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Emotiva Airmotiv 3b Bluetooth Speaker Review

by March 15, 2016
Emotiva Airmotiv 3b Wireless Speaker

Emotiva Airmotiv 3b Wireless Speaker

  • Product Name: Airmotiv 3b
  • Manufacturer: Emotiva
  • Performance Rating: StarStarStarStar
  • Value Rating: StarStarStarStar
  • Review Date: March 15, 2016 09:00
  • MSRP: $ 199/pair (free shipping)
  • Topology:Two-way tuned-port speaker with internal amplifier.
  • Inputs: Bluetooth wireless audio (stereo; Bluetooth 2.0 with AptX), Analog audio (stereo; line level)
  • Drivers: Woofer – 3” long throw, Tweeter – ¾” dome
  • Cabinet: MDF low diffraction cabinet with satin black lacquer finish. Metal protective grilles for both woofer and tweeter. Solid aluminum rear panel.
  • Power: AC power – 100 to 240 VAC; 50/60 Hz @  1.5 A, AC adapter output – 18 VDC @ 3.0A
  • Size: 5-1/2” deep x 6-3/4” high x 4-1/8” wide (unboxed; each speaker x 2), 2-1/4” x 4-1/2” x 1-3/8” (AC adapter), 13-3/4” long x 8-5/8” wide x 11” high (boxed)
  • Weight: 7 lbs (unboxed; both speakers plus AC adapter)


  • Small footprint
  • Good, balanced sound for its size
  • Bluetooth wireless connectivity
  • Solid feel and build


  • No subwoofer output to compensate for limited bass response
  • Has all the quirks inherent with Bluetooth audio


Airmotiv 3b Introduction

When it comes to speakers, the adage, "big things come in small packages" doesn’t really apply.  There are just some things in life, like the laws of physics and speakers, where bigger is better.  However, there are also the laws of life where bigger isn't always practical or doable. 

Our desktop workspace is one such example.  Desktop real estate is often more precious per square inch than the world’s most expensive real estate.  Maximizing your working area with ignominious options like a computer’s built-in speakers or those terrible speaker bars underneath computer monitors can have disastrous sonic results.  The simple reality is this: to get great sound, you need great speakers. 

Nashville, Tennessee-based Emotiva has defied conventional wisdom on many things during the company’s existence.  From amplifiers to processors, Emotiva has bucked the price-performance bronco many times.  The result? How about several Product of the Year awards from this very online magazine and others. Now, Emotiva is out to do the same with your desktop with the Airmotiv 3b Wireless loudspeakers. 


The Airmotiv 3b speaker system is small.  Each speaker measures only 5 1/2 inches deep x 6 3/4 inches high by 4 1/8 inches wide. The cabinets are lacquer finished MDF. 10mm panel thickness with MDF damping plates and spun Dacron fill. The speakers will easily fit on a crowded desk or shelf. Unlike most desktop speakers, however, the Airmotiv 3b can operate as both a traditional speaker and a Bluetooth wireless speaker. 

The Airmotiv is minimalist in both size and wire clutter but not on specs and features.  Emotiva has gone the extra mile by including Bluetooth 2.0 and the AptX codec.  That means you’ll get near CD-quality sound when connected to AptX compatible source gear. 

The Airmotiv right speaker is the pair’s command center.  It features a line input to connect pretty much any analog source with a 3.5mm adapter, including DACs and portable music players.  The right speaker contains a simple, cleanly laid out control panel on top. 

Emotiva AirMotiv Top Panel

The top of the Airmotiv right speaker acts as a control center.

Emotiva built its reputation on high power, high value amplifiers. The Airmotiv 3b follows that legacy.  These powered desktop monitors feature an a built-in stereo 60 watt (30 watt x 2 into 4 ohms at 1% distortion) Class D amplifier, 32-bit digital signal processing (for system EQ and dynamics processing), and an all-digital signal path.  On paper, Emotiva promises that these little desktop speakers will produce dynamic sound, even at high volumes with complex music.

