The new BASX-series of components are probably Emotiva’s loss-leaders. They want potential audiophiles to try inexpensive Emotiva components, and be amazed at how good they sound.

Then, theoretically, those newbies will be future buyers of their more expensive products. Know what? It’s a gamble that’s likely to succeed!

Emotiva BASX PT-100, Front View

Highlights

Emotiva BASX PT-100 Stereo Preamp/DAC/Tuner

  • $299 price!
  • Exceptional sound for the money
  • Built in (awesome) DAC and phono stage
  • Quality construction

Emotiva BASX PT-100 angle view

Introduction

The Emotiva Audio Corporation, based in Franklin Tennessee, has been in business since 2005. Owners Dan and Cathy Laufman have built the company into an Internet juggernaut by offering exceptional performance at factory-direct prices. The Basic-X, or BASX series of components (including this preamp, an integrated amp (TA-100), three power amps (A-300/500/700, and a new surround processor) are the newest products from Emotiva.

The PT-100 preamplifier is designed by Mr. Ray Dennison (Emotiva’s VP of Engineering) and Mr. Lonnie Vaughn (Emotiva’s Chief Technical Officer) with the support of their engineering team. Mr. Dan Laufman is responsible for the concept. About the preamplifier’s design goals, Dan says, “We wanted to design a modern, high performance preamplifier that delivered excellent analog performance and solid phono performance and also featured modern digital connectivity. And to add to the challenge, we wanted to do this at an extremely affordable price while maintaining excellent build quality. Old school and new age in the same package!”

Dan is quite proud of the preamp, saying that he feels it sets new standards for value, features and performance. To simplify navigating some of the nested menus, Dan says that they could have put some additional buttons on the front, but that most customers seem to like it as is.

EMOTIVA STEREO PREAMP/DAC/TUNER REVIEW SPECIFICATIONS
Dimensions:

17” wide x 2 5/8” high x 12.5” deep (without connectors)
21” long x 7” high x 17-1/2” deep (boxed)

Weight:

9lbs (net)
13.5lbs (boxed)

Price:

$299 with free shipping to CONUS

Analog Inputs:

2 pairs – stereo analog line level inputs (CD, Aux)
1 pair – stereo phono inputs (switchable; moving magnet or moving coil)
1 tuner – FM (with external antenna input; 50 station presets)

Digital Inputs:

1 – digital coax (S/PDIF); 24/192k
1 – digital optical (Toslink); 24/192k
1 – digital USB (DAC input); 24/96k; no drivers required
1 – Bluetooth receiver (requires optional AptX Bluetooth dongle)

Outputs:

1 pair – stereo main output; stereo, unbalanced
2 – summed full range outputs (for connecting one or two subwoofers)
1 – stereo headphone output (front panel)

Analog Performance (line level):

Maximum output level: 4 VRMS
Frequency response: 5Hz to 50kHz +/- 0.04dB
THD+noise: < 0.0015% (A-weighted)
IMD: < 0.004% (SMPTE)
S/N ratio: > 115dB
Crosstalk: < 90dB

Analog Performance (phono):

Frequency response (MM and MC): 20Hz to 20kHz; ref standard RIAA curve
THD+noise: < 0.015% (MM; A-weighted); < 0.06% (MC; A-weighted)
S/N ratio: > 90dB (MM); > 68dB (MC)

Digital Performance:

Frequency response: 5Hz to 20kHz +/- 0.15dB (44k sample rate)
Frequency response: 5Hz to 80kHz +/- 0.25dB (192k sample rate)
THD+noise: < 0.003% (A-weighted; all sample rates)
IMD: < 0.007% (SMPTE)
S/N ratio: > 110dB

Trigger:

12 VDC trigger output

Power Requirements:

115 VAC or 230 VAC @ 50 or 60Hz (automatically detected)

Controls and Indicators:

Power: rocker switch; rear panel
Standby: one front panel push button; halo ring changes color to indicate status
Two front panel pushbuttons: Input Select; menu operation
One front panel knob: Volume; Tuning; menu operation
Display: high visibility blue alphanumeric VFD display (dimmable)

