=> Build quality, overall look and feel.
=> Value: A good entry level (almost "High End") piece for the money.
=> It is an Emotiva product: this is a good company.
=> Overall sound quality falls short - in my opinion - of the advance publicity.
=> This preamp is especially disappointing on phono playback.
1st, some perspective: I am an old school audiophile, from the days when "audiophiles" respected high-value products and had not yet been taught to worship at the shrines of $500.00 interconnects. I remember audio salons where Dynaco Tube Amps, Empire 598 Turntables and Acoustic Research AR-5 Loudspeakers could be purchased brand new. I have owned a lot of audio gear over the years and listened to a lot more. I have also taken good care of my ears: I have never worked industry. I take my Etymotic Hi-Fi hearing protection to Joe Bonamassa concerts. And don't run chain-saws or snowblowers without -30db earplugs.
A few months ago, I thought I'd replace some late-80s, early 90s Adcom gear; still fully functional but getting - like me - a bit long in the tooth. I assumed (especially considering some of the USP-1s internet write-ups) that it would be at least the equal of my Adcom stuff (a GFP-565 Preamp and GTP-450 Tuner-Preamp). But I did NOT find it to be the equal of either one.
The sound quality on High Level sources (CD & suchlike) was not "bad". It was "OK". The Dynamics and warmth of the USP-1 were "appealing". A lot of Hi-Fi "newbies" will be impressed. But I always felt that there was a certain coloration to the USP-1s tonal balance. And I was used to a more detailed sound than the USP-1 offered.
The quality of sound on phono playback was especially disappointing. Switching out the Emotiva and re-connecting the Adcom GFP-565 was a revelation. The differences were not subtle. The same was true when the USP-1 was compared to my Apt Holman Pre-amp and even to the GTP-450 (with an external ART phono preamp hooked in).
Of course, the Adcom GFP-565 was a $900.00 preamp and was considered by many to be an excellent product at at its 1989 price. The GTP-450 was (I beleive) a $600.00 piece in 1993. So in all fairness it could be argued that comparing TODAY's $400.00 USP-1 to such products is unfair. But on the other hand, the products I had compared to the USP-1 were built to last and are often available in good used condition for $$250 - $300.
I have always been a guy who seeks out good "bang for the buck" audio products, by the way, which is why I have owned stuff like Adcom. Emotiva, for that exact reason, is a company that has my respect. I have actually purchased four products from Emotiva this year (one of them branded "Sherbourn") . The USP-1 (the only one of the four that was from their "ultimate value" line) is the only one that I returned. It may be that I simply expected too much from it.
The USP-1, I believe, represents good value in a brand new entry level Hi-Fi stereo preamp - and it comes from a good company with a good warranty.
But if you are willing to roll the dice on a good VINTAGE preamp, you might get better sound for less money; or maybe for the same money if that vintage preamp needs a tune-up on an audio pro's test bench.
Man I mustn't get out much, the days of spending hours in an Audio Shops have become a thing of the past, there aren't any.
Anyway last spring I added the UMC-1 to get me up to steam in HT, prior to that I was running the analogue outputs from the BDP to a couple of Bryston preamps, a BP25P and B60 to be exact and a Bryston 2BLP pro with the volume pots, of course having everything controlled with the UMC-1 (after getting the firmware properly installed) life just easier. Then later added a UPA-1 to replace the Bryston 2BLP running the centre channel, much better match with the Bryston 4BSST running the mains.
Unfortunately I now had another problem, the UMC-1 did just not compare to using the Bryston BP25P for my analogue sources so I had all the Bryston gear configured with the balanced in/outs, so to do my critical listening entailed manual switching between the balanced and unbalanced on the Bryston 4BSST plus a second connection from the Bryston pre to the Velodyne SMS-1, I wanted my Velodyne sub for music and HT, and of course I had to do more calibration to accommodate the two systems, also only one pre could be powered on at a time.
What's one to do, a little bit of searching and the solution of course was a Pre with a 2.1 HT pass through, Bryston did not make one, unless of course you went with one of their processors which are indeed ridiculously expensive and totally out of the question.
Solution, the USP-1 or something similar, now the reason I mentioned I do not get out much as I've been using an all Bryston system for years, since the 80's to be exact and have gone through each new reiteration and currently running the Bryston BCD-1 CD player, BP25P pre (BP26) and 4BSST and have been more than happy with the overall sound quality running some Dynaudio Special 25s.
