Sunfire True Subwoofer Architectural Subwoofer 
Home Theater Loudspeakers Subwoofers
Written by Bryan Southard   
Tuesday, 01 May 2001

The True Subwoofer Architectural is an 11-inch cube weighing 40 lbs. with a price tag of $1,395 in black and $1,450 for its optional white finish. The Sunfire True Architectural Sub shares much of the technology found in Sunfire’s top-of-the-line $1,995 Signature Subwoofer, with the exception that it was designed so that the owner has the option of being able to place it in a cabinet. The demand for the Architectural Subwoofer originally came from custom installers who were looking for creative ways to better hide components. It is no secret that some components such as your main loudspeakers should remain on the open floor for optimal performance. Because low-frequency information is for the most part considered to be non-directional, many were interested in the possibility of hiding the subwoofer in a cabinet. The big question is whether it can perform as well as a subwoofer that is well-positioned on a listening room floor.

One of the problems that installers were originally confronted with was that, ideally, a subwoofer’s driver should face forward. In the case of the original Sunfire products, they have two drivers on opposing sides of the cube. This creates a less than ideal situation in which one driver faces forward and the other faces towards the rear of the cabinet, which can wreak havoc when trying to adjust phase and blend the sub with your main loudspeakers.

Sunfire has carved an impressive market niche because their subwoofers were the first to have a very small package. This diminutive size lends itself nicely to hidden applications. Much development went into creating a subwoofer of this size that could still provide high levels of bass energy.

The real breakthrough technology behind this application-specific subwoofer lies in Sunfire’s patented Tracking Down Converter power supply in the sub’s internal amplifier. This DC/DC switching power supply is manufactured by Sunfire and supplies the high current levels necessary to produce very large levels of power. The key to this sub’s design success is the matching of a very high-powered amplifier with a very efficient, or should I say fast, woofer driver. With these two design elements under control, Bob Carver can get the huge amounts of low-frequency energy that we have come to expect from his subwoofers, even in a physically tiny box. The sub’s rated frequency response is 20 Hz to 100 Hz and is capable of 107 dB of bass output. It has one forward-firing 10-inch driver with a full complement of controls on the rear panel.

To assist with blending the sub with your main loudspeakers, a 180 degree phase adjustment has been provided, as well as a variable low pass crossover from 35 Hz to 100 Hz. For inputs, they have provided both RCA left/right in and out, and speaker wire left/right in and out for using the low pass cutoff. There is a video contour switch that allows you to roll-off bass starting at 30 Hz when low frequency is a problem. I imagine that this is for people with neighbors who don’t appreciate an occasional visit from a growling dinosaur or troops storming Normandy. If this is the case, rather then attenuate your low frequency, you might want to invite the neighbors over for a movie or buy them a bottle of wine.

The Movies
For evaluation, I used two Sunfire Architectural Subwoofers connected directly into my Sunfire Theater Grand II AV Preamp. I played with a variety of crossover settings and found my favorite to be right near 60 Hz. I have my Revel Salons set at full range on the Theater Grand II to take full advantage of the low-frequency extension and quickness that they provide.

A movie that I love to use for testing is the DTS version of Saving Private Ryan (DreamWorks Home Entertainment) because of its truly realistic portrayal of low-frequency information. Having spent a few of my early years assigned to a mechanized artillery battalion myself, the sound of war machines really gets my blood flowing. One of my favorite parts is the battle towards the end of the film, specifically the scene when the tanks make their way through the fallen town. With the tanks passing close by and the picture displaying the ground moving from vibration, it is very important to match that low-frequency vision with sound and movement.

The Architectural Subwoofers performed exceedingly well, moving incredible amounts of air. The low-frequency information is able to match to the visual intensity of this Steven Spielberg moment. To me, Saving Private Ryan should be played at very high volumes to get the palpable full emotional effect, as if you were actually there. At these levels, my Sunfire Architectural Subwoofers more than kept up and refused to bottom out when other subs I have heard simply failed. I did find that at the loudest peaks there was some limited dynamic distortion. To me, it was a worthwhile compromise, considering the low-frequency information was very abundant and energizing and I was pushing the limits of a sub that is $1,395 in a system that is more than 15 times more expensive.

