Bookshelf Speakers

Emotiva Airmotiv5 Powered Studio Monitor Speakers

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Emotiva Airmotiv5 Powered Studio Monitors In Use

I first tried the airmotiv's in an area they weren't intended for – as the left and right speakers in my home theater rig. I say they aren't intended for this even though the emotivapro web site says "For Pro Studio, Audio System or Cinema". The problem here of course is the volume controls – one on each speaker. I actually had to get up from the couch to change the volume. Oh the humanity. Not only that, since each speaker has its own control it was difficult to match the two. I had to get up again! Ok, sarcasm off and marketing aside, they truly aren't meant for this but I wanted to see how they would do. I placed the airmotiv 5's on my sand-filled Aperion stands where the 5B's had been and connected them directly to my Arcam pre-pro with some lengthy RCA interconnects of unknown origin. The tweeters were about at ear height in this setup. They certainly held their own - compared to my Aperion Intimus 5B's driven by a trusty old Outlaw Audio 770 the sound was more detailed but not as relaxed and easy going. But listening to these speakers from 7' away is truly not their sweet spot. Something is lost at that distance, the volume had to be towards the upper end of their range so perhaps there's just not sufficient power for this. Or, maybe some directionality from the tweeters prevented an optimal sound experience because using these speakers as intended – as near field monitors – is an entirely different experience.

I set them up on my desk driven from my recently acquired CEntrance DACmini converting USB digital from my desktop system. With my crowded desk there's no way to get them equidistant from my sitting position, the right speaker is on the desk, with the tweeter and the rest of it, well below my ears, I'd say two feet away from my head and one foot lower. The left speaker ended up on a nearby shelf, three feet from left ear and two feet lower. Here is where the individual volume controls pays off, since I could easily control volume but not balance for any computer based audio source I could set the volume for each speaker and then forget it. I played with the tilt and shelving controls a little but found that I preferred the flat selections.

So how do they sound in the near-field? Nice! The folded ribbon tweeter is clearly a detail champ without sounding edgy or irritating. Bass went as low as could reasonably expected from the 5" woofers and at reasonable volume levels that was surprisingly low. I never felt like there was a piece missing from the music though a subwoofer is called for to get the most from your recordings. Vocals were a treat from these speakers. I listened to one of PJ Harvey's collaborations with John Parish: "A woman a Man Walked By". The opening track has Ms. Harvey singing a high background vocal while speaking in her normal tone. This is a good though not great recording (like most PJ Harvey records) and in all cases the instruments, to as low as these speakers could go, were clearly distinguishable and those two vocal tracks were clearly distinguished and beautiful. The bass drum was the one part that was hard to find at times. That's not unusual with a 5" woofer. On quieter passages it was clearly there but when things got loud and it was hard to pick out. I think that this too is a limitation of the recording and not the airmotiv's. I then listened to Jessica Lee Mayfield's album "Tell Me", couldn't stop listening in fact. This is an excellent recording and highly recommended. This recording showed that any limitations I was experiencing before were a function of the recording and not these monitor's. That's a what a monitor should do I guess. We should wish that more recording engineers had these puppies. Bass drum, bass, guitar and vocals all had their own space and could be heard at all times. It wasn't a huge space – soundstage is not the goal when sitting close to small speakers, but each instrument sounded like itself without smearing into the others. A thoroughly enjoyable listening experience.

Listening to streaming music from Seattle's priceless KEXP I found that David Byrne's singing ("Dinner For Two" on his collaboration with St. Vincent) sounded like he was part of the mix rather than rising above it. Again wondering if a function of the mix itself so I went searching for some more male vocals on my local hard-drive. It took a while to get to a point that I wanted to shut off KEXP but when I finally did I tried some Dandy Warhols. Here I could hear Courtney Taylor-Taylor's voice nicely placed away from the rest of mix, order restored. This album is way too processed however and the airmotiv's reveal that fact quite clearly. I quickly switched back to KEXP.

The sound of these speakers is not your typical, dry studio-monitor sound. That sort of sound is a conundrum I've mulled over w/musician friends for years – what is the difference between studio-monitors and home hifi systems and speakers and why is there a difference at all? I've finally figured out that recording engineers have a fixation on the flattest possible frequency response while home listeners respond to a more musical experience (as they should). A musical experience might include the notion of a soundstage as well. Listening in the near-field, 2-3 feet from the drivers, soundstaging for the most part is sacrificed but sound is more intimate, similar to headphones. Room effects are minimized. Even cabinet resonances have less time to make their way to your ears.

What about cabinet resonances with the arimotiv 5's? Not many. A knuckle-rap on the cabinets is extremely satisfying – no resonance or ringing, just a pleasing knock sound. I turned up various tunes and probed around the cabinet. The front baffle is quite lively, vibrating with whatever the bass notes happen to be but the rest of the cabinet felt extremely inert.

Voices on internet radio such as when I was listening to the news were incredible. A clear sense of the room they are recording in and soft details in their speaking voices came through nicely.