To cut to the chase a USP-1 showed up at the door the other day, so without much ado I got everything configured, the USP-1 replacing the BP25P, which also has an MM phone stage, first impressions were favourable, but the main hurdle or psychological barrier was the 10x price variable, the current reiteration of the BP25P, the BP26 is $3000 for the basic pre plus another $600 for the MM phono stage (the MC is a lot more) and then you need to add the power supply for another $1700.
Build wise there is no denying Bryston's medical grade construction, but that does not guarantee trouble free operation as I've taken advantage of that 20 year warranty on more than a few occasions, but overall the USP-1 is still a fine unit.
The first thing I noticed is that USP-1 runs wide open (not much lead way with the volume control), something I also read elsewhere, even with the low 86dB efficiency of the Dynaudios so that the calibration for the Velodyne needed to be redone to compensate otherwise the base is way over powering, fun but not the way a neutral system should sound, a few more days getting everything dialled, one being to use the 2 volt setting at the amp end, therefore reducing the overall sensitivity of the system and things improved vastly.
Piece for piece, selection for selection the USP-1 redeemed it self, imaging was excellent, cymbals shimmered, base was powerful but in it's place, female voice soared without and hint of shrillness and the overall picture was very good to excellent, actually surpassing the Bryston in some areas, notable depth of the imaging. Vinyl was comparable but I would give a slight edge to the Bryston, the external power supply may help.
Noise wise the USP-1 was excellent, the slight hum consistent with the Bryston in an unbalanced config was gone.
Needles to say the USP-1 was a winner all round (and not because of the price), the BP25P is now gone, any regrets have dissipated and just to be sure I inserted the pre amp section of my B60R (Brystons integrate) with a comparable pre to the BP25, the USP-1 still won out.
A few conclusions though, I can see those with efficient speakers and a powerful amp possible running into problems, the USP-1 performs best with the dial between 11 and 1 o'clock. Those with analogue sources considering adding the USP-1 in conjunction with a UMC-1 should have no reservations; the major problem with the UMC-1 is the noise gate, which I discussed here.
Like I said, I should get out more, affordable audio has come of age, funny I used to say the same about Bryston 25 years ago. oh and I love that HT bypass button.
Emotiva USP-1, Emotiva UMC-1,
Bryston 4B SST/ Dynaudio Special 25's FL/FR, Emotiva UPA-1/Dynaudio Contour Center and Bryston 2BLP pro/ Contour 13MKII SL/SR,
LG 50PX950 plasma (tweaked for deeper blacks)
Sony BDP S550
Rega P3/2000/Sumiko Blue Point
I am a Brazilian audiophile with over 40 years experience in music. My involvement with music was very influenced by my father's family, which was very large and where all were musicians. For this reason I decided to study Clarinet and Alto Saxophone. I was part of quintets saxophones several orchestras in my city, always as first Alto Saxophone.
Perhaps because of this involvement became a very picky audiophile. Unfortunately, with little money I always had to search hard to achieve a system of reasonable quality.
In my searches done over time I came to the conclusion that the match of the components was as important as the quality of the components individually. Also, I found that the acoustic environment was fundamental, i.e., the acoustics could improve or worsen any sound of any quality. Furthermore, I concluded that the match between the preamplifier and power amplifier would initially be the first step to be able to assemble a good sound system. So, I had the opportunity to have in my sound system, over time, some wonderful matches I mention below:
01 - Pre Marantz 7C (All tube. Tube complement: six NOS 12AX7 Telefunken) + Power
Marantz 8B (All tube. Tube complement: two NOS 6FQ7 RCA, two NOS 6BH6 GE
and four NOS EL34 Mullard);
02 - Pre Audio Research SP-9 (Hybrid. Tube complement: two 6DJ8 made in China) +
Power Audio Research D-115 MKII (All tube. Tube complement: 3 6922, 4 6FQ7
and 1 12AT7 Eletro-Harmonix and 9 Svetlana 6550, all made in Russia);
03 - Pre Audible Illusions Modulus 3 (All tube. Tube complement: 4 6922 Sovtek, made
in Russia ) + Power Odyssey Stratos Plus (Solid State Class A/AB);
04 - Pre VTL TL2.5 (All tube. Tube complement: 2 12AU7 and 2 12AT7 NOS Mullard) +
Power Audio Research D-115 MKII (As above);
05 - Pre Emotiva USP-1 + Power Audio Research D-115 MKII (As above);
06 - Pre Emotiva USP-1 + Power Odyssey Stratos Plus (As above).
It is important to mention the tubes used because the quality of each unit depends on them.
