Sunfire Cinema Grand Signature Edition 5 Channel Power Amplifier

      Date posted: November 11, 1999

Sunfire Cinema Grand Signature Amplifier

Sugg. Retail: $5600 (CAN)
Distributor: Evolution Group,
A.C. Simmonds & Sons,
580 Granite Court, Pickering,
Ontario. L1W 3Z4
(905) 839-8041
FAX 839- 2667

(Reprinted from the Almanac 2000 Issue)

      Bob Carver is being typically modest when he describes this new powerhouse amplifier, capable of 405 watts per channel (and a whopping 810 at 4 ohms) as a “magnificent amplifier”, and “my best amplifier design ever. I’ve spent over twenty years developing it, and cannot imagine how I could make it any better, or refine it any further.” Does that mean that the Cinema Grand Signature is the last amplifier we’ll see from Bob the man? Somehow, I doubt it. In fact, I’ve seen and heard prototypes of a tiny 12-volt amplifier driving a small cube subwoofer.

     But this home theatre amp is Bob’s big kahuna, 2025 watts for the milennium. The tracking downconverter here uses “18 Herculean Mosfets”, according to Bob, to “drive virtually any load to rationally usable current or voltage level.”

     ”The circuit boards are heavy glass epoxy, double sided, with a Faraday shield on the back side. All resistors are metal-film, of nickel chromium construction on pure ceramic rods, and each is laser-trimmed to within 1% of its design-center value. Critical capacitors are film devices with high dielectric strength and ultra low absorption characteristics. An enormous Cinema Grand Signature power source built around a massive power transformer and nearly 500 joules of energy storage provide the ultimate muscle for limitless dynamics.”

     Like the half-as-powerful Cinema Grand, the Signature has separate Voltage and Current outputs on the front 3 channels, the former for speakers that prefer higher current, and the latter for those that respond better to a higher impedance output. You can also bi-wire using these, using the Current output for midrange/tweeter (Frankly, I find Bob’s way of describing these outputs odd, since the Current output actually delivers less current than the Voltage one). Bi-wiring in this fashion will, of course, require a cable like our test Kimber 8TC/WBT one, on which the conductors have been “sexed” and grouped at each end, in other words, to allow bi-amping as well as bi-wiring.

     Other specifications in the owner’s manual indicate a maximum per-channel output current of 120 amps, and output voltage of 58 volts rms. The binding posts are all metal this time, gold-plated brass, and both balanced and unbalanced inputs are provided for all channels; on the former pin 3 is hot.

     There are a pair of unbalanced RCA inputs for each channel, one use of these to facilitate bi-amping for a stereo system using 4 of the 5 channels. A diagram shows how this works. Barring possible ground loop hum problems, you could also hook up both matrix and discrete surround decoders to the amp’s unbalanced inputs, or a stereo preamplifier in addition to the home theatre system. The Signature, like the Cinema Grand, is quite versatile in terms of input and output connections, and these are well outlined in the excellent manual.

     As is our custom when reviewing HT amplifiers, I first hooked up the Signature in the stereo listening room in place of the Bryston 3B ST amplifier. This always give me a good fix on the essential sound of an amp. Here the impression was of a big cinema-wide sound, with powerful deep bass. You definitely wouldn’t know that I’d turned off both Sunfire subs.

     Bob Carver has admitted to me that he voices his amplifiers, so there may be some departure from neutrality, but if so, it’s a small one, and the sound was very musical and involving, if lacking the utter depth and inner detail of the Bryston. What was most evident about the Sunfire Signature sound was dynamics. Kicking butt is an understatement, and even what I heard in the big room didn’t prepare me for what was to come in multi-channel use in the home theatre room.

     Both the Signature and the new Newform Research R645 ribbons went into the system the same day, the R830s still ensconced at rear. I still prefer a phanton centre channel for imaging reasons, so 405 of our 2025 watts lay fallow; call it an exercise in conservation. And while the whole HT system is plugged into a UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply: no more resetting of VCR clocks), I plugged the amplifier directly into the wall for maximum juice.

     One of the first DVD films I fired up was Super Speedway, an IMAX film that has one of the most realistic soundtracks I’ve ever heard, and later went back to another big-screen special, Africa The Serengeti, which just about out-basses anything on DVD. With both, the sound was utterly effortless and ultimately powerful. The R645s, with their deep bass right down to 20 Hz, seemed to love the Signature, and the the amp’s dynamic range seemed more than 3 dB greater than that of the regular Cinema Grand; this may be the result of gaining a few more dB in sensitivity with the 45″ ribbon.

     Whatever the case, I’m now even gladder that the home theatre room is largely self-contained in its own corner of the basement, and cranking the system doesn’t disturb the whole house. I watched the convict plane crash sequence in U.S. Marshals at what seemed to be realistic levels (though anyone who’s stood near the takeoff or landing area at an airport knows this is impossible), and was almost terrified. A little power is dangerous thing, and a lot of power is great!

     Combined with all this muscle is very good bass control: the superb ScanSpeak woofers in the R645s (4) are very articulate and tuneful, which makes listening to music on this system as rewarding as watching DVDs. Here the Sunfire also sounds great, if just a little larger than life. In sum, what we’ve got with the Sunfire Cinema Grand Signature is a statement multi-channel amplifier with a distinctive and articulate presence, and power that rules.

Andrew Marshall

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