Sunfire XT Series Cinema Ribbon CRM-2/CRM-2C 
Home Theater Loudspeakers Bookshelf/Monitor Loudspeakers
Written by Ken Taraszka, MD   
Wednesday, 01 August 2007

Speakers have under gone huge leaps in evolution, from the once common rectangular box with one or more drivers on the front to multi-cabinet designs. Newer manufacturing techniques and materials have allowed unique shapes previously only dreamed of to become reality. The upsurge in flat panel displays and the huge increases in real estate values have energized the market for smaller, more ergonomically sensitive speakers. Audio guru Bob Carver is well aware of these new market factors and has created a very compelling new loudspeaker solution for real world systems that don’t want to compromise on old-world audiophile excellence. Carver is well known for making products that outperform their size. This goes for his amplifiers, which usually weigh a fraction of others in their class, to his legendary subwoofers that have redefined size and performance expectations, and now the Cinema Ribbons. Standing at just over eight inches high, these new speakers are designed to give large speaker sound in a mere fraction of the space. I received five CRM-2 speakers, one CRM-2C center channel and two Sunfire True Subwoofer Super Juniors to evaluate. Cost of the Cinema Ribbon CRM-2 and CRM-2C speakers is a cool $800 each and the subwoofers are $995 each, for a total 5.2 system price of $5,990.

Advanced psychoacoustics went into the design of these speakers from start to finish, and every aspect of the cabinet and drivers was designed for accurate audio reproduction. A speaker small enough to hold in the palm your hand that can handle 400 watts into an eight-ohm load and output 115dB seems potentially too wild to be true. The CRM-2 has a two-way design, consisting of a front-firing wave-guide-loaded Neodymium ribbon tweeter and dual side-firing four-and-a-half-inch-high back-end, high excursion woofers. Measuring eight-and-a-quarter inches tall, five-and-a-half inches wide and six inches deep, weighing eight-point-nine pounds each, they are small but dense. The CRM-2C center channel utilizes the same drivers, all front-firing, and has the same specs, but measures six inches tall, 17 inches wide and three-and-three-quarter inches deep and weighs 10.5 pounds. The CRM-2C has the ribbon tweeter rotated 90 degrees from the set-up of the other speakers and is flanked on either side by the four-and-a-half-inch woofers. Quoted frequency response from all the Cinema Ribbon speakers is 95Hz to 40kHz, with a rated sensitivity of 90 dB (2.83v/1m) and a minimum power rating of 25 watts. All the Cinema Ribbons come finished in beautiful Rosewood covered in seven coats of ebonized super high-gloss lacquer, giving them an almost black appearance, except under bright light, where the natural deep red wood grain comes through.

The True Subwoofer Super Junior is a mere nine inches square and has a quoted frequency response of 22 to 100 Hz and is capable of peak output exceeding 108 dB. Utilizing two Sunfire premium long-throw drivers and a 1,500-watt Tracking Downconverter® power amplifier, this is an equally amazing speaker. The subwoofer offers auto signal sensing power on and off, has single-ended line level inputs, as well as high pass outputs and powered speaker level binding posts. The control panel allows continuous variable phase control, volume control and crossover frequency, from 65 Hz to 100 Hz, which are also bypassable. All the connectors use high-quality gold-plated contacts. A detachable IEC style power cord and a replaceable fuse complete the control panel of the sub, which fully occupies one of the two sides not filled by the opposing drivers. The subwoofer is finished in the same beautiful ebonized Rosewood as the main speakers, and has plastic detachable surrounds for covering the mounting hardware of the two bass drivers; the cones of these two mighty woofers remain exposed.

These speakers are all packed in a way I’ve rarely seen. The Cinema Ribbon CRM-2s come packed in singles or pairs; the CRM-2C comes in its own box. Inside the tough outer cardboard shipping carton is a decorative cardboard case. I am pleased there is another layer of heavy cardboard inside encompassing the speaker, which is packed in high-density foam and wrapped in thick plastic over a black cloth drawstring bag. Inside are the coveted Cinema Ribbon CRM-2 and CRM-2C speakers. Each of the grilles is individually wrapped in plastic and surrounds the speakers inside the final box. A very concise and well-written instruction manual, registration card, and even a pair of white cotton gloves accompany each speaker.

