Emotiva T1+ Tower Speaker Review for Music. Best under $1k?
By Steve Huff
A few weeks back a set of affordable tower speakers were delivered to my home from Emotiva. This is a brand of audio products that sell direct and therefore eliminate the middleman (dealer) so they can sell these audio products to us, the consumer, for less.
Keep in mind that Emotiva is not one of those brands in the audio space that charge tens of thousands for a speaker or amp, rather this company is run by a group of music lovers who design audio gear at a price point that almost any of us can afford. I am talking entire systems for as little as $1k, and that includes DAC, Phono Stage and Cables. I do talk about high end gear on these pages often but I also love it when I can talk about a product that costs much less, yet still delivers musical enjoyment.
This means many more can enjoy quality music as the price is very right and that is a very good thing. I am all for that as this hobby can be enjoyed by those with big money or those with little money. That enjoyment is not limited by how many dollars we have in our bank accounts to spend on audio.
With Emotiva we can get very nice quality music reproduction at prices we normally do not see within this hobby. These speakers also double up as tremendous sounding home theater speakers as Emotiva makes sure they can do double duty with either music or movies.
Yes indeed, these Emotiva T1+ speakers are a set of black towers that come in at an affordable $899. These are not exotic high end audiophile speakers with fancy woodwork or fancy pro drivers nor do they weigh in at 100lbs each (they are 41lbs each). They are also not the brands “best” tower which would come in the form of their T3+ which come in for more money.
These will not wow you with holographic magic or layer upon layer of musical information like an audiophile speaker can but I always say “is that really music when this happens or is it more a treat for the senses that wows us initially”? The T1+ are more about just letting the music flow with a nice somewhat balanced top to bottom sound and making you move your body to the beat.
Nope, these T1+ are not anything “special” in the brands lineup but they do offer a pretty solid bang for the buck and I am happy to say that these under $1k speakers really opened my eyes and ears to what is possible in a speaker at this price point.
WHO ARE THESE SPEAKERS FOR?
The T1+ speakers are meant to be a fantastic value kind of speaker that deliver more sound than their price tag would allow you to believe. Speakers that one can realistically buy without going into debt that happens to make pretty dang good music to boot. Music that is made from the T1+ is not meant to be analyzed and studied but rather they are made to actually listen to and just to enjoy the music.
The small B2+ with the Emotiva Integrated Amp sounds rather amazing for what it costs ($1100)
In fact I still have a set of Emotiva B2+ bookshelf speakers hooked up in a system with their under $600 integrated amp and it gets used for music every day by my 26 year old son who lives in our guest house at this time. He has been really enjoying this basic small system. He comes by my place and sees what I spent on my system and just chuckles a bit. He asked why I didn’t just have the B2+ system in my room as I could have saved a fortune vs buying the gear I currently have sitting there! My answer was “well, I am not sane” and my system sounds even better. He said “does it sound $60k better”? I said..well, no way but that is not how this HiFi audio hobby works : )
No, the little B2+ system is nowhere near as refined and magical as my reference system, but when we hear a really good lower cost system…well, we may start to question why we spend so much money in this hobby. Is all of that “magic” a necessity to enjoy a groove or a rhythm? Well, no. It’s just the icing on top, that magic, that happens to cost thousands of dollars extra.
That little B2+ system comes in at under $1100 for an amp, a dac, a phono stage, speakers and cables and yet it sounds more like a $3k system when it comes to quality of sound. That’s pretty cool.
To the T1+
As for the subject of todays review, the three way 88db efficient 4 ohm T1+ towers use a similar high frequency driver (not sure if it is exactly the same as the smaller B2+). The larger T1+ uses a 25×32 mm Airmotiv folded ribbon tweeter. In addition we now have a midrange driver and two bass drivers in the larger tower speakers. This basically brings a bigger sound, deeper bass and an overall more energetic sound vs the two way B2+.
The frequency response of the T1+ is 37 Hz – 28 kHz (+3/-3 dB) and they do produce bass that does and can vibrate my listening seat (if that is important to you).
With the T1+ coming in at 88DB efficiency with a 4 ohm load these are not an easy breezy drive like a Klipsch Heritage speaker but they are not a hard drive. I have found these speakers are driven effortlessly by the $600 TA1 Emotiva amp or even my 30WPC high end Luxman 595 ASE integrated that puts out 30WPC in Class A.
These do not seem to be a challenge to drive and they sound good no matter if I use the Emotiva amp or the high dollar Luxman.
Are the T1+ HIGH END or LOW END?
While I do indeed enjoy some of the high end exotic designs in the speaker world I am not a fan of the prices I see these days for some high end audio brands. In fact I just saw a set of tower speakers online that would set one back $750,000 or 3/4 of a million dollars. That is nuts to me as I was super stressed when buying my $20k Fleetwood Deville’s thinking I lost my mind! To me, spending $20k on speakers was not an easy choice as I know that spending more does not always mean “better”.