Remote Control:

Compact full-function infrared remote control

Menu and Control System:

Simplified, highly intuitive menu system
(includes Setup options, Bass, Treble, and Balance controls)

Company:

Emotiva

SECRETS Tags:

Emotiva, BASX PT-100, Stereo Preamp, DAC, Tuner, Emotiva Reviews 2016

Links To Other Material On The Secrets Site
Design

Well, I think that this is intended to be Emotiva’s “Welcome to the Audiophile Club” offering. Lots of folks are beginning to appreciate the virtues of better sound (moving on up from that iPhone or car stereo), but are put off by the cost. This preamp offers most everything a new audiophile could want at an amazing price.

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The preamp sports its own DAC, meaning you can hook it up to your computer via USB, or with an optional AptX Bluetooth dongle. It’s available on Emotiva’s Accessories web-page. It’s called the BTM-1, priced at $49.99. With the dongle, you can wirelessly stream from most anything Bluetooth.

As to the DAC, let me be honest; I’ve heard standalone DACs that cost more than the PT-100 but that didn’t sound nearly as good. Think about that for a minute – the DAC in this puppy is as good as many that I can’t even afford!

Emotiva BASX PT-100 Back Panel

The preamp also sports a phono section with inputs for both moving magnet (high output) and moving coil (low output) cartridges – selectable by a rear-panel gain switch. Into vinyl? The PT-100 has you covered!

The preamp even offers an FM tuner with 50 station presets. Yeah, I know – FM is lame… But if you live in an area where there are any good stations (I don’t) it’s still an OK feature to have.

Emotiva BASX PT-100 Headphone Jack

Like headphones? The PT-100 has your back there too. The front panel jack (1/8”) has the juice to run all but the most demanding cans.

Got speakers that need LOTS of power? Add ANY power amp you want – The PT-100’ll drive it!

Think you might like a subwoofer for your next party? The PT-100 has a pair of (full-range, but volume-controlled) subwoofer outputs. Use the crossover controls on your subwoofer to dial in the match with the main speakers.

Emotiva BASX PT-100 Volume Knob

Don’t have a subwoofer? No problem – the PT-100 ALSO has tone controls! So many preamplifiers and integrated amplifiers of audiophile pretentions omit them. But if your main speakers just aren’t putting out quite enough bass, the tone controls can step right up.

But the tone controls have another side too. Many (most?) of the bookshelf speakers sold these days have (to put it politely) a bright treble. A bit hard on your ears? You can use the PT-100’s treble control to take the edge off. The point is, the tone controls give you LOTS of flexibility that you wouldn’t otherwise have.

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And here’s another useful feature – the PT-100 has a balance control. I can hear you thinking, “Why would I need that?” Well, unless your listening room is perfectly symmetrical, left-to-right (and whose is?), you’re going to find that one speaker will be slightly louder than the other. This happens especially when one speaker is in a corner and the other isn’t. Sound like your room? The balance control (adjustable from the remote) can put that center image RIGHT in the center. So don’t diss the inclusion of this feature – a little bit of fiddling will reward you with LOTS better sound.

Emotiva BASX PT-100 Internals

Setup

Emotiva BASX PT-100 Remote

Other than using the embedded menus, setup is simple and intuitive. For said menus, the remote control AND the volume knob need to be involved, so you may have to read the instruction book at least once.

I’ve heard some owners complain about the remote, but what they’re actually complaining about is the nested-menu structure. Once you get the hang of it (remember what I said about reading the manual?), you’ll take to it like a Baron at a brothel.

