|Sunfire Signature Stereo Power Amplifier|
|Home Theater Power Amplifiers Stereo Amplifiers|
|Written by Jerry Del Colliano|
|Friday, 01 May 1998|
He actually signs the amp. Yes, Bob Carver with golden ink, hence the name `Signature Amp.' This means he touched it, tested it, and each limited edition Sunfire Signature Amp ($3000 USD) meets Bob Carver's personal specifications for performance. And that's pretty cool. In an industry of pushing boxes, from "amp of the month," magazines it is refreshing to see a few companies still care to obsess over every detail.
The Sunfire Signature Amp is a monstrous 600 watt stereo amp that has the ability to drive practically any load, from any speaker or speaker/subwoofer combo on the market. The Signature Amps' reported specs are impressive...way down at one ohm, Sunfire claims and almost unbelievable output of 4000 watts. This, I had to hear to believe, because in all of my years in high end audio I still can't hear graphs or stats. I can only hear music.
I started my listening test with a single Signature Amp connected by my new balanced Transparent Reference XL interconnect. I had other options in hooking up the amp including two unbalanced inputs labeled `lab' and `normal.' I would use them later, but for testing a single Sunfire Signature Amp I stuck with good old balanced operation.
One belt from the immortal Muddy Water's "Mannish Boy" and I knew I was in the presence of something special. This amp has serious impact. It was immediately obvious that Muddy's vocals were very present and powerful with a wonderful mid-range sound that was almost tube-like even though the Sunfire Signature amps are, of course, not tubed.
I moved on to Bob Marley and The Wailers' "Iron, Lion, Zion" from his album Legend and found the mid range was increasingly warm, open and resolved. You could clearly discern the background vocals from Bob's lead while at the same time resolving an impressive percussion section paired with a killer keyboard track. With lesser amplifiers, a complicated soundstage like this, would sound cluttered, but on the Sunfire Signature Amp the sound was resolute and dynamic.
Some of the best bass performance I found was on Bob Marley's "Crazy Baldheads." On the other cuts, the bass was there, but not as deep or powerful as I remembered it being on my reference Mark Levinson No. 333 (an amp 2.5 times more expensive). On "Crazy Baldheads" the bass was right where I wanted it. Tight, deep and powerful. You need great bass to get the most emotional experience from your system and this cut (and many others) proved to be what I was looking for.
On Coltrane's "My Favorite Things" the strength of the Sunfire Signature Amp's mid-range was most evident in that the Sunfire allowed Trane's sax to really shine in the overall mix. The piano reproduction was also very well done--delicate and detailed--however like a few other cuts the lower mid-bass was less present than I normally like. I will say it is my personal preference to add a good kick around 100 Hz and when I added my Avalon 2055 mastering EQ to the signal path I could get what I was looking for in the low-end every time.
Randy Bingham at Sunfire urged me to try a second Sunfire Signature Amp in a vertical bi-wire configuration. This means you use two Sunfire Signature Amps. Each is fed an unbalanced signal to the normal input then the lab input for left and right are bridged with a single (mono) interconnect. If you bi-wire or tri-wire your speakers as in the case of my reference Cello Stradivari Legends, you should connect the high/mid leads to the current output while using the voltage output for the bass leads. Got it? Good. Don't worry it took me a minute to figure out too.
The best way I can describe the change in sound is to make a car analogy. I drive a six-cylinder VW GTI. It meets my budget and my need for speed which is a nice tradeoff. The difference a second Sunfire Signature Amp made is like trading in your GTI in on a Porsche 911. The extra power elevates the music to a whole other emotional level. Yes, I know there is an extra $3000 plus an interconnect included in the price of this upgrade, however it is worth it. And who said you ever had to buy it all at once?
The sound of the vertical bi-wired Sunfire Signature Amps multiplied everything good about the sound of the amps. The best test for the effect of the second amp was using the new MCA remasters of Jimi Hendrix's Axis Bold as Love. On "Little Wing," Jimi's guitar floated in space, something I have heard in few systems. The power of these amps was frightening. I don't believe in inefficient loudspeakers. I like my Cello's, WATT's and Puppies and even slightly less efficient transducers like THIELs and Martin Logans, yet these Sunfire Signature Amps feel like they can drive any difficult load from Apogee Grands to a Lincoln Town Car.
The downside of the Sunfire Signature Amp includes a tendency to get bright when played at very, very loud volumes and a sometimes-weak lower mid range. Its strengths include a reserve of power which would cost you three to five times more from other high end manufacturers. Other upsides include a great--not good--great mid-range performance and the ability to upgrade to a truly high performance amplification system at your own pace. It's nice not to have to sell blood or your children to gypsies to afford your next high end upgrade. Personally, I believe the Sunfire Signature Amp (either as a stereo amp or as a vertical bi-wire pair) provides a true high end value. Audition them on my recommendation.