Dan Laufman founded Emotiva Audio with the basic principle of providing excellent performance at a sane cost.

While prices of high-end audio continue to rise, Emotiva strives to give budding audiophiles a chance to get great-sounding quality gear that the “average Joe” can actually afford, and with the TA-100 amp and B1 speakers, that philosophy continues.

Emotiva TA-100 Stereo Preamp DAC Tuner with Integrated Amplifier and Airmotiv B1 Bookshelf Loudspeakers

Highlights

EMOTIVA TA-100

  • Analog and digital inputs
  • 50 watts/channel Class A/B amplifier
  • Bluetooth (aptX) and FM tuner
  • Headphone, line level stereo outs and two subwoofer outs
  • Easy on the eyes, easy on the ears and easy on the wallet

AIRMOTIV B1

  • Beautiful black lacquer finish
  • Distinctive angled front baffle
  • Magnetic removable grilles covering a folded-ribbon tweeter and 5.25-inch mid-bass
  • Precision crossovers with film capacitors
  • Sound bigger than they look with surprising bass extension
Introduction

I have owned Emotiva gear for several years now, and as a reviewer, I’m often able to listen to other audio products costing several times what I paid for my gear. Am I a biased fanboy? Perhaps. I stumbled on Emotiva quite by happenstance while researching a replacement for my aging Onkyo AVR. I was willing to spend about $800 for newer model with all of the latest bells and whistles (talk about chasing your tail!) when I came across a promo on a website for the LMC-1 pre/pro and a seven channel amplifier called the LPA-1 for around the same price I was willing to spend on an AVR. Really? Separates for the same price? That lead me into researching the company located near Nashville and almost all of the reviews from satisfied customers convinced me to take a chance… and the rest is of great historical insignificance. Actually, the research led me into discovering and joining SECRETS around the same time, so my sonic fate was sealed for the better with this chance encounter.

EMOTIVA PREAMP/DAC/TUNER AND BOOKSHELF SPEAKER REVIEW SPECIFICATIONS

Emotiva BasX TA-100 Integrated Amp/DAC/Tuner

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 – main line level output; stereo, unbalanced
1 pair – speaker outputs; stereo, 5-way binding post
2 – summed full range outputs (for connecting one or two subwoofers)
1 – stereo headphone output (front panel)

Analog Performance (line level):

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

Analog Performance (to speaker outputs; both channels driven):

50 watts RMS per channel (20Hz – 20kHz; THD < 0.02%; into 8 Ohms)
90 watts RMS per channel (1kHz; THD < 1%; into 4 Ohms)
Broadband frequency response: 20Hz to 80kHz + 0dB / – 3dB
THD+noise: < 0.05% (A-weighted)
S/N ratio: > 100dB (A-weighted; ref full power)

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)
S/N ratio: > 110dB

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)

Compact full-function:

Infrared Remote Control

Dimensions:

2 5/8” H x 17” W x 12.5”D

Weight:

15lbs

MSRP:

$ 339.00

Airmotiv B1 Bookshelf Loudspeakers

Driver Complement:

High frequency driver: 25×32 mm Airmotiv folded ribbon tweeter
Low frequency drivers: 5-1/4” woven fiber cone with SBR surrounds

Cabinet type:

Rear ported

Electrical Specifications:

Efficiency: 86dB (2.83V/1m)
Power handling: 70W continuous / 150W peak
Nominal impedance: 8 ohms
Frequency response: 48Hz – 28kHz

Dimensions:

7-1/8” H x 10-3/4” W x 8-1/4” D

Weight:

8.8lbs

Mounting:

Shelf or stand mounted; shock absorbing rubber bottom pad

Grille:

Black cloth over a rigid frame; attaches securely with powerful magnets for easy removal

MSRP:

$299.00

Company:

Emotiva

SECRETS Tags:

Emotiva, TA-100 Stereo Preamp/DAC/Tuner with integrated amplifier, Airmotiv B1 Bookshelf Loudspeaker, Integrated Amplifier, Bookshelf Speaker, Preamp Reviews 2016, Bookshelf Speaker Reviews 2016

Design

I asked Emotiva to send me the B1 bookshelf speakers along with the TA-100 preamp because as a combination they cost just over $600; which is a nice price point if you are looking for a basic stereo system. Both of these products are new and the TA-100 is part of the BasX (yes, pronounce like basic) product line. The design goal was to make a very easy to set up product that offered better than average sound and was built to deliver high performance for years to come.

TA-100:

Emotiva TA-100 Amp and Airmotive B1 Speakers, TA-100 Integrated Amp Front View

Emotiva products have always had a similar design concept. Front panels are minimalistic, black with slotted metal end caps and the ubiquitous blue VFD display with three dimmable levels. The TA-100 has a 50-station FM receiver (with mono mode), two line-level analog inputs, a phono input for MM/MC, a 24/96 USB input, a 24/192 coaxial and a single optical input. The muscle is provided by an all-discrete Class A/B amplifier with the heavy toroidal power supply bolted to the bottom chassis. The brain is provided by a nice-sounding AD 1955 (24/192) DAC. Bass, treble, balance and mute can be controlled by the front panel or the small plastic and functional remote. The headphone level control remembers your last setting independently from the main speaker levels.

