Back in our February 2013 issue, Mike Metlay introduced us to Emotiva Pro when he looked at the company's airmotiv 4 and airmotiv 6 powered studio monitors. He found them to have a "nicely balanced and strong sound" and to "offer a considerable value for your speaker buying dollar". At $349 and $699 per pair ($449 per pair for the middle-of-the-line airmotiv 5 that wasn't reviewed), it's hard to argue.
This month we step up into Emotiva Pro's flagship Stealth line, as we look at the new Stealth 8.
Direct to you
Emotiva was founded a decade ago in Franklin, TN, with a home hi-fi/audiophile product line. Emotiva Pro is a new division and is focused on the recording studio market. The reason you don't see them at your local retailers is that part of the company's business model is to sell direct from their website, complete with free shipping. By cutting out distributors and stores, Emotiva can pass that savings on to the customer.
The company also offers a generous 30-day trial/money back guarantee, so you can listen and evaluate them in your own personal space without fear of buyer's remorse.
I was sent a pair of Stealth 8 monitors for review. Visually, "stealth" is one of the most appropriate monikers I have seen attached to a product in a while. Their satin-black contoured enclosures are quite reminiscent of a U.S. B-2 stealth bomber, and I would guess that the contours and edges contribute just as much to the Stealth 8's sonic character as to its visual appeal.
Like all Emotiva products, these speakers are designed and engineered in Tennessee, but manufactured globally. Their fit and finish is simply superb.
The ribbon tweeter
Just like the tweeters on the airmotiv series, the Stealth 8's tweeter is a folded-ribbon transducer. As mentioned in the airmotiv review, this is an update of the original AMT (Air Motion Transformer) design from Dr. Oskar Heil from the early 1970s.
What is the difference between that and a standard dome tweeter? It all comes down to surface area. The best way to conceptualize a folded ribbon tweeter is to take a piece of paper and fold it accordion style. You still have the same piece of paper with the same mass and surface area, but it now takes up less space.
A good ribbon design can yield a very accurate, fast and detailed sound that is often more sonically even and with less of a resonance peak than its circular cousins, although that point is, as Mike Metlay alluded to in his review, very subject to taste and debate.
The Stealth 8 in detail
The Stealth 8 is 16.5" high x 12" wide x 15" deep and weighs 41.5 lbs. It uses a 60 x 32 mm tweeter and an 8" cast frame, woven polypropylene woofer. A pair of 200W RMS amplifiers with an active crossover powers both elements.
It has a frequency response of 30 Hz to 23 kHz ±1.75 dB and 28 Hz to 32 kHz +0 / -6 dB and can handle up to 121 dB peaks!
Around the back is a top-mounted, rear-firing bass port, an XLR/balanced 1/4" combo input jack, a ±6 dB trim control, and a healthy set of sound sculpting controls by way of 3 sets of DIP switches. A Bass roll-off control (similar to a highpass filter) allows you to roll off the low end by -2 / 4 / 6 / 8 dB at 40 Hz (starting at 250 Hz).
There is a Bass Tilt adjustment to lessen the low end with choices of -2 / 4 / 6 dB at 40 Hz (starting at 1250 Hz), as well as a setting to fully disable the low-frequency driver.
Lastly there is a Treble Tilt that can boost the high frequency driver by +1 dB or lessen it -1 or 2 dB (above 3 kHz) -- or, as with the Bass Tilt, you can completely disable the tweeter.
A memorable first impression
I first heard the airmotiv 6 in December 2012 at Allen Goodman's studio in Denver, CO, when Mike Metlay was testing them for his review. Like everyone else at the studio, I was impressed by the airmotiv's balance of smoothness, clarity and huge full low end, and I have since suggested the airmotiv line to a few friends looking for small affordable speakers for their home-recording setups.
I first came across the Stealth 8 at last year's Winter NAMM show, when Mike and I were walking the show floor prior to the opening bell. Usually NAMM is one of the single worst places to make a speaker judgment, but it was surprisingly quiet that morning and the sound and power of the Stealth 8 stopped me dead in my tracks -- the only other speaker to ever do that to me at NAMM was a pair of $8000 ATC midfields. I had to hear the Stealth 8 in a proper studio!
I initially set them up in my editing suite at home for burn-in and initial listening tests. It's a very small room, but it is where I do a lot of take editing, cleaning up sound for video, and it's where I kick back in the easy chair and listen to music. My usual speakers in this room have been of the 4" and 5" variety, so the Stealth 8 was a big change both physically and sonically.
Aside from my day job as an audio engineer, my hobby is collecting and listening to music. My tastes are quite broad, ranging from traditional jazz to hard rock, to electronic-ambient to metal, world music to country and more. Over a few months' time I subjected the Stealth 8 to it all.