Additional equipment used for this review included:

  • Vacuum Tube Audio ST-120 tube power amplifier
  • jRiver Music server 22 for Mac
  • WAV files ripped from CDs
  • Some SACD high resolution audio discs
  • Oppo BDP-105 connected via DLNA and (sometimes) used as a DAC
  • Apple Airport Express as a listening room WiFi source
  • iPad mini running jRemote as a system controller
  • Schiit Gungnir Multibit DAC
  • Emotiva BASX PT-100 preamplifier (sometimes) used as a DAC
  • Tekton Pendragon speakers
  • BlueJeans Cable and other interconnects and speaker wires
  • Emotiva power conditioner
  • Room treatments by ATS acoustics
In Use

The PT-100 doesn’t look outrageous, doesn’t run up the power bill, doesn’t take up too much space and doesn’t break the bank. But all this is academic if it doesn’t sound good. So does it?

First let me say that preamplifiers are hard to do. I’ve never met one that don’t change the sound in some way or another. So if you’re expecting a preamp to sound EXACTLY like the DAC output plugged directly into a power amp, you’ve got some pain coming.

But in spite of that, having a preamp in the system allows you to do stuff you just can’t do without one – like listen to more than one source component (including a turntable). It also allows you, in this case, to tailor the sound to the room with adjustments to bass, treble and balance.

So how MUCH does the PT-100, specifically, color the sound? To my ears, not too much. I’ve owned some hot-rod preamplifiers (many at prices of up to and exceeding $3K), and not a single one was completely neutral. But I must say that the PT-100 runs with the big boys for transparency (not even taking into account its price). Is it audible? Yes – it is. Is it intrusive? No – it isn’t.

If you need a preamp (and most of us do), then the slight (and I do mean slight) loss of transparency that comes with having ANY more active electronics in the signal path is a small price to pay for what you get in return. Yes, you could (maybe) live without a preamp but only if:

  • You have one, and only one, source
  • The source you’re using has a world-class analog (not digital) volume control
  • The source you’re using has a strong output buffer-amp compatible with your power amp’s input impedance
  • You’re not using long interconnects

And even if your equipment meets all those criteria, I’d bet that in 99% of the cases, with a blindfold on, you STILL couldn’t tell the difference between having the PT-100 in the system or not.

So is there anything NOT to like? Well, I’d wish it had a bigger display. I can’t read it from across the room. The remote’s volume control has a funny feel – a brief press on the up or down buttons doesn’t do much, but if you hold them down, the volume changes too much, too fast. I’d also prefer a silver faceplate to the black one, but that’s just me. And that’s it. Piddling gripes compared to the major goodness this thing brings!

And don’t forget that for an extra $100, you can get the Emotiva TA-100 (an integrated amp with 50 WPC AND the PT-100 preamp built in).

So ultimately, the PT-100 provides a basketload of virtues for only the slightest veiling of the sound. And within a few days, your ears will have adjusted, and you won’t even know the preamp’s there.

Emotiva BASX PT-100 Listening Set 1

OK – So I went bit outside my comfort zone for this review – Some of the music isn’t what I normally listen to, but it’s definitely what the target customer of the Emotiva PT-100 is likely to have in their media collection. So without any excuses:

The piano on One Dance sounds in the room with you, and the occasional flanging on Drake’s voice is startling. The “echo voices” sound as if they’re coming from a mile away and add quite a bit of depth to the recording. The PT-100 captures it all.

The guitar intro on Mike Posner’s I Took A Pill In Ibiza sounds like it’s directly in front of you. The preamp also does a great job of making Mike’s voice sound clear and sad just like it should.

The percussive synth that opens Sia’s Cheap Thrills is startling in its presence. The chanted background vocals are not only clear but also forceful in their power. The nuances are well preserved by the PT-100 preamp.

In This Is What You Came For by Calvin Harris & Rihanna, the synth-vocals really stand out in both clarity and presence. The female vocal range is clean and clear through the PT-100.

Emotiva BASX PT-100 Listening Set 2

The low-pitched voice of Zara Larsson on Lush Life is preserved perfectly through this preamp. Some electronics have trouble reproducing the lower-female to high-male voice range, making it sound as if the singer is farther back in the soundstage than the rest of the music. The PT-100 avoids this and makes Zara sound more real than just about any other preamp I’ve heard.

The drums opening Mala in Cuba’s Tribal have some great cymbals too. It all sounds organic through this preamp.

