Emotiva Airmotiv GR1 Headphones

General Information

Performance
  • Frequency Response: 23 Hz to 24.5 kHz.
  • Efficiency: 106 dB .
  • THD: < 0.05% (typical).
Electrical
  • Impedance: 32 Ohms (nominal).
  • Connections:
    Each earcup has a separate high-quality 2.5mm audio input connector.
    The Airmotiv GR1 can be used with both balanced and unbalanced cables and ships with
    a high quality unbalanced cable terminated with an 1/8” stereo headphone connector .
    Optional balanced cables will be available.
  • Amplifier Compatibility:
    Because the Airmotiv GR1 features both high-efficiency and a relatively easy to drive
    impedance, it will work well with any high quality headphone amplifier as well as the
    headphone outputs on virtually all in-home or portable audio gear.
Audio Technology
  • Transducer Type: Dynamic driver with copper-clad aluminum voice coil.
  • Diaphragm: Ultra-low mass diaphragm, consisting of a polycarbonate
    substrate, reinforced with graphene infusion technology.
  • Loading: Aperiodic (semi-open).
Mechanical
  • Earcup Body: Natural ash wood.
  • Earcup Grill: Water-jet machined aluminum exterior grill and decorative dress panel.
  • Earpad Type: Circumaural (around the ear).
  • Replaceable Earpads: Yes.
  • Earpad Dimensions:
    Round; 3-3/4” outside diameter; 2-1/4” inside diameter.
    Ergonomic depth contour ranges between ¾” and 1-1/4”
  • Earpad Material:
    Deep breathable vegan leather earpads, micro-perf ventilation, and memory foam interior
    fill with integral latch retaining ring.
  • Headband:
    All metal headband, with soft breathable vegan leather pad, and metal ball-bearing
    detents for firm precise adjustment.
  • Overall Weight (not including cable): 400 grams.
Included Cable
  • Length: Two meters.
  • Type: Unbalanced.
  • Replaceable: Yes.
  • Cable:
    Oxygen-free copper (OFC) cable, with all gold plated electrical contacts, machined metal
    connectors and strain reliefs, soft flexible insulation, and attractive cloth covering.
  • Connector:
    High quality standard 3.5mm stereo headphone connector ( ¼” TRS adapter included).
Extras
  • Contoured velour-lined hard-shell carrying case included.
Weight and Dimensions
  • 12" x 9" x 6" boxed
  • 3 lbs.

Latest reviews

hodgjy

Headphoneus Supremus
Emotiva Airmotiv GR1 Headphones Review
Pros: Enjoyable sound and excellent frequency response.
Cons: Small sound stage, small ear cups, and the stock cable is ridiculously microphonic.
Background:

If you've read any of my recent reviews and posts, you'll see that I've been on mid-fi journey during the last year of our pandemic. I've been seriously procrastinating when it comes to re-padding my headphones (although I just sunk $70 US into my Sennheiser HD 650 to re-pad the ear cups and headband) and I have been investing in mid-fi headphones with those diverted funds. I like trying out new sound flavors and rediscovering my music collection.

Also, as price goes up, my reviews become more critical. I gave some extremely favorable impressions of lower-priced Sennheisers and Philips, but these Emotivas have a lot of competition in the $300 US bracket, so I am more compelled to discuss some nits and picks. While this review may seem to have more nits and picks than praise at times, I really do like these headphones. They are solid performers and worth the asking price. I'm conveying my honest impressions to hopefully better inform people shopping in the price bracket because there is intense competition here. Anecdotally, I purchased the Sennheiser HD 560S and returned them after one day of listening. They weren't for me at all. These are much better and I really enjoy them. (This is also why I don't make a very detailed comparison to the HD 560S below--I didn't have them long enough).

The latest edition to my collection is the debut offering from Emotiva, and I have to say it's a very solid effort. They checked a lot of important boxes when it comes to my listening enjoyment.

Emotiva's OEM:

There has been some chatter over the interwebs about how Emotiva contracted an OEM to make these headphones for them, and all evidence points to the company that makes Sivga headphones, among others. This bothers some people, but I suggest that it shouldn't. Do you honestly think Apple makes their own iPhones in-house? Exactly.

Aesthetically, these are gorgeous headphones. They look and feel premium.

