7 for Balanced Input and Input 6 for the USB DAC. The menu system is simple text and boxes, you don’t get the 3D graphics of rooms and speakers, but it is versatile, full featured, and works well.

Remote-Zilla

Normally, I would not bother discussing the remote, but this appears to be a statement piece. It is large and long made from black aluminum and steel and it’s a real heavyweight, coming in at ¾ pound. It is neither programmable nor back-lit but has all input buttons except input-8. But it does including discrete On/Standby buttons. All of which are useful to folks like me, who program their remotes with learned codes. A PDF with all remote codes is also available.

A word of caution: unless your coffee table is scratch resistant, put this thing away. It has sharp edges and can easily scratch wood or even leather couches. I would much prefer something smaller, lighter, and smoother.

Two-Channel Listening

It took many years for me to realize that HDMI was not doing justice to my CD collection. I would often buy CDs and dismiss them as flat sounding, uninspired recordings. A few years back, I added the Oppo BDP-95 to my system (and now the BDP-105D) to be the main multi-media playback device. Utilizing the 105D analog outputs provided a big improvement and I soon discovered that many of my CDs were better than I had initially thought. The XMC-1’s fully balanced inputs provide a useful option to connect high-quality two-channel analog source devices.

In addition to the normal set of inputs (COAX and Optical TOSLINK), the XMC-1 sports an asynchronous USB DAC called “USB Stream”. I downloaded the Emotiva supplied drivers and installed them on my Home Theater PC (Windows 10 Pro) for use with J River 21. I prefer using the Kernel Streaming drivers but it took some effort to locate the proper driver which is cryptically labeled “SpdifOut (Kernel Streaming)”.

J River can send stream to multiple device using its “Zone” feature. Zone linking permits simultaneous streaming of the same source to multiple devices. I setup linked zone streaming to the Oppo BDP-105D via DLNA and to the XMC-1 via USB Stream. The BDP-105D was connected to the XMC-1 HDMI input. This provided a simple process to switch the XMC-1 between sources, in this case Button 1 (HDMI-1) for the Oppo and Button 6 (USB Stream).  Both inputs were set to Preset-1 and “Reference Stereo” to eliminate any additional processing.

A Fine Frenzy – One Cell in the Sea (CD)

The Fine Frenzy debut album, “One Cell in the Sea,” is one of my favorites. Alison Sudol’s  vocals are prominent  and closely mic’ed. I listened to “You Picked Me,” “Almost Lover,” and “Rangers.” Via HDMI, the voices were a bit less full with more emphasis on the sibilants. USB Stream provided a slightly different balance -- a bit warmer with more emphasis on the bass line. Sibilants were softened and more natural. The Rangers track proved much the same—the most noticeable difference in the drums but also possessing a less congested presentation when played via the USB Stream.

AFineFrenzy..jpg          AlisonKrauss.jpg

Alyson Kraus – A Hundred Miles or More (CD)

Many of the songs on this album are sorrowful and moving. “My Ain True Love” is a ballad featuring clear strings and male/female harmony. There is a scratching sound in the intro that had greater emphasis when played via HDMI. Once again, the USB Stream provided better definition and greater heft of the Alyson Kraus vocals. The opening bass and pipes in “Molly Bn (Baun)” feel right via USB in a way the HDMI did not match. Each strike of the drum is clear and clean with the right amount of decay and the sibilants are present and pleasant. 

Cassandra Wilson – Another Country (HDTracks 24/96)

Cassandra Wilson’s deep vocals are often below those of many male artists. “Red Guitar” features a mix of acoustic and electric guitars and her soulful, deep vocals. Once again, USB streaming provided the full overhang of the acoustic guitars and resolution to her vocals. I brought my wife over to listen to Wilson’s version of “O Sole Mio.” She preferred HDMI and felt the greater bass from the USB Stream obscured the vocals.

CassandraWilson.jpg         PartriciaBarber.jpg

Patricia Barber – Smash (HDTracks 24/96)

Patricia Barber’s SACDs and HD Tracks albums are some of the best recordings I own. If you turn up the volume they will push your speakers to their limits. I once diagnosed a problem with a mid-bass driver using the string plucks on the “Swim” track. Again, the results were similar: HDMI sounded good and the USB Stream sounded amazing. String plucks harmonics were dynamic, vocals were full, and sibilants just right.

A Note About The Stereo Balanced Inputs

The XMC-1 XLR inputs are fully balanced as is the Oppo HA-1 USB DAC. I connected the Oppo HA-1 XLR outputs to the XMC-1 balanced inputs. Normally, I connect the HA-1 directly to my amps via an XLR switch, but connecting via the XMC-1 is convenient and I don’t think anything was lost. The XMC-1 is an excellent two-channel preamp.

