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EMPtek ES1010i Subwoofer Review

by March 04, 2012
  • Product Name: ES1010i Subwoofer Review
  • Manufacturer: EMPtek
  • Performance Rating: StarStarStarStar
  • Value Rating: StarStarStarStar
  • Review Date: March 04, 2012 19:00
  • MSRP: $ 499 (price include FREE Shipping)
  • Buy Now
  • Dual 10" (254mm) Poly-matrix Cone Bass Drivers

  • Amplifier Type: Class D

  • Voltage: 110V/220V

  • Amplifier Power: 250 Watts RMS Amplifer

  • Crossover: 50Hz–150Hz (continuously variable)

  • Frequency Response: 30Hz–150Hz ±3dB

  • Line Level Inputs & Outputs

  • Phase Control: (0/180 Degrees continuously variable)

  • Auto On

  • Defeatable LPF (using LFE input)

  • Dimensions: 13" W x 27-1/2" H x 19" D  (330mm W x 699mm H x 483mm D)

  • Weight: 45 lbs. (20.41 kg.)

  • Available in High-gloss Red Burl or High-gloss Black Ash



  • Good performance on the cheap
  • Attractive style & finish
  • Plays nice with small satellite speaker systems


  • Limited deep extension & output


EMPtek ES1010i Subwoofer Review Introduction

ES1010_nogrille.jpgIf looks could kill, EMPtek would have a family of serial killers on their hands with their latest Impression Series products because they simply look that good.  This is true about their loudspeaker products and subwoofers as well.  The contoured sleek cabinets and premium looking finishes just adds a wow factor you typically don't find at these price points.

If you’ve been reading this site regularly for the last year or so, you’d know we’ve gone off the deep end (no pun intended) on reviewing subwoofers. Audioholics readers love bass and I’m no exception. Since the launch of the EMPtek brand (under parent company RBH Sound), they’ve been producing attractive, high value loudspeaker products. But, their subwoofer line always seemed a bit lacking. EMP (let's drop the Tek for simplicity) is hoping to change that with their new ES1010i subwoofer offering. The ES1010i is a dual 10” compact bottom-ported 250 watt subwoofer with an Internet direct price of $499 shipped to your door. There are many well established ID brands putting out great products at this price point. The question is, will EMP be considered competitive among them? Read this review to find out.

Build Quality and Features

Although the EMP ES1010i sub is rather lightweight for its size, its internal build quality indicates that it isn’t too shabby. Rather than using the square hollow box I often find with subwoofers at this price point, EMP employs a rigid and thick cross brace, plenty of insulation and a double thick front baffle. The side walls are a bit thin at 0.6” but EMP didn’t cut corners on the front baffle, sandwiching two 0.6” sheets of MDF to yield a whopping 1.2” thick layer. This is arguably where you need the most rigidity in a subwoofer since you’ve got heavy recessed mounted drivers affixed to it. The contoured shape of the cabinet also really gives a classy look to this product which should win over points with your significant other. The ES1010i is available in two finishes: red burl (as reviewed) and black ash. I feel the red burl looks particularly stunning from a distance but don’t mistake it for the type of finish you would get in a multi thousand dollar unit. Only upon close inspection do you notice its flaws which are certainly far more forgiving than other units I’ve seen at this price.

brace1.jpg       emp-vents.jpg

 EMP ES1010i Internal Look (left pic) ; bottom firing ports (right pic)

There are two 3” bottom firing port tubes which appear to be constructed from thick cardboard material. The ports are flared on the outside of the cabinet (good) but not in the inside (not so good). My review units had the standard size port tubes. EMP has since then made a running change to lengthen the ports to increase low end bass extension which is discussed in greater detail in the measurements portion of this review.


EMP ES1010i Subwoofer Driver

The ES1010i employs two 10” poly matrix cone (fancy term for a type of plastic construction) drivers each with a 1” wide butyl rubber surround, a stamped frame with a fairly hefty motor structure (40 oz) and vented pole piece, and a 2” voice coil. This driver is similar to the one found on their ES10i subwoofer but is 8-ohms instead of 4-ohms and has a slightly higher complaint spider to the lower resonance frequency allowing the sub to play down lower thus increasing its extension. While this driver is rather generic in construction, strength in numbers helps by placing two of them into the enclosure to increase output while also lowering distortion.


