August 03, 2009
| by Arlen Schweiger
Want some wallop with your surround sound? Sunfire’s TGR-401 Theater Grand Receiver packs so much punch into one box, you’ll think you’re hearing audiophile-grade amplifier and processor “separates.”
The TGR pumps out 200 watts per channel and allows for amplified stereo playback and optional touchpad control of a second zone. It marries tank-like construction with more aesthetic flash than typical receivers (the silver aluminum accent and blue LED status lights are particular eye-catchers). And at $4,000, you’re at the high end of the A/V receiver category, but you’re also in the stratosphere of build quality and performance.
Connections are plentiful—there are even options concealed on the front panel—although they aren’t preassigned. You can use the remote control to assign the ports. You can also scroll through options on the receiver’s display, but navigating the menu may be more comfortable on a TV screen. (I connected via S-video.)
I simplified the frequency and tonal setting options by leaving equalization flat but adjusting speaker sizes to “small” and manually inputting their distances to the sweet-spot listening position. Then I let the auto equalization tool go to work, as I placed the microphone and had the receiver run its four minutes of pink noise testing to optimize the speakers to the room conditions.
Listening through Sunfire’s HRS bookshelf speakers and subwoofer, the TGR provided a wide soundstage and a solid, dynamic sound. Concert DVDs such as The Eagles’ Hell Freezes Over rang lifelike and intimate, while the receiver sizzled through a range of two-channel classic rock, jam, vocal and jazz recordings.
Midrange and bass frequencies shined more than the highs, and my main impression was that the TGR lived for jazz and other instrumentals—Sonny Rollins’ Road Show live release stood out with depth, punch and tone.
The TGR lacks decoding for the lossless audio formats Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio available on high-def Blu-ray and HD DVD discs. You’ll have to let your Blu-ray or HD DVD player handle the decoding, and make sure it has analog outputs to connect to the receiver’s 7.1-channel inputs.
I popped in several DVDs to hear standard film Dolby Digital and DTS surround mixes.
Action sequences from The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King offered immersive, clear audio that juggled details like galloping horses and firing weapons. I found Boogie Nights helpful in hearing the receiver effectively blend center-channel dialogue with constant background music, rather than having tunes drown out the chatter. The classic opening scene to Raiders of the Lost Ark really tested the rear speakers, with the jungle sounds and rolling boulder providing more than the necessary adrenaline rush.
As fun as the bookshelf speakers were, the receiver simply yearned for heftier mates—and that gave me an excuse to break out my aging Marantz cabinet speakers for a frame of reference.
The TGR breathed a life and crispness into that pair not experienced with five previous receivers. Arturo Sandoval’s Trumpet Evolution soared, and on other CDs the drums snapped, piano keys hammered and acoustic guitar strings resonated deeply.
Even background vocals rang more distinctly. When a new component heightens the anticipation of re-hearing CDs you’ve listened to hundreds of times, you know the job is well done.
Arlen writes about home technology installations and product news and reviews for electronichouse.com
and Electronic House magazine.