Some search for the holy grail, for the most refined magical sound they can achieve and we can do this but it will cost big money. Sometimes it can even backfire and you may get a speaker that sounds lean, lacking real soul and emotion. Eek! It’s tricky building a higher end system but it’s much easier building one that isn’t so complex, like what Emotiva offers with the T1+.
THE EMOTIVA T1+
When the T1+ arrived I was in no way expecting them to be anything “wow” as they are $899 black boxes that look similar to speakers I had back when I was in my 20’s. These do feature a folded ribbon tweeter and this tweeter does deliver a bit more pizzaz than most $900 speakers do with their traditional soft dome tweeters. I normally see ribbon tweeters used in more pricey designs so this is an instant win for the T1+.
Ribbon tweeters usually bring forth more detail and can at times (though not all designs) sound overly bright. I have had a couple sets in this room like that and it was just too much for these ears. I couldn’t stand it for long but the ribbon tweeter in the T1+ is similar to the one in the B2+ I recently reviewed (and enjoyed). Not all of these ribbon tweeters ride on the brink of harshness, but some do. The one here in the Emotiva is not the most refined ribbon tweeter I have heard but it does deliver nice treble energy without being harsh and this makes all of the difference here as it allows for a nice musical flow rather than the hardness we sometimes hear with ribbon tweeters.
When I unboxed the T1+ speakers I initially set them up in my reference system which had a $12k Luxman integrated amp powering them (above) along with a $20k DCS Lina DAC and CLOCK (which has Shunyata Omega Clock cables hooking them together). Whoa! “That’s not normal” I said to myself but I had to hear them in this way first.
This gear far outclasses the T1+ speakers as no one on earth will buy these to power with an amp or DAC like this. I wanted to hear them in this system though, to see how good they CAN sound. I have found over the years that lower cost speakers can sound mighty fine when fed with superb quality amplification and even cables (YES they make a difference in revealing systems). It shows me what these speakers can do when fed with quality current and a refined digital front end.
I remember a time when I hooked up some el cheapo $79 speakers to a $10k amp with all Nordost Valhalla cables and I was blown away by how much better the speakers sounded when compared to an AVR I had on hand at the time that used basic copper cables. Even though no one does (or should do) that, it can be fun to see and hear what these speakers do in this kind of situation.
When the T1+ were placed in this system the bass is what drew my attention to them first. It was deeper than my $20k Deville’s and had more impact but it wasn’t nearly as tight or controlled. It was a little one note sounding but this is compared to $20k speakers so I expected this of course. The bass was full and present in the lower registers and I wasn’t used to that!
The midrange of the T1+ was slightly recessed and pushed back into the soundstage a few levels. This meant voices were slightly pushed back rather than being placed forward and into the room. The treble was very prevalent out of the box and I was a little nervous at first. Those fears subsided after two weeks of running the speakers in as the treble did tame out nicely. The result was a treble that was incredibly revealing (but not jagged or rough).
By the third week they were sounding more refined and smooth and opened up quite a bit from when they were new. The bass was impressive to say the least and there was plenty of kick and punch coming from the speakers lower end. The sound had dynamics, drive and could belt out some rock and roll or even some Jazz vocals if the mood hit me.
One thing I love about Emotiva is that they design speakers to sound fantastic with any kind of music you throw at them. Rock, Jazz, EDM, Fusion, Vocals, New Age, whatever. They do not excel with one kind of music as they let me enjoy everything from AC/DC to Phoebe Bridgers, from Enya to Louis Armstrong. This is nice as with some audiophile speakers we tend to find ourselves finding music that sounds good with the speakers (as usually not all music does).
I need speakers that will sound good with whatever I want to listen to, and the Emotiva’s can do this. I once owned a set of speakers that cost $10k back in the late 90’s and these only sounded good with classical or jazz. I could not play rock or any music where the bass needed to be prevalent. I couldn’t believe it at the time and my buddy thought my $300 speakers I still had sounded better with rock! Ouch.
“Never again” I said! I never did buy speakers like that again. With the Emotiva you can play any genre and get back pleasing musical results.
The Wife Listens
I brought in my wife Debby to take a listen and I did not tell her how much these T1+ cost or even who made them. I just asked her what she thought of them compared to what she usually hears (which is the Deville’s). She said they were “smaller sounding” and “flatter” (vs the $20k Deville’s) but also said they had a bigger bass sound. She then asked how much they were and when I told her she said “they sound amazing for $900, so why did we spend so much on ours”? I said “because they are fuller and bigger sounding, and deliver the magic”, lol. She rolled her eyes.
She understands my passions here and she herself has been getting into the music, the system and the different gear that rotates in and out of here on a monthly basis. She loves the Deville’s but she also understands we could have settled for less and had more cash in the bank and I can not argue with that.
I then brought in the B2+ bookshelf speakers from Emotiva and they had a similar sound to the T1+ but were smaller sounding and more punchy in the mids vs the larger tower. They were not as open sounding as the towers as the T1+ were more transparent.
