Home theater electronics companies selling
directly to consumers are nothing new. Outlaw Audio, Oppo, and Emotiva,
among others have been using this business model successfully for several
years to "cut out the middle man" and offer high performance products at
Two-channel audio has typically been the
domain of high-end audio boutiques, not manufacturer direct sales (with a
few notable exceptions, like Perpetual Technologies).
The landscape is changing. Even traditional
high-end companies like Bel Canto are now selling their products directly to
Internet commerce savvy consumers who are demanding higher levels of
performance at lower cost. In this new world, both manufacturers and
retailers will have to adapt or suffer consequences.
Emotiva has recently released a line of two-channel (stereo) audio products
using their direct marketing approach, supplementing their already
formidable product line of home theater processors and amplifiers. They have
always strived to deliver maximum sound quality at minimum cost, and the
RSP-1 preamplifier and RPA-1 amplifier are no exception.
These are the first
products by Emotiva that are made specifically for two channel audio, and
have amazingly low prices given their build quality and specifications.
Design and Construction
When my pre-production review samples of the RSP-1 and RPA-1 arrived, I was
stunned by the mass of the boxes containing the $1,398 preamp and amplifier
combo. Normally, components this inexpensive just do not weigh the 110
pounds these two components totaled. The two most expensive parts of any
piece of audio gear are first the enclosure and second the power supply
transformer. Most budget electronics skimp on these two areas, because they
result in the greatest manufacturing savings. Upon unpacking the RPA-1 and
RSP-1, it was clear Emotiva was not skimping.
Especially with enclosures, high-end manufacturers can go overboard, with
some machining the entire chassis out of a single billet of aircraft grade
aluminum. Emotiva has, in my opinion, made the optimal choice. Both
enclosure chassis are made from 2mm thick steel, very much like the $70,000
Agilent PNA microwave network analyzer I use in my lab at work. This chassis
is far better than typical in average electronics, but not ridiculous. A
clever cost saving measure is the use of identical chassis for both the
preamplifier and the amplifier, changing only the rear panel cutouts and
front panel. On both units, a nicely machined aluminum front panel with a
pair of LED-backlit trim panels dress up the units. Acrylic gloss black side
panels also add some elegance without breaking the bank. Sturdy vibration
isolating feet are used on both the amp and preamp.
Click on the
photos above to see a larger version.
Emotiva has put the money where
it should go in any piece of audio gear: the build quality. The RSP-1 is not
what you would call a "purist" preamp. It has a full set of features,
including tone controls, balance controls, a processor loop, a tape monitor
loop, a headphone jack, and many inputs and outputs. The tone and balance
controls, which are mounted on a separate daughterboard attached to the
front panel, can be bypassed with a "source direct" button. All source and
loop switching and muting are relay based, allowing for full remote control
with a well-made aluminum remote.
All preamp features can be
controlled both from the front panel and from the remote. Volume control is
via an analog motorized potentiometer, also mounted on an independent
daughterboard attached to the front panel.
A custom toroidal transformer of
considerable size is used for the RSP-1 power supply, which sports 30,000 uF
of power supply capacitance. Again, all unused board real estate is covered
with ground plane. The preamp is op-amp based, using very high quality Burr
Brown OPA2134 audio op amps (Burr Brown's best audio op amp). Five pairs of
high quality RCA inputs are available, in addition to a processor loop and a
tape loop. Outputs are via RCA (single ended) or XLR (balanced) connectors,
with a simple bass management option, allowing switchable 80 Hz/120 Hz
low-pass and high-pass crossover settings.
Click Here to Go to Part II.