Multi-Channel Listening

PinKFlyod.jpgThe XMC-1 was a treat playing multi-channel sources from SACD. I have had Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” SACD for years. I recall playing it but it was not particularly memorable. Played on the XMC-1 via HDMI DSD steaming, I was greeted with a loud crack from the right speaker. After contacting Emotiva, I was provided an early version of their 3.1 firmware update.  With the fix in place, the bit-streamed DSD from the BDP-105D was a treat. “Time” announced itself, completely enveloping me in clanging clocks in all their glory. It was marvelous; another recording that had overlooked came to life.

Movies

Netflix recently released the first season of DareDevil based on the Marvel comic book. The Dolby Digital Plus (DD+) soundtrack is truly impressive. The Daredevil character is blind but his perception of sound is so acute it enables him to perceive more than any sighted person. The voices are extremely well recorded and there are many scenes where the use of surround-sound is critical to the story telling. The movement of objects through the surround field is excellent and the placement of the sound is indispensable. If you like this genre and want to hear your surround system in action, I highly recommend Daredevil.

DareDevil.jpg         GuardiansOfTheGalaxy.jpg

Guardians of the Galaxy is a great pop-corn flick that will exercise your system. This sci-fi action film has the full gamut of sound, from classic rock, booming deep male voices, and the usual sci-fi bombastic explosions.  To set the level, I always adjust the vocals to a comfortable level and let the chips fall for the rest of the film. I added a few dB for good measure and the sound delivered was exceptional, never fatiguing.

As expected, the Emotiva sounded great with movies, the heavy lifting provided by the amps and speakers.

Dirac Set Up & In Use

Over the years, I have tried Audyssey MultiEQ XT32 many times and the results were similar. In my trials, there has been a noticeable reduction in bass response and a lift in the treble that caused the sound to become too bright and thin. My tastes run more to a “House curve” that includes a bass room gain and a gentle roll off of the high frequencies. Since I did not have the Audyssey pro kit, I have preferred just using the Direct or Pure Direct settings on the processor.

My XMC-1 included the Dirac Live Full upgrade that adds support for additional calibrated microphones, custom curves, and curtains (to limit the high and low correction frequencies).  A separate Dirac manual is included which is very detailed. I recommend first watching Emotiva video tutorials featuring VP/CTO Lonnie Vaughn.

Dirac LE uses the same correction algorithms as the Full version but with a fixed full-frequency target curve supplied by Emotiva. The XMC-1 dedicated Dirac speaker setting is used for speaker size and crossover settings. The Dirac measurement process operates on the full frequency range so the speaker size setting may be applied before or after calibration. The speaker configuration cannot be changed using the computer based DLTC tool so your speaker configuration must be set properly prior to Dirac calibration. You can learn more from the Dirac website.

Dirac DLCT measures your listening area with nine individual measurement points distributed in your listening area. Calibrations are applied common to all positions to avoid applying correction that optimizes only one point in space at the expense of others. DLCT displays graphs of the room measurements, target curve, and the predicted results. I began by using Emotiva standard target curve (the LE version).  After completing the calibration Dirac showed predicted results that matched the target curve.

I began by listening to movies and found a tremendous difference. The front soundstage became one wall of sound. The channels were well balanced and the soundstage spread as wide as my room. The next obvious difference was a reduction in bass.  My room is adding significant room gain and much was removed by Dirac. The third change I noticed was in vocals, especially male became very meaty and overpowering.
For two-channel music the sound was once wildly different. Again, spread wide with a reduction and bass and accentuated male vocals.

The flexibility of Dirac is not common place in other room correction systems.

Dirac provides extensive measurement information. Examining the Dirac changes supplied chart, it was easy to see what Dirac was doing; up to 10 dB of bass attenuation and similar boost between 100 Hz and 300 Hz.

This is where Dirac Live Full shines. I reloaded my project so there was no need to re-measure. I double-clicked on the points in the high frequency end and dragged the upper frequency curtain down to 100 Hz to limit the correction to the bass frequencies. Then, added the points back and boosted the bass to be flat and shelved. After uploading the new target curve, the sound retained the widened sound-stage and the tonal balance was back inline.  This type of flexibility is simply not common place in other room correction systems.

XMC-1FullSytems.jpg

Room correction is not a one-size fits all solution.  The Salon2’s are designed to provide consistent performance with early reflections and they sound fantastic driven by the XMC-1 in Reference Stereo mode (with no correction is applied). With Dirac engaged, I found the Salon2’s most appealing when limiting the room correction above the room transition frequency (300Hz) which is in line with Harman research.

 

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Recent Forum Posts:

KEW posts on December 10, 2017 16:20
darien87, post: 1097933, member: 13366
I love mine.