EMP ES1010i Back view

The ES1010i plate amp model # DSA-250 is a 250 watt linear Class D amplifier with continuous variable phase and crossover control (surprising at this price point). The subwoofer crossover is adjustable from 50Hz to 150Hz but can also be defeated by utilizing the LFE input of the sub. The ES1010i also has stereo L/R inputs and outputs. The sub has auto-on capability and a detachable power cord. It also features an analog limiter to ensure that, no matter how hard you drive it, you cannot cause it to misbehave or destroy itself.

EMPtek ES1010i Subwoofer Review Listening Tests

I actually put together an entire EMPtek 7.2 speaker package for my sister-in-law that consisted of 2 x E55ti towers, 1 x E56Ci center, E55Wi side surrounds, 2 x ES1010i subwoofers and 2 x RBH Sound TK-615 in-ceiling back channels. This system is powered by a Yamaha RX-A1010 A/V receiver and Oppo BDP-93 Blu-ray player. All speaker cables (14AWG x 4), HDMI and interconnects are furnished by Blue Jeans Cable. An article on this system install is forthcoming. The ES1010i's are diagonally corner-loaded (one front left corner, other right rear corner) of the room. All speakers were set to “Small” with a crossover of 80Hz, except the main E55ti towers which were run at full-range. This system was placed in a family room roughly 15’ x 20’ open to the rest of the house. So the listening space was rather large for a subwoofer of this size and output capability.

After pulling measurements at the primary listening seats, I did some quick listening tests in two-channel to make sure I achieved proper integration between the front speakers and subwoofer(s). Success. By running the E55Ti’s full-range, the system was able to produce a very full sounding bass response and seamless transition between the front towers and the subs. Although the ES1010i’s output is rather limited below 30Hz, room gain was my friend as you can see with the measurement below taken at the primary listening area.


 In-Room Frequency Response of (2) ES1010i subwoofers + E55ti Towers at the Listening Position

This measurement was pulled at the primary listening area 12ft from the front of the room. This is a very linear response achieved maintaining +-5dB from 20Hz to 100Hz. The modified ES1010i subs with longer port tubes would have produced 2-3dB more gain in the 25-30Hz region for this install, so you can expect more performance than what I was able to achieve on products shipping to actual customers.

Blu-ray: Animusic HDbd-animusic.jpg

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. Track #9 “Heavy Light” showcased the EMP subwoofer 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 surprised by this performance 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. Now I wanted to see how they would fare for movie playback.

Blu-ray: Toybd-toy3.jpg 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).

EMPtek ES1010i Subwoofer Review Measurements and Analysis

All tests were conducted using 1 meter groundplane technique outdoors. The mic was placed on the floor firing at middle of the cabinet surface containing the dual 10” drivers. The grille cover was removed during this testing. All tests were conducted using continuous reverse sine-wave sweeps. Sweep tones tend to really stress a subwoofer as the motor structure warms up and pushes the sub out of its nominal operation like it would in real world usage but they don’t always allow for the ability to find max SPL per discrete frequency like the CEA2010 test method. This is why it’s important to make apples to apples comparisons in our published tabulated data tables when viewing subwoofer output levels tested either to CEA-2010 or reverse sine-wave sweep testing.

For more information, see: Audioholics Subwoofer Measurement Data Compilation & Report


EMPtek ES1010i SPL vs Frequency (1 meter groundplane)

The ES1010i review sample I initially reviewed accidentally had a 4-ohm driver installed from their ES10i subwoofer model which lowered the overall impedance the amplifier saw to 2.7-ohms instead of 4-ohms (by running two 8 ohm drivers in parallel). This put more strain on the amplifier and thus dropped the overall output almost 3dB below 40 Hz as you can see in the green trace. EMP has since then sent me the correct driver to make the correction. They also have increased the port tube length on new products shipping to increase usable bass output below 40Hz as you can see in the red trace.

The ES1010i proved to be a bit too small for its own good. Because of the smallish internal volume, the system exhibits a fairly significant peak at resonance (50-55Hz) which may explain why at times I felt the upper bass sounded a bit thick or overemphasized. Users finding this not to their liking are encouraged to use an external PEQ such as ones found in modern A/V receivers to notch this out but I suspect some listeners will perceive it as a benefit for increased slam factor especially given its modest output capabilities at lower frequencies. Personally I’d love to see EMP increase the box volume (by adding vertical height), flare the internal ports to further reduce the potential for chuffing and employ a small PEQ notch at system resonance in a future but likely costlier product offshoot.

