The Emotiva TA-100 is an interesting, well-featured and surprisingly capable stereo receiver considering its low profile and sub-$1000 price. It includes almost all the inputs one could ever need both from the past, in the form of a phono input, along with newer features such as streaming USB audio and SPDIF digital ins. I like it a lot, and found it to be a seriously impressive unit, so read on for the full details and to find out just how good it sounds for so little cash.
When Emotiva were designing this stereo amp (with a tuner thrown in), the conversation probably went something like, “We want it to have every damn feature you can imagine, sell for almost nothing, and it must sound spectacularly good as well!”. No doubt the engineers responsible said it couldn't be done, but they sure came close.
Inputs-wise it has a switchable phono input for either moving magnet or moving coil cartridges. It has a couple of line inputs for old-school analogue such as a CD player or even a tape deck (well, they are cool with the kids these days). It has digital inputs (one each) for coaxial, optical and USB streaming up to 24/96. It has another USB connector for a Bluetooth dongle and an antenna connection for the built-in FM radio, making it a receiver rather than an integrated amplifier.
Output-wise there's a 3.5mm headphone socket on the front panel, and the rear is home to a pair of RCA outs for a subwoofer, another pair of RCA preamp outs for connection to a power amp, along with a trigger connection to power it up. Of course, there's also a pair of binding posts that accept bare wire, spades and banana plugs to attach a pair of loudspeakers.
Also on the rear is a figure eight-style connector for mains power and a mains switch that, when turned off, completely disconnects power from the unit's internals.
Inside is a very proficient DAC supporting the latest high resolutions up to 24/192, along with a surprisingly grunty 50w per channel into eight ohm power amp. There's also a pre amp section that offers not just volume and input switching but also balance and tone controls, which are hidden but easy to use, in a menu operated by the volume control and input selector buttons. FM tuner capability is also built in with the ability to store 50 of your favourite stations as presets.
There's a few other handy things it offers such as tone controls, the ability to remember headphone volume independently of the level of the speakers, and a remote for muting those annoying ads if it's connected to your TV, as it can be thanks to its optical digital audio in.
INTERNALS AND BUILD QUALITY
I prised the lid off the TA-100 to reveal a very smartly laid out and tidy interior. Straight away I spied the class A/B output stage, decent quality components throughout, a hefty toroidal mains transformer, a switch mode standby power supply and a construction that a technician could work on fairly easily if the occasion ever arose. It's obvious that a bit of thought and care has been put into the design of the internals.
Build quality of the casework is perhaps typical of a Chinese-made product that sells for this price, but the standard of the electronics is a cut above the average at this price. With minimal venting in the lid this receiver should also resist salty air corrosion better than many.
All in all, I was quite impressed by the quality of what's on offer, and it really feels like Emotiva have put a lot of effort into providing the best components possible. They haven't cut corners and the results are remarkable. Many parts feel like they should belong to a more expensive product, and I've got no doubt that it'll prove to be a reliable amp.
The whole Emotiva range looks a bit like pro audio gear, but I can't help thinking that if they spent a little extra on the front panel and made it look like a classy bit of high end kit, the TA-100 might well sell a whole lot better at $999 than it will now at $849. I think this would certainly be the case in Australia, but it seems like the aesthetics are aimed squarely at the American market, where these units are designed and the upper range models are manufactured.
Regardless of this, I can live with the looks knowing how good it sounds. The feature set is particularly impressive for a sub-$1000 receiver, leaving little missing except a network connection and the streaming features that come with that.
Clearly the designers were aiming for a simple look, though, and I think they've pulled it off. There's quite a bit of complexity hidden away behind the few front panel controls that are simple to use and have a good feel. Sure the volume control, being a continuous rotary encoder type, needs quite a few twists to turn it from loud to quiet unlike a proper 'pot', but I can live with that.
SETTING IT UP
The TA-100 comes very well packed in a sturdy carton with plenty of foam packaging. Once I had removed all the bits and pieces I didn't need to flip open the instruction manual to get the system up and running, because it's all fairly straightforward. I encountered no surprises during set up and had it all organised in no time. Sure, you'll need the manual to glean some understanding of the menus hidden away for the tuner functions and tone etc, but it's not rocket science.
Interestingly, not having any network capability pretty much removes any operational frustration. Even digitally, the coax input worked fine with the coaxial out of the Naim CD player that I couldn't get to work with the previously reviewed Yamaha R-N303D network receiver. There were also no issues getting hi rez audio from a PC through the USB in. It was all smooth sailing!
Sometimes you switch on a piece of gear and say to yourself, "Yup, it definitely makes a noise". Other times you turn on the power, sit back and enjoy music as you hope and expect a quality HiFi system should present it. The Emotiva TA-100 is definitely from the latter group, and I found myself completely forgetting that I was conducting a review as I flipped from CD to CD and record to record to see how the combination handled particular aspects of my favourite songs.
