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EMP E55Ti Tower / E56Ci Center / E55WI Surround & ES1010i Subwoofer Review

by April 02, 2012
EMP System

EMP System

  • Product Name: E56Ci Center & E55WI Surround
  • Manufacturer: EMPTek
  • Performance Rating: StarStarStarStar
  • Value Rating: StarStarStarStarhalf-star
  • Review Date: April 02, 2012 14:25
  • MSRP: $ 450/ea for E56Wi Center; $499/pr for E55WI Surround
  • Buy Now

E56Wi Center Channel Speaker

  • Dual 6½" Polypropylene Woofers
  • Dual 5¼" Aluminized Poly-matrix Woofers
  • 1" (25mm) Fabric Dome Tweeter
  • Recommended Power: 50-175 Watts
  • Impedance: 6 Ohms
  • Frequency Response: 50Hz-20kHz ±3dB
  • Crossover Frequency: 600 Hz, 3,000 Hz
  • Sensitivity: 87dB (2.83V@1m)
  • Dimensions: 31" W x 8½" H x 10½" D  (787mm W x 216mm H x 267mm D)
  • Weight: 28 lbs. (12.70 kg.)
  • Available in High-gloss Red Burl or High-gloss Black Ash


E55WI Surround On-Wall Speaker

  • Dual 5-1/4" Aluminized Poly-matrix Woofers
  • Dual 1" (25mm) Fabric Dome Tweeter
  • Recommended Power: 50-130 Watts
  • Impedance: 6 Ohms
  • Frequency Response: 65Hz-20kHz ±3dB
  • Crossover Frequency: 3,000 Hz
  • Sensitivity: 87dB (2.83V@1m)
  • Dimensions: 11-1/2" W x 12" H x 6" D (299mm W x 301m H x 152mm D)
  • Weight: 12 lbs. (5.44 kg.)
  • Available in High-gloss Red Burl or High-gloss Black Ash


  • Good sound & dynamics on the cheap
  • Great aesthetics
  • Easy set-up


  • Rear ported E56Ci center channel doesn't come with port plugs to ease in-cabinet installation
  • E55WI Surround channel requires additional hardware to mount on the wall (concrete anchors & screws)


EMP E55Ti Tower / E56Ci Center / E55WI Surround & ES1010i Subwoofer System

System PicMy sister-in-law recently purchased a home and came to me with the request of assembling a reasonably priced, but nice looking home theater system.  Knowing the background of her family being Colombian and liking to play music loud for social events, I asked her if she would be OK with floorstanding speakers.  Her response was “that’s fine as long as they look classy”.

With that in mind, I focused on the following three requirements and began planning her system:

1) The ability to play cleanly at high output levels,

2) Making sure the system was reasonably priced, and

3) including classy looking products.

A few loudspeaker brands that immediately came to mind were Paradigm, Aperion Audio, Klipsch and EMPTek.  I sent her some product URL’s to peruse.  I was a bit hesitant recommending Klipsch since her room acoustics were very lively (large open room, tile flooring).  While these were all great options, she really liked the look of the EMPtek speakers and at the time, they were running a holiday sale so the price was right.  The Red Burl finish caught her eye and she envisioned it would blend perfectly with her furniture.  I also thought this would be a good option for her since EMP speakers offer a rather laid back sound which would do nicely in a lively room like hers.  Also, EMP just released their new ES1010i subwoofer, E56CI center channel and E55WI surround speakers which I was eager to check out so I figured I’d take the opportunity to do a mini review of these products.  

This isn’t exactly a “budget” system but it does offer a level of serious performance, aesthetics and features she was looking for in her very first home theater system.  I spoiled my family into recognizing the difference between good and mediocre audio and I was pleased she even considered putting together a “non-cubed” system for her family room. 

The Speaker System

E55Ti TowerEMP E55Ti Floorstanding Speakers

When it comes to tower speakers that look great and actually sound good, EMPTek offers some of the best budget solutions from what we’ve tested. The E55Ti ($795/pr) is a significant upgrade over the older E5Ti ($500/pr) which we feel is worth the price difference. The E55Ti’s just have a much bigger and more effortless sound to them and their tall stature just makes for a great visual impression. It's a 6 driver tower boasting (3) 6 1/2" bass drivers, dual 5 1/4" phase plug mids arranged in an MTM configuration with a 1 " fabric dome tweeter sandwiched in the middle.