The speakers are of an unusual shape, chosen by Mr. Carver for their sonic characteristics. The front and bottom are at 90-degree angles to each other, the top of the speaker slopes down from front to back, and the rear side of the cabinet is sloped back from top to bottom. The sides seem parallel to one another from the front and at the top edge are faceted into the transition with the top. All angles are smoothly rounded off and the lacquer finish is absolutely perfect. The fit and finish of these speakers and packaging is some of the best I’ve ever seen. On the rear of the speakers, from top to bottom, first you find a small round cup with the boundary compensation switch, which allows for placing the speakers on the wall or further into the room, and the high-quality gold-plated five-way binding posts, then a threaded insert for wall mounting and the Sunfire information panel. An additional threaded insert is present on the center of the bottom of the CRM-2 to facilitate mounting on stands. The grilles for covering the front-aimed tweeter and side-firing woofers are included in the packaging. The front grille is held in place with small magnets, while the sides are held in place with locking pin plugs. The CRM-2C is a more conventionally-shaped speaker, basically a rectangle with the top side sloping down slightly from front to back and the sides share similar faceting to integrate the top and back; the binding posts and room compensation switch are identical to the CRM-2s and the speaker is flanked by four threaded inserts for wall bracket mounting.

I keep two home theaters in my house. The living room is my reference system and the bedroom system is a receiver-based rig. I was having a problem deciding where to first try these speakers out, but having the Sunfire Theater Grand Processor V and Theater Grand Amplifier 7400 still in my home made the decision of which system to put them in a no-brainer. I’d run all the Sunfire gear together. I was short of places to put this system into, but my wife has wanted another television and DVD player in the family room so she could do spin training there, so I figured that was a good place to start. This room in my home is awkward, to say the least. It measures 20 feet long and has vaulted 12-foot ceilings. The room is 23 feet wide, with the system resting in the right half of the room. The room is only divided by a half wall from the back wall slightly to the stereo side of the middle, leaning out slightly to halfway across the room; the front left corner is angled and is part of the outside wall of my office. I have never placed a system into this room, so I expected some serious problems with positioning and bass management. I placed all five of the CRM-2s onto Omnimount SAT2 speaker stands and set the crossover in the TGP-V to 100 Hz. I bypassed the crossover in the Super Junior Subwoofers, as Sunfire recommends for this set-up, and used my Teac Esoteric DV-50s as a source. I initially positioned the two subs on the front wall near the left and right mains.

I ran the system for a few weeks to break in the drivers; during this time, I did a lot of work on subwoofer placement. In the two rooms where I have my other systems, I have a pretty good idea of where to place subwoofers. As this was the first time I had placed a system in this unusual room, it took some work to find where the subs would best perform. I finally settled with one sub in the middle of the right side wall and the other towards the front right corner of the room. This gave me the most even bass response to my ears and filled the room nicely.

Once the drivers were well broken in and I had done some critical listening in the room with the all-Sunfire set-up, I took all five of the CRM-2s on the Omnimount stands and one of the True Subwoofer Super Juniors to my bedroom. I reset the heights of the speakers on the stands to align them with my ears, calibrated the receivers speaker distances and levels, set the crossover to 100 Hz for all speakers and tried them out with my Denon 4306 receiver, using the Samsung BDP-1000 Blu-ray player and Denon 5910CI player as sources to see how they would perform in a second system.

While listening to these speakers, I tried many different placement options and was surprised to find that, no matter where they were placed, they gave an wide and open soundstage. I liked the height of them to be close to my ear level, where the high end clearly was the best. I tried them straight forward and at a multitude of angles toed in, and ended up with them slightly toed in, which seemed to give me the best imaging. I tried them up against the wall with the boundary compensation switch set to wall and it did a good job correcting for the position, but I felt the sound to be more open with the speakers further into the room, so this is were I kept them in both systems. The Cinema Ribbons only reproduce down to 95 Hz, so they are pretty immune to the problems bass output causes with positioning. They seemed to give similar sound whether they were close to the rear wall or far from it.

