|Sunfire Ultimate Receiver II|
|Home Theater AV Receivers AV Receivers|
|Written by Ken Taraszka, MD|
|Wednesday, 01 March 2006|
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The Ultimate Receiver can control nine different sources that can be programmed to utilize any of the available connections. At first this might scare some off, but the Ultimate Receiver II’s onscreen display is more intuitive than many I have seen. I simply connected my sources, opened the OSD and assigned the inputs to correspond to where I connected them. The names of the inputs were then easily changed. I initially set up the receiver for two-channel play in my bedroom system, and later moved it into my reference home theater system. I never had a problem getting the Ultimate Receiver to control either system, and each took only few minutes to connect and another five minutes to configure. This is a big improvement over many receivers and preamp/processors I’ve owned and was by far the easiest control center I have ever set up. You can use either the front panel LED display or your television monitor to navigate the OSD menus, but I would recommend you use your monitor, since the display is more difficult due to abbreviations. Additionally, a fully automatic operation option exists, allowing the receiver to automatically switch to any newly activated input.
The video transcoding is a nice addition, allowing me to connect my TV via the high-bandwidth 100 MHz component video output, and hook up my sources by composite, S-video or component, so I never had to switch the TV input. The quality of the video after transcoding from composite and S-video to component was very good, if only slightly brighter than from the original source input with enhanced saturation of colors, especially blues and oranges, which was an improvement for my TV. I never felt I lost anything by using this feature, and I certainly gained a ton of convenience not having to switch my TV inputs. I would like to have seen transcoding to DVI or HDMI and switching of these inputs, but at this time, they are not included in the UR II.
Music and Movies
For two-channel listening, I first connected the Sunfire Ultimate Receiver II to my vintage JSE Infinite Slope 1.8s. These speakers are notoriously difficult to drive, so I figured the Sunfire would have its work cut out for it. I started off with “Little Wing” from the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s Axis Bold as Love (Studio) and wasn’t disappointed. The air around Hendrix’s guitar was spacious and the bell ringing off to the upper right was dead on. The bass drum was clear and tight, with only the slightest bloom to the lower-mid bass. The overall sound was rich and slightly warm, reproducing this dated recording with a pleasant ease. I moved onto “If 6 Was 9” to further test the bass. The UR II was able to reproduce the dynamics of this song. As I cranked the volume, the bass-heavy passages lost some of the separation I am accustomed to from my separates, but they still held their own and were quite enjoyable. The UR II was able to make this old recording sound smooth and rich throughout.
I then turned to The Urge’s Master of Styles (Studio). The Urge’s unique style of music is part ska, part punk and part funk, blending bass, lead guitar, drums and horns into a heavy bass-dependent piece for evaluation. The opening track “If I Were You” is a diverse cut, ranging from smooth funk sections to guitar and bass assaults during the chorus. The heavy guitar sets were aggressive but never annoying, and the horns were as lively as I can remember them being without sounding harsh or abrasive.
The separation remained, even at the excessive listening levels this album deserves. Though the bass lines lacked some control, they were faithfully reproduced and clear. The horns were well-defined and as lively as the band. You could feel the drum sticks rapping the rims of the snare while the cymbals remained crisp. “Straight to Hell,” the second track on this album, starts out funky with a little jazz and rap thrown in, and then goes to a barrage of guitar in the chorus. All parts of this song were clear yet never fatiguing and were faithfully reproduced with just the slightest enhancement of the lower/mid-bass.
Overall, the bass performance was very good for a receiver. It must be noted that separate amplifiers stereotypically have a distinct advantage over receivers when it comes to bass control and overall authority. It is nearly impossible to package the huge transformers necessary to match the power control of good separate amplifiers into a receiver chassis. The UR II did an exemplary job for its size, which speaks volumes for the power of Bob Carver’s amp designs.
Multi-channel audio is here to stay, and the UR II fortunately provides 7.1-channel analog inputs to accommodate your needs. I turned to Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road on SACD (Studio) to test the multi-channel capabilities of this unit, and again it didn’t let me down. On “Funeral for a Friend,” the Ultimate Receiver provided the attack needed and the aura of surround was amazing. The definition of the bass was a little less than I am used to, but was by far the best I have ever heard from a receiver. “Grey Seal” filled my room with rich warm bass and clean highs that surprised me from a receiver, never harsh or fatiguing.
Finally, I set out to test the tuner section. The local NPR station in my part of Florida, WMNF, can be difficult to receive, but the Sunfire Ultimate Receiver II did a solid job of it, once I adjusted the enclosed antenna. The noise reduction helped keep the signal clean and clear throughout, making the early morning blues shows a treat.
Moving onto movies, I started off with the film adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s “Fight Club” (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment). This film’s dark and aggressive storyline is equally matched by the involving soundtrack and can be difficult to reproduce, yet the UR II did it with great ease. Its amplifiers covered the loudest of passages and never seemed to falter. The surround effects were perfect, pulling you inside the main character’s head during the cave monologue. The dog barks in the background of the city and footsteps were so real I found myself turning to see who was home.
I then turned to the John Travolta/Nicolas Cage classic “Face/Off.” The UR was able to handle the intense dynamics of the Feds’ attack on Castor Troy’s house with complete ease and the bullets seemed to fly around the room. The detail in the grand finale was truly respectable and involving.