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Got a subwoofer? Emotiva’s TA1 deserves your full attention

  • I wanted to title this post: “The Emotiva BasX TA1 stereo receiver is, in reality, an entry-level integrated amplifier on steroids”. This website’s home page formatting had other ideas. The point stands though: the TA1’s feature set is so broad, it’ll have you asking why other manufacturers don’t offer as much functionality for the same money. One answer is Emotiva’s factory-direct sales model; they even ship internationally. Were Emotiva to sell their wares via a traditional distributor-dealer network, the TA1 would likely cost more than twice its US$549 asking price.

    The TA1’s Class A/B amplifier module is rated by Emotiva at 60wpc into 8 Ohms, 100wpc into 4 Ohms. Soundstage’s Dennis Burger and his Audio Precision APx555 B Series analyzer say otherwise: 62.5wpc into 8 Ohms, 89wpc into 4 Ohms.

    Like many integrated amplifiers at this price point, the TA1 features an internal DAC. Emotiva has built theirs around a 24bit/192kHz-capable Analog Devices AD1955 chip but we don’t know enough about the DAC’s power supply, its digital data reception, clocking or analogue output stage to pre-judge its audible performance. Talk about mission impossible.

    What we do know is that the DAC is accessible via rear-panel USB, coaxial and TOSLINK sockets. The latter is literally begging to be fed by the price-commensurate Wiim Mini Bluetooth and network streamer. Android users are advised to avail themselves of the Emotiva amplifier’s own Bluetooth input as it supports Qualcomm’s aptX and aptX HD codecs on top of the AAC offered by the Wiim.

    There are plenty of other amplifiers selling for TA1 money that provide internal MM phono staging. The Emotiva one-ups its competitors with the addition of MC cartridge support. But how many amplifiers do we know of that ship with an FM tuner? The TA1 has that too; it’s why Emotiva refers to this product as a ‘Receiver’.

    For comparisons, we might pit the Emotiva TA-1 against a similarly-priced rival. At around €600, the Rotel A11 offers up 50wpc into 8 Ohms (Class A/B), two sets of loudspeaker binding posts and an MM phono stage but its internal DAC is accessible only via aptX Bluetooth. There’s no tuner either. On the sound quality of its main function – amplification – the Rotel could edge out the Emotiva. I don’t yet know.

    Cambridge Audio’s AXR100D gives us 100wpc into 8 Ohms (4 Ohms not specified) from a Class A/B circuit, an FM/DAB+ tuner and a DAC accessible via TOSLINK, coaxial and SBC-only Bluetooth (no AAC, no aptX). There’s no USB or phono input here but again we might still find that a side-by-side audition finds us favouring the Cambridge over the Emotiva on sound quality. Then again, we might find the Emotiva is more to our liking.

    We could set off on a quest to find the best-sounding amplifier at $500 only to find that such a quest can take forever. In tackling subwoofer addition, Emotiva offers up a shortcut to our chosen destination.

    With the Rotel, we’d use the pre-amplifier outputs to feed our subwoofer for (what is often called) augmentation mode. This is where we try to bring the subwoofer’s upper limit as close as possible to the lower limit of our loudspeakers. The Cambridge receiver would also see us augment our two-way’s sound with a subwoofer, here using the AXR100D’s dedicated subwoofer output.

    And yet, on paper, the Emotiva TA1 aces them both with a dedicated subwoofer output that also offers a switchable 90Hz 12db/octave Linkwitz-Reily low-pass filter and a corresponding high-pass filter for the loudspeaker outputs. Why does this matter? High-passed, our two-way monitor’s mid/bass driver – previously rolling off at, say, just below 50Hz – is no longer being tasked with anything below 90Hz. Freeeeedom!

    As detailed by Srajan Ebaen in podcast episode #30, the benefits of high-passing a two-way monitor are very real: with the two-way’s mid/bass driver no longer tasked with lower bass, driver excursions are reduced to keep a lid on voice coil heating. Less voice coil heat lowers its impedance and, therefore, its resistance. This results in the driver delivering lower distortion and less dynamic compression. Implementing a low-pass-filtered subwoofer with a corresponding high-pass filter applied to our speakers not only gives us better bass but better-sounding speakers. Win and win.

    The third benefit of this kind of setup is that the loudspeaker amplifier no longer needs to be a beast. With the two-way monitor’s mid/bass driver not having to work so hard, it asks less of the amplifier. For today’s imaginary three-way standoff, that can only be the Emotiva TA1.

    The way I see it, the TA1’s in-built 90Hz sub/sat crossover is its most compelling feature. I don’t know of any other integrated at this price point offering the same level of functionality. And if there’s sufficient interest (read: clicks) on this post, I’ll buy a TA1 in order to take a closer look.

    Further information: Emotiva

    Written by John Darko

    John currently lives in Berlin where he creates videos and podcasts and pens written pieces for Darko.Audio. He has previously contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

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