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 Stereo Preamp/DAC/Tuner
- $299 price!
- Exceptional sound for the money
- Built in (awesome) DAC and phono stage
- Quality construction
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.
17” wide x 2 5/8” high x 12.5” deep (without connectors)
21” long x 7” high x 17-1/2” deep (boxed)
$299 with free shipping to CONUS
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)
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)
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)
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
12 VDC trigger output
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)
Compact full-function infrared remote control
Menu and Control System:
Simplified, highly intuitive menu system
(includes Setup options, Bass, Treble, and Balance controls)
Emotiva, BASX PT-100, Stereo Preamp, DAC, Tuner, Emotiva Reviews 2016
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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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
- Features (like, “cast of thousands” crazy!)
- Cost (maybe this should have been first?)
- DAC quality
- Emotiva warranty & return policy
- 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!