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Emotiva ER Build Quality


If you attended the Audioholics 9th Annual State of the CE Union Event last year, you probably heard Emotiva's new speaker offerings long before I did. That's the joys of attending such a progressive event. Reportedly, people walked away from the Emotiva demo so impressed that they pre-ordered speakers on the spot. Well, for everyone that has been sitting on the fence in anticipation, the wait is over. Emotiva's speakers are here (well "here" meaning "at my house" - they're not shipping just yet) and the review is done. What's the final verdict? Read on to find out.

First Impressions

ER_inbox.JPGA quick conversation with Dan Laufman, President of Emotiva let me know a few things. First, he is very proud of these speakers and second, I'm getting a preproduction set to test (or at least the packaging and grills were). This is good in that this review will get to you while you still have time to preorder but bad in that some of the issues I've experienced with these speakers will be resolved before the first set ships to any customer. As is my custom, I'm going to report, unedited, my experiences as well as any changes Emotiva has made to the actual production speakers. What is most important with this, or any, set of speaker is how they sound and I've been assured that those components won't change at all.

ER_grillon.JPGThe ER (Emotiva Reference) line of speakers so far consists of a bookshelf speaker (ERM-1, the "M" stands for "monitor) and a dipole surround speaker (ERD-1, guess what the "D" stands for). The ERM-1 speakers are all boxed individually while the ERD-1 speakers are boxed as pairs. Each speaker or speaker set has a molded foam top and bottom cap and comes in a black cotton sock. While I understand that the sock is meant to convey quality and "audiophileness", it mostly just makes handling the speakers akin to wrestling a pissed-off fish. Luckily, the size and weight of the speakers means this isn't much of an issue. The ERDs were double boxed while the ERMs weren't. Regardless, all the speakers arrived undamaged and in good working order. Emotiva has provided a mounting plate for the ERDs and included two slots in their endcaps to ensure that the plates didn't damage the speakers in transit.

Once I got the socks off, I got a chance to take a good long look at the speakers. I'm used to one of two finishes on speakers - glossy or wood grain. The Emotivas were neither. If I had to describe them I'd call them a satin black. It has as non-reflective a surface as you'd hope to see on a speaker. While this might not make for the most aesthetically pleasing appearance in the light of a showroom floor (on in a review's pictures), it is extremely functional in a home theater environment. Sure, they look more like studio monitors than pieces of furniture, but in a dark room, all you really care about is not reflecting the light from your display. The finish did seem to prone to showing every little speck of dust or finger smudge that hit them. The front plate on the speakers and the backplates are both black aluminum which is an unusual choice of parts in a speaker in this price class. From an aesthetic standpoint, it doesn't seem to make much of a difference but functionally, it does. The front adds stability and rigidity to the enclosure while the back is used to mount the crossover. Let's face - it speaker enclosures are generally designed to be as rigid as possible. Most manufacturers use some sort of plastic backplate. What do you think is more likely to flex, a plastic backplate or metal one? Yeah, me too.

Branding on the Emotiva speakers was nearly non-existent with the Emotiva name on the back plates and the mounting bracket. According to Emotiva, you can expect a small logo on the grills. The logo on the ERM will have the ability to rotate for those that want to use the bookshelf lying on its side as a center. The grills on all the speakers are held in place by magnetically charged posts. During transit, the speakers were shipped with a small buffer sheet between the speaker and the grill in order to keep it from scratching up the faceplate (presumably). Unfortunately, during the shipping process, the speaker pressed against the grill and pushed some of the magnets in. This was easily corrected by pressing them back into place. Emotiva has informed me that the full production models will be packed so that the grills aren't under any stress and a stronger glue will be applied to the magnets.

ER_grilloff.JPGAesthetically, the Emotiva ER speakers are just "OK" in my book. I can't get excited by the finish no matter how functional it is. The black box, black drivers, black aluminum plate thing reminds me more of studio monitors than actual home theater speakers. This is great for the ERD-1s as they are on-wall but for the ERM-1s, which are out in the open, I feel it is a hard sell. Some speakers look better with the grills on, others with them off. The Emotivas are so uniform in color that they look about the same. Personally, I'm all about the performance so I'm not as concerned about looks but in many households, looks is one of the (if not the) most important thing. I have a hard time believing that Mrs. Consumer is going to get excited about the ER speakers. Gene DellaSala, on the other hand says, " I was quite impressed with the appearance of the Emotivas as they remind me of the M&K speakers back in the day. They are designed to look like professional monitors with a single aesthetic goal – to disappear into a home theater. Also, statistically, black speakers outsell any custom finishes as they are the easiest to blend into virtually any room décor and the lack of an added price premium makes it more appealing." As they say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Build Quality

ER_M_naked.JPGLet me say that I've had a "grass is greener" sort of outlook on the whole magnetic grill thing. The Emotivas are the first speaker I've ever tested with magnetic grills and I've long wanted to. Well, now that I have, I have to say that I'm a little disappointed. There were no "dimples" or anything to ensure that the grills were centered so you had to fiddle with them in order to get them true. Even then, I'd look at them and think that they were off. Now, I had the problem with the recessed magnets but I must mention that during some of the listening tests the grills rattled. I ended up having to adjust the magnets a number of times to get it right (I think I cracked one of the grills when I did that). If Emotiva is going to use stronger glue, I HIGHLY recommend that they make sure the fit and finish is dead on with the grills. Any gap on any one of the magnets is enough for a sub to take advantage of. Lastly, the magnets just weren't all that strong. Any little bump and the grill would shoot off. Once you have the speakers set up it wasn't much of a problem but try mounting a trapezoidal speaker on a ladder with grills popping off at the slightest provocation. With the tweeter dome slightly raised from the front baffle, I'm shocked that I didn't damage one of them at some point.