Check out our detailed review of the EMPtek E55Ti Tower Speakers

EMP E56Ci Center Channel Speaker

EMP’s original center channel E5Ci ($220) is a standard horizontally oriented MTM featuring dual 5 1/4” phase plug mid drivers and a 1” soft dome tweeter. It just doesn’t have the output capabilities to keep up with the E55Ti towers which is why they recently introduced the E56Ci ($450/ea) matching center channel. The E56Ci center channel is a 5 driver – 3-way rear ported speaker. It boasts dual 5-1/4” poly matrix midrange drivers nestled with their 1” silk dome tweeter. An additional 6-1/2” polypropylene woofer is located at each end of the cabinet to extend bass response which EMP rates at 50Hz (-3dB). This speaker has dual rear ports but doesn’t come with port plugs for those installing it into a cabinet. Hopefully after reading this mini-review, EMP will remedy that.

EMP E56Ci Hero

E56CI drivers   E56Ci Crossover   

EMP E56Ci Center Channel Inside Look (drivers left pic; crossover right pic)

The E56Ci is quite a large center channel (31” wide) with an unobtrusive design. Its tapered cabinet and narrow height (8”) makes it fit in either above a display on a cabinet shelf or below it stand-mounted. I took apart the E56Ci to get a look at the internals. The E56Ci cabinet construction is very similar to the rest of their speakers (0.6” side walls and 1.2” thick front baffles). Thickening up the front baffle really adds a lot of rigidity to the speaker where it’s needed most and allows EMP to get away with slightly thinner than normal sidewall cabinets which also ultimately saves on shipping weight. While these speakers aren’t built to the standard of a multi thousand dollar speaker system from the likes of Revel, Usher Audio or RBH Sound Signature Series products, their construction and the materials used are on par with products in this price range and even slightly higher in some aspects. The drivers feature stamped baskets, which again is pretty standard for this price class of speaker. The crossover has a mix of air-core inductors and poly caps for critical circuit components and iron chokes for areas that aren’t as critical and also cost prohibitive than better performing and larger air-cores. The E56Ci is rated at 6-ohms with a sensitivity of 87dB / 1 watt and recommended for usage with 50-175 watts though we’d always recommend choosing more not less power amps when selecting your power source.

EMP E56Ci Measurement

EMP E56Ci Center Channel ¾ Meter In-Room Frequency Response without Port contribution

After installing the EMP E56CI center channel speaker into the entertainment center, I took five in-room measurements at 3/4 meters (+- 15 deg horizontal, +-15 deg vertical, and on-axis) averaged them and spliced them at 250Hz with an additional 3/4 meter groundplane measurement I made to derive a “listening room” response curve. The -5dB dip in the 2-5kHz range is exaggerated because the mic was a bit too close to the speaker to produce a fully converged farfield response.  I purposely did this to remove as much of the room influence from the measurement as possible without having to apply gating or smoothing to the measurement.  This also means the port contribution wasn’t factored in so you can expect more bass extension than what is shown in this measurement. Regardless, the response of this speaker is very linear both on and off-axis and the speaker produces good usable bass extension down to the 60Hz range.

E56CI w MoPads

EMP E56Ci Center channel with Auralex Mo-Pads

When installed in the wall unit, I initially measured a nasty peak at 250Hz which I determined was caused by resonance between the speaker and surface of the furniture it was installed in. To resolve this, I installed a pair of Auralex Mo-Pads which decoupled the speaker from the cabinet and also slightly tilted it down towards the listening area. I also crossed the speaker over at 80Hz to reduce the bass output which was necessary from the excessive boundary gain caused by it being placed into an enclosed area. This was a great tweak that ultimately made a significant impact on performance, most notably in vocal intelligibility which I will discuss in the listening portion of this article.

Check out our Preview article of the EMP E56CI Center Channel speaker for additional information.

