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Sunfire Cinema Grand Multi-channel Power Amplifier Print E-mail
Monday, 01 July 1996
Image Occasionally a product comes along that defies precedent. The 5-channel Cinema Grand amplifier from Sunfire is just such a product, exhibiting performance commonly associated with ultra-expensive amplifiers.

At first glance, perhaps what you`ll find most unusual about the Cinema Grand is the absence of heavy-duty heatsinks. Like all Sunfire amps, the Cinema Grand employs a Bob Carver innovation, the tracking downconverter power supply. This unique design doesn't use any heatsinks to dissipate large amounts of wasted power as most of the input signal goes directly to the speakers. The amp runs so efficiently, a 30 pound power supply delivers 200 watts per channel into 8 ohms. The chassis was always cool to the touch, even after several hours of playing time. Unlike, massive amps that require venting, the Cinema Grand can be installed anywhere, even inside a closed cabinet. A fanciful analog meter is the only front panel adornment on the black anodized, brushed aluminum chassis. Designed to replicate the look of classic electronic equipment of the 1950's, the meter seems more for decoration than anything useful. It displays the total energy available from the power supply in joules.

The exclusion of rear mounted heatsinks made it possible to space out the binding posts on the rear panel. Having struggled with close-set binding posts on other amps, this is an important benefit. I had no problem using my large gauge Cardas speaker cables with spade lug connectors.

There are two sets of binding posts for the front left and right speakers. The standard voltage source (near zero impedance) output is used for most speakers. The second set is a higher impedance current source output (1 ohm) recommended for electrostatic, ribbon and planar magnetic speakers. This configuration also allows for bi-wiring your system, using voltage source for woofer(s) and current source for driving mid-range and tweeters. The RCA type input connectors are gold plated. Balanced, 3-pin, XLR connectors are also provided.

Another nice touch is the glass base, used to ensure proper airflow under the amplifier and isolate it from vibration.

My listening test included a variety of source material. On Star Trek: First Contact, an effective surround effect employed in several scenes had Capt. Picard hearing Borg voices in his head. The voices were distinct and evenly spread out. The battle scene, between the U.S. and alien fighters in Independence Day, is reproduced with astounding detail and clarity. Microdynamics are as effective as the huge dynamic sequences.

When you start listening to more 5.1 soundtracks, you realize how important it is to have equal power to all 5 speakers, particularly for transient peaks. The final action sequence in The Long Kiss Goodnight has the biggest and longest explosion I've ever seen in a movie. This explosion is like the Energizer bunny, it keeps going and going and you won't hear a hint of distortion in any speaker. In fact, I couldn't find anything to clip this amplifier.

With the emergence of 5.1 music mixes from DTS and soon with Dolby Digital encoding, multi-channel amps are going to be in greater demand. The Alan Parsons DTS-encoded CD, On Air, exhibits dynamics and impact uncommon to a music disc. These mixes can be an amazing sensory experience and you need a quality amp like the Cinema Grand to do these tracks justice.

The frequency response is even across the spectrum, producing a pleasant, balanced tone. This is a very neutral and revealing amp. From the XRCD release Duke's Big 4, I loved the distinctive rich, warm tone of Ray Brown's stand up bass. Nothing in the world closely resembles this instrument and when reproduced properly, it is heavenly.

You perceive that wonderful sense of air between instruments as evidenced on "Follow Me" from The Pat Metheny Groups' latest release Imaginary Day, a track rich with keyboard instrumentation and Metheny's signature guitar textures. Exceptional presence and vocal clarity, with a solid center image was apparent on Fiona Apple's "Sleep To Dream." Even at low volumes, the Cinema Grand is very revealing.

The feel of the performance on Liszt's' Etudes d'Execution Transcendante, performed by Kemel Gekic, was extremely similar to that demonstrated by my Proceed Amps though the Proceeds seemed to have more strength with increased detail on bass tones.

The maximum total harmonic distortion (.5%) on the Cinema Grand is considerably greater than the Proceeds (.1%). I found this resulted in some ear fatigue with extended usage, primarily with critical music playback rather than movie soundtracks.

In a direct A/B comparison, the Proceeds edged out the Cinema Grand, with more of that airy quality resulting in a wider, deeper image and instrumentation with fast attacks was more transparent.

Still, I give the Cinema Grand a rousing endorsement. It is quite an achievement for this amp to rival the performance of the Proceed AMP2 and AMP3 for less than half the cost of the two amps combined. ($1,995 and $2,995, respectively.) This amp is a genuine bargain at $2,375. Realistically, it is still a lot of money but the Cinema Grand's performance is remarkable when you consider it costs literally thousands of dollars less then many other amps in its category.

Whether you're blasting Borg vessels in deep space or relaxing to Liszt's piano etudes, you're in for an exhilarating experience with the Cinema Grand.

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