Dirac made a noticeable difference in my system. Not huge, but definitely an improvement.

Still a little annoyed at the pops and snaps when it locks on to an audio stream for the first time though. Hopefully they'll get that sorted out with a firmware update.
Did they get this sorted?
PENG posts on October 31, 2017 18:10
RichB, post: 1098441, member: 11091
If you assume that a short sine-sweep at some level is representative of amplifier performance playing music. I would not make that assumption. No-one measures amps this way.

Rich

I am not suggesting anyone to use a short sine sweep or any sweep to represent amp performance playing music at all. I am saying that one can do some of those sweep tests to compare the in room response of speakers using different amps and can see how much difference one can expect. From my own experiments using a $90 mic and free REW, I know the difference between speakers and their placements have far greater effect than between my different amps/preamps/AVR. Expectedly we agreed on something and disagreed on a few other things.
RichB posts on October 30, 2017 10:56
John Morrison, post: 1217957, member: 83979
I have the XMC-1 and am completely satisfied with the integration into my home theater. It connects to a Parasound 5.1 amplifier.

There is one issue. I have an MX-980 Universal Remote. I downloaded the IR codes specifically for this device (XMC-1 Main). The ability of the MX to control the XMC is inconsistent. Most of the time it does not work. Other times it will respond sporadically. The at times it will work flawlessly. I have not been able to use any Macros referring to the XMC. The remote that came with the unit works perfectly. I spoke with Emotovia and the specialist (who is incredibly intelligent) was not able to understand the problem. He recommended using the codes for the UMC-1 and gave me the conversions for the XMC inputs to the UMC input names. EG DVD on the UMC is Input 1 on the XMC. Setting up a separate button on the MX-980 has resulted in complete control of the XMC and perfect Macro operation. At times I check control of the XMC using the MX-980 button with the XMC-1 IR codes and it continues to be unreliable. Some place on Google I read that the issue might be a conflict with the HDMI-CEC feature. I disabled this and has not made any change to the problem.

Perhaps the XMC-1 is too new that the integration with Universal Remote Control has not been established with user experience.

I had some difficulty learning the remote codes with the Pronto remote.
If you can use codes, try the codes in this file.

- Rich
everettT posts on October 30, 2017 10:26
John Morrison, post: 1217957, member: 83979
I have the XMC-1 and am completely satisfied with the integration into my home theater. It connects to a Parasound 5.1 amplifier.

There is one issue. I have an MX-980 Universal Remote. I downloaded the IR codes specifically for this device (XMC-1 Main). The ability of the MX to control the XMC is inconsistent. Most of the time it does not work. Other times it will respond sporadically. The at times it will work flawlessly. I have not been able to use any Macros referring to the XMC. The remote that came with the unit works perfectly. I spoke with Emotovia and the specialist (who is incredibly intelligent) was not able to understand the problem. He recommended using the codes for the UMC-1 and gave me the conversions for the XMC inputs to the UMC input names. EG DVD on the UMC is Input 1 on the XMC. Setting up a separate button on the MX-980 has resulted in complete control of the XMC and perfect Macro operation. At times I check control of the XMC using the MX-980 button with the XMC-1 IR codes and it continues to be unreliable. Some place on Google I read that the issue might be a conflict with the HDMI-CEC feature. I disabled this and has not made any change to the problem.

Perhaps the XMC-1 is too new that the integration with Universal Remote Control has not been established with user experience.
Are you using the mx line of site ir, or rf to ir ? Did you setup the remote or an installer. One thing with the macros is there maybe need to be longer pauses between each command, especially if ur line of site ir only.
John Morrison posts on October 30, 2017 10:05
I have the XMC-1 and am completely satisfied with the integration into my home theater. It connects to a Parasound 5.1 amplifier.

There is one issue. I have an MX-980 Universal Remote. I downloaded the IR codes specifically for this device (XMC-1 Main). The ability of the MX to control the XMC is inconsistent. Most of the time it does not work. Other times it will respond sporadically. The at times it will work flawlessly. I have not been able to use any Macros referring to the XMC. The remote that came with the unit works perfectly. I spoke with Emotovia and the specialist (who is incredibly intelligent) was not able to understand the problem. He recommended using the codes for the UMC-1 and gave me the conversions for the XMC inputs to the UMC input names. EG DVD on the UMC is Input 1 on the XMC. Setting up a separate button on the MX-980 has resulted in complete control of the XMC and perfect Macro operation. At times I check control of the XMC using the MX-980 button with the XMC-1 IR codes and it continues to be unreliable. Some place on Google I read that the issue might be a conflict with the HDMI-CEC feature. I disabled this and has not made any change to the problem.

Perhaps the XMC-1 is too new that the integration with Universal Remote Control has not been established with user experience.
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