EMP E55Wi Surround Speakers

E55Wi HeroI’ve been waiting for EMP to release an on-wall surround speaker since they launched the brand a number of years ago.  The E55Wi ($499/pr) has two sets of 5 ¼” mid drivers with phase plugs and 1” silk dome tweeters located on two baffles 90 degrees apart.  The drivers are all in-phase meaning it’s a bi-pole type surround speaker.  The goal is to provide a wide surround field .  EMP chose to make all the drivers in phase because most people installing their speakers are only doing 5.1 systems.   Personally I like a hybrid variant where the forward firing tweeters are out of phase (dipole) to help better diffuse the surround soundfield at the listening position.  If you are running back channels, you may prefer this as well.  To accomplish this, simply remove the forward firing tweeter, reverse the phase and reinstall it for both speakers.  I recommend trying both ways to see what you prefer in your situation.  If you’re listening habits favor movies over music, you most likely will want the forward tweeter out of phase. 

Hanging the E55Wi’s was a breeze.  I simply got me some concrete anchors, drilled them into the desired location on each wall separated by the same distance as the holes on the back of the speaker, inserted the screws leaving about ½” protrusion, and hung them like a picture frame. I was a bit disappointed EMP didn’t include the hardware to do this but I keep a large stock of concrete anchors in my tool box since my wife is always having me hang things around the house.

Check out our Preview article of the EMP E55WI Center Channel speaker for additional information.

ES1010iEMP ES1010i Subwoofers

I just completed a fairly comprehensive review of the new EMP ES1010i subwoofer.  It’s basically a 250 watt powered dual 10” bottom ported sub with similar construction and aesthetics as the other EMP Impression series products.

Prior to taking delivery of these subs, I was a bit reserved in recommending them knowing their low end output was a bit limited.  But, my sister-in-law wanted the subs to match the rest of the system and also not occupy too much floor space.  Surprisingly the ES1010i’s provided ample slam when run in pairs and with the E55Ti towers operating full-range.  Having four 10” drivers and six 6 ½” drivers playing bass into the room was truly an energizing experience.  At $499/ea these subs represent a good value and produce good bass in a very attractive and relatively compact form factor. 

In order to maximize performance of this system while also preserving the aesthetics of the listening space which also functions as a family room open to a formal dining room, dual subs was a must but placement was challenging.

My sister-in-law under estimated the size of her wall unit and I was biting my nails when I initially saw it placed against the front wall of her room thinking I wouldn’t have enough space for the E55Ti’s and the ES1010i subwoofers.  I’ve always been pretty good at the game Tetris so I took my chances and moved stuff around till I got one of the subs to fit.

Sub 1    Sub 2

EMP ES1010i with E55ti tower (left pic); ES1010i & E55Wi Surround (right pic)

I diagonally located the other sub on the opposing wall.  This produced a pretty darn near ideal response across the entire couch facing the TV which is where they’d spend most of the time sitting and listening.  The response on the far left couch wasn’t as good but it was also pretty far off axis from the display too.  I always reserve such a less than desirable location as the “mother-in-law seat” and in this case mine was quite content sitting there.

EMP System In-Room

EMP E55Ti towers + Dual ES1010i Subwoofers In-Room Frequency Response @ Listening Area

As you can see, the response is very even from 200Hz down to about 25Hz with a gradual roll off (-5dB) at 20Hz. This measurement is NOT smoothed and was taken at 12ft where the primary couch is located.

Check out our review  of the EMP ES1010i subwoofer for additional information.

RBH TK-615RBH Sound TK-615 In-Ceiling Speaker

EMP Tek currently doesn’t offer in-wall / in-ceiling type speakers so I turned to parent company RBH Sound.  The TK series is a fine solution.  It offers solid performance at a budget price which makes it a good match for the rest of the EMP speaker package we put together.  The TK-615 ($389/pr) is an 8 ohm two-way speaker sporting a 6½-inch fiberglass woofer and a ¾-inch aluminum dome tweeter and a 50Hz to 20kHz frequency response +-3 dB with 90dB / 1 watt sensitivity rating.  The speaker has a pivoting tweeter and adjustable tone control for bass and treble built in with three settings (+), (-) and 0 (flat).  It’s designed to be installed into an open space so no back box was needed.  All you do is make the cutout in your ceiling with the supplied template, connect your speaker, push it into the hole and (using a power drill) screw it into the ceiling till you hear the clamps lock down.  A word of caution, do NOT over tighten, unless you like the look of a bowed ceiling imprinted with the locking mechanism.

