Emotiva is a cool U.S. company based in Tennessee, which engineers the heck out of their audio products and then sells them directly to the consumer (they only sell on their website or Amazon) for meager prices. This commendable business model has allowed them to create their high-value, high-performance Bas-X line, which I’ve been admiring for a long time, but never got to hear. So, as part of my search for good budget integrated amps, I asked Emotiva to send out their TA-100 Integrated Amp/Preamp for a review, and they were gracious enough to do so. To make a long story short, I was delighted with their product.
Features and Build
The $429 TA-100 packs in a ridiculous amount of functionality for the price point, incorporating an FM Tuner, a Stereo Preamp with line-level analog inputs, a USB DAC input, plus coax and optical digital inputs for other digital stereo sources. The internal DAC utilizes a high-quality Analog Devices AD1955 24/192 DAC chip.
There’s also a phono preamp that supports moving magnet or moving coil cartridges, a connection for an optional $49 AptX Bluetooth input module, and an independent high-current headphone amp that can output 114mw into a 300ohm pair of headphones. That’s powerful. The connection is made via a 3.5mm jack on the front.
By the way, the TA-100 has an intelligent headphone level control that independently remembers the level you set for your headphones and your main outputs. I thought this was pretty cool.
A pair of line-level stereo outputs allow you to use the PT-100 as a tuner/preamp with a separate stereo power amp like Emotiva’s $399 Bas-X A-100. The Pre-Out is a nice touch since it ensures you don’t outgrow your system if you buy power-hungry speakers down the road, or want to get the additional performance that separate components offer.
That said, as soon as you take the TA-100 out of the box, you can tell this is a serious piece of machinery in and of itself. The heavy-duty steel chassis combined with the solid milled aluminum faceplate point to a product that is built to last. It also uses Audiophile quality, discrete 50w per channel Class A/B amplifiers that can drive both 8-ohm and 4-ohm speaker loads.
As far as usability was concerned, I was impressed by the easy to read, dimmable, VFD display, and illuminated power button. Both of these are nice touches that further show Emotiva’s attention to detail. The remote rests nicely in hand, and the buttons are big and easy to press.
If I had one bugaboo with the remote, it’s that there are not enough markings that tell you what the buttons do. It took some study time in the manual and some practice to learn how to use it, but once I got it down, I was able to whip around the menu with no problem.
For testing purposes, I connected my HP Envy Laptop up to the USB Input in the rear of the unit and played CD-Quality Tidal Files. I hooked up my $300 Paradigm Monitor SE Atom speakers, which I love because they are pretty flat speakers that allow the character of the source and amplification to come through.
I started my test by playing “American Dream” by J.S. Ondara, and the TA-100 reproduced the heavy bass line with controlled weight to it, which is a sure sign of quality amplification. The sound was forward and big, without causing fatigue, something that worked very well with the natural sound of the Paradigm speakers. This is not a laid back amp, something to keep in mind if you’re pairing this with lively sounding speakers like Dalis or Elac Debuts.
On “How Deep Is Your Love” by P.J. Morton, a song with a good variety of vocals and backing instruments, I detected a slight hint of midrange grain, but nothing too objectionable for the price point. It was something that only became evident when comparing the sound with my Audiolab 6000A, which cost almost twice what the TA-100 does at $895.
However, when it came to instrument separation, soundstage, and ability to make the Paradigms disappear, it held it’s own with the Audiolab, impressive when taking the difference in cost into account. I liked the engaging sound of the TA-100, it’s big and dynamic, adding some excitement to all of the test tracks I ran through it.
For $429, the TA-100 is a great value. It’s built like a tank, and Emotiva adds a bunch of nice touches like the vast easy to read display, and volume management features that make it a pleasure to use. I also like that it has a pre-out so you can add a separate power amp later. It’s a well thought out product. The sound is also very full and exciting, which will go nicely with more measured speakers like the Paradigm Monitor SE or The Q Acoustics 3000i series.