Music and Movies
For some two-channel listening, I chose Neil Young Live at Massey Hall 1971 (Reprise/WEA). “Tell Me Why” had a full sound to Neil’s acoustic guitar and a great timber to his voice that was true to life. “Old Man” showed me just why I fell in love with Neil’s music the first time I saw him play acoustically. Many can play with a band on stage and win your emotions, but to do it solo with only an acoustic guitar and still be able to tug at the audience’s heartstrings takes something more; this system clearly showed everything Neil had to give. “A Man Needs a Maid” was wonderful. The piano flittered about the soundstage, starting with great subtlety and ramping up in intensity as the song progressed. The subtle reinforcement of the deeper notes the Sunfire True Subwoofer Super Juniors added to the piano was welcome and blended in well and Neil’s vocals were rich and warm. While playing “The Needle and The Damage Done,” the plucking of the strings during Neil’s explanation of how the song came about was fabulous. Each note was reproduced with delicacy and distinction. Again, the subs filled in the deeper notes with ease.

Having just bought a 24 KT+ Gold compact disc of Deep Purple’s Who Do We Think We Are (Audio Fidelity), I had to fire it up on the Sunfire Cinema Ribbons. This classic album is riddled with Ritchie Blackmore’s guitar, solid bass, drums, organs and keyboards. The opening track “Woman From Tokyo” gave a clear and detailed reproduction of all these elements. The impact of the bass drum was a little soft, so I turned the subs up slightly over what I had calibrated them to and it came back into line. From the moment I first played them and through weeks of burn-in, these speakers always created a wide soundstage and were never harsh, except at the highest of volumes. Everything was present and well-separated. I turned them up pretty loud, and they gave me the forward nature that rock needs. Believe me, these speakers have no problem playing loud, even well above 100 dB and nearing 110 dBs in my rather large room. In my lesser powered bedroom system, the Sunfire Cinema Ribbon CRM-2s easily output greater than 100 dBs. Okay, the Cinema Ribbons did become compressed and get edgy at these volumes, but they can output it if you so desire. I did find on rock and roll that the set-up had a somewhat thin sound in my larger room, but when I moved these speakers to my bedroom system, all of the weaknesses I found in this isolated system disappeared, leading me to believe the room was the biggest problem in this set-up, no surprise given the odd shape and size of the room. “Place in Line” is a little mellower and more blusey song from this album, and it was simply wonderful from the Cinema Ribbon CRM-2s. Ian Gillian’s voice can get kind of high, but the vocals were smooth and never biting. The depth of the bass from the drums was excellent, while the cymbals remained clear. Blackmore’s guitar solo was lively, even at extremely high volumes.

Moving onto something a little less aggressive, I switched to the Buena Vista Social Club on DVD-Audio (Nonesuch). The opening song “Chan Chan” is full of fine and detailed strings, thumping bass lines, horns and lively vocals. The Sunfire Cinema Ribbon CRM-2s and Super Junior Plus subs easily handled all these elements and filled the room with their richness. The attack of the strings was fast and well-placed. Surround effects blended perfectly. “El Cuarto de Tula” has tom-toms running through the song and they flew around the room with a rich texture. Horns were brassy but not bright. During the chorus, each singer’s voice could easily be appreciated. The title track really came to life on this system. The keyboards were so lively that it was though they were played in my room, while the deep bass lines came through with power and authority. The strings in the background drifted in and out of the room and the maracas were subtle but ever present.

My audio listening clearly proved these speakers can put out volume and easily handle huge dynamics, so for some fun, I put on one of my favorite films, Run Lola Run (Columbia/TriStar Home Entertainment), a German feature with a trance soundtrack full of deep bass and bizarre tastes of sound that come from everywhere. Throughout the film, the guttural nature of the German language was perfectly displayed. The constant bass line throughout the film was palpable. I tried this film with both the CRM-2C and a free-standing CRM-2 as a center channel. I preferred the CRM-2 as it had a more open sound. The gunshot at the start of Chapter 11 could be played loud enough to be lifelike, and the shell hitting the ground was realistic in timber and placement. When Lola entered the casino, the bass was pounding and the huge dynamics were easily handled. The clicking of chips was lifelike. I seriously ramped up the volume for this scene, and when the roulette wheel was spun, the ball circled me with perfect positioning and some of the smoothest transitions I’ve ever heard.

