|Sunfire Theater Grand IV AV Preamplifier/Processor|
|Home Theater Preamplifiers AV Preamps|
|Written by Tim Hart|
|Friday, 01 October 2004|
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Music and Movies
I started with a CD to baseline the TGIV. Peter Gabriel’s So (Geffen Records) was chosen because I also have the re-mastered to SACD version and I wanted to compare the CD version in standard stereo mode, direct mode and Neo 6 mode, then do the same with the SACD version, and note the differences.
In stereo mode, “Mercy Street” didn’t sound bad, yet it didn’t sound great, either. It was a bit flat and uninvolving. The bass line and organ lacked the resonance and timbre I’ve heard on my reference Audio Research LS2B MKII stereo preamp. In direct mode, it was a lot different, for the better. The dynamics and transients came out of hiding, while most of the warmth, resonance and timbre returned. Gabriel’s voice was more accurately located in the soundstage, whereas in stereo mode, his voice was less fleshed out. The cymbals also benefited with more sparkle and shimmer.
I was mildly surprised when I played the CD in Dolby Digital Pro Logic IIx and DTS Neo 6. I’m not always a fan of these formats, but they did a reasonable job converting the two-channel information to multi-channel surround. The sound quality was about the same as the stereo mode. I could see using this to wow the natives at a party or function, but for serious listening, I personally would not use it.
The SACD version was a whole new ball game. The TGIV delivered “Mercy Street” in a new perspective and basically destroyed the CD version. The textures and tones become more three-dimensional. The sibilance and breathy quality of Gabriel’s vocals are mesmerizing. I would compare it to changing from standard NTSC television broadcasts to HDTV. The TGIV was able to handle all of the information required to pull this delivery off in an effortless way, so that you want to hear more. I guess that is the point, eh?
Todd Rundgren’s Liars (Silverline Records) DVD-Audio was next on my hit list. I really like “Sweet.” The tune starts off with bongos and a seesaw bass line that sounds as if he is playing in a large space. The space allowed the instruments to sound set back behind the front speakers, defining the depth and ambience of the recording. An underlying organ fill that I had heard on other set-ups became its own well-defined entity, along with other elements of the song that wove in and out with clearly defined paths. The air around the vocals and instruments were more apparent with the TGIV than I’ve heard with other preamp/processors, such as the soon to be discontinued Classe SSP30 MKII. The Classe sounded a bit more electronic, but faired better in high frequency definition. The TGIV sounded warmer, with better midrange presentation, layering and a more relaxed presentation.
I wanted to get a feel for female vocals so I turned to Sheryl Crow’s The Globe Sessions (DTS Entertainment). This recording was done in DTS ES and sounds great. “Riverwide” with Crow’s acoustic guitar and adds vocals as the song progresses. I could hear the body of the guitar resonate as she slid her fingers up and down the strings. I hadn’t heard this quite to this level prior to the TGIV being in my system. The decay of the notes did not sound edgy or clipped, the way I’ve heard on a good receiver I have been using, the B&K AVR 307. The B&K tended to truncate the natural decline of a note prematurely, whereas the TGIV sustained this effect in a way that makes it sound live. Crow’s voice was laser focused in between the front main speakers and was warm and detailed, capturing the nuance of her vocal style and providing a compelling reason to sit down and listen.
Nightcrawler’s antics in the beginning of “X2: X-Men United” (20th Century Fox) seemed like a good place to test the TGIV’s ability to hand off information from speaker to speaker. If you remember, Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming) is a teleporting mutant who wants to give the president a message to leave the mutants alone, and do this in a most unique way. The noise he made when he disappeared and re-appeared in another place traveled all around me, giving the impression that he was flitting around the room. But the source started off in one speaker and traveled to the next in a way that allowed you to easily trace the movement. I’ve previously heard this effect sound as if he was at one speaker, then the next, without the audible transition on other gear. The TGIV allowed me to hear the transition as well. When the shooting started in the Oval Office, the TGIV gave a rousing dynamic rendition of bullets hitting objects, shells hitting the floor and Nightcrawler transporting hither and yon. The TGIV did a good job of keeping all of this information from merging into just a lot of noise. Pretty impressive. The cathedral scene where Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) and Storm (Halle Berry) were trying to trap Nightcrawler had some interesting effects where he was transporting like crazy trying to scare them off. The reverberation in the big cathedral was taking the transport effect and adding a holographic resonance to it. The TGIV played the subtle aspects of this nicely.
I wanted to stretch the legs of the TGIV, so I chose “Saving Private Ryan” (DreamWorks Home Entertainment). This DVD has been my reference for many aspects of sound reproduction, from subtle and discreet to dynamic and in-your-face sound reproduction. This movie is not for the faint-of-heart, as is depicted in the Omaha Beach landing. From the first bullets striking the amphibious boats and the solders in them, you couldn’t help wanting to duck and run. Whether it was ricochets or mortar explosions, it didn’t seem to matter much what you threw at the TGIV. Its ability to sort out the cacophony of sound and keep it coherent was never more apparent than when Tom Hanks’ character is making his way from the beach to the rally point further inland. Bullets plinking off of the steel structures he was hiding behind made me blink. The leading edge transients cut through you as the bullet whined away, to be followed by explosions and screaming. The music soundtrack also sounded rich and detailed, underscoring and adding detailed effect to the action.