Pics or it Never Happened:

IMG_1222.jpg


My listening chain: ALAC -> iPod Classic -> Pure i20 dock -> optical -> Musical Fidelity V-DAC II -> Teac HA-501 amplifier (more on the DAC choice later in this review).

Overall Impressions:

These are a $300 US headphone, and they sound like a $300 headphone. I mean that in a good way. They aren't flagship, nor were they ever meant to be. They also aren't "giant killers," but, once again, they were never intended to be. They are a very solid offering from a company that is known to give great value for the dollar, and these are no exception. I hate using the term, "fun" when it comes to headphones because, for some people, nails on a chalkboard are fun. However, if you adhere to the fun sounding dogma, these certainly qualify. They are meant to sit back and listen for enjoyment while getting lost in the music and not trying to determine if the third trumpet is 5 cents too flat or if John Bonham cracked his stick. These are audiophile $300 headphones, not anything of the likes of Bose, which I do own, or Beats, which I have auditioned.

I'd put these exactly in the middle, in terms of performance, between something like the Sennheiser HD 560S or Philips Fidelio X2HR and the Sennheiser HD 650. In that regard, they are priced correctly and you are getting exactly what you paid for. This alone is an accomplishment because at one point the Sennheiser HD 650 was their flagship headphone before the technicality and price war intensified.

A possible sonic drawback is they have a small sound stage to my ears, and it's not intimate like the Sennheiser HD 6-- series. It's a little cramped.

Transients have decent speed. They are what you'd expect in this price point. The Emotivas don't have the dynamic volume swings the Sennheiser HD 6-- series has. Perhaps this is due to the difference in impedance, but I'm not an engineer and can't say for sure.

Overall, these have a slightly synthetic tone and ever so slightly lack an organic feel. Maybe this is due to their graphene drivers. I guess I've truly been spoiled by listening to the Sennheiser HD 650 and Audeze LCD-2F for so long. For lack of a better analogy, consider the Sennheiser HD 6-- series as a soft white light bulb and the Emotiva Airmotiv as a regular white light bulb. Both will illuminate all of the details very effectively, but one is warmer and more natural than the other.

To put things into further broad and loose comparisons in terms of what people may have previously auditioned, the Emotivas have a little less bass, more tame treble, and a smaller sound stage than the Philips Fidelio X2HR. Compared to the Philips SHP9600, the Emotivas are more refined, slightly more metallic and closed in, but without the midbass hump.

These are essentially a semi-open headphone, so you get some of the extra bass found in many closed backs, but you lose the wider sound stage of truly open headphones.

Treble:

Treble is nicely rendered. It's brighter than the Sennheiser HD 6-- line, so listening to these takes a little time for adjustment. It has clarity, but never approaches sibilance and I couldn't hear any noticeable hot spots. It's not without grain, but whatever grain it has isn't offensive. There is a little metallic timbre to the treble, which is obviously in contrast to the Sennheiser HD 6-- line. I did appreciate that the treble of the Airmotiv is a more tamed than the Philips Fidelio X2HR. The Philips when paired with certain DACs playing specific tracks could be a murder box at times. The Airmotivs never remotely approached any possibility of treble discomfort.

I don't have a measuring rig so I can't confirm what I think I'm hearing, but there seems to be a slight depression in the treble somewhere between 5k-10k, but it's not an omission worth worrying about, and may actually be pleasing. Overall, the treble sounds pretty detailed and balanced, which adequately meets its price point.

Midrange:

Midrange is nice, free of shout and honk. Voices are upfront and electric guitars have the appropriate crunch. There might be some recession somewhere between 1k-3k, but I can't for sure say. I've seen some reviews suggest these have a slight V-shape to them, so this would certainly make sense and would be believable. Timbre is pretty good, too. The sounds we expect to hear in the midrange sound realistic. My only real complaint here is they can sound a little crowded during specific passages, with different tones and voices sometimes fighting for attention.

The midrange, in terms of frequency response, is more in-line with the Sennheiser HD 600 than the HD 650, but obviously missing the liquidity and romance found in either of the Sennheisers. Drums sound a little more metallic and hollow than woody and throaty, which better headphones can render more appropriately.