While using my Denon receiver in the second system, I demoed these speakers. I cued up the Blu-ray disc of Nine Inch Nails’ Beside You In Time (Nothing), a live concert video that shows NIN in an older state but none the worse for wear. The keyboard during “Hurt” was clear; even Trent’s missed keys were accurately reproduced and the synthesizer effects smoothly transitioned around the room. Even in this receiver-based system, the Sunfire Cinema Ribbon XT speakers were capable of being played at ear-splitting levels. Moving forward to “Head Like a Hole,” I was easily able to generate 105+ dB levels. While the lone Super Junior subwoofer did fall a little short at this volume in this set-up, I am sure the second would have brought it back up to spec. “Terrible Lie” showed the XT’s ability to handle wide swings in dynamics with ease and gave a lively presentation to the song. The subtle elements throughout smoothly passed around the room.

The Downside
These are amazing little speakers that are truly capable of holding their own against floor-standers. While the CRM-2s themselves are tiny, they need to be mounted or supported on stands, not only adding cost, but also requiring floor space. Their low-frequency extension is limited, so they require a subwoofer or two, as I used for one of my review systems. This isn’t a big issue, as anyone buying a home theater speaker system should be planning on a subwoofer as well. Subwoofer integration can be problematic. Time, trial and error, as well as some experience, helped me find the best set-up for my rather odd large room, but depending on your experience, you might require professional help in this area. Any authorized Sunfire dealer can get you to the audio promised land with a trip to your house and a few professional tweaks.

The Sunfire Cinema Ribbon speakers diffuse high frequencies widely to the left and right, but need to be placed near ear level to maximize the high-frequency extension they offer. This could pose problems if your speakers must be placed at specific heights, or possibly if you have a large difference in the heights of the people in your home.

I really enjoyed my time with these amazing little speakers. I was pleasantly surprised to find no matter where I placed the CRM-2s, they gave an open and wide soundstage. The sound pressure levels obtainable by them are just insane. They are smooth and accurate and, while they can handle 400 watts per channel, they sounded excellent being fed the 130 watts my Denon receiver output as well, being able to reach ear-splitting levels with ease even from a receiver. They can reproduce wide swings in dynamics and give a smooth midrange and highs not often found for their price. I have bought a lot of high-end audio gear and can truly say that none of it came packed as well as the Sunfire XT Cinema Ribbon speakers, which were packed like the fine gems they are. Their fit and finish is truly first-rate.

When using the CRM-2s for all five speakers, the transitions were as perfect as can be imagined. I am often criticized for recommending the same front and rear speakers in a home theater; my experience with the Cinema Ribbons might have me recommending the same speakers for every channel, as the transitions with five of the CRM-2s in both systems were simply perfect. I found the CRM-2C to be an excellent match for the CRM-2s, but preferred the CRM-2 as a center, as it offered a slightly more open sound. The difference with the CRM-2C center channel wasn’t huge, though, so if your situation requires such a speaker, don’t fret, it does the job well.

Moving the system into my bedroom as I described, I expected a significant drop in sonics, but was surprised to find almost none. I still had the smooth midrange and highs this system afforded me. Using only one of the True Subwoofer Super Juniors in this smaller room still gave me excellent bass response, though the sub was slightly taxed at very high listening levels. Had I used both subs, I would have had no problems.

Bob Carver set out to make a small or, in this case, miniscule speaker capable of sounding like full-sized floor-standers, and I believe he has done this admirably. When properly integrated with a subwoofer, these little gems give full-sized sound at a fraction of the physical dimensions. Carver is famous for thinking outside the box and getting huge performance from tiny pieces of gear. Well, Mr. Carver, you have done it again!
Manufacturer Sunfire
Model XT Series Cinema Ribbon CRM-2/CRM-2C
Reviewer Ken Taraszka, M.D

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