Sunfire SubRosa Flat Panel Subwoofer Page 2

Another useful feature on the amplifier is the 'Equalizer Authority', a continuously variable control from 0% to 100%, which determines the amount of equalization desired. From Sunfire's description, this seems to operate like a level adjustment for the EQ.

Achieving good bass in a two-channel or multichannel system can be the most problematic part of system setup and the Auto EQ feature worked well and saved a lot of time. The Auto EQ also increases placement options for the subwoofer; put it where you want it and the EQ will do its best to optimize its sound quality for your listening room. The SRA-2700EQ amplifier is rated at 2700-watts, which certainly seems more than adequate for any movie or music source. The amp includes Sunfire's Tracking Downconverter power supply, a circuit that dynamically adjusts the amp's output based on tracking the level of the incoming signal. Simply stated, it makes the amplifier operate more efficiently and as a result it runs much cooler. In addition to RCA input and output jacks, the SRA-2700 amp features a balanced-line XLR input for pre-pros or AVRs so equipped, and two 12VDC triggers to activate two additional components when the system is powered on.

SubRosa Performance
I tested the SubRosa subwoofer in two systems to get the best gauge of its capabilities. I used it in my two-channel reference system, which consists of Meridian electronics and a pair of Paradigm Studio Reference 100 main speakers. Sunfire also sent along a set of its Cinema Ribbon Trios for LCR and Cinema Ribbon Duos for the surround channels for me to listen to with the SubRosa, which were driven by my Yamaha RX-V3300 AV receiver.

In my two-channel system, the SubRosa was impressive. A good test of bass quality is Diane Schuur & The Count Basie Orchestra (GRP Records), an excellent live recording with the late Freddie Green on the electric bass. I've heard few live recordings with bass this good – and it sounded deep and tight with good bass extension in "Travelin' Light". This track reaches very low with the kind of bass you can feel more than hear and the SubRosa reproduced the lowest octaves with good bass definition and a good amount of that coveted "inter-sonic silence." Another good example of the SubRosa's adept bass depth is Oregon's "Rewind" from Chesky Records' 20th Anniversary 'best of' CD. This track has very deep bass as well, and the SubRosa hit the lowest octaves.

Holly Cole's "Don't Let the Teardrops Rust Your Shining Heart" from her Don't Smoke in Bed album (Capitol Records) sounded tight with good bass definition and easily discernable bass pitch. The SubRosa very accurately captured the timbre and depth in the lowest octaves of the piano in Diana Krall's 'Devil May Care' from her Live in Paris album (Verve Records). The SubRosa made the kick drum and electric bass sound tight, punchy, and authoritative in Boz Scagg's 'Lowdown', from his Greatest Hits Live DVD (Rounder Records Group). This track has the kind of dynamic bass that moves your pant legs.

Although the cabinet volume of the SubRosa is less than some subwoofers, it is capable of significant bass output, similar to the Sunfire line of cube-shaped True Subwoofers. It bears repeating that the best performance was achieved by connecting the sub amp between the preamp and power amp. Bass response as well as midrange clarity imaging and sound stage sounded best with this setup.

SubRosa with Cinema Ribbon Trios and Duos
I tested the SubRosa in my home theater system with Sunfire Cinema Ribbon Trios for LCR and Cinema Ribbon Duos for surround speakers. To get a realistic evaluation of their sonic capabilities, I mounted the Cinema Ribbon Trio LCR speakers ($1,000/ea. for the left and right, and $1,250 for the center) on the wall with the provided brackets. With a weight of 15-20 lbs. each, it's best to mount the steel brackets directly to wall studs, but if that's not possible, wall anchors are included with the speakers. The brackets are designed to allow the speaker to pivot about fifteen degrees in order to aim the sound toward the listening area. The Cinema Ribbon Duos ($800/ea.) were placed slightly behind the listening area on Omni-Mount stands, roughly at ear height when seated.

The SubRosa was placed horizontally on the floor, against a sidewall and supported by two steel legs. After some experimentation I determined this location was best in my listening room because it prevented room resonances. Once placed, the SubRosa's Auto EQ further reduced—in fact, virtually eliminated—boomy or heavy-sounding bass in the room.