Emotiva TA-100 Amp and Airmotive B1 Speakers, TA-100 Integrated Amp Back View

On the back side, you find the heavy five-way binding posts and two sub-outs (one is main stereo and the other is summed). The line-level stereo outs can feed a stereo amplifier, thus making the TA-100 usable as a preamp. The face plate is 2RU high with a brushed and milled aluminum faceplate. The all-black finish helps it disappear in your equipment rack, and I thought it looked nice and clean. The TA-100 comes with a three-year warranty.

Airmotiv B1s:

Emotiva TA-100 Amp and Airmotive B1 Speakers, B1 Front View

The B1s are the smallest passive speaker in the Airmotiv arsenal. I’ll admit that when I first unpacked them I was not impressed with their weight. They seemed too light compared to other similarly-sized speakers I have reviewed. They have a 25x32mm folded ribbon tweeter (ATM) for high-frequency delivery and a 5.25-inch woven-fiber cone driver for the mid-bass. They are moderately efficient at 86dB and are rated to handle 70 continuous watts with a peak power handling at 150 watts. Frequency response for the bass is rated down to 48Hz, which will handle most music unless you are a real bass-head. They are meant for desktop or bookshelf placement but I found they sounded best when placed on stands about a foot or two from the front wall.

Emotiva TA-100 Amp and Airmotive B1 Speakers, B1 Back View

The rear port needs some room to breathe. I liked the magnetic grilles but they were a bit flimsy and the speakers looked just fine with them off. I reviewed them that way and found no audible difference with or without them. The front baffle has an angled, stealth-fighter design and is made from 25mm-thick milled high-density fiberboard (HDF) and finished with black lacquer. The design is said to minimize diffraction, but I know of another company that uses a similar design and claims the angles are more aesthetic than functional. In any case, they look nice. The sides and back are a black vinyl that looks good with no visible seams. The custom-made crossovers use film capacitors, air core inductors and precision resistors. These guys come with a five-year warranty.

Setup

Setting up this system was pretty easy and I think that if part of the design goal was simplicity, Emotiva succeeded. I hooked up an Oppo 840 universal disc player so I could run some physical media and also used a BTM-1 Bluetooth (aptX) module that I purchased from Emotiva so I could stream as well. Connection to the Oppo was done with a Zu Audio Firemine coaxial cable and the analog cables were my trusty Kimber PBJs. I set the B1s on my entertainment table top about 1.5 feet from the front wall, 6 feet apart and toed in so that the left/right cross-point was about a foot behind my head.

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My first impression was that the speakers sounded a little mid-shy and the treble was a slightly tizzy. Over several days of listening, the mids became more relaxed and natural, and the tweeters settled down and smoothed out. Obviously a bit of break-in is needed. In spite of their light weight, they did not rattle, buzz or take a walk across the table top. Even at moderately loud levels they stayed stable and open. The bass sounded better than I was expecting, with solid, punchy slam. I’ll share some musical insights later in this review.

The TA-100 looked like a perfect match for the black Oppo with both units blending together and disappearing. The display was very legible and the fact that it could be dimmed allows the user to select a setting that works best for their environment. The volume knob has detents that give the feel of soft clicks as you rotate the volume up or down. I liked the feel, but mostly used the remote from that point on because I am lazy, and hey, that’s what a remote is for.

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Emotiva TA-100 Amp and Airmotive B1 Speakers, Remote Control

The remote, by the way, is small, shiny and basic. I had a hard time mastering the remote for changing the bass and treble trims. If you hit the wrong direction while burrowing down into the menu, it would throw you all the way out. Getting used to the up/down-right/left button for navigation took some practice. In fairness, once you have it set the way you like, you will probably never have to go through the setup routine again.

The shiny remote took on fingerprints and was not backlit. Those are a few of my pet peeves and maybe backlighting is better reserved for a home theater remote, but I have been spoiled by those solid aluminum brick remotes that Emotiva is famous for. Still, I must remember the design goal of “easy” and “inexpensive”.

Emotiva TA-100 Amp and Airmotive B1 Speakers, TA-100 Bluetooth Module

Pairing the Bluetooth module took less than a minute and the music I streamed from Spotify and my personal cloud sounded just as good as the CD versions of the music I owned. I was never interested in streaming music (Bah, Humbug) until just recently. Now I cannot imagine serious music listening without it. I highly recommend getting the $49 module from Emotiva if you purchase a TA-100.

In Use

The Who

The Who “The Ultimate Collection”

For music, I started with the basics. The Who’s Join Together starts out with a synthesizer and harmonica which is quickly “joined together” with Daltry’s vocals and a powerful bass line. The B1s provided a very nice and stable soundstage with impressive bass.

The vocal sound was natural and a bit forward so that it projected out into the room with the instruments placed around and to the sides of Roger. If the speakers are too close to the front wall, the mid bass becomes too emphasized and the soundstage collapses inward.