Since what matters here is the analysis of Preamplifier Emotiva USP-1 I'll only talk about my experience with it.
The match of the Emotiva USP-1 with the Audio Research D-115 MKII (Item 5) was very, very good. However, the match of the Emotiva USP-1 with Odyssey Stratos Plus (Item 6) was simply fantastic in every aspect. In fact as soon as I heard the USP-1 with Odyssey Stratos Plus for the first time, I was so overwhelmed with the quality what my face displayed a big happy smile. After hearing the two for several days I also felt it was wonderful match on earth and blessed by God in heaven. Now I have to explain why I say that: a) The Emotiva USP-1 produces a clean, airy, seductive, and soft sound but very dynamic and not fatiguing; b) The transparency is fantastic: c) The soundstage is huge, with great width, height and depth; d) The space around the artists is so defined that can be estimated; e) The signal to noise ratio is excellent (with my ear to the Martin Logan Aerius i panel, Volume to maximum and material not being played, the silence is total).
In short: The Emotiva USP-1 can be defined with two words: Very Musical
Some features of Emotiva USP-1 clearly demonstrate the intelligence and the goal of its designer(s) to meet the true audiophiles: a) Phono Input with option for MM and MC; b) Headphone Jack on Front Panel; c) Mono Button (great for listening to LP old mono); d) High Pass and Low Pass Filters (excellent to achieve a better quality of sound); e) Excellent remote control built with solid aluminum with the following options: Mute, Standby, Volume, CD, Phono, Tuner, Aux1, Aux2, Tape, HT and Mono, and other resources for the Emotiva ERC-1 CD Player.
To evaluate the Emotiva USP-l I used the Full Range output and the Crossover of AR S108PS subwoofer, i.e., I have not used the filters available yet. I will do this in the future.
Finally I must say that the Emotiva USP-1 is the first transistor preamplifier that has a midrange as good as the midrange of a good tube preamplifier, but it has a superior bass and extended and grain-free highs.
In the past I tried several transistor preamplifiers and could not live with any of them because of what we audiophiles call "transistor sound". The Emotiva USP-1 has no transistor sound and my opinion about it is being given one after the "Break In" of only 100 hours.
For everything I said above, I highly recommend the Emotiva USP-1, which also has the advantage of eliminating the cost of the vacuum tubes.
Discs used for evaluation:
01 - Tchaikovsky 1812 - Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra Erich Kunzel Conducting -
02 - “Interpreta Villa-Lobos” (Interprets Villa-Lobos) - Maria Lúcia Godoy (Brazilian
Soprano) - Philips 6598 309
03 - Volume III - Lincoln Mayorga & Distinguished Colleagues - Sheffield Lab-1
04 - I’ve got the Music in Me - Thelma Houston & Pressure Cooker - Sheffield Lab-2
05 - Comin’ From a Good Place - Harry James - Sheffield Lab-6
06 - Graceland - Paul Simon – WB Records 604.7253
07 - Cross Roads - Tracy Chapman - Elektra 670.9076
08 - Summit - Piazzolla/Mulligan - RGE 320.7002
09 - Brothers in Arms - Dire Straits - Polygram/Vertigo 824 499
10 - Selling England by the Pound – Genesis – Polygram 6369 944
11 - Reunion at Carnegie Hall – 1963 - The Weavers – Vanguard VSD 2150
01 - The Reference Recordings Sampler – Hi-Fi Choice – Nimbus Records HFCCD2
02 - Growing Up in Hollywood Town - Lincoln Mayorga & Amanda McBroom -
Sheffield Lab CD-13
03 - Getz/Gilberto - Stan Getz & João Gilberto - Ultradisc II UDCD 607
04 - Jazz at the Pawnshop - Arne Domnérus, Bengt Hallberg, Lars Erstrand, Geog
Riedel & Egil Johansen - Prophone PRCD 7779
05 - We’re All Together Again for the First Time - Dave Brubeck, Gerry Mulligan,
Paul Desmond, Alan Dawson & Jack Six - Ultradisc II UDCD 627
06 - Diamonds & Rust - Joan Baez - Ultradisc II UDCD 646
07 - Just Friends - LA4 - Concord Jazz CCD-4199
08 - The King James Version - Harry James and His Big Band - Sheffield Lab CD-3
09 - “Memórias Cantando” (Memories Singing) - Paulinho da Viola (Brazilian Singer) –
EMI 852511 2 (Remastered in Abbey Road Studios)
10 - Rosemary Clooney Sings Ballads – Rosemary Clooney – Concord Jazz CCD-4282