Beer 30 by Horton Heat is a full-tilt blast! From the bass and drums to the cymbals plus the ambient sounds of the bar, this is a cut that should sound live and RAW. The PT-100 delivers the music in all its glory.

Dash Rip Rock’s P-Whipped is a song for the ages. It’s meant to be played LOUDLY, and even at high volume shouldn’t sound harsh or compressed. The PT-100 preamp avoids both potential pitfalls and presents a sound so real you’ll forget about being in your living room and feel like you’re at the Clearview Club, hearing Dash live. Who could ask for more?

On The Bench

Since I have no electronic test equipment other than a multi-meter, I could not measure or verify the PT-100’s specifications. Suffice it to say that Emotiva’s specs have traditionally been verified by Secrets’ reviews that DO include measurements.

With the 3-year warranty, AND a 30-day, money-back return period (you pay return shipping), Emotiva gear is a no-worry purchase.

Conclusions

Emotiva BASX PT-100 Front View

THE EMOTIVA BASX PT-100 PREAMP/DAC/TUNER is Sweeter Than Running Into an Old Girlfriend at a Party. You Just Don’t Find This Much Awesomeness For Such A Reasonable Price. What, Me Worry?

Likes
  • Features (like, “cast of thousands” crazy!)
  • Cost (maybe this should have been first?)
  • DAC quality
  • Emotiva warranty & return policy
Would Like To See
  • Bigger display
  • Faster volume changes from the remote control
  • More control of nested menus from the front buttons

So, I hear you say, “I can buy an entire AV RECEIVER for the $299 you want me to spend on this preamp. And the receiver’ll have power amps, surround sound and even room correction built in. WHY should I pony up the scratch for this preamp instead of buying the receiver?”

I’ll answer in a single word – SOUND! That $299 receiver (regardless of brand) will ALWAYS sound like a $299 receiver. Someday (and maybe sooner than you think), you’re going to want better sound. If you bought the receiver, then it’s a throw-away. No part of it can be used with a better system. But if you bought the Emotiva BASX PT-100, it’ll hang with any future power amp or source you want to add for a long, long time. That investment in sonic-futureproofing alone justifies the PT-100’s cost.

There’s just no such thing as the perfect preamplifier. Once you realize that, you can focus on what’s important to you. Every preamp, even those selling at stratospheric prices, changes the sound to some extent. What’s important is finding a preamp that does the least damage to the music while providing the features you need. Before buying my PT-100, I considered (and listened to) at least a half-dozen other preamps. I eventually ended up with the PT-100. My reasons will be different from yours (since my system is also different), but don’t ignore the Emotiva BASX PT-100 just because of its (awesomely low) price. This one plays with the big dogs!

-Glenn Young-

  • zcz

    I was looking at picking up the parasound p5 used for around 650. How does this compare soundwise?

  • Boomzilla

    I haven’t heard the Parasound. They do have a good reputation, though. For the more than 2x price difference, I’d at least try the Emotiva first. They have a 30-day return policy, and the shipping on this item will be light. I predict, though, that if you try it, you’re unlikely to be returning it, LOL!

  • Boomzilla

    And just a postscript note to this review – I recently added a beefy solid state power amp to the system (a Crown PSA-2), and the Emotiva PT-100 sounds even BETTER into the solid-state amp than it does into tube amps. I’m suspecting it’s because the PT-100 was designed and “voiced” for solid-state amplifiers with their lower (5 to 15K ohm) input impedances. The VERY revealing KEF LS50 speakers show the transparency of this preamp off well.

  • vneal

    So can a under $300 preamp really sound good? I think the short answer is yes and how much more $$$ do you really need to spend to get an audible difference? I plan to purchase one for a second two channel only system. As always EXCELLENT TO THE POINT REVIEW

  • Boomzilla

    Thank you kindly. Having had some high-ticket visitors to the audio rack recently, my ears were calibrated to “cost-but-little-object” gear and accustomed to the sound quality it provided. This preamp, despite its low price (for a high-end audio preamp) performed astoundingly well. I’m glad you enjoyed the review and I’m definitely expecting to be keeping this preamp around.