The Airmotiv 3b is a two-way, tuned-port design with a 3/4” dome tweeter and a 3” long-throw woofer.  The woofer uses a polypropylene cone with a ceramic magnetic assembly. The tweeter is 19mm woven textile dome with a neodymium motor structure.  The woofer and tweeter have metal protective grilles—a must for any speaker finding itself in an active work area.

The Airmotiv's enclosure is made of MDF. It has a matte, satin black lacquer finish that I found to be top notch.  The rear of the speaker, where the basic input connections are, is a solid aluminum panel.

We’ve covered Emotiva products for such a long time here at Audioholics that it can become second nature to omit some important aspects about the company.  Like all Emotiva products, the Airmotiv 3bs come with the company’s in-home, 30-day money back guarantee.  Shipping is free to get the speakers.  You only pay shipping to return them if you don’t like them.  

First Impressions

When I first unpacked the Airmotiv 3bs, they felt heavy for their size and solidly constructed too. 

Setting up the Airmotiv 3bs was a breeze. Only two connections are required. First, I connected the left and right speaker together with the required 3.5mm cable (included).  Second, I plugged in the power cord to the rear of the right speaker. I was quickly in business. 

Sitting on my desk, the Airmotiv looked a bit like a stealth bomber with their distinctively angled front baffle and front-ported design.  While the Airmotiv's footprint is visually deeper than I expected, they never felt large or physically overpowering on my desk.   They were just right. 

All control buttons are aligned in a vertical row.  Powering on the unit is as simple as depressing the top-most button on the right speaker, which is the power/standby.  You quickly realize Emotiva’s wisdom of putting all the control buttons easily within reach.  There’s no fiddling with rear power switches or anything of that sort.  Powering on the unit changes the speaker’s status light from red to blue.   

Below the power button is an input button that toggles between Bluetooth and line-in.  Bluetooth and Line in inputs are clearly marked.  Selecting your Bluetooth input yields a blue light and selecting line input produces a green light. Which input you’ve selected is clearly visible from a standard seating position.  You’ll never find yourself guessing. Finally, there are two buttons dedicated to volume up and down.  There is no IR remote control to execute any of these functions. 

Airmotiv 3b Speakers: Setup and Calibration

During my testing period, I chose to connect the Airmotivs via Bluetooth to an iPhone 6s and MacBook Air.  Connecting the Airmotiv speakers was uneventful.  That’s always a great thing and it’s how it should be.  I powered up the speakers, went to my Bluetooth settings, selected the Airmotiv, (which showed up as ASM-3b in my Bluetooth control panel), and was in business in a matter of moments.

AirMotiv 3b rear

The rear of the Airmotiv 3b's right speaker has a 3.5mm analog line input if you don't want to use Bluetooth

In previous reviews I’ve noted that in my personal opinion Bluetooth audio was still at an early stage.  The reasons for my feelings once again came to the forefront.  I want to note that my two major observations below have to do with the Bluetooth protocol in general. These aren’t specific knocks on the Airmotivs.

Volume control is the first problem.  It’s always relative.  On Bluetooth speakers (like the Airmotiv) how to set the volume properly needs to be explained or it may initially confuse or frustrate some users.  On Bluetooth speakers, volume depends on two separate things.  First, the volume you set on the Bluetooth speaker becomes the maximum volume and then the volume you set on your device (computer, smart phone, etc) becomes a relative volume from that.  

I’ve seen too many instances where someone will become frustrated with a Bluetooth speaker not playing loud enough because they have set the volume too low on the speaker yet see it set to max on their device and cannot figure out why things sound so soft.  Once you understand how volume settings work on a Bluetooth speaker, you can set your volume accordingly and you’ll be fine.  

