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Emotiva X-Ref 10 Subwoofer Review

by November 08, 2011
  • Product Name: X-Ref 10 Subwoofer
  • Manufacturer: Emotiva
  • Performance Rating: StarStarStarStar
  • Value Rating: StarStarStarStar
  • Review Date: November 08, 2011 15:15
  • MSRP: $ 499
  • Drivers: (1) 10" long throw woofer with die-cast frame, Butyl rubber surround, 2-inch vented motor structure, and proprietary para-aramid blended fiber cone
  • Power Output: 300 watts RMS, 500 watts peak
  • Typical InRoom Frequency Response: 25 Hz‐200 Hz
  • Typical InRoom Output: 112‐115 dB SPL
  • Nominal input sensitivity: Balanced Input: 1 V ; Unbalanced Input: 500 mv.
  • Phase Adjustment: 0 to 315 degrees (in 45 degree steps)
  • Low Pass Crossover: 40-150 Hz (in 1 Hz steps)
  • Parametric Equalizers: EQ1, EQ2 (independent)
    Center Frequency: 25 Hz - 150 Hz (in 1 Hz steps)
    Gain: -12 dB to +6 dB (in 1 dB steps)
    Q: 0.5 to 5.0 (in 0.1 steps)
  • Input Voltage: 120 VAC 50/60 Hz or 230 VAC 50/60 Hz auto detecting
  • Dimensions: Unboxed: 13.625" high x 12.625" wide x 13.625" deep (including 1" high feet)
  • Weight: Unboxed: 33 lbs.


  • Tight potent bass output
  • Impeccable build quality
  • Unbreakable


  • Small size & aggressive HPF limits ultimate bass extension
  • No speaker level inputs


Emotiva X-Ref 10 Subwoofer Build Quality

XREF10-heroLately we’ve been reviewing a lot of big box, refrigerator size subwoofers.  These products proved to be sheer beasts in terms of output and extension.  The laws of physics are on their side.  But what about subwoofers that occupy less real estate?  Enter Emotiva.  Their mission when it comes to subs is to manufacture reasonably small, but potent, products while making them inexpensive enough for the customer to purchase two.  Dual subs are advantageous both in achieving more output but also in smoother frequency response across a wider listening area.  Emotiva’s latest designs include the X-Ref 10 and 12.  We chose to review the X-Ref 10 which is said to be a notch up in performance from its predecessor Ultra 10.  The X-Ref series feature a more robust driver and more powerful amplifier than the Ultra series. Better parts require more $$$ spent on the product, hence the associated price increase.  Twice the motor force and twice the power of the Ultra 10 with a modest cost increase of $100, the X-Ref 10 looks impressive on paper.  Let’s take a closer look at this brawny little sub.

Build Quality and Features

We were impressed with the Ultra Series subwoofer's build quality when we reviewed the Ultra 12, so we expected nothing less of Emotiva with their new X-Ref 10 subwoofer.  The X-Ref 10 uses a high efficiency 300 watt (continuous rated) power amplifier with high current switch mode power supply. It appears to be a clean design just as we’ve come to expect from a company specializing in quality, yet affordable, amplification. 

The 10” driver is a high mass paper cone which Emotiva calls a “proprietary para-aramid blended fiber" cone.  It sports a 2” voice coil and a large dust cap and 1” butyl rubber surround to help it reach long excursions.  The driver frame is constructed of a rigid die-cast basket with a vented motor assembly and tinsel leads to reduce mechanical distortions.  I measured the effective cone area to be around 8” and the rubber surround to be about 1”.  These are pretty standard dimensions for a heavy duty 10” cone.

Like the Ultra series driver, the X-Ref driver employs tinsel leads to help eliminate the worry of lead slapping against the driver during high excursion, while also proving more travel.  Looking at this baby out of the box is like a work of art.  We’ve seen subwoofer drivers from competing products costing 3-4 times the price that employed generic stamped frames and conventional cone geometries.  Emotiva has obviously invested much of the budget in this product into the actual parts.  


