Sunfire True Subwoofer EQ Signature Subwoofer 
Home Theater Loudspeakers Subwoofers
Written by Ben Shyman   
Tuesday, 01 March 2005

Subwoofers are perhaps the hardest speaker in an AV system for consumers to evaluate. This is due in part to the fact that the best performing subwoofer isn’t necessarily the one that creates the lowest bass response or that rattles the rafters with the greatest fury, but rather the one that best blends with your entire system. When a subwoofer is perfectly matched to your system, you are in theory unable to locate its position and rock-bottom bass would seem to be emanating from your main front loudspeakers. The in-room bass response or, more accurately, your personal room response is what you are really looking for. Herein lies the problem. Unless you are an acoustics guru with sophisticated sound-measuring equipment, you have little chance of getting your new sub to sound great in your room.

Bob Carver, a man perhaps best known for making small subwoofers popular, offers his newest solution to the problem of correctly setting up a woofer. The latest Sunfire woofer is a sub that employs room equalization, capable of EQing your low-end performance to properly integrate with your room without the need for a professional.

The Sunfire True Subwoofer EQ Signature is a small cube subwoofer that boasts an awe-inspiring 2,700 watts of amplification, has an intelligent automatic internal EQ and can reportedly play at greater than 116 dB peaks. Considering its features, the Sunfire True Sub Signature is competitively priced at $2,195.

The Sunfire True Signature EQ Subwoofer is an attractive speaker. Its high gloss deep bing cherry finish affords it an expensive look and feel. While measuring only 13 inches cubed and packed with dual 12-inch drivers, the True Subwoofer EQ Signature is considerably hefty at 48 pounds. The True Signature EQ is powered by a 2,700-watt internal amplifier which utilizes Carver’s patented Tracking Downconverter Technology included in Sunfire’s electronics. These amplifiers are designed to provide instantaneous power in abundance to control your heaviest demands. Critics and high-end snobs say Carver’s amps aren’t as quiet in terms of overall noise as you might expect from a big-dollar Krell or Linn amp and they are on some levels right. However, when powering a subwoofer, these issues are really irrelevant. Carver’s amps rock and deliver lots of juice when you need it, which for both his subs and his home theater amps is just the ticket.

One needs to look no further than the rear control panel to realize the True Signature EQ is a seriously engineered product. With an assortment of knobs including Volume, Crossover Frequency and Phase Control, and three sets of inputs, including a Balanced XLR input and a LED display for the equalizer, one might think this sub is difficult to set up. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I placed the EQ Signature in the same spot where my Sunfire Signature Mark IV used to sit and used the existing cable from my Proceed AVP2 to connect it to the RCA line level inputs.

I looked forward to using Sunfire’s Automatic EQ Mode for customizing the sound of the Signature EQ in my room for several reasons, most notably that, although I am an AV professional, it is very difficult (some suggest impossible) to accurately equalize a subwoofer manually by ear. It’s likely that most of you fall into the same boat, thus making the use the Automatic EQ mode essential. A small microphone with a very long wire is included with the True Signature EQ sub to facilitate the automatic equalization process. I placed the microphone in my primary listening position, plugged it into Sunfire, dialed in the Volume, Crossover, Phase and Equalizer Authority knobs to positions indicated in the short but effective User’s Manual and pushed the “start” button. After less than one minute listening to the subwoofer run various low-frequency test tones, the equalization process was complete. The Sunfire True Signature EQ was no doubt the easiest product to set up in my entire theater, including my new Revel loudspeakers, which require considerable fidgeting to get their placement just right. In about 20 minutes, I had the Sunfire unpacked, the instruction manual read, the cables connected and the equalization process complete. I was ready to begin my listening.

Music and Movies
I began my evaluation on a Sunday morning with my usual routine of beebop and good coffee. When reviewing a subwoofer, I prefer to begin with acoustic instrumentation, casually work my way into the more electric stuff and finally end with movies. I keep the “Special” button on my Proceed AVP2 remote programmed to toggle the subwoofer on and off for late-night movie watching in my New York apartment, useful not only for offering my neighbors “LFE-relief” but also useful in this Sunfire evaluation, helping to distinguish differences in listening with and without the Sunfire in the mix.

I reached on this New York snowy Sunday for John Coltrane’s Giant Steps (Atlantic 1960). Right from the opening of “Spiral,” I was taken by the potent yet unobtrusive nature of the Sunfire. Paul Chambers’ bass sounded eerily lifelike as the Sunfire integrated beautifully with my Revels. Importantly to me, the Sunfire never greedily took over my listening space as other powerful subwoofers frequently do. It was the kind of bass that delicately and tastefully made the acoustic bass and kick drum sound and feel real. This proved that the automatic EQ set-up worked, and worked well. “Mr. PC,” a classic and fast-paced hard bop tune, was the next obvious track selection, chosen primarily to test the quickness of the Sunfire. Keeping up with my Revels, and with John Coltrane’s speedy playing, was a cinch for the Sunfire. The bass, right down to the deepest audible frequencies, never sounded strained or muddy, not even to the slightest degree. The Sunfire was impressively precise and quick on “Mr. PC.”

