Seeking: A lasting relationship with a loudspeaker for under a grand. Familiar? It’s a recurring goal among enthusiasts pursuing performance but also looking to tap the brakes on the budget. Typically there are two choices. One appeals to the purist audiophile region of our brain that seeks the musicality and finesse of a fine-boned compact monitor. The other, shall we say, more reptilian side stumps for the stomach-churning, neck-snapping, roof-rattling indulgence that only a multiple-driver, cinema-ready floorstander can offer. We’ve all been there. Is there a middle ground? Something like a twofer?
Permit me to introduce the Emotiva Airmotiv T1—a tower design on the smaller side of medium, standing a little more than three feet in height. The largest in the Airmotiv Series, the T1 is a four-driver system in a bass-reflex configuration with a rear-firing port located near the foot of the back panel. The driver complement comprises a single 5.25" midrange and dual 6" bass transducers, both with woven-fiber cones. The tweeter is not the typical one-inch soft dome but rather a 32mm folded ribbon that Emotiva-watchers will recognize from the brand’s active Stealth line of studio monitors. Rarely encountered at this price point, lightweight ribbons offer sonic advantages over their dome brethren in distortion and transient response.
The T1 enclosure is all MDF, well braced, and topped off by a heavy 25mm front panel, which firmly anchors the drivers. The T1’s profile is further buttressed by a faceted baffle designed to minimize diffraction in the mid and upper octaves. Utilitarian, textured vinyl replaces traditional gloss coats on the side and back panels, but the front is nicely finished in multiple applications of satin-black lacquer. The removable grilles are magnetically attached for a clean look.
Sonically, the Emotiva T1 has attitude—a big, brawny sound that energizes listening spaces with engaging midbass output and potent dynamic thrust. Its warmer somewhat darker overall balance makes it a loudspeaker that paints the emotion of a performance in broader brush strokes, which is what often the case with speakers that try to produce the full frequency spectrum. This would be in contrast with many smaller two-way monitors that trade low-frequency extension and bass dynamics for higher resolution of mid- and treble-range sonic minutiae.
Musically, the T1 just brings it. As a result, orchestral performances take on new urgency and gravity. The brass and wind volleys in Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” [Reference Recordings], for example, came across as open and unrestricted; the top end was detailed and sweet; and bass drum and timpani strikes were heavy, impactful, and nicely scaled.
On pop music, such as the black-water-deep opening bass line of Leonard Cohen’s “You Want it Darker” from his eponymous final album, the sheer volume of air generated by the T1 made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. On Mary Gauthier’s “Camelot Motel,” the tuneful bass line was just as firmly established, while Gautier’s drawling vocal was captured with all the sympathy, humor, and affection for the displaced and damaged characters she often writes about. As I cued up the DSD file of Cat Stevens’ “Hard Headed Woman” via the Playback Designs Syrah and Merlot server/DAC tandem (review forthcoming) I was impressed with the realism of the swift acoustic guitar transients and, once again, the bass foundation that the T1 produced.
In tonal balance the T1 projects a well-cushioned, “bottom-up” signature defined by grippy lower frequencies, an expressive lower midrange that allows a cello or bass viol full breath and exhalation, a relaxed vocal range that neither forces singers into your lap nor shoves them to the back wall, and a round, sweet, transparent top end. Vocal presence tends to register a row or two farther back from a neutral listening perspective, so the overall impression is a slightly subtractive and forgiving presentation. Although ruler-flat frequency response was not within reach, the T1’s balance was very easy on the ear.