Emotiva X-Ref 10 Sub Driver (notice cast basket and tinsel leads)

Tinside_boxhe cabinet appears to have a 1” thick front baffle and ¾” side panels with very ample bracing and acoustical dampening materials batting the sidewalls.  The bracing is even rounded off on the interior corners providing additional reinforcement. The rounded braces are a nice touch and you can tell that Emotiva has a pride in workmanship that you don't always see with subwoofer manufacturers.  The knock test all around proved this sub had a very inert enclosure.  The woofer is flush mounted with 8 threaded screws and inserts rather than just bare MDF for a more snug and reliable fit. 

The sub includes both rubber and aluminum feet, so you can use it on carpet or hardwood and tile floors.  The box is finished in their Studio Black Satin Lacquer.

The Ultra X-Ref 10 is essentially a compact 13" cube and weighs 33lbs. It has usable in-room extension down in the 30Hz range and Emotiva specs typical in-room output at about 112-115dB which we will elaborate on in the measurements section of this review.

On the back you've got both balanced (a rare find on any consumer subs, especially at this price) and unbalanced inputs and one balanced output to daisy chain more X-Ref subs. A trigger input and power toggle on/off and a detachable power receptacle are the only other interfaces on the back panel of the X-Ref 10. 

There is no “auto” setting for power.  The unit simply goes into standby mode after about 10 minutes of inactivity.  You can observe this by the color change of the back panel LED which is green when the sub is active and red when it’s in standby mode.

Make sure you make all of your connections with the subwoofer turned off to avoid a loud humming sound when connecting the line level inputs if the sub is not in standby mode.


Emotiva X-Ref 10 Back panel

About the only thing you won't be able to do with this subwoofer is feed it speaker level inputs or use it to crossover full-range frequencies to a pair of satellite speakers (there are no speaker level inputs or outputs whatsoever). With a modern AV receiver this shouldn't be a problem, but if you have a lower-tech integrated amplifier or a true legacy system or audiophile rig, you may need to look into an external crossover.

Unlike the Ultra series, the X-Ref moved all of the level controls, crossover settings and EQ functions into a digital display which is mounted at the top of the cabinet.  It’s operated with a jog shuttle that you press down on to choose your options.  Personally I’d prefer to still have level control as a rotary knob or up/down pushable buttons on the back panel for quicker access. But, the digital display integration is much neater and easier to access than a back panel, especially if the sub is placed against a wall.

The adjustment options are more elaborate than appearance upon first glance.  You can adjust phase from 0 to 315 degrees in 45 degree steps while also adjusting the LPF from bypass to 40-150Hz in 1Hz step sizes.  There are two preprogrammed presets “Movie” and “Flat”.  The only difference between the two modes is “Movie” boosts the overall level.  Unfortunately you cannot edit the presets to store EQ or other setup data.  Perhaps Emotiva will expand upon this feature set in future products.

 The PEQ incorporated into the X-Ref10 can come in quite handy for fine tuning system response, especially considering most A/V receiver auto-EQ’s do very little EQ’ing of the subwoofer channel.  Emotiva incorporates a two band PEQ adjustable from 25Hz to 150Hz in 1 Hz step sizes with -12dB to +3dB of gain in 1dB step sizes and a Q of 0.5 to 5.0 in 0.1 step sizes.  This is a tool all subwoofers should have and it’s quite a rare find in a product at this price point.  The Emotiva website states +6dB boost is possible but that’s only true if you gang up both EQ’s at the same frequency and Q while setting each of them to +3dB.

Emotiva X-Ref 10 Subwoofer Listening Tests

I focused most of my listening tests on music as I suspect most people buying a small sealed sub like the X-Ref 10 would use it for.  Using my EMP 41-SE/B computer desktop speakers and VT40.2 tube amp, I queued up some tunes on Pandora.com and set the 3 piece system up in my 600 ft^2 workout room for a listen while I pumped some iron.  All interconnects were provided by Blue Jeans cable. 

