|Sunfire Theater Grand Processor III|
|Home Theater Preamplifiers AV Preamps|
|Written by Thomas Garcia|
|Friday, 01 November 2002|
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I started auditioning DVD-Video material with director Peter Jackson’s sonic and visual blockbuster, "Lord of the Rings" (New Line Home Entertainment). The beautiful themes and brooding score from Howard Shore’s award-winning soundtrack were exhilarating through the TG III, while the startling sound effects and unbelievable subterranean bass plastered me to my seat, making me gasp at times. With the TG III operating in 7.1, my system was used to great effect when Gandalf confronts the Balrog at the Bridge of Khazad-Dum in Chapter 30. My viewing room seemed truly cavernous, the special effects enveloping me in a positively convincing manner. Complex scenes such as the battle at Balin’s tomb were rendered with power, yet the smaller detail and intelligibility of the fight, such as the clangs of swords and spears, the swish of arrows, and the dialogue were still maintained. I felt truly immersed into the center of the maelstrom, finding myself bombarded and engaged from all directions. The dynamic capabilities of the Sunfire were impressive indeed throughout this entire movie.
Following was the intense true-life drama, "Black Hawk Down" (Columbia/TriStar Home Entertainment). In this film, director Ridley Scott collaborated with action producer Jerry Bruckheimer to bring the true story of the battle of Mogadishu that took place in early October of 1993. A military mission by U.S. Army Task Force Rangers and the Delta Force, intended to quickly capture and remove Somali warlords from the regime of Mohamed Farrah Aidid, soon developed into sheer terror and horror when the downing of two Black Hawk helicopters throws the entire operation into total turmoil. Visually, the movie was stunning and the sound effects were equally impressive. The explosions and gunfire placed me squarely in the midst of the battle, exactly as director Scott intended. As authentic as these effects sounded, they were surprisingly not over the top, always clean and unruffled, and never creating any sense of aural fatigue. The pinging of gunfire and the peripheral sound effects were extremely realistic, adding to the overall sense of involvement. In short, "Black Hawk Down" was an intensely moving, emotional experience that left me speechless after experiencing it through the TG III.
Next up was the DTS concert DVD, The Eagles - Hell Freezes Over (Image Entertainment). "Hotel California," the opening musical track off the 1994 Eagles reunion concert, offers a dazzling acoustical rearrangement of this '70s classic. The Sunfire displayed all the delicate detail of this acoustical number, particularly the subtle, crystal clear sound of the multiple guitars, and kept Don Henley's voice focused solidly up front. As the concert progressed, the Sunfire effortlessly delivered the power and dynamics of the latter electric tracks, culminating in the powerful trio of "Life In The Fast Lane," "In The City" and "Get Over It" (tracks 18 – 20). I was planning on just sampling a track here and there, but after a few minutes, I sat back and enjoyed the entire show.
Finally, I enlisted Stevie Ray Vaughan’s concert Live From Austin, Texas (Sony/Columbia) to evaluate the performance of Dolby Pro Logic II on the TG III. For the most part, the audio on this DVD is poor, with one exception. The disc finishes with a spellbinding studio recording and video collage track set to the music of Jimi Hendrix’s "Little Wing." Using Dolby Pro Logic II on this track made the sound more visceral and, at the same time, less aggressive than in two-channel-only format. Drums and cymbals on this were incredibly lifelike in size, weight and their physical placement through the TG III. Bass notes blossomed, yet were tight and controlled, creating a solid foundation and background for the rest of the instruments. The TG III seized the power and wrath of SRV’s guitar crescendos while effortlessly deciphering the dynamics and raw emotion that emanate from this masterful cut.
Steely Dan’s DVD-Audio version of Two Against Nature (Warner) was used to evaluate the TG III analog inputs for multi-channel sources, such as DVD-Audio and SACD. In general, this disc places you inside of the performance, with considerable direct information placed in the surrounds. "Jack of Speed" (Track 6) does not place you as obviously in the middle of the ensemble, but still displays the enveloping characteristics and higher resolution of DVD-Audio. The snap and shimmer of the percussion and bite of the brass were stunning and effortless without being overly bright or spitty. Moving down in frequency, the midrange was fluid and focused, while the powerful lower octaves anchored and balanced the presentation, allowing the rest of the music to float in three-dimensional space. As always, Steely Dan's studio recordings are meticulously produced and the Sunfire TG III captured all the distinctive nuances of this impressive recording.
I was greatly impressed with the TG III’s ability as a two-channel preamp. The TG III provides direct analog pass-through inputs, which bypass all DSP, tone and bass management circuits. Various sources were used to assess the TG III, including several average yet well-recorded 16-bit/44.1kHz CDs. I began with "Where To Now St. Peter," the sixth track off Elton John’s 1971 release, Tumbleweed Connection (Island). In this poignant tale about a man’s contemplation of his afterlife’s destiny, the TG III beautifully resolved the slow piano intro, then gracefully introduced the guitar during the first line of the song. The artistic elements and musical interweave of this song were fantastic, with the TG III conveying every nuance of emotion in Elton’s soaring vocals. On Track 2,"Come Down in Time," the TG III did a phenomenal job of layering vocals and instruments, positioning each singer front to back, leaving each instrument clearly occupying its own space. Overall, I found the TG III sonically equal to many two-channel-only preamps that I’ve recent used and would be completely satisfied using it for all my audio requirements.