For more information, check out the official RBH Sound TK-615 product page.

EMP E55Ti/E56Ci/E55WI/ES1010i Speakers Set-Up, Listening Tests & Conclusion

Words cannot adequately describe how much I loathe installing audio equipment into entertainment centers.  They almost NEVER have enough depth to accommodate amplifiers or large receivers and the back-wall cutouts are either non-existent or too small to accommodate anything more than dental floss thick wiring.  To make matters worse, the furniture my sister-in-law purchased did NOT permanently affix the horizontal shelf holding the center channel to the main body.  Any slight move of either horizontal rack caused the shelf to completely collapse which it actually did and almost crushed my neck in the process.  I sputtered numerous colorful metaphors at the furniture company under my breath as I warned both them and my sister-in-law about this and they both assured me the furniture would be secure when I was ready to install the equipment.  Suffice it to say, the furniture company had to come back, replace the now broken shelf and use L-brackets drilled into each cabinet rack (like I requested) to ensure this wouldn’t happen again.  Seriously, this process literally takes less than five minutes to do and not only stabilizes the furniture but also infinitely increases safety to the installer. I dedicated this much real estate in this article to this very important point because I could have literally become paralyzed over such a ridiculous and avoidable oversight. 

EMP System Install

A/V Components installed into Furniture

With the furniture secured, I drilled out bigger cutouts in the back to route the cabling (all furnished by Blue Jeans Cable) and power cords. I installed all of the components including an Ethernet hub to provide a wired Internet connection to the Samsung Display, Oppo BDP-93 Blu-ray player, Yamaha RX-A1010 A/V receiver and Nintendo Wii. This was necessary to tap into all of the networking features this system offers such as: Internet Radio, Pandora, Netflix and the iPhone App to control the receiver via your iPhone or iPad device.

I managed to fit one ES1010i sub in the left front corner while positioning the E55ti towers adjacent to each side of the entertainment center and applied slight toe-in directed towards the center “money seat”. The outriggers were installed on the E55Ti’s to provide stability which is essential since my sister-in-law has a rather active 9 year old boy and a lot of visitors. Nothing is worse than watching one of your tower speakers from across the room take a dive from an accidental bump as you run in slow motion yelling “NO!” powerless to stop it. For the second ES1010i subwoofer, which was located on the right rear wall diagonal to the front left sub as previously mentioned, I placed electrical tape on the back panel controls to prevent people from tampering with its settings. This was important since the plate amp was facing the dining room, well within the line of site of curious visitors entering the room. The E55Wi on-wall surround speakers were mounted about 3 feet above ear height (seated position) on the side walls slightly behind the listening area. The TX-615 in-ceiling speakers were positioned about 8 feet apart. I left all tone controls to flat and did NOT pivot the tweeter since the speakers were firing directly down to the listening area (though a few feet back from the couch) from the ceiling and thought it was a better option to have the drivers firing slightly off-axis to provide a more diffuse soundfield.

I configured the bass management in the Yamaha RX-A1010 A/V receiver as follows:

  • Mains: Large
  • Center / Surrounds: Small
  • Bass Output: Subwoofer + mains (routes main channel bass to both main speakers and sub)
  • Crossover: 80Hz

I level matched all of the speakers to 75dB using my OmniMic calibrator kit SPL meter set to slow response, C-wt). The sub channel was deliberately set 3dB hot for added impact. I set speaker distance based on physically measured distances, while I manually adjusted subwoofer distance until I got the best blend between the main speakers and subs for the two primary seats, again using the OmniMic sweeping between 20Hz to 200Hz.