Sade: Lovers Rock

Those that listen to Sade know that her music packs a punch.  The X-Ref 10 was certainly at home belting out the low tones for this song.  Bass was tight and clean and because this sub is so linear above 80Hz, it blended perfectly to my little 41-SE/B speakers with a 90Hz crossover setting.  I switched over to the Emotiva Ultra 12 subwoofer which was level matched for comparison.  I felt both subs have a very similar sonic signature though the Ultra 12 definitely dug deeper but the X-Ref 10 seemed a tad more musical to me. 

Yes:  Heart of the Sunrise

The X-Ref 10 did a great job of delineating all of Chris Squire’s notes on the bass.  The system sounded very fluid as a three piece and I was simply loving how the Emotiva was providing the much needed bottom octave to my EMP speakers. 

Spock’s Beard:  Solitary Soul

If you’re a progressive rock fan and you’re not listening to Spock’s Beard, you don’t know what you are missing.  Imagine the vocal harmonies of Styx with the drumming of Rush and guitar sound of old Steve Hackett-based Genesis all fused together.  Incredible!  This song is so poetic and moving.  It’s a must-listen. The beginning of the song has a constant bass note running in the background and the X-Ref 10 did a commendable job of making it tactile. I enjoyed this song so much I gave it two listens in a row, each time pleased with the X-Ref 10 integration into my EMP music system.

I brought the X-Ref10 into the Audioholics Showcase Theater room for a quick listen with some Blu-ray movies.  Realize this room is over 5,000 ft^3 which is beyond the room size we recommend this sub to be used in. 

Blu-ray: Transformers 3 - Dark of the Moon

Michael Bay outdid himself in terms of excessive eye candy, silly dialogue and gore and LFE action with the latest Transformers installment. But, it was still entertaining nonetheless for a die-hard Transformers fan and bassaholic like myself.  The scenes where the ships crashed into the moon got the X-Ref 10 rocking.  I cranked it up and, although it didn’t provide the extension of my much larger and more expensive Velodyne DD-15+ sub, it still did a commendable job of cleanly delivering bass within its useable bandwidth.  Most small subs run out of gas quickly in a large room often sounding nasty in the process.  I couldn’t get the X-Ref 10 to misbehave no matter how hard I tried.  Optimus would be proud of this little scout. 

Emotiva X-Ref 10 Subwoofer 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 10" driver. The grille cover was removed during this testing. All tests were conducted using continuous sine wave sweeps which product RMS SPL outputs as opposed to CEA2010 burst testing which produces max SPL outputs 3dB higher than RMS equivalent measurements (at the products maximum output limit). 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 allow for the ability to find max SPL per discrete frequency in the frequency bands where the subwoofer is amplifier limited like the CEA2010 test method. Keep that in mind when comparing tabulated results to some of our reviews that also showcase CEA 2010 test data. 


Emotiva X-Ref 10 SPL vs Frequency (1 meter ground plane)

I found the -3dB point of this sub to be around 32Hz for the baseline measurement.  This of course raised up to the low 40Hz region when the sub was driven to max output and the voltage limiter kicked in to protect the amplifier while also keeping the system from audibly distorting.  The X-Ref 10 was able to hit 110dB SPL which fell shy about 2dB from Emotiva claims is typical in a real-room.  Realize that 1 meter ground plane measurements lack boundary gain which can be up to +12dB if the sub is corner loaded compared to our ground plane measurements.  If you translate our 1 meter ground plane data to 1/8th space (corner loaded), suddenly you reach 122dB which is darn loud for a 13” cubic box costing under $600. 

During my max SPL sweep testing, I found the limiter kicked in at around 45-50Hz.  Emotiva apparently also applied a 3rd order HPF (18dB/oct ) as you can see from the slope between 20-40Hz of the curve.  The overall slope (acoustic + electric is around 28dB/oct) which is a bit steep.  Personally I’d rather see Emotiva employ a shallower HPF and rely more on the natural 12dB/oct roll off inherent in a sealed subwoofer design so the sub can make better usage of room gain.  I suspect if the HPF of the X-Ref 10 was eliminated or at least reduced in order, it would achieve near 20Hz flat extension corner loaded in a small room.  The driver in the X-ref10 certainly has the mass and BL to handle this so I say 'let her rip'.

