HOME THEATER & SOUND -- www.hometheatersound.com



December
2001

Reviewed by
Wes Marshall

 




Sunfire
True Subwoofer
Signature


Features SnapShot!

Description

Model: Sunfire True Subwoofer Signature
Price: $1995 USD
Dimensions: 13"H x 13"W x 13"D
Weight: 57 pounds

Warranty: Two years labor and parts

Features

  • 2700W amplifier
  • 10" high-excursion woofer
  • Patented Tracking Downconverter power supply

Features (cont'd)
  • Low-level and high-level inputs/outputs
  • Total air-volume displacement over 360 cubic inches
  • Variable crossover (35Hz to 100Hz)
  • Crossover slope 36dB per octave
  • Input level (volume) control
  • Continuous phase adjustment (0 to 180 degrees)
  • Passive high-pass crossover (70Hz at 6dB per octave)
  • Black pebble-grain finish

A little history

Bob Carver has made a name for himself by producing smart engineering solutions for problems we didn’t know we had. At Phase Linear, he gave us huge wattage at a reasonable price. Suddenly our ultra-low-efficiency Advent loudspeakers came to life. Then he formed Carver Corporation and gave us transistor amps that aimed to sound like tube amps. To many people’s ears, he succeeded. Others just got mad that he had tricked them.

When Carver started Sunfire, his big blast was an 11" cube that reportedly played a 20Hz tone at 110dB, providing not just bombast but blessed relief in the realm of home furnishings. That last point really hit home when my sweet wife pleaded for the interior-design friendliness of the Sunfires. I got rid of my two Entec L2-F20s, not because they weren’t great (they were), but because, like an elephant in the living room, they were impossible to hide. I replaced them with two Sunfire True Subwoofers (original version). The room looked better. My wife was happier. But, to be honest, I regretted the move. The Sunfires played louder and deeper, but something sounded wrong. The crazy part was that I was so sure of Carver’s ability with rabbits and hats that I believed his $1200 sub would sound better than Entec’s $3300 sub. It didn’t. There was lots of power, but also smearing and loss of clarity.

Sometime after I bought the True Subs, Sunfire came out with the 13"-cubed Signature model. Drat! Doesn’t it always happen that way? Just as soon as you plop down your hard-earned cash, a company comes out with something better. So I just stared at the Signature, never knowing if it was a lot better or just two inches better. Luckily, my esteemed editor wanted a review of the Signature. Problem solved.

Details

So just how much difference does two inches make? A surprising amount. It may not seem like a lot, but when you figure it up, those two little inches almost double the volume (13" x 13" x 13" equals 2197" versus 11" x 11" x 11" equaling 1331"). The Signature standing next to the True II looked like Shaq standing next to Allen Iverson. But this additional size is what allows the Signature to reportedly play 6dB louder and 2Hz lower (-2dB at 16Hz), even though it uses the same amplifier as the True II. The only down side of the Signature over the True II is $500 more out of your pocket. And even though it’s substantially larger than the True, it is still smaller than, say, the Wilson Audio XS that Jeff Fritz liked so much. Oh, all right. I know the Wilson is the size of a Frigidaire. But the Sunfire is also less than one-third the size of the Paradigm Reference Servo-15.

For those unfamiliar with Sunfire’s secrets, Carver conceived an extremely long-throw woofer with a huge magnet and a very dense surround that would keep it from crushing itself and the box. In order to deal with the inefficiency of the back EMF from the dense, long-throw surround (around 70dB at one meter), he had to develop a powerful amp, but one that could fit in a 13" cube. The amplifier he created pumps out a rated 2700W and is about the size of large candy bar.

Navigating around the sub, you see two 10" drivers, one active and one passive. The front panel features a light that glows if the unit is receiving a signal. The Signature stays on at all times, but it goes into hibernation after ten minutes of no signal. When it senses something there, it comes back to life with a low-level "pop." Three knobs provide continuous control of volume, phase (0 to 180 degrees) and crossover frequency (35Hz to 100Hz). Below that is a binary switch that allows either flat or video contour (quasi-THX). Finally, there is an input/output section that allows for line-level or speaker-level connections and use of, or not, the Sunfire’s built-in crossover. For my use, I followed the setup instructions to the letter except for the crossover-frequency adjustment. I let the Lexicon MC-1 handle that part. The entire installation and setup, from unboxing to setting levels and phase, took about one hour.

So how does it sound?

The quick answer is that the Sunfire Signature Subwoofer sounds great. One of the best DVDs for testing sound (and picture, for that matter) is Disney’s Dinosaur. In the chapter 1 attack by the Carnotaurus, the entire concrete slab of my house shook like the battle was taking place in my living room. The chapter 9 migration to the nesting grounds is even more convincing as the brachiosaurus bangs across the screen. Best of all, James Newton Howard’s orchestral score has the "you-are-there" perspective that you only get when the bottom octave is reproduced truthfully.