I absolutely loved how the Yamaha RX-A1010 communicated with the Samsung Display and FIOS TV box via HDMI. It automatically switches sound between the TV speakers (when the RX-A1010 is turned off) to the home theater speakers (when the RX-A1010 is turned on).  You can even use the remote control from your HDMI compliant TV to control volume level on your RX-A1010!  For the first time in my installation history, I was able to install a single cable (HDMI) from the receiver to the TV utilizing just one input on the display to handle all source types (ie. composite, component, HDMI) coming into the A/V receiver without any operational hiccups.  If my sister-in-law only realized how cool this was. Her biggest worry now was to switch between 1 of 3 sources: AV1 for FIOS, AV2 for Blu-ray or AV3 for Nintendo Wii. Her 8 year old son was able to figure this out in minutes and explain it to her… after only a few days of repetition. I configured the network so she was able to stream Pandora, Netflix and also use her iPad to control the receiver. these are very cool features which only a few years ago didn’t exist in home theater at any price!

Listening Experience

The proof was in the pudding so to speak.  It was time to see if all my hard efforts paid off.  I was a bit worried giving the open space of the room and tile flooring but the large couches she chose did a pretty good job sucking up some of the echo.  I also convinced her to buy a thick 8’ x 11’ throw rug which should help considerably by taming the floor reflections.  I’ve done this myself in the Audioholics Showcase home Family room system after installing wood floors and it made a world of difference.

BD AnimBlu-ray: Animusic HD
This Blu-ray disc is a true treat for progressive rock fans. It's computer generated music animations done to classic progressive rock tunes encoded in DTS HD. My favorite is track #5 “Cathedral Pictures” which is a tribute to ELP’s “Pictures of an Exhibition”. This track is full of low frequency effects that, on a really good home theater system, will shake the foundation of your floor during high playback levels. It's particularly thunderous towards the end of the track when the pipe organs shoot out projectiles like massive canons from a battleship. On my reference system, it’s kind of a freaky feeling, since it shakes your very core by hitting some inaudible, but felt, frequencies below 20Hz. The ES1010i subs did a good job belting out the low end with plenty of slam, but they couldn’t reproduce the amount of very low tactile energy felt on my $5k/ea Velodyne DD-15+ subs. The EMP’s did manage to produce a very full sound and never strained to produce what they couldn’t do thanks to a well executed limiter. Having the E55Ti’s running full range really added to the overall bass impact which to someone who has never heard this track on a pair of $5k subwoofers would never know anything was missing.  The E55Ti’s loved to be cranked up and showed no signs of distress the more power I fed them.  They produced a very large and defined soundstage though not quite as delineated as I've heard are far more expensive speakers. 

The surround field was very spacious and perhaps a bit over enveloping due to the room acoustics.  Track #9 “Heavy Light” showcased the EMP system performance. As the monolithic structure erected the EMP’s woofer pumped out satisfying room filling bass. The sound of the light halo’s hitting the bass drum had oodles of slam, making the entire system sound larger than life. Having two ES1010is playing into the room with EMP’s E55ti flagship towers was a thing of beauty both in sight and sound. My sister-in-law couldn’t believe she was achieving this level of performance in a system I assembled for her on a relatively modest budget. I was a bit encouraged by this performance too, since I may have initially underestimated this sub just by perusing the online specs on the EMP website. EMP was truly delivering solid bass performance for music on the cheap.

BD YesBlu-ray: Yes – Live at Montreux 2003
If you didn’t realize this by now, I am a huge Progressive Rock fan.  Yes, in my opinion, is probably the best band of all time and most diversified in this music genre.  Track #15 “Awaken” is a musical masterpiece.  The triangles played by Alan White at the beginning of the song were crisp while Wakeman’s organs provided the framing for this awesome song.  Listen to this song alone and cranked up with the lights out and it will surely bring tears to your eyes.   Listening to Jon Anderson’s voice emanating out of the E56Ci center channel was awe inspiring.  His voice was clear and vibrant but also very anchored to the screen even as I moved to other seating positions.   The sound from this system was very fluid and uniform thanks to the virtual identical driver configuration shared between the E55Ti towers and E56Ci center channel speakers.  Though to keep things into perspective, I did feel the overall refinement wasn’t quite up to what you’d find on systems costing far more money and of course in better acoustical listening spaces.  I listened to this disc in DTS HD running the PLIIx Music mode to engage the RBH TK-615 back channels.  I really like having bi-pole/dipole type speakers on the side walls and direct radiators either in-ceiling or in-wall directly behind the listening area spread apart about 60-70% of the distance of the main channels.  The added envelopment of a properly set-up 7.1 system is just stunning, and it’s spoiled me to never listen in 5.1 again.  This system, as configured, was reinforcing my affinity for such installations.   