11 - Dark Side of the Moon – Pink Floyd – EMI 8 29752 2
12 - Duke Ellington Jazz Part – Columbia – 746.095/2-460059 - Duke Ellington, Dizzy
Gillespie, Johnny Hodges, Jimmy Rushing and Jimmy Jones - Columbia 746.095/2-
01 - David Gilmour in Concert – David Gilmour - Capitol/EMI 492960 9
02 - Told You I Was Trouble – Amy Winehouse – Universal 6589677
03 - Live in New Orleans - Norah Jones - Blue Note 254101 (Best, set to 5.1 and
reproduced in 2.1)
04 - “Dois Quartos” (Two Rooms) - Ana Carolina (Brazilian Singer) – Sony/BMG 388537
05 - “Zé Ramalho ao Vivo” (Zé Ramalho Live) - Brazilian Singer - Sony/BMG A0005000
06 - “Piano e Voz” (Piano and Voice) – Cesar Camargo Mariano/Pedro Mariano – Trama
Preamplifiers: Emotiva USP-1 / VTL TL2.5
Amplifiers: Odyssey Stratos Plus / Audio Research D-115 MKII
CD player: JVC XL-Z1050
DVD Player: Pioneer DV 563-A
Turntable: Thorens TD 125 MKII (Belt Drive) + SME 3009/S2 Improved + MM Shure V15 Type III with original stylus (Great Match) / MC Ortofon MC10 Super (Very Musical)
Speakers: Martin Logan Aerius i (Electrostatic) / Sound Dynamics 300TI (Dynamic)
Subwoofer: AR S108PS
Cables: Pre-Power Monster Cable M 1000 MKII;
Pre-CD Player Kimber PBJ;
Pre-DVD Player Ixos 1002 Gamma Encore SPOFC;
Pre-Subwoofer Mediabridge Dual Shield;
Power-Speakers Monster M1/ Kimber 4TC
If you are new to the world of high-end audio and are looking for a quality pre-amp then look no further than the Emotiva USP-1. It produces FAR superior sound that an Onkyo, Yamaha or Marantz receiver and/or pre-amp. It it on par with lower-end to medium-end products from Parasound and Rotel.
I use the USP-1 as my main pre-amp in my 2.1 home theater, which also doubles as my listening room. For the cost, it is without question the best deal on the planet. The sound is clean, fairly detailed and has good bass. The imaging of the sound is also respectable. Of course, the bass is handled nicely as with many Emotiva products. They tend to like bass.
It is inferior to what I have auditioned from Audio Research, but then again it also costs 80% less money. Again, if you are new and looking for a really solid pre that will improve overall sound quality then buy this immediately.
I purchased the USP-1 new based on reviews. I've used Carver, Pioneer and other preamps prior to the Emotiva.
As far as build quality is concerned, I could not believe how well built this preamp is for the money. The chassis is very rugged and has some weight to it. The volume control and switches, with the exception of the power button, are solid billet aluminum. Emotiva did not skimp in the construction phase of this piece. The faceplate is solid aluminum as well. It's not plastic made to look like aluminum like so many manufacturers do these days. The remote that shipped with earlier USP-1's is a little disappointing but Emotiva now ships the USP-1 with a solid aluminum remote as well. Good choice.
As far as sound quality, it is extremely neutral, neither adding or taking anything away from the music..I love the fact that it is dead silent. There is no hiss at all coming from this unit even with the volume all the way up and my ear up against the tweeter on all source inputs and only a slight hiss from the phono input. Of course this assumes the amplifier you're using is quiet as well.I am running an Emotiva RPA-1 power amp with the USP-1 and it is a dead silent amp as well.
It has no tone controls and no balance control. I have not used the HT bypass feature.I am a 2 channel stereo listener at heart so I have no use for the HT Bypass feature. The adjustable High Pass and Low Pass outputs allow for use of a satellite speaker setup where a separate sub may be desirable.
There are Inputs for Phono, Tuner, CD, Tape, Aux 1, Aux 2 and HT Bypass.
Outputs include Full Range, adjustable High Pass and Low Pass.
The 30 day in-home trial and 5 year warranty make this preamp a no brainer. As far as I'm concerned the USP-1 can easily keep up with preamps costing much more.
If you're in the market for a new preamp that won't get in the way of the music this unit will satisfy your thirst. Don't waste your hard earned money a more expensive preamp. Use the money you save to buy other toys instead.