Bass:

The bass is probably these headphones' major selling point. In a nutshell, it's fairly tight, not overly done, and lacks the midbass hump that plagues many headphones, including the Sennheiser HD 650. It has more bass presence than the Sennheiser HD 6-- line in that it extends deeper overall, but has less bass overall than the Philips Fidelio X2HR. Also, the bass is less controlled and has less texture, but oddly is less one-note the Sennheiser HD 650; the bass of the Airmotiv is less boomy and more in control than the Philips. Bass is pleasing, has decent punch, but it's a little rounded off. Bass guitars have good volume and presence, but lack the bite and texture found in better headphones.

I did appreciate that the bass seems to actually remain in the bass and limits its bleed into the midrange. Midbass isn't too bloomy or bloated. It's a nicely rendered bass response with decent speed and decay. While the Sennheiser HD 650 has better bass texture, they are known for midbass hump and distortion. The Emotivas were very well behaved and controlled despite being a little rounded off.

Sound Stage:

I never thought this would be possible, but I consider these to have a smaller sound stage than the Sennheiser HD 6-- series. I contribute this to the semi-open design. These lack the three-headed blob, which is good, but the sounds are almost exclusively in your head. The sound extends to the end of your ears, the top of your head, and to the bottom of your C1 vertebrae. That's the extent of it. Things can get crowded at times and imaging isn't precise like I've grown accustomed to with the Sennheiser HD 6-- line. Headphones with small sound stages can be intimate, but due to the slightly metallic coloration to the sound, this isn't intimate. It's just small. There isn't the same layering and depth (front to back is pretty narrow) that is found in the Sennheisers. Again, I attribute this to the semi-open back design.

Is the sound stage bad? No. It's just not large and don't expect your amp or DAC to perform miracles here. Don't expect to figure out the specific musician in the orchestra who accidentally banged their instrument on the sheet music stand at the start of a 10-bar rest or how far back on stage Dave Matthews migrated while at Red Rocks.

I found no issues with the sound stage for studio recorded rock, however.

Dislikes:

The ear cups are small and will cause ear fatigue for people with medium and large ears. The only thing keeping me from having an 8-hour marathon with these headphones is the ear cups. My ears touch the top and bottom of the pads as well as the driver housing. My ears get warm and start to sweat as well.

The stock cable is ridiculously microphonic, especially when paired with the mostly metal headphones, so plan on spending another few dollars on a better cable. It's a shame because the stock cable really is nice with a braided sleeve that feels robust while never getting all tangled up.

DAC Pairings:

I'm definitely not DAC agnostic, so let's get that out of the way. I certainly hear differences between them.

I suggest that these headphones, due to their slightly synthetic and metallic rendering to the sound, will best pair with multibit, R2R, advanced segment (like the Burr-Brown 179X series, which is found in my V-DAC II), or otherwise warm DACs. Despite Sabres being known for their air and space, I don't think they will pair well with the timbre of these headphones even though the extra space in the sound stage would be appreciated. If you wanted warmth and space, the Schiit Modius would be a nice budget approach despite it being delta-sigma if you didn't want to venture into multibit or R2R land.

Conclusions:

I like these headphones. Don't let my nits and picks sway you too much from trying them. As I stated earlier, as the price goes up, my reviews get more critical and I'm more inclined to find issues rather than ignoring them. If you gave me a pair of Focal Utopias to listen to, I'm sure I'd find the problems in them, just for clarity here.

These headphones don't do anything wrong and are free of major sonic sins. They make for an enjoyable experience and are worth the asking price. They are quite neutral in a "fun" :wink: way. They have a very good frequency response, they render the music in a very pleasing way, and, frankly, they just sound darn good. The longer they are on my head, the better they sound and the more I like them. They make for an excellent complement to the Sennheiser HD 6-- line and are more refined than several of the offerings from Philips. I read online that these have a "safe" sound signature, and I'd agree. These will handle most, if not all, music genres with the appropriate manners and delivery. All in all, a solid debut into the headphone arena from Emotiva.

Update:

In the interest of full disclosure, I decided to return these headphones. While they sound fantastic, and I was sad to see them go, the ear cups and pads were just too small for my ears and caused discomfort after a short period of time. If Emotiva ever updates these to have larger ear cups, I'd buy them in a second.
Last edited:
sacguy231
sacguy231
Great review!
Reactcore
Reactcore
At first glimse they looked bigger until saw them in hands
  • Like
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hodgjy
hodgjy
Overall, they aren't small headphones, except for the ear pads. They need more space in the top-to-bottom orientation.

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