Sunfire Theater Grand Receiver 3 Page 3

The Short Form

Price $4,999 / / 425-335-4748

Superb audio quality and massive power counterbalance sparse hookup facilities and video processing.

•Awesome power •Flexible, usable system remote •Superb sound quality
•No video scaling or transfer to HDMI output •No digital audio via HDMI •Only three digital-audio capable video inputs •Awkward surround-mode selection
Key Features
•200 watts x 7 channels •3 HDMI inputs •Transcodes composite-/S-video to component (480i) •Surround back channels assignable to Zone 2 or side-axis speakers •AM/FM tuner with 40 presets
Test Bench
I encountered no glitches or surprises while testing the Sunfire Theater Grand Receiver 3. Power output was consistently among the highest I have measured from a multichannel receiver, and its 165 watts (22.2 dBW) with five channels driven represents a clear benchmark for the category, measuring 2 to 3 dB greater than from many other manufacturers' flagship receivers. Noise was generally very low - no more than a dB shy of theoretical ideals for digital audio. Noise on the multichannel analog inputs was a few dB greater than in the best receivers we've seen, possibly a consequence of byproducts from the Sunfire's unconventional amplifier, but this was of no audible consequence. Full Lab Results
AUDIO PERFORMANCE In a nutshell: superb. The TGR-3 sounded quick, clean, and dynamic on every sort of program, and in critical listening it delivered the sort of dynamic authority my system yields only when enjoying some serious power reserves.

For example, on the DVD-Audio release of Donald Fagen's 1993 album Kamakiriad the Sunfire effortlessly offered more level than I could use (well, almost ... ), even given the moderate sensitivity of my speaker array. At extreme volume, Fagen's Long Island-nebbish voice remained faultlessly clean and defined, no matter how hard sidekick Walter Becker's bass danced on "Snowbound."

Same deal with movies. Ridley Scott's White Squall DVD is a variegated test for a surround system. The Sunfire delivered its broad range of effects, music, and dialogue with great power and transparency at serious-cinema levels with absolutely no problem - providing enough clarity to make audible some inconsistencies in timbre and spatiality in the crashing-wave effects that occur at different points in the 1996 film.

For the surround course, the TGR-3 confines itself to Dolby Digital and Dolby Pro Logic IIx, DTS and DTS Neo:6, and a single, fairly clangorous mode labeled "Jazz Club." No problem, in my opinion, since the Dolby and DTS palettes cover pretty much every eventuality for serious listening, though some users might miss the ability to pull multichannel pulse-code modulation (PCM) from the HDMI inputs. This feature would allow you to play uncompressed PCM soundtracks from HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc players without the resorting to a multichannel analog connection.

There's also the latest generation of Bob Carver's venerable Sonic Hologram processing, which seeks to compensate for the unnatural characteristics of listening to sound from a pair of stereo speakers, as opposed to your ears hearing spatially as they would in nature. This works remarkably well for a single, well-situated listener, opening and spreading the image, deepening "space," and even adding an illusion of height - but it may seem a bit old-hat in today's DSP-driven era.