The T1+ sound does focus more to the musical side of the spectrum but there is some treble energy up top that can reveal bad recordings quite easily. Thin sterile recordings will still sound thin and sterile and unlistenable (as they do on my more pricey speakers). If listening to very well recorded music they fill out and flesh out more and sound quite lovely and with some tracks they even started to sound very full and warm sounding.
The T1+ can fill a room with music as they can also handle big power, up to 350 WPC from your amplifier. The more power you feed them the better in this case. The 200 WPC Class A/B Michi X3 integrated really powered the T1+ to their best yet as the X3 tamed the treble down a little bit, fleshed out the mids more than The Luxman did and presented a smoother sound with a gentler flow of the music.
In fact moving on to the MICHI really wowed me as this $5600 integrated amp seemed to tick all of the right boxes when powering the T1+, making them sound much more expensive than they are but again, who will buy $899 speakers for a $5k+ integrated amp? Not many, but to those who do, the MICHI sounds fantastic with Emotiva.
SCALING IT DOWN
After a couple of weeks of listening with the big money front end I installed the Emotiva TA1 integrated amp (above) which comes in at $599 and has a built in DAC and Phono preamp (for MM carts). I reviewed this piece a while back HERE.
So now I removed over $30k of digital processing and amplification and replaced it with $599 worth of gear to power the speakers.
The good thing is that these T1+ speakers still sounded rather fantastic with the Emotiva amp and my guess is that Emotiva voices their speakers with their own amps, which would make perfect sense. Again, no one will buy these and pair them with high end audiophile gear as they are not built for that. Most likely those who buy the T1+ will use them with their current receiver, AVR or better yet, with one of the two Emotiva integrated amps on offer (which is what I would recommend).
With the system now coming in at a cost of $1600 total (with cables) the sound was just about the same with a little less refinement/smoothness vs the big money amp. They still were rocking out but had a little more sparkle and edge with just as much drive to them. Yes, the more pricey gear did make them sound bigger, smoother and more open but the more affordable Emotiva amp really was the perfect mate to these speakers and would serve them well in most rooms.
As a $1500 system these sound DAMN GOOD and more detailed than similar priced speakers I have heard from Polk Audio, which is a natural competitor to the Emotiva brand.
Again, these speakers are not for those looking to spend 5 figures for an audio system. They are not for those who want perfection and the ultimate in refinement. They are not for those seeking magical imaging and a massive three dimensional soundstage they could walk in to. It’s not for those who want to obsess over every detail or sound.
The Emotiva T1+ are for those who just want a killer stereo system that can sound great as a party system, background music or even for a night of winding down and de-stressing in a sweet spot. These speakers deliver a soundstage and performance that is more like a $1500 speaker but this is due to the fact that when we buy from Emotiva there are no middle men that have to get a chunk of the payday. With Emotiva we buy direct and this allows them to give us more for less.
These T1+ play music and while they may not be “the best” you can go up the Emotive line to get even more sound, a bigger sound, more impact and drive. The T1+ may be all you need though if you just want a simple and easy to operate system that delivers just the music and you have a smaller to medium sized room.
If you want more than what the T1+ brings you can jump to the T3+ at $1899 and have the best Emotiva can deliver as of 2022.
ESCAPE THE BLUETOOTH SPEAKER!
If you have been using just a bluetooth speaker for your music and you want to step up into a “system”, the Emotiva T1+ (or B2+) and TA1 amp may have you wondering how it could get any better. While it can get quite a bit better, to get there will cost you very dearly. Here is the kicker…unless you actually hear better you will never know what you are missing from those $10k and up systems. For example, I have a friend who lives 2500 miles from me and he uses just his phone speaker for his audio. If he had this Emotiva system he would think the heavens parted and the audio gods blessed him with super audio hearing. He would say “This is the best I have ever heard” because he hasn’t heard better : )
I always tell people to avoid auditioning expensive gear if you are not 100% serious about purchasing as you may just really love it. If you do hear this fancier piece in your system and you loved it then it would be hard to go back to what you had prior. This is how many audio sales are made and how many wallets are drained within this hobby. I remember more than once being content with my system only to hear the next best thing and having to trade up. If I never tried that new piece I would have been happy with what I had and therefore I would have had more cash in the bank.
With gear from brands like Emotiva you just set it up to enjoy it and not stress about the next best thing. You enjoy what you have as it is capable and sounds fantastic.
Think about it…
You can create a $1600 system with an integrated amp that houses a DAC and phono stage, along with the speakers that sounds fantastic for normal daily listening.
Emotiva is my fave “value” brand in audio as we get fantastic sound, great looks and a system that just plays music and plays it very well. This system had me rocking my head, swaying my body back and forth and it allowed me to hear what $899 gets us in a speaker as we near 2023.
Hifi is not all about big money systems as we can get into a nice start up system that may be a bridge to more or one that you settle with for life for under $1600, and even lower than that with a B2+ based system. A system such as this will blow away most (if not all) bluetooth speakers so many of us use for music these days.
If you are ready to step up to a real “system” and do not want to spend your life savings doing so, do check out Emotiva as they may be just what you have been looking for.