Each of the left and right channel CRS-3 Trios use three of Sunfire's 4.5" high back-EMF mid-bass drivers. The CRS-3C center channel speaker uses four of them. These drivers are crossed over to the ribbon tweeters at 1.5kHz. The Trios can be bi-wired/bi-amped and each speaker has a Boundary Compensation Switch for reduction of mid-bass loading when the speakers are wall-mounted.

The CRM-2 Duo has two of these mid-bass drivers in a side-firing configuration plus a front-firing ribbon tweeter. It is designed to create a spacious soundstage when used as a front speaker or a more diffuse sound field for surround speaker applications. The Duos also incorporate a Boundary Compensation Switch.

I'm a huge fan of ribbon speakers because of their extraordinary clarity, definition and detail. A ribbon driver has very low mass, which translates to rapid transient response and makes them ideal for natural vocal and instrumental music reproduction. The SPL output of the Sunfire ribbon driver is said to be equivalent to some 5-foot ribbons, and is capable of reaching realistic theater volume levels.

The clarity and definition of the ribbon drivers was most apparent with vocal tracks and percussion instruments. The piano in Maxine, from Steely Dan's Nightfly, a very well produced DVD-Audio recording (Warner Bros. Records) was tight and fast, revealing the excellent transient response of the ribbon drivers.

The Cinema Ribbon Trios and Duos also delivered a completely enveloping surround sound experience with multichannel music. Zephyr's Now is the Month of Maying, a recording in the round (AIX Records) features twelve A capella singers positioned at each hour on the clock with the listener in the center. The Cinema Ribbon speakers reproduce subtle vocal details that make it possible to pick out any of the twelve voices that surround the listener – it's a very unique sonic sensation.

The SubRosa sounded rock solid with film sources, especially in NEXT (Initial Entertainment Group), an action-thriller starring Nicolas Cage as Frank Cadillac, a third-rate Las Vegas magician who has the ability to predict events two minutes before they occur. Because of his unique talent, Cadillac is drafted (against his will) by the FBI to predict and help avert a suspected nuclear terrorist attack on Los Angeles. In several scenes heavy, deep and penetrating bass was effectively used to enhance fear and suspense and the SubRosa handled it flawlessly, even at very high volume. The underlying bass sounded solid, with good depth and extension. Early in the action, Cadillac was trying to ditch the FBI agents and unleashed a huge pile of logs down a canyon slope. The thundering bass from the SubRosa made you glad you weren't there as the huge logs rumbled past the camera towards the agents. A premonition of the nuclear blast in Cadillac's mind was the ultimate test for the SubRosa. The initial blast force followed by the nuclear storm was intense, with powerful and deep bass. The SubRosa took it in stride and sounded as if it still had headroom to spare. Any subwoofer that can handle a nuke blast passes my test - and the SubRosa did.

Of course, there are circumstances or installations where a traditional box subwoofer might be a better choice. For instance, large home cinema systems, screening rooms or custom media rooms with a few dozen seats could require multiple subwoofers with larger drivers to achieve theater reference bass levels. While the SubRosa has plenty of bass output, it is designed for use in a typical home theater setting and with its contemporary styling in natural wood finishes is intended to be seen, not hidden behind a screen or curtains.

The beautifully finished SubRosa delivers tight, defined bass for movies and music and is a great space-saving subwoofer solution that's ideal for a system built around a wall-mounted flat panel television or a narrow profile big screen TV.

Candidly, Bob Carver told me that he was initially skeptical about the appearance of a flat panel subwoofer, but after seeing a prototype, he was convinced it was a winner, another solution to a problem. He was correct. The SubRosa doesn't look like a boxy subwoofer, so be prepared with a good demo when your friends ask you, "What's that?"

Unique, space-saving alternative to a boxy subwoofer with beautiful Rosewood finish
Deep, tight bass performance and handles high bass output
Flexible room placement options

Better performance when connected via pre-outs instead of Sub/LFE output
Pricey subwoofer, but worthy of consideration