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Sunfire Cinema Grand Signature Multi-channel Power Amplifier Print E-mail
Thursday, 01 February 2001
ImageBob Carver is one of the most recognizable names in audio and now in home theater. His Sunfire project has produced an impressive list of highly successful AV products ranging from Sunfire’s groundbreaking (and rumbling) True Subwoofer and their great AV preamp to a full line of two and five amplification. The Sunfire Cinema Grand Signature is the latest offering from Carver as a reference-grade five-channel amplifier, priced at $3,495.

The Signature moniker is given to the top of the line Sunfire products. It represents more than just marketing lip service. Signature products are physically inspected and hand signed by Carver himself. Each Cinema Grand Signature is rated at a beefy 405 watts per channel times five channels. The power ratings go through the ceiling when impedance drops to four or two ohms.

This amp has two sets of speaker outputs for each of its five channels. Voltage Output is the most dynamic of the two options, capturing the feel of a powerhouse solid-state amp. Current Output uses an impedance modification to produce a softer, more tube-like sound. I prefer the Current Output and its softer sound, as it makes many 5.1 music and film soundtracks more tolerable while not noticeably compromising resolution. The build quality of the amp is excellent. Its glowing meter is the only adornment on the faceplate. The use of beautifully machined speaker connectors for both speaker outputs for all five channels is a very nice touch as well.
The Sound
The future of high-end audio will integrate high performance music playback inside the architecture of a high performance home theater system. Movies and TV can be great, but music is the soundtrack to life. The Sunfire Cinema Grand Signature is a highly capable music amplifier, not just because of its beefy power ratings but for an ease and accuracy found only in the best, big-dollar, high-end amps.

I dropped in Steely Dan’s Gaucho (DTS Entertainment) to test the five-channel music performance of the Cinema Grand Signature. On my reference system, this 20-bit remastered CD still sounds a bit shrill and bright. With the Sunfire set up for a more tubey sound, I find the record to be just that much tastier. The 20-bit format of DTS CDs sounds great from the start, but the musically engaging characteristics of the Cinema Grand Signature amp just makes things sound better.

I couldn’t keep from pumping the volume on Boyz II Men’s II record (Motown DTS). This recording is far superior in sonics, presence and dynamics when compared to the Steely Dan CD, attributes which make the Cinema Grand Signature that much more ready to put out the power. The smoothness of the amp is evident on songs like "Yesterdays," making the sibilance of the "s" sounds much more tolerable than is usual.

The "Cuban Pete" scene from The Mask (DTS Laserdisc) is a superb demonstration of how The Sunfire Cinema Grand Signature amp can perform on film soundtracks that feature advanced surround effects, as well as a prominent music soundtrack. The cops are pursuing Jim Carrey’s Mask character. When the law confronts the Mask, he uses his Latino musical skills to completely disarm an entire SWAT team, leaving them grooving on a conga line as our hero escapes. Near the end of the first verse of the song "Cuban Pete," the Mask tosses a pair of maracas to his right. The effect of the maracas quickly flying through the air is seamless across the front three speakers, and when glass breaks, I’d swear the Mask just broke the window in my theater.

The Downside
The Sunfire Cinema Grand Signature comes with auto power switching that allows a Sunfire AV preamp to control the on and off feature of the amplifier. I couldn’t figure out how to get my Proceed AVP to pull off this feat, which is a drag in that the faceplate of the amp is very simplistic, featuring only a meter; it lacks a power switch. I was forced to reach all the way behind this very deep amp, at the bottom of my equipment rack, in order to turn this sucker off. You could simply leave the amp on all the time, but most of the other strong performers in this Sunfire’s category have a more accessible power switch.

The Cinema Grand Signature is another hit for Bob Carver and Sunfire. The amp can power practically any loudspeaker with its heavy-hitting 400-plus watts per channel. Its performance on music is better than good; it is outstanding. For film soundtracks, the Cinema Grand Signature can provide the detail and the punch you need to get the hairs standing up on the back of your neck. At $3,495, The Sunfire Cinema Grand Signature competes favorably with theater amplifiers costing thousands more. If your theater requires it all, seriously consider the Sunfire Cinema Grand Signature as a strong high-end value.

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