The second issue has to do with what I call Bluetooth device precedence.  In the majority of cases, this really isn’t a big deal, but it’s worth noting.  Once a device is locked onto a Bluetooth speaker, it hogs the connection and you cannot knock it off.  You need to manually disconnect the device, power it down, or prevent the speaker from auto-locking back on to it by going out of range.  AirPlay, in contrast will allow you to override an existing connection by simply pointing a new device to the AirPlay target and it will disconnect the other device.  This can sometimes become a problem and an annoyance where you have a Bluetooth device locked onto a speaker and want to play music from another Bluetooth source.  If you don’t know which of your devices is locked into the speaker, it becomes a completely unnecessary hassle.  The Emotiva user manual does a nice job of noting this specific aspect of Bluetooth connections.

In summary, for those who are getting their feet wet for the first time with Bluetooth audio, once you understand those two quirks, you can move on.  Knowledge is power, isn’t it?

Calibrating Desktop Speakers?

I can’t recall ever seeing a suggestion to calibrate computer desktop speakers, but I strongly recommend it, no I insist on it, with the AirMovitv 3bs.  If you want to get these speakers to sound their best, then treat them like high quality audiophile speakers.  If you don’t calibrate these speakers properly, then you run the risk of getting audible static from these speakers and you won’t be able to figure out why.  I suggest you follow the standard protocol for calibrating the volume for regular speakers and apply it here.

I calibrated the speakers using a digital copy of the Pink Noise track from Revel’s LFO optimization CD. If you don’t have a Pink Noise track on you computer or mobile device, you can just download a Pink Noise audio file from any of several places online.  

Revel LFO Optimization CD

I used my Revel LFO Optimization CD to calibrate the speakers.

I then played the Pink Noise file via iTunes through the Emotiva Airmotiv 3bs. I measured the Pink Noise using the UE SPL app on an iPhone 6s.  There are plenty of free SPL apps you can use for iOS and Android.  You can also use a handheld SPL meter.  I set both the iTunes and the computer volume to maximum and then gradually increased the volume on the Emotivas until I measured 75db on the SPL meter. Of course, you can always calibrate higher if you so choose to compensate for the wide variability in computer and online audio sources.   

I want to warn strongly against simply connecting the Airmotiv 3bs to a source and then start playing something.  You do so at your own sonic risk.  If you do not calibrate the Airmotivs and just jack the volume up on the speakers, then all you will end up doing is amplifying noise.  In fact, you will start to generate audible hiss from the speakers and it will not be subtle.  It’s just like taking an external amp and jacking the amplifier’s volume up to max.

Once I had the Airmotivs calibrated and sounding good, I was ready to go.

Airmotiv 3b Speakers: Listening Tests

I lived with the Airmotiv 3bs for a couple of months as part of my every day audio ritual and used them in a variety of different contexts from music to movie programming to video conferencing.  For their size, the Airmotiv 3bs played bigger, louder, and cleaner than most comparable speakers in their size and price range.  

Emotiva AirMotiv 3b Lifestyle Pic

The Airmotiv 3b speakers take up very little room on a desktop

Let me dwell on the word “loud” for a second.  These little guys were able to play very loud—ear deafeningly so—and could fill a small to medium room with ease.  If you go past my aforementioned calibration steps and simply jack up the volume on the speakers and your source, you can do some serious damage to your hearing.  

Star Wars the Force AwakensI did, in fact, jack up the volume just for kicks and played the Star Wars: The Force Awakens Trailer #3. At the 31 second mark of the trailer, there was so much air coming out of the front port that it physically blew small Lego pieces I had in front of the speaker about 3 inches across my desk.  You have been warned: With great amplifier power comes great responsibility. 

The Emotivas could deliver a physical punch if the material offered it. Playing The Smashing Pumpkins alternate cut of “The Beginning is the End is the Beginning” from Rarities and B-Sides demonstrated how the Airmotivs could convey the overall weight of this song.

Stereo imaging was exceptional.  Mass in C Minor by the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields from the Amadeus Soundtrack was beautifully rendered by the Emotivas.  There was a clear, textured soundstage with vocals centrally placed.  

