- Written by Ross Jones
- Published on 31 March 2011
I connected the pre-outs of the Integra's left, right and center-channels to the unbalanced inputs of the XPA-3 using single-ended cables (the Integra does not have XLR pre-out jacks), leaving the Integra to power the left and right surround speakers. During my review period, I used three different sets of speakers: MK Sound 950 Series speakers, Crystal Acoustics TX-T3SE THX Ultra2 certified speakers, and my usual B&W CDM NT series speakers.
Matching the XPA-3 with the Integra DTR-8.9 was probably a little unfair to the Emotiva, as I'm guessing that the typical buyer of an XPA-3 is not using it to supplement a $2,000 THX Ultra2 certified receiver rated at 140 watts. Nonetheless, adding the XPA-3 made an audible improvement to the Integra's sound, ranging from subtle to dramatic depending on the speakers.
The most striking difference was when I used the XPA-3 to power the MK Sound 950 speakers. The MK's are rated at 4 ohms, which present a more difficult load for the amplifier. Even though the Integra handled the MK's fine when driving all five channels, adding the brawn of the XPA-3 brought out a surprising amount of additional details, particularly in the mid to upper frequencies from 1 kHz-5 kHz.
I never seem to tire of The Beatles Love (DVD-A), especially the non mashed-up tracks. With the XPA-3 powering the front channels, the MK's had added depth in the flanging effects on John's lead vocal in Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, and brought out Ringo's subtle (and underrated) hi-hat work on the track.
The contrast in sound quality was less stark when matching the XPA-3 with the highly sensitive Crystal Acoustics TX-T3SE speakers (92 dB/2.83V/m). However, the big difference was that with the Emotiva driving the front channels, I could really crank up the volume without it sounding "loud" or compressed.
Iron Man 2 was an inevitable let-down as a movie, but the DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack had plenty of ear candy in the form of flying armored suits, missiles and explosions galore. The sound of the Emotiva reminded me of being in a high-end commercial movie theater, where the volume is dialed up to reference level but you never feel listener fatigue because it is so clean.
The difference between the Integra and the XPA-3 was least pronounced using my B&W speakers. The classic British sound, slightly laid back with a rich mid-range, remained the same. The Emotiva did bring out a subtle but noticeable increase in imaging, and a more coherent soundstage, particularly with multi-channel music recordings.
I don't meditate, but when I want to block out the world, nothing beats turning off the lights, settling back in the recliner and hitting "play" on Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon (SACD). Here, the Emotiva was an addition via subtraction. The quiet space between the instruments was apparent, letting details such as a drumstick brushing against the ride cymbal during Speak to Me/Breathe, to hang in the air.