ER_woofer.JPGWhile the drivers on all the speakers are identical, the ERMs have two of the 5.25" composite cone woofers while the ERDs have only one. The woofer on the ERDs are pointed straight out while the two 25mm tweeters are on either of the angled sides. The rear of the ERMs have dual binding posts and a large gold jumper between the two. You also have a two position switch for Boundary Compensation (on or off) and a three position switch for Tweeter adjustment (0, -2dB, +2dB). While I've come across many a piece of AV equipment with buttons, switches, and menu items that seems to be more decorative than functional, it was easy to hear a difference between all the switch settings without any test equipment. The ERDs had two switches as well to orient the speaker for left or right dipole or bipole configuration. The speakers all utilize a sealed design meaning no ports. The five way binding posts on the ERMs were large, well spaced, and easy to access. The binding posts on the ERDs however were small, tight, and couldn't really accept 12 gauge wire. It was possible to get 12 gauge in them securely while the speaker was on a flat surface, but while standing on the arm of my couch and balancing the speaker on one arm while trying to insert the wire with the other… well, I had problems. I think that 14 gauge is probably the largest wire these binding posts can accommodate. Since 12 gauge is the standard recommendation we make for wire run to the back of your room, I'd like to see the binding posts accommodate. I suppose if you don't mind cutting out a larger hole behind the backbox you could use banana plugs.

ER_tweeter.JPGTaking the speakers apart, I immediately noticed that Emotiva used all threaded inserts. I also noticed a number of really high quality components. First, the Ferro-fluid cooled 25mm tweeter has its own heat sink mounted on the neodymium magnet which is essential for such small motor structures for realizing uncompromised performance at high power levels. The basket on the woofer is cast rather than stamped typically found in speakers of this price class. The cabinet is well dampened with a ton of polyfill shoved in the back half of the enclosure. And by "ton" I mean a whole lot. I'd venture to say there was as much if not more polyfill in the ERM-1 as in most of the tower speakers I've reviewed! There is only one area of bracing in the ERM and it runs the circumference of the speaker from top to bottom. It's sort of hard to describe. Basically it is midway between the front and back of the speaker all the way around the circumference but it just along the walls and not all the way through the center. There is also additional bracing around the extremely large crossover and backplate. Needless to say these speakers are well braced and you get a deadening thud when wrapping on the side of the cabinet.

ER_crossover.jpgThe enclosure is constructed out of 5/8" MDF and the 6mm aluminum face and backplates are countersunk so that they are flush. The crossover is an asymmetrical 4th order Linkwitz Riley design utilizing precision metal film capacitors and low DCR air core inductors. Since the speakers were designed with THX specs in mind, they roll off at 80Hz and no impedance dips below 3.2 ohms. This also explains some of the dispersion characteristics I noticed later in my listening tests (specifically the off-axis response). With all the attention to detail that I'm seeing here and the adherence to THX specs, I wouldn't be surprised to see a future iteration of these speakers with THX certification.


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Recent Forum Posts:

tomd51 posts on November 27, 2008 20:38
The new grills do look much better and the slight accent the ‘e’ logo adds is a nice touch as well.

I think you're right, most places would charge extra for the new grills, but I'm not surprised Emotiva didn't, doesn't seem their style.

Just something else that makes me pleased with my decision to go with the ERDs… -TD
majorloser posts on November 27, 2008 19:49
New Speaker Grill Design

Emotiva just started sending out new speaker grills for all owners of ERD-1's and ERM-1's. FREE

Not that there was anything wrong with the old grills. They just weren't happy with them. The new grills have a little darker black appearance and don't have the slight sheen of the older grills. They also include a new circular chrome company emblem with the “E”.

I received mine last week. They make a great speaker even better.

Most companies would just add a new item to new sales and call it an “upgrade”.
But they went through the expense of shipping them to all owner.
tomd51 posts on November 27, 2008 14:55
Slight resurrection from the dead of this thead ("No more rhymes now I mean it!" ). Just wanted to weigh in a little with my take of the ERD-1 surrounds.

Initially, I thought they were very good surrounds for the money, this was back when they dropped the price from $350 to $315. Now that they are selling at $250 a pair, I'd have to say these are an outstanding deal.

My first objective was to compare them to the performance of the Axiom QS8s that I'd previously owned. While they didn't quite seem to measure up to them at the time, I'd have to say after having them for a couple of months now, they more than hold their own for movies and I'd have to say outperform the QS8s with music. I thought the QS8s would be be impossible to best at their price, but the ERDs hold their own and then some. When you see/hear how well the ERDs perform, you'll be amazed at how tremendous a value they really are… -TD
majorloser posts on August 15, 2008 10:31
Emotiva's new sub packages should be pretty awesome. They are supposed to have either a single 12“ sub or dual 12” packages available before the end of the year. Might want to visit their forum for more info. They've been keeping the info “Top Secret” for over a year now while they finalize the GUI and control systems.

Davemcc posts on August 15, 2008 09:58
babs, post: 444899
Though I'd certainly never expect the ERM's to hang with B&W 805's at $2k+,

The ERM-1 display many of the qualities I prefer in speakers at any price point. I found them to be clear and detailed without being bright, neutral and without the resonant midrange that I find in a lot of speakers. I think it's an outstanding speaker for the list price, but free is even better. Combined with a good sub, they will be hard to beat (at least to my ears).
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