REVIEW: Emotiva Pro airmotiv4
By: Steve Guttenberg
Given the increasing popularity and interest in desktop loudspeaker audio here on Head-Fi.org, I asked Steve if he could write reviews of some outstanding desktop speakers for the community here at Head-Fi. He did, beginning with a review of the PSB Imagine minis, and now these Emotiva Pro airmotiv4 loudspeakers.
Expect to see other articles and coverage from Steve on Head-Fi.org, from time to time!
It doesn't happen that often, but every now and then I come across a speaker that redefines its category. The new Mini Maggies from Magnepan were like that, but those planar magnetic desktop speakers run $1,500 a pair. The tiny Audioengine A2 struck that cord a few years ago, but now it looks like Emotiva Pro's new airmotiv4 ($399/pair with free shipping) has upped the ante.
A different kind of tweeter
First thing, the airmotiv4 is special for what it doesn't have: a dome tweeter. In its place you'll find a Heil air motion transformer. Say what? It looks like a ribbon or planar magnetic tweeter, but the Heil is different. Instead of pushing air to make sound the Heil's pleated diaphragm "squeezes" air. The tweeter uses vapor-deposited, aluminum conductors on a low-mass kapton substrate that sits in a magnetic field. If you were to "unfold" the pleats the tweeter would have six times the area of a 1-inch dome tweeter! That large radiating area requires less movement to produce a given sound pressure level, which dramatically lowers distortion.
The airmotiv4's four-and-a-half inch woofer is no slouch, it uses a polypropolene composite cone material. The tweeter and woofer
are made exclusively for Emotiva, so you won't see them on other brands' speakers. The cross-braced, medium-density
Knock your socks off sound!
What really grabbed me from the get-go was the airmotiv4's finely tuned balance, it does everything well. That said, the Heil tweeter puts the speaker's treble performance well ahead of anything near its price. And in a nearfield speaker design it's hard to ignore treble deficiencies, or to put it another way, when you hear a well-engineered speaker with a great tweeter you'll find out in a hurry what you've been missing. Low distortion speakers like this are easy to listen to for hours on end.
The tweeter is a revelation, especially when you hear it close up in a desktop monitoring environment, listening from 30 to 72 inches away. Cymbals and percussion instruments are clear, pure and effortless, sounding so much more the way they do in real life. Soundstaging abilities are also superb, listen to an audiophile CD like MA Recordings' "Ghatam," by the Antenna Repairmen, and you'll hear a remarkable sense of depth and pinpoint image focus. MA doesn't use artificial reverb or processing of any kind, so the airmotiv4 transported me back to the acoustic space of the original recording venue. The palpability of each strike, slap or rub of the ceramic percussion instruments was eerily realistic.
The speaker's exceptional midrange transparency came to light when I played Neil Young's "Live at Massey Hall, 1971" CD. Young accompanies himself on guitar or piano on all tracks, and I couldn't find fault with the airmotiv4, it was doing everything right.
What about bass? I tested the airmotiv4's low frequency prowess with the "French Dub Collection" and the little speaker handled the music's throbbing beats and drones with ease. The texture and palpability of the bass was excellent, and even when I turned the volume up nice and loud, the airmotiv4 kept its cool. Highly dynamic recordings couldn't fluster the little speaker, at least at the volume levels I can tolerate in nearfield listening. The little speaker is rated to go down to 54 Hertz (-3 dB), and I never found its oomph wanting. Then again you might, so Emotiva will introduce a matching 10-inch sub early next year.
A game changer
Emotiva has a real winner with the airmotiv4, but they also offer two larger models, the airmotiv5 ($499) and airmotiv6 ($599/pair). The mind reels thinking about what they will sound like.
Pros: Hi-tech tweeter, bi-amped with Class AB amplifiers, superb build quality, wide-open soundstaging, nicely defined bass, free shipping
Cons: You can only get 'em in black