My next endurance test for the Sunfire Architectural Subwoofers was Super Speedway (Image Entertainment), an IMAX film documentary about Indy car racing that has been beautifully transferred to DVD, narrated by Paul Newman and featuring Mario and Michael Andretti. Super Speedway is an edge-of-your-seat DVD than takes you to right on the track, into the racecar, and in this case, right down Indy speedways with a presentation so exciting it can make your heart skip a beat. I find the toughest test for a sub on Super Speedway is the scene where Mario Andretti is at Detroit Speedway and the low-frequency information is constant and loud, which can cause a lack of resolution in an underpowered or distorting subwoofer. In this test, the Sunfire Architectural Subwoofer performed as well as any sub I have heard to date, proving itself even better than I had suspected it would. The bass was constant and without audible distortion. Even though the drivers are not monstrous 18-inch killers, they held in there with the abusive Indy car growling.

In the movie What Lies Beneath (Dreamworks Home Entertainment), I endured the full length of this bone-chilling thriller without noticing until the end that the music lines were the most engaging part of the movie. I then realized that the bass was responsible for much of the soundtrack excitement, designed to draw you in by creating a sense of suspense and the unknown. The bass in this film is a good showcase for what a great subwoofer can do. With the Sunfire True Sub Architectural woofers in my system, I could get to places emotionally that I simply couldn’t go even with my $17,000 full-range Revel Salons.

The Music
I have my audio/video system connected so that my musical sound system is independent of my theater system. What this means is that the subwoofers are connected to my theater processor, something that I do not typically use for two-channel music listening. However, I do occasionally listen to multi-channel or two-channel music through my theater processor to have the added bass performance from the subs.

While I was looking for something with some slam, I ran across an older disc of mine from Yello, titled Flag (Mercury). This disc is full of high-energy jams. The first song, "Tied Up," has a heavy quasi-techno beat. I don’t think that I have ever heard this louder and tighter than I did with the Architectural Subwoofers in my system. It is an electronically created drumbeat that becomes more and more addictive with the low-end power of the Sunfire subs. Listening to this material through the Sunfire subs was incredibly engaging and perhaps preferable to the more refined listening experience through my two-channel path.

Perhaps the biggest difference between rock ‘n’ roll shows that are live and those that are reproduced in at your home is that live rock shows have huge power. If you want to rock for real, you need low-end smack. I fired into some "Rock Candy" from Montrose’s self-titled debut (Warner Bros.). The opening drumbeat had very good dynamics - dynamics that you just cannot get with loudspeakers alone. Although many owners of very high-priced loudspeakers might be concerned about degrading the quality of their existing low end with the use of external subwoofers, many of the recordings that benefit most, like old rock recordings, don’t supply enough resolution to make this an issue.

The Downside
My only real criticism is that, when driven at very high volumes, the Architectural Subwoofer can begin to sound a little slow and confused. This I believe is due to the long throw of the driver, a byproduct of packing enormous low-frequency energy and air movement into a cube no bigger than the size of a basketball. Personally, I believe that this is something that many can overlook to have a concealable, unobtrusive subwoofer.

In the case of a system that is highly fine-tuned, the addition of an internal equalizer would be a wonderful option to go along with all of Sunfire’s other adjustment and setup tools. As the woofers are predominantly designed for tough, situation specific applications, an EQ could bring an added level of performance of these subs, especially when tuned by a qualified installer or, better yet, a professional acoustician.

The Sunfire Architectural Subwoofer, just like its line mates, packs a huge sound into a small convenient package. It can be placed inside or outside a cabinet, providing a flexibility that many can find nowhere else. For movies, this product is dynamite. For music, it will give you some much-desired low-end reinforcement. There are subwoofers that are quicker and that will blend better with high-priced loudspeaker systems, but you must expect to spend many times the price of the Sunfire True Subwoofer Architectural to get there. Even then, there are no guarantees that the other products will be as friendly to awkward applications and installations. If you are looking for a small subwoofer that can be easily concealed, with tons of sound pressure and volume output, priced reasonably, look no further. The Sunfire True Subwoofer Architectural is a true giant in a tiny package.
Manufacturer Sunfire
Model True Subwoofer Architectural Subwoofer
Reviewer Bryan Southard

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