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Emotiva Airmotiv 5s advances the state of the art in desktop audio

The Audiophiliac checks out Emotiva's new Airmotiv 5s speakers.

Emotiva Airmotiv 5s Emotiva

You know it when it's right, and the new Emotiva Airmotiv 5s powered speakers' sound is very right. The bass, midrange, and treble frequencies' balance is spot-on; resolution is first rate; and the stereo imaging is spacious.

The Airmotiv 5s is a direct descendent of the Airmotiv 5 that debuted not that many years ago; the carryovers from the original model are the 5.25-inch polypropylene composite woofer and folded-ribbon tweeter. What's new? The cabinet and electronics are upgraded over the original design. There are two 50-watt amplifiers in each cabinet, one for the tweeter, another one for the woofer. The rear panel has RCA and XLR inputs, and three-position woofer and tweeter tone controls.

Each production Airmotiv 5s' frequency response is calibrated to be within a half a decibel of the factory's reference specification. That exceedingly close tolerance ensures every production speaker will sound the same.

One feature that didn't survive from the original's design is the front panel volume control knob. With the 5s you'll control the volume from your computer or other source. Or buy Emotiva's clever Control Freak volume control you hook up between any source (CD/Blu-ray player, etc.) and the speakers. I'll cover the Control Freak in a separate review. The Airmotiv 5s retails for $500 per pair.

The beveled front panel's look is based on Emotiva's higher-end Stealth monitors, and Airmotiv 5s' internal cabinet bracing is also based on Stealth design. The 5s' super solid construction is above and beyond what you'll typically find in desktop speakers in its price class.

Emotiva Airmotiv 5s' rear panel Emotiva

The 13-pound speaker measures 10.9 inches by 7.1 inches by 8.4 inches. There's a rear-mounted bass port, and the threaded inserts on the bottom panel are intended for use with Emotiva's wall-mount brackets.

The sound is very transparent, you feel like there's nothing between you and the music. With Thom Yorke's "Atoms for Peace," the Airmotiv 5s not only delivered the full potency of the pulsing beats, the solidity of the bottom octave bass was incredible. Definition was another strength, bass pitches were very precise. The stereo soundstage expanded beyond the width of the two speakers on my desktop.

It's been a while since I heard the original Airmotiv 5, so I was eager to compare it with the 5s. The new one is more detailed from the bottom to the top, and subtle details like the vocalists' breaths are easier to hear. The original still sounds great, but it's softer and more laid-back. I feel more connected to the music with the 5s speakers.

I also compared the new ones with my Adam Audio F5 speakers ($500/pair). The F5 was less bright than the Airmotiv 5s (with the tweeter control turned down), but the F5 was just as pure and transparent. The F5's bass was fuller and richer than either Airmotiv, but the Airmotiv 5s' bass definition and clarity were ahead of the F5's. They're both excellent speakers; personal preference will determine which ones you'd want to live with.

I used the Airmotiv 5s as desktop computer speakers, but they can also work hooked up to a phone, CD or Blu-ray player for a small bedroom system.

The Emotiva Airmotiv 5s sells for $500 per pair on the company's website. The smaller Airmotiv 4s speakers run $400 a pair.