Sherbourn PT-7030 Surround Processor & PA 7-350 Amplifier Page 2
The included remote control has a clean layout with all the buttons one needs to take advantage of any feature the PT-7030 has to offer. The buttons are a bit on the small side, though, and there isn’t a lot of variance among them, making it hard to navigate in the dark. The lack of a backlight didn’t help, either. Since the processor was designed with the custom install market in mind, I imagine Sherbourn expects more users to have a separate control system in their room.
All connections for this review were done with AudioQuest Niagra XLR interconnects between the PT-7030 and PA 7-350. The amps were connected with Canare speaker cables from Bluejeanscable.com to my reference Paradigm Signature Reference S8 mains, C5 center, and ADP surrounds. A pair of JL Audio F-113 subs and an SVS PB12/2+ were used for the subs. An Oppo BDP-105 Blu-ray player was used on the front end with a Logitech Squeezebox Touch and iPod Touch (fifth generation) providing music.
I’m fortunate enough to have a very nicely treated home theater. My wife and I work in acoustics for our full-time careers, and we designed the room to allow the best audio reproduction without the need for EQ’ing. This includes room treatments for reflections and an assortment of bass traps. As any custom installer will tell you, getting the room as ideal as possible acoustically is always the best way to go. Room correction solutions can only do so much, and trying to overcome the limitation of the acoustic environment too aggressively can lead to not only poor sound but damage to the rest of your system. While the PT-7030 may lack the one-button-push approach to making the most of what your room can offer, it has all the tools necessary in its built-in EQ to extract superb audio performance in just about any room. Depending on how well your own room is treated and the tools or experience you may have working with equalizers, you’ll have to decide for yourself how critical auto room EQ is to you. In my well-treated room, the lack of an automated room correction solution wasn’t any real detriment, and I never felt the need to go into the parametric EQ to tune the listening experience.
For the first part of the review, I concentrated on movie playback. I figured this would give the combo a chance to break in a bit before I started listening to music. The Sherbourn stack never faltered with even the most demanding Blu-ray soundtracks I threw at it. The recent Blu-ray release of The Dark Knight Rises sports a sensational DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack that not only delivers epic action but also Hans Zimmer’s nuanced score. The PT-7030 had no issue at all delivering great details of Zimmer’s work while at the same time cranking out the powerful bottom end of the Batwing. This is an amazing soundtrack that crafts one of the best audio experiences in recent memory, and I never found any issues that called attention to the Sherbourn separates other than their masterful demonstration of all the details.
Another treat was the recent remake of Dredd. I was never a fan of Stallone’s Judge Dredd, which served up a bit too much camp, but this recent vision is a hard-hitting action thriller that delivers an incredible audio experience. The sound design goes a long way and includes some of the most intense low-end bass I’ve heard. Dynamics are outstanding as well, and the gunfights conjure a thrilling soundstage. Here again, the Sherbourn combo never faltered even at near reference levels, and I was impressed by the clarity of the smallest details during the most demanding sequences.
Some other highlights included my viewings of Lawless and The Awakening. These soundtracks were quite different from each other, but each was captivating in its own right. Lawless tells the true tale of bootleggers during the prohibition days and has some great dynamics during the gunfights. I also loved the musical selections littered throughout. The PT-7030 showed that it definitely had the musical chops to handle any soundtrack I threw at it. The Awakening is another in a long line of English ghost stories, and the eerie soundtrack was a testament to the less-is-more thinking behind this combo. This soundtrack relied just as heavily on silence as it did on precisely placed spatial cues to get your neck hairs up. The Sherbourn duo was up to the task, with no signs of an audible noise floor and superb spatial presence and dynamics.
After a couple of weeks of movie watching, it was time to give the Sherbourn duo some more demanding and critical attention with music. I went through quite an assortment of CDs, SACDs, DVD-As, and high-resolution downloads. The pair was just as adept on the music side as the movies but fell a bit short of the bar set by my reference Anthem Statement D2v processor and Halo amplifiers. Granted, my setup is considerably more expensive, but with the focused design on sonics, I thought it would be interesting to compare the two. Still, the Sherbourn stack displayed great poise with everything I played and honestly didn’t fall that far behind. Backgrounds were nicely rendered with a great sense of space, and the front soundstage was very wide. I’ve complained in the past about preamp/processors costing even more than this that shine with movies but fall a bit short when used as an analog preamp with a high-quality source like my Oppo BDP-105. This certainly wasn’t the case with the PT-7030. The analog stage did a great job with the Oppo’s spectacular-sounding analog outputs and was more in line with what I’ve experienced with a dedicated high-quality stereo preamp than a surround processor at this price point. The balanced XLR stereo inputs were also a nice bonus and provided a great complement to the BDP-105’s fully balanced stereo outputs.
The PA 7-350 amp never broke a sweat and did outstanding work on the low end. It reminded me a lot of my previous reference amp, an Outlaw Audio Model 7900. That amp delivered 300 watts per channel but was a fully differential design. The PA 7-350 showed the same low-end character with great extension on even the most demanding material. It couldn’t quite muster the same effortless grace of my Parasound Halo JC-1 amps (at $4,500 each!) when I ran my mains full range, but it did more than a satisfactory job. Only the deepest notes failed to ring perfectly true, but that’s a shortcoming I’ve heard with almost every multichannel amp I’ve assigned this task.
I was most impressed by the subtle detail and nuance the combo delivered. This was most obvious with higher-resolution recordings on SACD or DVD-A. My collection of Diana Krall DVD-A releases sounded superb with her sultry vocals taking over the room. The same could be said of Elton John’s SACD release of Honky Chateau. Instruments sounded live in the room, and all of the subtle details within the mix showed up brilliantly. The Sherbourns didn’t quite have the last word in air and musicality of my Anthem/Parasound setup, but you’d never think this setup could be had for a fraction of the price.
The Sherbourn PT-7030 would be an easy piece to overlook in your quest for a new high-end digital processor. It doesn’t sport all the flashy features the rest of the market has, but what it lacks in techno features, it makes up for in great sound. This combo delivered sensational performance with both movies and music alike, and the system was a cinch to set up. The Sherbourn duo proves that you don’t have to have every last bell and whistle to still deliver a thrilling ride.