System tuning appears to be around 30Hz with about a 16dB/octave roll-off below tuning. The high pass on the amplifier is 12dB per octave.  The measured acoustics slope is 30dB per octave between 20Hz and 10Hz.

With the LPF disabled (using the LFE input), this sub is flat out to 500Hz. This makes blending this sub with a small satellite speaker system as easy as pie, since you can choose a higher-than-80Hz crossover point without losing any upper bass thanks to the light mass of the drivers. On the downside, this sub also exhibits limited 20Hz, so corner placement is a must if you want to get this sub to produce as much tactile response as possible.

I scaled the Max output data to 2 meters (rms) and tabulated it below for comparative purposes to other products previously reviewed.

Frequency (Hz) SPL (dB)
20 85
25 91
30 97
40 102.5
50 106
60 105
80 105
125 105

2 meter groundplane measurement RMS SPL Sweep Results for EMP ES1010i  

The ES1010i sub maintained good composure through all my sweep tests. Only at the maximum sweep level did I hear some cabinet noise at higher frequencies (above 80Hz) and some port chuffing below 25Hz, but the limiter did a great job of ensuring the sub was never overdriven at low frequencies which is what matters most

EMPtek ES1010i Conclusion

The EMP ES1010i subwES1010_grille.jpgoofer combines beautiful aesthetics with competent performance. NO this sub won’t win any output or extension wars. If that is your primary goal, then look elsewhere, but also realize you will likely be getting a large pedestrian black box with little to no WAF at this price point (and even possibly higher). The ES1010i does deliver solid bass performance at a modest price without requiring a forklift to move it or without occupying too much precious floor space since it’s taller than it is deep. The ES1010i blends beautifully with the EMP E55ti or E5ti matching towers both in form and function. Because of its extended upper bandwidth, it will also blend seamlessly with even the smallest satellite speaker systems by allowing the end user to increase the crossover point in their A/V receiver's bass management system without sacrificing any output in the critical transition region.

If you are looking for a beautifully finished, nicely constructed affordable subwoofer to compliment the rest of your EMPtek speaker system or a similar high value speaker package, the ES1010i will surely fit the bill. It’s not easy to get a woman to actually like a subwoofer and the fact that my sister-in-law doesn’t find two of them in her home obtrusive is a huge positive in winning the war with your spouse on multiple subs. $499 delivered to your door with a generous 30 day return policy seems about right to me and I surely hope you agree if you’re looking to add some boom with style to your system.

Bassaholic Small

Although we didn't use CEA 2010 test data to certify the room rating for the ES1010i subwoofer we extrapolated using RMS sweep data.  The EMP ES1010i subwoofer achieves the Audioholics Bassoholic “Small” room rating which means that this sub is recommended as maintaining adequate headroom in small sized spaces less than or equal to 1,500 cubic feet and/or users who usually listen at a moderate volume level.

Editorial Note about Room Rating of the ES1010i Subwoofer (11/29/12)

While the ES1010i subwoofer didn't receive our "Medium" room rating  at 25Hz, it  passed it for all other frequencies (30Hz to 80Hz). This is a really excellent budget sub with a lot of usable output. It sounds great and looks great. In fact, the ES1010i, if corner-loaded, would easily measure out enough at 25Hz to achieve our "Medium" room rating.


382 Marshall Way
Layton, Utah 84041


About EMP Tek
Engineered Music Products (EMP) was founded in 2007 by Industry professionals with over thirty years experience in designing, engineering and manufacturing high performance loudspeakers for companies such as Parasound, McIntosh, JBL, RBH Sound, Destination Audio and Fosgate...

The High Performance Loudspeakers designed by EMP differ greatly from the products that sell in mass retail and big box stores. Manufacturers who market their products through mass retail and big box stores have to spend most of every dollar on marketing and advertising, leaving little of that dollar for product development and build quality.

For thirty years, the founding employees of RBH Sound have focused on engineering and manufacturing loudspeakers that stand above the mass produced, profit focused brands that are offered by mass retail and big box stores. RBH has applied this same philosophy to their new sister company EMP Tek whose products are available exclusively online. In short - these are not your garden variety speakers nor company for that matter.

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
Bass ExtensionStarStarStar
Bass AccuracyStarStarStarStar
Build QualityStarStarStarStar
Dynamic RangeStarStarStar
Attached Files
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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