BD Toy3Blu-ray: Toy Story 3
Arguably the best of the series, Toy Story 3 delivers superb audio and video quality with a compelling storyline that just keeps you wanting to come back and watch it to reminisce about your youth. The opening scene where Woody battles the Evil Dr. Pork Chop has deep bass aplenty. From the explosion of the bridge to the rising of Rex or the soaring of the massive engines of Dr. Pork Chop’s Zeppelin, the EMP ES1010i subwoofers got a good workout and opportunity to strut their stuff. I found the bass was very meaty and at times perhaps a bit overemphasized in the 50-60Hz range which may have partly been exaggerated since I was running the E55Ti towers full-range and thus doubling up bass in this region. However this provided a lot of 'wow' effect which my sister-in-law certainly appreciated, and in her room was most definitely needed. The ES1010i did a great job of producing ample impact at sustained high output levels without mucking up the experience. Had it not been for my reference of hearing this scene on higher caliber subs, I wouldn’t think the EMP’s were missing a beat, but in reality, there wasn’t as much tactile response as I was used to hearing. This is nothing surprising given the size and price of this subwoofer. In fact, I’d say it’s pretty par for the course from other products of similar stature that I’ve reviewed in the past. If you want meaningful output below 25Hz, it’s gonna cost you in enclosure size and price and often aesthetics (unless you’re willing to pony up some extra coin for a premium finish and contoured shaped cabinet).

The E56Ci center channel was again providing a solid anchor for vocal dialogue while the E55Wi surrounds were filling the room with diffuse sound effects.  There were times when my sister-in-law thought there was something wrong with the surround speakers since she didn’t hear them. I proved to her they were on by muting those channels and explained to her that you don’t always want to “hear” or “localize” the surround speakers.  I may revisit another day and reverse the tweeter polarity on the front tweeters of her E55Wi surround speakers to see if an even more diffuse surround field would be preferred for movies without hindering music applications.


systemsOverall I was quite pleased with the end results of installing this system. Despite the rather constrained space in the room, I still successfully implemented tower speakers and two subs, a monster center channel and two sets of surround speakers to make it a true 7.1 A/V system. This system produces really good sound, can be played extremely loud to satisfy her partying needs, and it looks great in the process of doing it. I think the speaker choice was right on the money but if budget and space wasn’t an issue, I probably would have suggested a pair of SVS PB-12NSD subs to provide more oomph to the last ½ octave of bass that only a true Bassaholic would appreciate it. More budget minded Bassaholics should take a hard look at a pair of Rythmik FV12 subwoofers as an alternative option too.

This whole process inspired me to create a new $6,500 Recommended System Guide featuring the very equipment found in this review.  Considering EMP often runs sales on package deals and FREE shipping with a 30 day risk free trial, it makes demoing this system in your own listening environment quite painless.

Installing this system successfully for my sister-in-law scored big points with my wife. She called us several times raving about how she loved having theater system in her home that sounded like she was at her local Cineplex. I even got an invite for homemade Sancocho soup which by itself was almost worth the man hours that I labored putting it all together for her.  She got her “classy” system that blended into her room decor.   I got the chance to check out the latest EMP products. Most importantly, I did my good deed for the family that is always expected of me each time a family member wants to dive into their own home theater system since I started Audioholics.  Now I sit by the phone waiting for her to call me if she can’t figure out how to work her remotes, in which case will undoubtedly involve another house call and opportunity for consuming more soup.

About the author:
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Gene manages this organization, establishes relations with manufacturers and keeps Audioholics a well oiled machine. His goal is to educate about home theater and develop more standards in the industry to eliminate consumer confusion clouded by industry snake oil.

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