Surround Sound Speaker Systems

Emotiva ERT-8.3 Tower Speakers, ERM-6.3 Monitor, and ERD-1 Surround Speakers

ARTICLE INDEX

In Use

Let me just get one thing out of the way at the very beginning – these speakers ROCK. I thought I’d go ahead and mention up front that so hopefully nobody would have too much difficulty figuring out how I feel on the subject of the Emotiva speakers.

I started my critical listening with the Elton at 60 Blu-Ray in 5.1 PCM. On "Levon", Elton’s piano was uncannily natural sounding and the drum kit came through with excellent slam. His voice had great clarity and tumbrel accuracy. On Honky Cat, the bass line had good pitch definition with strong output in the power band. The piano sailed here, too. I could hear every note of each instrument on "Rocket Man". That was a consistent theme with these speakers – they handle complex passages about as well as any speakers that I have spent time with. The Emotiva speakers were subjectively very low in distortion which was certainly a good thing. They did not, however, flesh out the venue space very well as the mix came through a little too up-front.

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The DTS HD Master track on the Blu-Ray of Master and Commander, The Far Side of the World, was presented with a slight prominence in the upper mids. The sound was nicely balanced throughout the rest of the audible band. Whenever the soundtrack heated up, the Emotivas really hung in there, bolstered by the powerful and refined XPA-5 amplifier. I noted excellent voice intelligibility and good height on the below-decks sound effects with awesome image specificity. There was a full palette of sound shadings in the storm scene. The sound was luscious and delectable on this selection.

Emotiva ERT-8.3 Tower Speakers

I recorded Make it Funky from Palladia and skipped through to all the live music performances. This New Orleans music documentary generally sounded excellent through the Emotivas, despite being encoded in old-fashioned Dolby Digital. I thoroughly enjoyed the realistic presence of the drum kit on “Fire on the Bayou”. On “Bare Footin’”, the Emotivas had great drive and rhythm and I could hear each individual instrument in the horn section. Snooks’ guitar sounded amazingly real on “Let the Good Times Roll”. The Emotivas revealed all of Keith Richards’ years of cigs, booze (and who knows what else?) when I heard his gritty voice and his gritty guitar on “I’m Ready”.

Next, I sampled Wanted from my Netflix queue. This film is an interesting and entertaining diversion that is ultimately a very shallow piece. The opening scene on the Blu-Ray disc was highly synthesized and this quality was fully exposed by the Emotivas. Again, I noted weighty and satisfying mid-bass drive. The treble was nicely refined throughout the film. The train wreck scene came through with an amazing full-range impact. I personally have never witnessed a crash like this in real life. I’m not sure if there really ever has been a crash like this. But I must say that I have never experienced a more convincing representation of a fantastical scene in a theater or at home. Amazing. Lastly, the speech intelligibility was marginal in certain scenes, but that could have been due to the highly processed mix.

Emotiva ERT-8.3 Tower Speakers

Then I tried the ERT-8.3’s in stereo mode running full range and without my subwoofers engaged. The Thelonious Monk SACD of Straight, No Chaser is an excellent test of a system’s ability to reproduce the sound of a small, intimate jazz ensemble. It allows the listener to ascertain the system’s verisimilitude regarding the reproduction of the various jazz instruments. I heard a slight prominence in the mid highs. This was slightly more apparent on music than with movies. That’s about the most negative thing I have to say about the ERT-8.3’s.

The sound was otherwise well-knit with lots of space and air around the instruments. The title track lit up the room and there was nice bounce in the bass that got my feet tapping. The treble was very clean and extended and the sound of the cymbals benefited greatly on this point. The dynamics of the piano came through wholly unscathed. The image of the piano was several feet behind the plane of the speakers. The soundstage was very wide, but did not have the height I remember getting with my Vandersteen Model 2Ci’s. I heard excellent attack on the snare and the tom toms. I must say that I really I preferred the sound of the ERT-8.3’s without the subs when enjoying music and the midrange of the ERT-8.3’s really shone on this T. Monk SACD.

Emotiva ERT-8.3 Tower Speakers

I wanted to put these speakers through their paces on some large scale orchestral works and I can’t think of much better source material that the MFSL CD of S. Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances for Large Orchestra, Op. 45 as performed by the USSR TV & Radio Large Symphony Orchestra. On Andante Con Moto, I heard a wide spacing of the instruments. There was good image height on this particular movement. The transients of the tympani were very well reproduced through the ERT-8.3’s. On "Lento Assai Allegro Vivaci", I was plastered to my listening chair throughout all the fortissimo passages. The ERT-8.3’s could play cleanly at 105db or more. That’s quite an accomplishment in my large room. But what was even more satisfying is that they could achieve these prodigious sound pressure levels without smearing or muddying the sound in any appreciable amount while the bass extension of these speakers heightened the perception of the performance space. There were great dynamic shadings etched on a very silent background. I couldn’t find much to criticize in response to the ERT-8.3’s captivating performance.

Emotiva ERT-8.3 Tower Speakers

So these Emotiva speakers proved to be very revealing, but they were not clinical or dry sounding. To the contrary, they were warm and inviting. They were at times a little prominent in the upper mids but I never engaged THX re-eq as I often do with my reference Definitive Technology speakers. The Emotivas were also a little forward in the power band. For the first time ever, I felt that my room would benefit from bass traps due to the massive bass drive coming from the ERT-8.3’s. All in all, however, these were some of the best speakers I have heard for anywhere near their modest price.

I owned a pair of Vandersteen Model 2Ci’s for many years. In a direct comparison between the Emotiva ERT-8.3’s and the Vandersteens, the Emotivas had similar bass extension, but there was the prominence in the upper bass with the Emotivas. The Vandersteens’ highs sparkled more and they had an incredible soundstage height. But the Emotivas had an even more seductive presentation overall. The Emotivas and Vandersteens are about the same price. If you have an amp that is up to the task, then I would certainly recommend the Emotivas over the Vandersteens. The Emotivas’ balance of strengths makes that an easy recommendation for me and I was very sad to see the Emotiva’s go at the end of the review period.