Sinatra

Sinatra “The Complete Reprise Recordings”

Sinatra Sings Jobim makes a great midrange test of Ol’ Blu Eyes smoky, and a bit aged, vocals. Piano and bass had their own sense of space with Frank singing directly in between the speakers. Man, where is Frank when you need him? What a unique and soothing sound he had; so relaxed and mellow, like aged bourbon.

Beethoven

Beethoven “Beethoven 9th Symphony”

Alright, enough of the ensemble stuff. I wanted see if the B1s can play orchestral music and I threw at them one of the most spacious recordings I own: Beethoven’s 9th Symphony by the Minnesota Orchestra recording from the BIS label (Surround SACD). This recording has a large open sound that seems to expand further when the massive choir kicks in during the final movement.

No, the B1s did not sound like a full range tower speaker, but they held up pretty well. Never did they sound congested or pinched. I could not help but be impressed with these small speakers designed for modest budgets. Makes me wonder how their big brothers, the Airmotiv T1 towers would sound.

Meanwhile, The TA-100 performed flawlessly during the few weeks I auditioned. Bluetooth worked without a hitch. Switching inputs was smooth and easy. The one issue I had was with the bass management. The TA-100 sends out a full range signal to your sub, so you must set the crossover on the sub’s amplifier. This choice probably helps keep the cost of the unit down, but setting up a sub this way takes a bit more care.

Emotiva TA-100 Amp and Airmotive B1 Speakers, TA-100 and Oppo Player

Because it is a full range signal, that means you cannot send a high pass to the B1s, so they in turn must attempt to play the low bass too. In my experience, this never became an audible issue with my setup, but for an inexperienced music lover, getting it dialed in just right may take some trial and error.

Emotiva TA-100 Amp and Airmotive B1 Speakers, TA-100 and Oppo Player

I also hooked my Revel F12 towers up to the TA-100 and it drove them without complaint. I don’t think the TA-100 would have trouble driving any reasonably efficient speakers out there with perhaps the exception of some planar/ribbon speakers like the bigger Magnepans (but I suspect the MMGs would play nice with it).

Conclusions

Emotiva TA-100 Amp and Airmotive B1 Speakers

The Combination of THE TA-100 AMP and THE AIRMOTIV B1 SPEAKERS offers Consumers a Chance to Experience Audiophile Quality Sound on a Common Man’s Budget. It’s Like Getting Steak for the Price of a Burger.

Likes
  • Budget friendly
  • Very good build quality
  • Aesthetically pleasing to the ear and eye
  • A simple solution for a budding audiophile
Would Like To See
  • Integrated low pass filter
  • Easier menu structure via remote
  • Where’s the heavy duty remote?

When I review a product I usually look at few factors; principally, does the product perform the way the designers intended? In this case, Emotiva has designed the BasX products to produce exceptional sound at an affordable price. They are easy to operate, solidly made and designed to give trouble-free performance for years to come. In this sense, Emotiva has done their homework and succeeded in making a value-oriented sound system that costs the same as a mid-line receiver…sans speakers! Yes, there are a few sonic compromises made here, but the cost/performance ratio is very good. If someone asked me what to get as a starter system, this combo would be at the top of my recommended list. For those looking for a secondary sound system in a midsized room, you’d be hard pressed to do better.

  • Jim Milton

    I’d be remiss if I did not mention the Emotiva Holiday Sale going on right now. These prices may go up in January…

  • vneal

    I enjoyed your review. As said, they are on sale for the Holidays. Tough to beat at this price point. It seems there is ALOT of trickle down technology from Emotivas upper units

  • Jim Milton

    Yes, and in the next few months they will be releasing their new Emersa line with a pre/pro, speakers and slim line amplifiers. This company is staying busy in 2017!

  • Jim Fuerstenberg

    Nice review…this would simplify my audio system…if I buy the preamp/tuner/dac only…I could unload my Adcom 555, my tuner and the BIC Beam Box…plus get digital outputs for my oppo and sonos….

  • Peter Graves

    Do you fellas think I’d be able to use my Thiel CS3.5 speakers with the TA-100? I am not worried about the power so much as I am wondering how to connect the Thiel equalizer which normally connects between the pre-amp and amp. Thoughts?

  • Jim Milton

    The EQ is designed to keep the bass signal flat down to about 22Hz. I can only suggest using good interconnects and and giving it a try. The Thiels generally perform better with more power, but the since excessive levels of db are not a concern, the TA-100 should still drive them to satisfying levels. Emotiva offers a 30 day $ back guarantee if it doesn’t meet you expectations…

  • Carl S

    Great review! For some reason, the Airmotiv B1 barely has been barely reviewed… How do you think this competes against the KEF Q100 or ELAC 6?

  • Jim Milton

    There does seem to be a paucity of B1 reviews, but if you check out the Emotiva Lounge (forum), many people post their thoughts and comparisons of Emotiva speakers. The KEFs ($400ish) and Elacs ($280ish) are both excellent speakers. I have only listened to the Q100s and was more impressed with their imaging and styling and general build quality. The Debut 6s have had some very good press as far as sound, but the flimsy vinyl outside has been a source of complaint by some….so without giving a definitive answer, I think the B1s can hold their own. Their seamless outside covering and robust sonics makes them a bargain, IMHO.