EMOTIVA RPA-1 review

Emotiva RPA-1 amplifier – A Great Achievement

I’m not going to lie – I had wanted to review the Emotiva RPA-1 amplifier even before it hit the market. The cool looks, the power, the build quality, and the price – all of these factors appeared to be consistent with the qualities that readers of Affordable Audio can appreciate in an audio component. Besides, everybody who sells amps thinks their products are the best in their price range. I wanted to know firsthand if a ridiculously low priced, high quality amp could actually sound as good as Emotiva says it does.


  • Dual mono block design 200 watts/channel @ 8 ohms; 350 watts/channel @ 4 ohms
  • 1Hz – 80kHz bandwidth
  • THD+N – .015%
  • Analog VU meters with panel dimmer
  • 12VDC trigger input
  • Balanced XLR and unbalanced inputs
  • Tiffany style RCA inputs
  • High-quality, high current binding posts
  • Milled wing faceplate with cobalt blue illumination. Dimensions: (HxWxD) 6” x 18 7/16” x 16 7/16″
  • Weight – 51 lbs.

Emotiva RPA-1 review

The RPA-1 is a handsome, yet understated unit, but once it’s powered up, the light show begins. Blue accent lights peer from the behind the milled faceplates, matched by the illuminated power button and VU meters. When my wife saw it, she said, “That’s pretty.” For those who prefer to dispense with the lights, there’s a dimmer switch that will turn the lights off completely. By the way, the VU meters are cool, at first, but virtually useless because they are hard to see from more than a few feet away.

The build quality of the RPA-1 is exceptional at its price point. The dual mono designed amplifier weighs in at a hefty 51 lbs. The amp is rich with other features such as XLR inputs, trigger inputs, master power switch in the rear, mounting brackets, lacquered wood side panels, and high quality binding posts. This is an impressive list of features for an amp that retails for a meager $699. Plus, there’s a 5-year warranty. Oh yeah, and the owner’s manual is very well written. The RPA-1 has a companion preamplifier – the RSP-1 for $699, but this review is for the RPA-1 only.

OK, so at this point you’re probably saying to yourself, “that’s nice, but how does it sound?” This amp is being compared to my reference amp – the Marsh A400S, which retails for $2,295, more than three times the cost of the RPA-1. Both amps produce 200 wpc. I used the XLR inputs. The speakers were VMPS Tower II SE’s, Promitheus TVC preamp, and modified Bada CD player. Allow plenty of time for break-in because the RPA-1 sounds dreadful out of the box.

Let’s begin at the end – the RPA-1 lives up to its brief description as “an audiophile grade two channel power amplifier…” with “uncompromising fidelity.” Further, Emotiva indicates states “it will satisfy the most critical listener.” Typically, the marketing departments of audio manufacturers tend to dish out a generous helping of poetry pie to describe their products, but in this instance these words ring true for the RPA-1.

The RPA-1 threw a wonderfully wide soundstage; sounds emanated from well beyond the speakers. I was thoroughly impressed by the soundstage; in fact, my wife was listening to her favorite artist and pointed to the right speaker and said, “That speaker is having a good time over there.” She was probably referring to the RPA-1’s exceptional instrument separation. I was equally amazed at how good the amp sounded outside of the listening room. Not surprisingly, this amp also provides pinpoint imaging, so much so that I had to apply fluoride on the sweet seat.

The critical listener will appreciate the sound of the RPA-1. Its presentation is forward and slightly bright, with tremendous detail and clarity that stems from a dead silent background. Vocals were extremely clear and precise, and exude the proper tonal quality. Be forewarned -very nuance of the source material is on display, so don’t insult the RPA-1 by bringing your crappy CDs to the party.


The RPA-1 also sounds positively incredible with string instruments. It is not quite as airy or laid back as the Marsh; thus, where the RPA-1 excels in detail and clarity, the Marsh is warmer and more musical. The bass, although very well controlled, is subdued, so the RPA-1 will never be confused with the likes of a Krell. In other words, the bass is more consistent with the amp’s soundstage – expansive and accurate as opposed to spine tingling, thunderous thuds.

Overall, the RPA-1 has an affinity towards the digital sounding side of the digital/analog continuum. As such, it coherently creates the tiniest of timbre and conveys an enthralling crescendo of cymbals with the finest acoustic acumen. Likewise, the RPA-1 infuses the rhythm section with the bravado of a Spanish bullfighter. If your musical tastes are mainly blues, acoustic guitar, piano, or instrumentals, the RPA-1 would be a tough amp to beat, regardless of price. 

Final Thoughts

I love what Emotiva has done with the RPA-1 – they built a high-powered, high quality, feature rich amplifier that isn’t afraid to spar with the high priced heavyweights. For $699, this amp epitomizes the concept of “giant-killer.” It would be unfair to compare this amp to others in its price range. Instead, you’ll have to travel north of two grand to find a worthy contender.

With the RPA-1, you can invite your snobbish audiophile friends over for dinner and rub this amp in their faces. (OK, I’m kidding, but you really could if you wanted to.) Look at it this way – if this amp were sold through retail establishments, the price would likely more than double. I encourage you to take advantage of purchasing great gear at great prices direct from Emotiva. The RPA-1 and Emotiva’s other product offerings could be your first class ticket to Sound Paradise.

external link: Emotiva website
external link: Emotiva RPA-1 manual

from affordableaudio, by Brad Mitchell