The more I listened the more I wanted to play my beloved bop, so I put on the 24-bit remaster of Lee Morgan’s The Sidewinder (Blue Note 1961; Capitol 1999). On the title track, “The Sidewinder,” the rhythm section of Bob Cranshaw (bass), Barry Harris (piano) and Billy Higgins (drums) creates a wonderful space and groove that lets Lee Morgan (trumpet) and Hoe Henderson (tenor sax) work their magic. The rhythm has a consistent deep groove that was made even more enjoyable by the Sunfire. As I would have expected from my prior listening on “Giant Steps,” the Sunfire gave “The Sidewinder” a more authoritative presence in the lower octaves. Frequently on older recordings, this is exactly what the doctor ordered and was particularly true on “Gary’s Notebook,” where Harris’ bass frequently gets a bit lost and needed resurrection. The Sunfire EQ did such a great job here that when I toggled it off, I was aghast as to where poor Barry’s bass had gone. High marks for the Signature EQ on Lee Morgan.

Next, for some intense rock ‘n’ roll, I reached for the DVD-Audio of Queen’s The Game (DTS 2002). I began with the hit “Another One Bites the Dust,” where Roger Taylor (drums) and John Deacon (bass) dominate the track. The Sunfire EQ Signature rocked here, period. The bass was deep, tight and made my chest thump as I turned the volume higher and higher (to my neighbors’ dismay, I am certain). Listening to “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” the Sunfire demonstrated that it is much more than a chest-pounding bass machine for listening to rock ‘n’ roll as it carried Deacon’s melodic and familiar walking bass line with uncanny precision and smoothness. I finished my listening of Queen with “Don’t Try Suicide.” Much as on other tracks on “The Game,” I found the Sunfire to deliver the goods with precision and a balanced presence – not too forward, yet deep, punchy and strong in the lower octaves. Deacon’s bass had greater texture and was full but not obnoxiously so and Taylor’s drums were punchy and deep, particularly the kick drum.

Throughout my listening with the True Subwoofer EQ Signature, it provided great energy without ever becoming congested or reaching the end of its capabilities, even at extreme volumes. When a sub is set up correctly, you cannot tell where its energy is emanating from. It merely sounds like tight bass coming from your front main loudspeakers. The automatic set-up was so effective that I can’t imagine achieving this level without the services of a professional. I was inspired by the ease and accuracy of its EQ feature.

I began my movie watching with George Lucas’ masterful conclusion to the “Star Wars” trilogy, “Episode VI: The Return of the Jedi” (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment and Lucasfilm LTD, 2004). As the most recent movie in the trilogy, Episode VI has the best quality soundtrack and seemed a reasonable choice for my Sunfire evaluation. In Chapter 10, “Oh No, the Rancor,” when Jedi knight Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) fights the Rancor in Jabba the Hut’s palace, the footsteps of the Rancor provided enough deep bass to offer a sense of realism to the battle between the young Jedi and the monster. When Skywalker finally slays the monster by crushing him under the falling gate, the Sunfire performed admirably, producing a deep thud. Finally, with the conclusion of Chapter 12, “The Sarlacc Pit,” when Jabba’s ship is destroyed, the explosion that ensues just would not be the same without a subwoofer of the Sunfire’s capabilities to deliver the goods with deep, room-shaking bass.

I concluded my time with the Sunfire Subwoofer EQ Signature by watching director Ridley Scott and producer Jerry Bruckheimer’s “Black Hawk Down” (Columbia/TriStar Home Entertainment, 2001). Winner of an Academy Award for Best Sound, “Black Hawk Down,” with its war action scenes dominated by gunfire, explosions and helicopters, is an ideal soundtrack to strain all but the best subwoofers. In Chapter Four, “Irene,” the deployment of U.S. Marines for their attack on Mogadishu is dominated by the liftoff of several Black Hawk helicopters and the music of Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile.” The soundtrack here is simply unbelievable and it seemed the only thing missing that could have enhanced the movie experience was wind from copter turbines and the desert dust blowing through my living room. I briefly listened to “Irene” at near-uncomfortable sound levels and the only way I can describe how the Sunfire performed would be to tell you that I felt more reassured holding the glass of water that I was drinking rather than resting it on the small table in front of for fear it would vibrate clear off the edge.

The Downside
For the lowest of lows, the Sunfire cannot hit the depths that, say, a bigger woofer like a Revel B15 can. Granted, a B15 is twice the price, so you do get incrementally better performance. The B15 is also much bigger, so in homes where placement is an issue, the Sunfire tends to win out. Velodyne has comparably priced subwoofers that have been very well reviewed by Audio Video Revolution, as well as by top audio/video print magazines. One thing I noticed in briefly looking over the Velodyne was that their fit and finish was one notch better than that of the Sunfire. To me, the Velodyne looked a little more modern. Then again, I am nitpicking.

The Sunfire True Subwoofer Signature EQ is an exceptional product with only a few worthy competitors. There is no question that the Automatic EQ is the Signature’s strongest selling point and a great addition to a historically significant audio/video product. Take it from a reviewer who has only one possible location in his small apartment for a subwoofer and who lacks the knowledge to program a subwoofer equalizer manually – the Sunfire Automatic EQ integrates even with high-end speakers better than you might expect.

The bottom line is this: if you are a consumer who does not know how to manually program an equalizer or who cannot liberally try half a dozen potential locations for a larger and potentially more obtrusive subwoofer in your listening room to achieve ideal bass response, you should definitely consider the Signature EQ. You won’t be disappointed.
Manufacturer Sunfire
Model True Subwoofer EQ Signature Subwoofer
Reviewer Ben Shyman

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