Sunfire Ultimate Receiver II 
Home Theater AV Receivers AV Receivers
Written by Ken Taraszka, MD   
Wednesday, 01 March 2006

The Sunfire Ultimate Receiver II is the newest in a long line of high-end products made by the legendary Bob Carver, who has been making innovative audio gear since he founded Phase Linear in 1970. Carver has made numerous advances in amplification and power supply technology for the audio industry since he started in the business over 35 years ago, and this new receiver benefits from all his research and development. The Ultimate Receiver II is a complete 9.1-capable A/V receiver, designed to be the hub of a high-end home theater or multi-room system. In this newest version of the Ultimate Receiver, video transcoding and Dolby Pro Logic IIx have been added. The receiver is capable of producing 200 watts per channel into eight ohms and 400 watts per channel into four ohms into all seven channels, making it the most powerful receiver on the planet. Included are many of the bells and whistles one might expect in a receiver retailing for $4,995.

This receiver comes beautifully boxed and packed with high density foam rather than the styrofoam typical of lower-end products, safely securing the 32-pound receiver in the hands of all but the clumsiest of shipping companies. Included are the necessary power cord, AM and FM antennas and a great programmable universal remote (Home Theater Master MX-500), preprogrammed for the receiver and most other components, with the additional ability to learn unknown pieces. Something that surprised me was the inclusion of a glass pedestal, which Sunfire packages with the Ultimate Receiver and many of their high-end amplifiers. Being just slightly smaller than the 17-inch wide by five-and-three-quarters inches high and 16.5 inches deep dimensions of the receiver itself, the glass plate sits atop its own half-inch rubber feet and adds a stately look.

Sunfire deviated from the typical box-shape of components, giving the Ultimate Receiver II smooth rounded edges along the front and top, a sleek brushed aluminum finish with flush-mounted dial controls for volume and source selections and a slightly recessed blue LED display, with the remainder of the lights on the front being bright yellow.

Seemingly every digital format is covered, including Dolby Digital EX, DTS ES, DTS Neo:6, Dolby Pro Logic II and IIx, which allows this receiver a full 9.1 up-mixing of stereo inputs, a 7.1-channel analog input for DVD-A and SACD players, a tuner with 40 presets, active noise reduction and Bob Carver’s Sonic Holographic imaging. You can also independently control and power a second zone.

Full-time digital mixing of all multi-channel sources to stereo for tape, digital and second zone outputs is always active. Analog bypass exists for the two-channel audio purists who shudder at the concept of converting analog to digital and back again, as well as an MM phono input with turntable ground. The Ultimate Receiver utilizes 24-bit/192kHz digital to analog converters and provides one-eighth inch mini-jack remote IR inputs for both the main and secondary zones.

Video transcoding from composite to S-Video and S-Video to component allows you to use only the highest-level input on your display or projector for multiple different types of video sources. You can even set it to automatically select sources by sensing signals. The Ultimate receiver even offers an option to add an additional two speakers to your HT for a 9.1 set-up. These are side axis speakers used to compliment the other seven channels; if used, these would require an additional two-channel amplifier.

The Ultimate Receiver II provides a total of six A/V inputs and three outputs that have stereo analog inputs, as well as composite and S-video, three assignable component video inputs and two component video outputs for the main and secondary zones. There are 10 digital inputs, six coaxial and four optical inputs that are equipped with self-sealing doors, so you never have to worry about losing the plug covers for your optical inputs again. Optical and coaxial digital stereo outputs are present, as is a programmable 12v trigger capable of 500mA output.

Two stereo audio outputs exist for recording, and there are preamp outs for all channels, including three subwoofer outputs, for a total of 12 preamp outs. If that isn’t enough, a bi-directional RS-232 port is there to allow for home theater automation or outboard control, such as AMX, Crestron or Control 4. A Firewire port is also included for future upgrades. All inputs are via gold-plated RCA connectors. No balanced (XLR) inputs or outputs are present. The Ultimate Receiver II provides no DVI or HDMI connections.

The UR II comes with a HT master MX 500 remote that allows programmable control of multiple sources and functions as all your other remotes in one. While it can do macros, only three such macro buttons exist, and their programmability is somewhat limited. I did run into one small problem with this remote: the code listed in Sunfire’s manual for one of my cable boxes was wrong and the remote refused to accept it. A quick call to Sunfire gave me the correct code number. This points to another advantage of buying more high-end AV electronics – the customer service you can get quickly is often better than that of the lesser-priced gi-normo electronics companies.

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.

The Downside
Missing from the Sunfire Ultimate Receiver II are DVI and/or HDMI switching. With an official mandate of February 17, 2009, for a switch to digital video, it is disappointing that the UR2 can not switch the format of the future. Solutions are easy and relatively affordable in the form of an HDMI switcher, which can take today’s and tomorrow’s digital video inputs (HD-DVD, Blu-ray, HD-DVRs, Playstation 3, Xbox) and get them to your HDTV. This adds approximately an additional $400 to the overall cost of your rig and also adds a bit of system clutter that isn’t found on today’s HDMI-switching receivers that cost a fraction of the price of the Sunfire Ultimate Receiver II.

Though the Ultimate Receiver could just be the most powerful receiver on the planet, it is still a receiver. If you plan to drive highly inefficient or particularly difficult to drive speakers, you should really consider separates. I found the bass to be quick and overall pleasing, but it lacked some of the authority of more expensive separates and, in my other set-ups, there was a slight enhancement in the lower-mid bass.

Elegant, flexible, easily configured, smooth and powerful, the Sunfire Ultimate Receiver makes a strong statement as to just how good a receiver can be. It offers ease of set-up, with powerful and flexible amplification, and inputs abound. Throughout my two-channel listening sessions, I was impressed with the Ultimate Receiver’s faithful reproduction of the music. I detected only a slight enhancement of the lower-mid bass in my set-up, but this was subtle and never overpowering as can be common in lesser gear. If you are in the market for a new high-end receiver, you owe it to yourself to consider the Sunfire Ultimate Receiver II.

The sound from this receiver was always pleasant and never fatiguing or harsh; it was a true pleasure to hear. I think you could argue the $4,995 price is high for a receiver, but the performance of this unit is exceptional.
Manufacturer Sunfire
Model Ultimate Receiver II
Reviewer Ken Taraszka, M.D

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