I tried it with a few different loudspeakers, with the best results from the warmer-sounding speakers such as an older pair of Neats I had kicking around. Possibly even a match made in heaven, the pairing just made music. Employing the previously reviewed Elac B5.2 for a while, I also enjoyed a well-balanced, pleasing and enjoyable sound.
The character of the amplifier can best be described as lively. It's seemingly fast down low with a decent amount of weight, and distinctly alive up top - mostly in a good and exciting way. I really liked it but I suspect with the wrong speakers or room this could become fatiguing. This is certainly no half-asleep tube amp! Lots of detail is also on offer, but because it's coupled with a clean, sweet mid, I didn't find vocal performances tiring. In fact it was the opposite – I wanted more!
There is a catch, though. I'm not entirely convinced of just how good the built-in DAC is. It's far from poor but there's a trace of hardness to the sound, and sometimes I felt the bass was a bit recessed compared with a high quality analogue input. It's subtle, though. The phono stage is pretty good but also just swings slightly on the bright side of neutral. Frankly I would prefer that than for it to be dull and uninteresting. Seriously, though, a decent phono stage can easily cost more than this whole receiver, so don't take my comment as a complaint.
It's a quiet amplifier, it images nicely and as I've said a few times now, it just makes music. You might think that's a given with a new amp that sells for nearly $1000, but it's not the case with quite a few products that have been released recently. Unfortunately many AV receivers in this price range are awful. The TA-100 once again reminds us that if you only have two speakers, please buy a stereo amp of some sort. Don't spend your hard earned money on something of which you'll only use two channels out of seven, as well as little of the digital processing.
I highly recommend listening to this amp (really, it's a receiver) if you're on a tightish budget, need phono and a DAC capability, and are after a great-sounding system in a slim enclosure. It does a lot for relatively little money, and it sounds fantastic.
ACCESSORIES AND WARRANTY
The infrared remote included is small and unusually shaped, but is ergonomically rather good. The range is fine and the buttons are nice and responsive. The manual is perfect for me as it's easy to read, with a thorough description of the various functions that even an absolute beginner could understand. A simple, and rather lengthy, wire antenna is included for FM reception. There's also an RCA lead, power lead and a trigger lead which you'll need when you add the A-300 power amp for real neighbour-awakening volume levels.
The card in the box from the local importer Audio Active suggests the warranty is 12 months. In the back of the manual, three years is spoken of. The Audio Active inserted card also states that, “Audio Active will honour warranty claims within this term or in accordance with the product manufacturer's stated warranty term if that provides for a longer period.” I'll take it that the TA-100 has a full three year warranty, which is quite generous.
The vast majority of the time I spent working on this review involved little more than sitting back and enjoying the music. I forgot about specs and stats and got lost in the sound - and that's a good thing. Yes, it has a slightly brighter tonal balance than neutral, but this Emotiva goes about its business in a very musical and sweet way.
The sweetness is somewhat obscured by the just noticeable upper mid and treble exaggeration, but it's there. It's a low distortion, clean sounding amp that doesn't become dirty when pushed hard, and has a giant swag of features. It doesn't cost a gazillion and everything works! The TA-100 was designed and built to be uncomplicated and enjoyable, and that's exactly what it is. I like it a lot - very highly recommended!
INTERNALS AND BUILD QUALITY: 7.5/10
SOUND QUALITY: 21/30
EASE OF SETUP: 8.5/10
MANUAL AND ACCESSORIES: 3.5/5
REMOTE CONTROL / APP: 2.5/5
VALUE FOR MONEY: 5/5
EXCITEMENT FACTOR: 3.5/5
Exciting and enjoyable sound quality
Every feature works as advertised, with little need to reference the instruction manual
Almost every connection type is available
Plenty of power, and it doesn't clip in a nasty way
Agile and tuneful bass, slight sweetness or even warmth in the vocal region
Runs quite cool
Modestly bright sounding with the wrong speakers
Internal DAC and phono stage sound very good, but not great
For those trapped in the 60s – no AM radio
POWER OUTPUT: 2 x 50W with a frequency range of 20Hz to 20Hz at .02% THD into 8 ohms
INPUTS: Optical, Streaming USB and coax inputs supporting audio sample rates up to 192kHz, FM 75 ohm antenna, RCA inputs for CD, AUX and Phono.
OUTPUTS: Speaker pair via 4 binding posts, Pre outs and Sub outs (both RCA), trigger out.
DIMENSIONS: 43.2 x 8 x 34.5cm without antenna
Imported by Audio Active
THE TEST SYSTEM
NOTES ON OUR SCORING SYSTEM
We do not give away high marks on a whim. Each section is scored separately and without regard to the cost of the equipment. Each product is scored solely relative to other units in the category, no matter their cost. In theory, a more expensive unit should usually outscore a cheaper one, but that's not always the case, and we'll never shy away from calling a spade a spade. Our reviews are conducted by lifelong HiFi enthusiasts who are just as passionate about new equipment as you are, and who are determined to provide you with the best information possible.