The high end is clean and clear, best described as pleasant. They translate brightness and detail well, but unlike many budget monitors they are never piercing or peaky.
On the low-end these things have bass for days, and it got better and better as the speakers became broken in. Rather than tight and thumpy, I would call the bass response big and huge... so much so that I had a hard time convincing a friend that I did not have a subwoofer in the room.
A downside of my home space is that the speakers sit less than 3" from my rear wall and this of course accentuates the bass significantly. This was not a problem for casual listening, because -- other than your neighbors -- who doesn't like more bass? However, when doing actual editing and such I found it beneficial to attenuate the bass signal by as much as - 6 dB using the rear-panel switch. Otherwise I had a tendency to undermix the bass, thinking I had more than I did.
In the studio
Moving them to my studio (Moss Garden Music), an acoustically treated mixing suite with proper speaker throw and placement, I set them up alongside my usual monitors of the past six years, a set of KRK Exposé E8B monitors which were reviewed back in February 2008. For my listening comparisons, I employed the Drawmer MC2.1 monitor controller/speaker switcher reviewed elsewhere in this issue to A/B between them. Once again I pulled out some of my favorite speaker testing tunes as well as some of my own mixes, including a few still in progress which I proceeded to tweak a tad, going back and forth to hear how my tweaks were handled by the two monitors.
I was initially struck by how different the Stealth 8 and Exposé E8B speakers really were. I consider the Exposé E8B to be ultra tight, punchy and focused with a brilliant sound stage. The Stealth 8, by contrast, comes across as fuller and sonically bolder.
As I mentioned, the word that best describes the high end on the Stealth 8 is "pleasant," and regardless of the length of your mixing/listening sessions it is about as far from fatiguing as you can get. At the low end they held their own against the Exposé E8B, even when engaging the KRK 12sHO subwoofer, reviewed December 2012. (I might add that I do keep my sub set for subtle reinforcement and not full-on rumble.)
My own mixes translated well and sounded good on both speakers, but comparing them reminded me that there is a learning curve required any time you switch main monitors, and mixing on the Stealth 8 is no exception.
I am so used to the surgical clarity and soundstage of the Exposé E8B that I again had to be careful not undermix the bass on the Stealth 8, and not to push the Stealth's high end to replicate what I am used to hearing on the KRK, as in the real world it would end up being downright piercing.
The two models are quite different. The Exposé E8B, while not as piercing as some, still has a studio monitor brightness to it -- the kind where, as you turn them up loud, you may need to warn clients that high-end sources like cymbals and such may stick out and appear brighter than they are. By contrast, the Stealth 8 does not, and its evenness comes across as warmer and slightly rolled off. Note that this is only apparent in side-by-side comparison with the Exposé E8B, and if you walked in the room and only heard the Stealth 8s, you probably would not think of them as rolled off in the high end.
A second set of ears
For a second opinion I brought in my usual mixing cohort Chris Short, who also knows my room and monitoring setup well. We proceeded to listen to some well-recorded classical and jazz recordings as well as some of his favorite rock albums from the Beatles, King Crimson, Van Halen, Jimi Hendrix and more, and here we became the most aware of how the Stealth 8 handles midrange. Low mids seem to bloom while upper mids are slightly recessed; again, this was in comparison to the KRK, which is again tighter in the low mids and slightly upper-mid forward.
Interestingly, the Stealth 8 is really flattering to music recorded in the '60s and '70s. where the high end and high mids just sat nicely in the mix. When it came to classical music and most jazz, Chris preferred the "there in the concert hall precision and clarity" of the KRKs, but went on record saying that for everything else, 70% of the time, he preferred the less clinical sound of the Stealth 8.
Another thing we both noticed was that the Stealth 8 was very even and smooth with respect to loudness changes, and as you turn them up they just keep sounding great. In other words, these speakers are really crankable!
At the end of the day I find the Stealth 8 to have a very hi-fi, real world expensive speaker sound, and given the company's history in the audiophile market, that is not surprising. Actually I think the Stealth line (and airmotiv line for that matter) may find just as much use in home theater setups as they will in studios.
One thing I have not mentioned yet is the Stealth 8's price. These are sold individually for $749, so a pair is $1498. While that is still a significant price, keep in mind that my Exposé E8Bs are closer to $5000 a pair street price, with another $1500 for the 12sHO subwoofer!
In the end it comes down to learning a speaker in your own space and deciding if you think you can mix successfully on it or not, a process Emotiva makes easy. In the case of the Stealth Pro 8 it's something I look forward to, as I am simply in love with how music sounds on them!
Price: $749 each (as of press time, on sale at $639 each)
More from: Emotiva Pro, www.emotivapro.com