|Sunfire Theater Grand Processor V|
|Home Theater Preamplifiers AV Preamps|
|Written by Ken Taraszka, MD|
|Thursday, 01 March 2007|
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Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. I pull out all the stops by fully decorating the house, buying enough candy to put a normally healthy adult into diabetic shock and generally reveling in the fun of dispensing goodies to those in need. It is possible Bob Carver felt the same emotions when he designed the Sunfire Theater Grand Processor 5. Available in a black or silver finish, the TGP-5 is designed to be the hub of a high-end, high-performance home theater, providing all the flexibility and connections you could need. Offering HDMI switching, video transcoding, an integrated AM/FM tuner, the ability to handle seemingly any surround sound format and direct stereo bypass for two-channel listening, as well as extensive options for controlling an independent second zone, few processors in the world of home theater offer what this one does, especially for its modest retail price of $3,499.
The TGP-5 provides both single-ended and balanced outputs for eight channels with the ability to control up to four subwoofers. It decodes 7.1-channel Dolby® Pro Logic® IIx, Dolby® Digital, Dolby® Digital EX, DTS®, DTS-ES®, DTS Neo:6® and Sunfire's exclusive side-axis outputs for 9.3 channels of total playback. It offers two-to-one HDMI switching, an AM/FM tuner with 40 presets and Bob Carver’s Dynamic Tuner Noise Reduction to improve clarity on weak radio signals, an eight-channel analog input, two analog stereo tape and one stereo coaxial digital out, tone controls, full-time two-channel digital down-mixing of multi-channel sources for tape recording and even a built-in high output MC phono section. It offers video transcoding of composite to S-Video and S-Video to component, Carver’s own Sonic Holography for enhanced soundstage, a Party mode that engages all speakers from any two-channel source and an independently controllable second zone. Also here are an Ethernet port that allows for software updates via Internet download, RS 232 control, 12-volt remote triggers and IR inputs for the second zone or for hiding the unit from sight. All these connections come fitted into a box 17 inches wide, five-and-three-quarter inches high and 16.5 inches deep, weighing 22 pounds.
Sunfire was kind enough to send me their new Theater Grand Processor 5 and the Theater Grand Amplifier TGA-7400 (review pending) to evaluate, and just like those kids at my door, I was salivating. I quickly went to work unpacking the processor and amp from their hefty boxes and high-density foam, carefully unwrapping the double plastic wrappers like they were fine candy. I gave a quick read of the manuals prior to tearing down and rebuilding my reference home theater. Sunfire changed their look from their former smooth rounded edges and brushed aluminum cases to a more traditional milled aluminum faceplate and steel chassis. The sides of the faceplate arc in, giving a slightly three-dimensional look to the front panel. While I was a big fan of the rounded edges on the prior versions, I was immediately impressed by the more grown-up look of the new gear. Gone are the flush-mounted volume and input selector knobs, replaced with more traditional controls. The front panel has also been rearranged from the prior versions. The LED display has been moved to the left side of the faceplate with the tuner and tone controls beneath it. On the right are the large volume and smaller input selector knobs. Signal lock indicators lie below with the audio mode; controls for the Sonic Holography, zone, panel dim and mute are above. The rear of the TG-5 is packed with six A/V inputs with stereo, S-Video and composite video, three matching sets of A/V outputs and three assignable component video ins and two outs. There are four optical and six coaxial digital inputs, stereo inputs for a high output moving coil phonograph, two loops for tape recorders, an eight-channel analog input, fixed and variable stereo outputs that can be used as a pass-through or to control the second zone’s amplifier, 12 single-ended outs for fronts, center, surrounds, surround backs and optional side axis speakers, as well as three subwoofer outputs. Additional sets of eight balanced outputs are present for the standard 7.1 outs. Two video-only HDMI inputs are present, as is one output. A coaxial digital output, multiple 12-volt triggers, an RS 232 port and Ethernet port are all here. Ground, antenna connectors, power switch and an IEC receptacle for the removable power cord finish off the back panel. Despite the large number of connections on this moderately-sized panel, all are well placed and easily accessible. I had no problem reaching them during my review.