Hans Zimmer’s haunting score from Gladiator came through with very good timbral balance and dynamics.  Playing Gladiator via Netflix showed that the Emotivas could very well satisfy a computer-confined, space-cramped home theater junkie.  The Airmotiv 3bs combined all the aforementioned elements and laid out a coherent theatrical soundstage.  

X-Men Age of ApocalypseSimple things like horse hoofs danced left to right seamlessly and with oomph.  The Emotivas also did a very good job with dialogue, rendering it intelligibly.  Scene after scene, I noted a good overall ability to render fine details.  Complex scenes, however, such as the chariot match depicting the Battle of Carthage in the Colosseum sounded good too; but many of the audible nuances that more expensive speakers would extract from that scene were blended together and less detailed. 

Turning up the volume on X-Men: Age of Apocalypse trailer conveyed life and dynamics through the Airmotiv 3bs without much strain.  The benefits of the-ported design were evident in action-packed material like that. When called to do so, the speakers delivered some really good you-can-feel-it punch. 

The Emotivas did not have a completely neutral midrange or transparent top end.  Let’s face it, what inexpensive speaker does? Horns and cymbals were the largest casualties in this regard.  To my ears, the Emotivas tended to lean towards warmer side of neutral. That’s OK.  Given the tradeoffs Emotiva’s engineering needed to make in order to shrink the speaker down to this footprint, I felt this voicing served the Emotiva’s overall sonic presentation and character well.  

While Emotiva did a wonderful job in battling the laws of physics, one ultimately cannot be a total law-breaker.  The Emotivas certainly won’t play deep bass notes.  There is no option for connecting an external subwoofer to compensate for this.  Having such an option would have been a really nice feature, but truth be told this wasn’t a deal breaker.  If you’re considering these Emotivas instead of a set of their larger monitors then desktop real estate is likely your larger priority.

Airmotiv 3b Speakers: Conclusion

Emotiva AirMotiv 3b lifestyle Pic

The Emotiva Airmotiv 3b is a winner for solid desktop sound

Yes, Emotiva has done it again. These aren’t your average computer speakers.  The Airmotiv 3bs are high-grade desktop speakers with serious kick. For such a small package, they deliver remarkably good sound. They certainly are not the perfect desktop speaker and they don’t come with luxurious extras.  There is no remote or subwoofer output, for example.  But at the $200 price point (shipping included), those are inconsequential omissions. 

If you’re tight on space and budget and have been waiting for a reason to give your computer-based gaming, movie watching, or music listening a serious upgrade, then look no further than the Airmotiv 3b. 

Do good things come in small packages?  The Airmotiv 3b is certainly proof of this.  Highly recommended!

The Score Card

The scoring below is based on each piece of equipment doing the duty it is designed for. The numbers are weighed heavily with respect to the individual cost of each unit, thus giving a rating roughly equal to:

Performance × Price Factor/Value = Rating

Audioholics.com note: The ratings indicated below are based on subjective listening and objective testing of the product in question. The rating scale is based on performance/value ratio. If you notice better performing products in future reviews that have lower numbers in certain areas, be aware that the value factor is most likely the culprit. Other Audioholics reviewers may rate products solely based on performance, and each reviewer has his/her own system for ratings.

Audioholics Rating Scale

  • StarStarStarStarStar — Excellent
  • StarStarStarStar — Very Good
  • StarStarStar — Good
  • StarStar — Fair
  • Star — Poor
Build QualityStarStarStarStar
Bass ExtensionStarStarStar
Dynamic RangeStarStarStarStar
Fit and FinishStarStarStarStar
About the author:
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Theo Nicolakis has been reviewing high end audio, video, home theater, headphone, and portable music products for the past 14 years. His reviews have appeared here on Audioholics as well as Techhive.com, PCWorld.com, MacWorld.com, and more. His reviews span high end two-channel and home theater systems, AVRs and immersive audio processors, headphones, DACs, DAPs, music servers, sound bars, and display technologies.

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