  • wytcld

    I can’t speak to this amp. But Emotiva definitely knows their way around DAC circuits. I recently upgraded my CD player to their ERC-3 (from an Onkyo C-7030), and the increase in presence and detail is amazing, whether compared to the old Onkyo’s onboard DAC via analog out, or the DAC in my Onkyo TX-NR828 AVR. Running the Emotiva into the Onkyo amp (which does just fine for sound quality on AV material) is night-and-day better for music.

  • Boomzilla

    Thanks, wytcid – I’m sure Emotiva appreciates the endorsement. In general, I agree with you – for the dollars spent, Emotiva generally seems to make “high-end-sounding” products for inexpensive prices. And curiously, of all the Emotiva gear I’ve heard over the years, their ERC-3 CD-player is one of the few products that I’ve never listened to. I’m glad that the Emotiva quality standards are up to snuff there too. Cheers – Boomzilla

  • I have an ERC-3 as part of my main system and absolutely love it. I heard things I’d never heard before on CDs I’ve owned for 30 years. To my mind it outperforms much more expensive players I’ve auditioned.

    Thinking now about a TA-100 for my basement system, mainly used with an Apple TV for streaming music and movies, and for the kids XBox. I have a pair of PSB Image B25s set aside for that system. This review makes it seem like a good plan and I know I love the AD 1955 sonically from the ERC-3.

  • Boomzilla

    Hi doggerelparty –

    I don’t have experience with the ERC-3, but I’ve heard plenty of great things about it.

    As to the TA-100, the question I’d ask is “how loudly do the kids plan on playing their music?” If they’re “crank it to 11” types, then I think you might run the risk of clipping the TA-100’s 50 watts and damaging the speakers. At reasonable levels, then yes, I’d recommend the TA-100 very highly. But if the kids want to rock out, I think that your PSB speakers may not be happy with the 50 watts.

    Have you considered the more powerful amplifiers? Or else more sensitive speakers? A pair of used Klipsch Heresy speakers with a small subwoofer would be able to work with the TA-100 even at deafening levels without damage to either the speakers or the amp.

    Another option would be to buy an inexpensive Crown XLS series “pro” amp. That amp (despite not having the sonic sophistication of the Emotiva TA-100) would allow the kids to play as loudly as they want (up to the limits of the PSBs) without damage. It also has its own built-in crossover, so you could send the high frequencies to the PSB speakers and use the plate crossover & amp in the subwoofer to handle the bass. Of course, you’d need an external DAC (Behringer makes some great ones for very low cost).

    So lots to consider… Keep in mind that unless you get an integrated amp (with DAC) you’re probably going to forego remote-control volume – so if that’s important…

    Happy shopping! Boomzilla

  • Hehe, the kids are *not* allowed to crank it, so I think we would be ok. My main amp is a Marantz PM6005 so not dissimilar but my main speakers are easier to drive than the PSBs…. 93 dB vs 89 dB for the PSBs… I hadn’t thought about the sensitivity there actually. My thinking was actually to compare the TA-100 to the Marantz when it arrived and pick whichever I liked best for “my” system and give the other to the kids… over time I’ll upgrade mine to a pre/power combination but I just bought a house and I need a new car and….

  • Boomzilla

    In that case, the TA-100 is probably an unbeatable deal. Happy shopping!

  • vneal

    Let me add a comment since I did get its brother the TA100 which is basically the same preamp with a small power amp added—The remote is OK. Switching between FM stations is not user friendly & the manual does not clearly explain this. No biggie since FM stations by me are stinko. If you want a unit in which you can easily change stations and FM is important to you– stay away.

  • Boomzilla

    Hi venal –

    One of my local acquaintances, “Mad-Dog Nick,” bought the TA-100 integrated amplifier, and has (as you do) many good things to say about it. I don’t think he’s even aware that it HAS a tuner built in, since he’s never used it. But with some high-sensitivity speakers, the TA-100 is a stone-cold bargain!