Included with the TG-5 are the necessary power cord, FM and AM antennas, and a universal remote. The remote is the Home Theater Master MX-500, which is an excellent remote for controlling multiple components. It comes preprogrammed with the codes for most gear and is capable of learning IR codes if your devices aren’t in its extensive list. The remote came with the requisite four AAA batteries, but to my surprise, they were actual Duracell® batteries, not some generic brand. This might be a subtle point, but it has long bothered me to spend lots of money on new stereo gear only to find the cheapest batteries inside. I think Sunfire deserves a sincere thank you for paying attention to a small but appreciated detail here.
I said I like Halloween, but this one has been especially good to me. I got downsized from my position as an anesthesiologist, so I had some free time before starting a new job. The week of Halloween not only gave me my favorite Pagan ritual to celebrate and the start of that time off, but the arrival of all kinds of new gear. Transparent had just sent me a host of their Reference cables to demo and, the next day, the new Sunfire gear came. This was truly shaping up to be a great week.
I disassembled my home theater and rewired it with the TGP-5 and TGA-7400 with Transparent Reference cables to my Canton Vento speaker system (previously reviewed) and used my Teac Esoteric DV-50s, Toshiba HD-XA1 and Scientific Atlanta 8300 HD DVR as sources, all connected via their coaxial digital outs. The DV-50s also were connected via the 5.1 analog outs for SACD and DVD-Audio playback. Living in Florida, my power can be frighteningly bad, so all digital sources were connected to a dedicated 20 amp line via a Chang Lightspeed CLS HT 1000. The TGA 7400 had its own 20-amp circuit connected through a Chang Lightspeed CLS 9900 amp. Video was connected via the two HDMI ins and one out to my Samsung DLP rear-projection HDTV. I tested the video transcoding by connecting the TGP-5 to my display via the component output and connecting my DV-50s to the TGP-5 with the S-Video and then the composite video outputs. In all my tests of the video transcoding, video came through well and, to my eyes, it was just slightly brighter than either the native composite or S-Video when transcoded to component. A slight enhancement of color saturation, especially in the blues and reds, was subtle but appreciated. I didn’t see any degradation of image quality or sharpness, and the enhanced color and brightness was a welcome improvement. Had I needed to utilize the transcoding, I would welcome its convenience and feel it only further enhanced the flexibility and ease of use of this processor.
Once all the wiring was complete, I plugged everything in and powered it all up. High-end pre-processors can be frustrating to set up, to say the least. Assigning inputs and working through the set-up menus is often cumbersome and sometimes so difficult it should truly be left to those familiar with that particular unit. Sunfire breaks this mold; the Theater Grand Processor 5 is the easiest processor I have ever set up. You simply connect your sources to their labeled inputs and go. Speaker and further system set-up can be done on your display (though not via the HDMI output) or by using the front panel of the processor itself. As I mainly used the HDMI connection, I used the front panel for my initial set-up. I was able to maneuver through the menus without the manual, though this was easier when I used my display, as the front panel only has one line of text. I set all my speaker sizes to large, entered the distances to them in the allowed six-inch increments, calibrated their levels with a Radio Shack SPL meter and was ready to listen within a few minutes of wiring the system. I was glad to find no ghosts in this machine.
The TGP-5 can automatically select sources as they present a signal, which is a great feature, but I had to turn that off for the DVD, as it would default to the digital input while playing SACD and DVD-Audio discs, which I wanted to use with the eight-channel analog input. This was a simple fix and was the only glitch I encountered in my set-up. Otherwise, the processor worked just as I wanted. I wish all processors were this easy to set up. I let the whole system burn in for over 100 hundred hours, then replaced the Sunfire TGA 7400 with my reference Proceed HPA 2 and HPA 3 amplifiers to evaluate the processor’s performance.