The max sweep (blue line) shows higher output below 28Hz because the limiter isn’t reacting quickly enough for the sweep test thus the amp is providing more power to the sub, and hence more SPL output.  Despite the sub was being driven past its intended output range, it didn’t misbehave.  All the sweeps sounded clean and I could detect no cabinet resonance or erroneous driver noises. 

The X-Ref 10 has a very linear response above 80Hz for those wanting to cross over the sub higher to better match small satellite speakers. The frequency bump at 20Hz was due to measuring on a windy day and should be ignored.

Since my measurements were continuous RMS sweeps from 20Hz to 500Hz and not 1/3 octave burst tests like CEA2010 at discrete frequencies, the Emotiva USub 12 was not being driven to its limits above 65Hz, where there was still more available output capability.  Instead my measurements illustrate max SPL data below the product's compressor circuit which was around 50Hz during the highest output sweeps. 


Emotiva X-Ref 10 Movie vs Flat Preset Comparison

The X-Ref 10 has two presets “flat” and “movie”.  Essentially all “movie” mode does is boost the output +6dB centered at 45Hz with a Q of 1.  This can be give you a quick way to boost the output to better enjoy the LFE effects of a action packed Transformers or Super Hero movie, but the same can also be accomplished for coach potatoes by simply increasing the subwoofer channel level on your A/V receiver via the remote control. 


Emotiva X-Ref 10 Nearfield Frequency Response: Red – no EQ; Blue: EQ optimized

To help offset the aggressive HPF of the X-Ref 10, I played around a bit with the two EQ bands.  EQ1 was set to 25Hz, +2dB, Q = 1.5 while EQ2 was set to 28Hz, +2dB, Q=2.5.  I then offset the EQ level to -0.5dB to level match the curves and get a better understanding of the effects the EQ had on frequency response.  As you can see the EQ curve (blue) lowered the 3dB point from 32Hz to 29Hz and we achieved a +4dB output advantage at 30Hz as a result.  I didn’t want to over EQ or EQ down too low in frequency but instead focused on where the output gain would be most meaningful for this product. 

I went back and re-ran my listening tests and found the XRef-10 was now closing the gap with the Ultra 12 in terms of low end output.  Musically, I felt the X-Ref 10 outdid the Ultra 12 even more so, now that it had a little extra low end kick. 

Emotiva X-Ref 10 Subwoofer Conclusion

Emotifrontva has once again proved they can design a subwoofer with the same no-nonsense rugged build quality they do with their amplifiers.  You simply cannot break this sub no matter how hard you drive it.  Unfortunately this is also the Achilles Heel for this product as Emotiva employed a rather steep HPF which limits the sub's ability to benefit from room gain below 30Hz.  This won’t be a problem for music applications, but bassaholics may want to step up to their larger XRef-12 or Ultra 12 subwoofers if they plan on doing a lot of movie watching.  Alternatively, if you can’t live with a larger box, consider the EQ boosting I performed as it did improve low end output, resulting in a more pleasing listening experience for both music and movies.

The Emotiva X-Ref 10 is a beautifully-crafted, potent, and compact subwoofer with many useful features including an adjustable PEQ to ensure you get the best performance of your subwoofer when integrating it into your room.  Take your time to set this baby up and utilize all of its features.  It will reward you with good clean bass that well engineered sealed subs are known for.  Emotiva’s free shipping and generous 30 day return policy makes this value sub a no brainer if you’re in the market for a high performance sub in a compact footprint to please your significant other. 

The Emotiva X-Ref 10 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.


For further information in how we make these recommendations see the full article here.

See: Audioholics Subwoofer Room Size Rating Protocol

 Emotiva Audio Corporation
135 Southeast Parkway Court
Franklin, TN 37064

615-790-6754 | 877-EMO-TECH (877-366-8324)

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 AccuracyStarStarStarStarStar
Build QualityStarStarStarStarStar
Dynamic RangeStarStarStar
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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