Published on October 18th, 2014 | by Greg0
Audiophile On A Budget: Big Sound From The Emotiva Airmotiv 5S
‘Active, powered monitors’ is a weird phrase. It sounds like someone with a little too much authority watching over you. But in the audio world, you have to choose between active or passive, separate components- which allow you to replace or upgrade or repair with ease- versus a more precisely tuned, compact option. Passive monitors typically require an external amplifier, but active/powered monitors do not- and most folks will opt for the latter category, especially when you’re using them with a computer in what’s called a ‘near-field’ setting. In a big room, you want large speakers, but you don’t need or want them on your desktop or in your bedroom or office.
That’s where sets like the Emotiva Airmotiv 5S come in handy. These aren’t your average bookshelf or PC speakers- these are the kind that made us break out FLAC and lossless recordings to test out, the sort that absolutely requires a decent DAC (digital-to-analog converter) to really do them justice. At about 11″x7″x8″, they aren’t small enough to hide just anywhere, and they don’t offer a separate subwoofer (or easy line out to another component). But they do pack a wallop into the package, boasting 100 watts of sound and very impressive bass response with crystalline details, all at a price that won’t break the budget. If you have, say, $500 to spend on a system, these might be your best option, as you can add a reasonably priced DAC and immediately have an impressive audio system for a small room.
At first, we gave them some space, setting them fairly wide apart and sitting back, and perhaps placing them too low and close to the walls. When given some space to breathe on the rear and a more intimate setup, the Emotiva Airmotiv 5S came alive, besting some of our other favorite sets, like those from Audioengine, PSB, Focal. Larger than most, the 5S speakers are also more distinctive at a glance than many. And everything is pretty simple too- no wireless audio or extra gadgetry to muck up signals or impede performance. But don’t call them old school; the specs call attention to everything from the “computer-optimized internal bracing” to “Class AB bi-amplification” with dual amplifiers in each speaker for the woofer and folded-ribbon transducer. Audio geeks will be able to immediately tell they set themselves apart not only with separate equalization for high and low frequencies (rare in this class) but also the inclusion of both a regular RCA connector and the less-common balanced XLR.
We burned in the Emotivas for a couple of dozen hours before playing tracks ranging from some of the new Pink Floyd album to electronic CHVRCHES and acoustic Shakey Graves. Lush, detailed, layered, and forward were all adjectives we heard, along with plenty of enthusiasm for the very clear highs. Sometimes production, especially on modern rock and pop, leaves the higher trebles a bit muddy, but these cut through that, and also highlighted every breath in live recordings that most monitors miss. Sound was never harsh, they were never too cold or warm, and the sound stage was good if slightly lacking in depth of vibrato (cellos and guitars could seem a little reedy or hollow). A lack of onboard volume control was the only major downside (there’s no remote either, but that’s often true among serious monitors). And we did get a bit annoyed by the blue LED in dark rooms. But for a mid-sized, mid-priced, truly capable monitor, the Emotiva Airmotiv 5S make music feel spacious, add plenty of presence to movies, and are suitable even for demanding production work. Available now, online and in stores, for around $350- a bargain for this quality.