Emotiva airmotiv 5 Active Monitor Speakers
Emotiva Goes Pro
Internet Direct audio firm Emotiva has long been considered a "value leader" based historically on the strength of their amplifiers. These days it's possible to assemble an all Emotiva system including: CD transport, DAC, pre-amp or processor, amplification, speakers (including subwoofers), and even cables. To augment their ever-growing lineup, Emotiva recently launched a spin-off division focused solely on pro audio oriented products. At present the airmotiv monitors are the only products in the Emotiva Pro line, though I suspect they have a variety of things in the works---pro audio amps to compete with the likes of Crown and QSC seem like an obvious choice since Emotiva has experience in that category.
The airmotiv line consists of three models: the 4, 5, and 6---the number corresponding to the approximate size of the woofer being used. I decided to review the 5 because it seems like a good compromise between the models. It's not that much larger than the 4, being just an inch wider and deeper, and about 1.5 inches taller, yet it has a larger midbass woofer and double the power on board for each driver. The 6 looks impressive but is significantly larger and thus not a good candidate for most desktop applications.
Though described as a "Professional Monitor", the airmotiv 5 fits well within the unofficial limits of what is often termed a "mini-monitor". At 10.7" high x 7.1" wide x 8.3" deep, the airmotiv 5 is smaller than the quintessential LS3/5a or the creatively named Paradigm Mini Monitor. But we're talking about near-field use here, and in that scenario the airmotiv 5 is probably bumping against the upper limits of allowable size. I imagine a certain percentage of people simply won't have room for them as most furniture purposely designed as "computer desks" tend to be on the smaller side. Folks who use a traditional desk will be more likely to have the required real estate.
All of the airmotiv models are active designs. There are significant technical advantages to active designs, while "computer speakers" are usually self powered (having a built-in amp), active designs are more advanced, each driver getting its own dedicated amp---50 watts RMS each in this case. The multi-pole, phase-compensated active crossover point is set at 2700Hz; all frequencies below that get routed to the woofer and all frequencies above go to the tweeter.
Speaking of drivers, the Emotiva Pro line hangs its hat on the use of a folded-ribbon transducer instead of the commonly used dome tweeter. This driver seems to be a proprietary variant of the Heil Air Motion Transformer, or AMT driver. As Steve Guttenberg mentioned in his review of the Adam ARTist 3 monitors (which also use an AMT driver). These drivers look like accordion pleats, and draw in air and press it out between the folds at a rapid rate. Another way to imagine it would be as a watermelon seed between your thumb and forefinger, then squeezing until it shoots out---that's how the airmotiv ribbon driver rapidly "spits" out air. The result is an extremely responsive driver with low distortion, which is arguably superior to most dome tweeters. I say "arguably" because there are some very advanced "traditional" style tweeters out there with very high performance, and I don't want to present the airmotiv folded-ribbon driver as some sort of "magic bullet" superior to all others. There are some great drivers and some poor drivers in every conceivable variety, just as there are good and bad examples of both active and passive speaker designs.
The woofer used is a 5.25" model using a proprietary "Curv" polypropylene composite design. Emotiva doesn't explain much about this driver but speaking generally, woofers benefit from rigid yet lightweight materials. Polymer composites are commonly used to achieve this, especially in subwoofer construction. Once again there is no single technology that is superior over all the others.
The rear section of the airmotiv 5 is rather busy. There's a slot loaded port mounted near the top of the cabinet; inputs in both RCA and XLR format; a power switch; an IEC inlet for the included power cable; and then the all-important shelving EQ adjustments. One knob allows for a -2 or -4 dB reduction under 150Hz. The other knob is for tuning high frequencies above 4kHz: users can choose +2 or -2 dB. These adjustments will likely come in handy although it is possible to leave everything set at zero if that works in your setup.
Externally, the airmotiv 5s are unabashedly studio monitors. They don't even have the option of grills. That doesn't mean they are ugly though, with a textured black finish that vaguely resembles leather, gently rounded corners, and silver accents up front, the design is actually rather attractive. It's not exactly flashy, but it does stand out in the sea of nondescript black boxes that make up much of its competition.
Worth noting is that each monitor gets its own volume control knob on the bottom right corner. This isn't uncommon for active monitors and it's nice to have them on the front panel rather than around back. Be warned though, using these knobs on a regular basis for volume changes may leave you paranoid about whether or not you have them balanced precisely. That problem is easily solved by turning them all the way up and using an external pre-amp or DAC for volume control.