Then I tried a blockbuster, the most whomping, bass-busting, house-rattling DVD of all time -- Final Fantasy. At THX reference level, forget it. The bass was more profound than a 64-foot organ pedal. Neither my ears nor my house could take it, yet there was no sound of turmoil from the Sunfire -- just clear, clean, loud sound. The Fifth Element, Starship Troopers, Mission: Impossible, Galaxy Quest, all the usual suspects sounded real and unstrained with seemingly endless headroom.

All this led me to music via the DVD Sade Live. I had recently seen the lady and the band, and I was curious to hear how well the Sunfire would stand up to Paul S. Denman’s subterranean bass guitar and Trevor Murrell’s synthetically enhanced bass drum. On the song "Cherish the Day," Denman lays out for the first two minutes of the song, while Murrell kicks the bass drum hard. On lesser subs, when Denman finally joins in, it is difficult to differentiate between the bass guitar and bass drum. The track is a real test of a sub’s resolving power. And the Sunfire handles it with aplomb, effortlessly making the distinction perceptible.

Finally, I tried some film scores on CD that have orotund bass. The first cut on the Mission: Impossible 2 CD [Hollywood HR-62244-2], "Sleeping Beauty" has literally breathtaking bass, and it was reproduced with more authority than with any other sub I’ve heard. Another great test disc for bass is Christopher Young’s film score for Set It Off [Varese Sarabande VSD 5779]. Track 2’s tympani came blaring through with stentorious power.

Crossed over at 40Hz and controlled by the Lexicon MC-1’s processing, the Signature never sounded disjointed or inappropriate. Sunfire does a good job offering alternatives for mixing the subs with your speakers. It will accept line-level or preamplifier outs, and you can control phase, crossover frequency and level. But beware the flat/video contour switch. It changes your low-end roll-off from 18Hz to 30Hz. Since some will use the Signature’s internal crossover system, I tried it as well. With a lot of careful balancing, I was rewarded with a seamless bond with the other speakers. The process took me a few hours to tweak. Through the Lexicon, it took about 15 minutes. Both results were superb.

True versus Signature

An interesting note: Just before I received the Signature, I sent my True Subwoofers in for upgrading to "almost" True II designation. I sent one at a time so I wouldn’t be without bombast. Here is the fascinating part. One True II subwoofer sounded better than two True II subwoofers! In my listening area, I have to put the two subs close together and I think this causes some smearing, enough that one sounds better than two. I would surmise that in some rooms, if you want to use two subs, you should keep them well separated. In any case, the Signature sounded better than any combination of True II subs, and not just a little better. Bass was not only deeper and louder, but also better controlled, less compressed and seemingly unflappable. The Signature’s extra weight also helped reduce Sunfire’s famous tendency to dance around the floor during hard-driving passages.

Surprisingly, at least when you consider space and cost, the Signature was very nearly the match of the Entecs on music and much better than the Entecs on film. The only place that the Entecs excelled was in their more natural decay of bass drums recorded in an orchestra-hall setting.

Is this the sub for you?

The world is full of excellent subs. The Velodyne Acoustics HGS-12, REL Storm III and M&K MX-350 Mk II, to name a few, are superb pieces in the same price range as Bob Carver’s Sunfire Signature. Size is important to me, and the Sunfire is the smallest. Its wee dimensions add to domestic tranquility, and I don’t feel like I am losing any quantity or quality compared to any other sub available under twice the price. Given the current marketplace, the Sunfire True Subwoofer Signature is my personal choice due to its size and excellent performance with movies and music.

Review System
Speakers - ATC SMC 50A (mains), Sonance Symphony (surrounds), KEF Model 100 (center), Sunfire True Subwoofers (2), Bohlender Graebner Radia X3 (mains and surrounds), Bohlender Graebner Radia X1 (center)
Processor - Lexicon MC-1
Amplifier - B&K Video 5
Sources - Pioneer DV-434, Sony DVP-NS700P, Philips DSR 6000 (DirecTV/TIVO)
Cables - Canare GS-6 interconnects, Monster Cable speaker cable, Straight Wire Ghost Buster video cable
Projectors - Runco Cinema 750, PLUS HE-3100 Piano DLP projector
 

Manufacturer contact information:

Sunfire Corporation
1920 Bickford Avenue
P.O. Box 1589
Snohomish WA 98290
Phone: (425) 335-4748
Fax: (425) 335-4746

Website: www.sunfire.com

 


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