Sunfire Response - Part 1
Greetings everyone. I'm Alan Cooney. For those of you who don't know me,
I have the privilege of being Bob Carver's VP of engineering at Sunfire.
Special thanks to David Bott, the AVS Forum Administrator, for accepting my unreasonable request to reopen this thread. If he sees the discussion degenerate, however, I'm sure he won't hesitate to put an end to the squabble with finality.
The reason for this post is that I'm clear there's some confusion and misinformation running about, and I feel we have a responsibility to provide clarity wherever we see it's missing.
[Kudos all around]
First I'd like to say, "Thanks" to all of you who've shared your views on our gear, both pro and con. Such controversy helps everyone by bringing issues to light and generating new ideas. Sharing your opinions really does make a difference for everyone.
While engineers aren't typically known for showing their feelings (Really! No kidding!), some reviews can have their own unique way of calling forth some pretty wild stuff. Consider how you'd feel if someone called your child ugly, stupid, or said some part of them was a disgusting color. So I'll concede that highly critical comments about the fruits of our passion can be difficult to swallow, AND I'm clear that we benefit from being shown where we can or need to improve. No pain, no gain, right?
[A few points about the recent Audioholics review]
Noise floor: The Theater Grand III's noise floor is far lower than Dolby requires for a product of this caliber. I find Dolby to be a real "no s#!t" company which is driven by engineering and science rather than marketing or hype. As a physicist and engineer, Bob Carver similarly directs design dollars into elements of engineering and science where they have the most positive sonic and experiential impact. Those who own Theater Grand III pre/pros know they're very quiet. And probably not silent with volume at maximum and your ear against the speaker, no. If you evaluate your system that way, I invite you to press "PLAY" on your favorite CD while in that position. (grin) You might say, "But that's silly. No one listens that way!" Um... that's right. No one does.
While we certainly agree that nobody listens to their system with the volume all the way up and their ears at the speakers, noise floor does give a good indication of how well the gear will resolve low level material. If the noise floor of the product masks these small signal levels, this can result in loss of detail and resolution regardless of volume level. While the Sunfire Theater Grand III is not an excessively noisy unit per se, we feel it is definitely not state of the art with respect to its price class. If we were to follow your argument to its logical conclusion, why would we ever try to achieve any resolution higher than 16 bit CDs? Why bother with DVD-A or SACD? We hardly consider Dolby Digital as the baseline format for high resolution playback. In fact we personally feel that compression formats such as Dolby Digital and MP3 have lowered consumer expectations on what high fidelity playback should be.
+/- 1dB speaker calibration adjustments: This is an
area where we meet another Dolby spec that's fine for the average home theater owner, although we've learned
that some audiophiles like to dial things in a bit tighter. And since we've had
several requests for +/-0.5dB trim resolution, we'll try to get that into the
next software release. (For those of you who are into software, I know it sounds
easy. The limitation is not in actually setting the levels, but rather backward
compatibility with prior releases -- since we allow loading earlier versions --
when we assign extra nonvolatile storage for these parameters).
Due to the pricing and features of the equipment being commented on, we are engaging in discussion about high end audio equipment, are we not? We do not believe we are dealing with just the "average home theater owner". We understood that the Theater Grand III was positioned as a separates solution that betters an all in one box super receiver. If this is the case, how can a mass market $800 receiver have improved precision over a dedicated $3500 processor? Also since this is your third iteration of the product, we would have thought (indeed we expected) that Sunfire would have implemented more accurate channel trim adjustments to keep up with their competition while also offering a more precise product to consumers. Perhaps the issue with the current Theater Grand III is not with backwards compatibility of earlier firmware versions but with the accuracy of the employed potentiometers utilized in the product. We understand that more precise potentiometers can often involve a cost addition to the product.
Front panel lights: We actually have full control of this in software. We
didn't want too many dim settings and we spent a comically excessive amount of
time discussing this internally and with our beta testers. We have four dim
settings now. How many before it's annoying to step through them all? And with
the variety of lights on the front panel of this unit, we knew whatever we did
wouldn't please everyone. Case in point here. (grin) We can easily add another
setting. Perhaps with only the amber lights off and all else on at a low level.
I think our point was misunderstood here. What the article was discussing is the fact that all the radio station and mode function lights are on when they are not globally dimmed, regardless of their use and function.
For example, all the radio station preset lights are on at the same time. It's more customary and probably makes more sense to make them dependant on the radio station selection. This holds true for the Mode function lights as well. Why are they on when they are not indicating anything? Furthermore, why would you want all the radio station lights on when you are not even using the radio and are using a completely different source, such as a DVD player? To us, this makes no sense.
Dim from remote: Great idea! In designing the remote layout for the
TGIII, we had one extra button (the one next to "mute"). Hard buttons, once
committed and labeled, aren't available for anything else, and I didn't feel
strongly enough about any one function to commit that button. So we labeled it
innocuously ("*") and figured we'd choose later. I guess this is, "later." A
couple of options spring to mind: We could simply enable the "*" button to mimic
the front panel's DIM button. Or how about making it quicker to use by having
the remote button cycle only between fully bright and fully dim? At first blush
that and other ideas seem plausible, but there are problems with each as I think
them through. Again, comments anyone?
Excellent. This is a great idea and demonstrates the manufacturer's willingness to take a positive spin on critical feedback and make a product improvement accordingly.
Nonvolatile settings: The review says, "When the unit is turned off, those settings are lost and need to be readjusted the next time you listen to a DVD-A." Someone missed something here. All settings are saved at power down. Nothing is "lost" when the unit is turned off. Absolutely nothing. Hmmm...I feel a rant coming on here... So please skip to the next paragraph if you don't want to hear my innermost thoughts on this (really, skip now...last chance...okay...I warned you...): Reviewers do consumers, manufacturers, and themselves a big favor when they query manufacturers on any technical issues before going to press. If something's amiss, often they have a defective unit or they just missed something. Many seasoned pros get in communication with the manufacturer when questions arise, while being really clear that their opinions are not open for discussion. That's being responsible for their subjectivity, objectivity and technical accuracy. I frequently get calls from passionate reviewers who take the time to ask questions like, "Why did you do it this way?" Or, "Why does it do that?" The resulting extra bit of insight or inside info makes the reviews really interesting and fun to read while assuring they get the facts straight. They avoid the need for retractions or apologies later. There are nothing but good reasons for a reviewer to do this. It's clearly a win-win for everyone.
Agreed 100% and we apologize for this discrepancy. What we meant to say is as follows. There is only one set of global speaker level trims. When you adjust for DVD-A via the on the fly settings, they are indeed temporarily stored when the unit is turned off. The problem is when you revert back to the global stored settings for CDs or DVD movies, they overwrite the temporary settings since they are not permanently stored. If there were two independent sets of storage, this wouldn't happen.
Made in the USA
: The Theater Grand III is designed and manufactured here. Why? Because
Bob Carver wants it that way. And it's certainly no secret that the costs of
engineering and production in the USA
are substantially higher than in
Asia . One of our locally made grained and anodized aluminum
top-covers alone costs several times that of an entire chassis for a competing
Asian product. I do wish we at Sunfire were getting fat and rich here in the
little town of Snohomish Washington
folks. And we're not. For those
who make the choice to buy products made here, I thank you for my job. And your
neighbors thank you for theirs. Hmmm...was that another rant? My passion for my
country showeth, methinks.
If we are reading this correctly, it sounds to us as if a lot of the budget for this product is in labor costs and cosmetics. This may certainly explain why the Theater Grand III processor lacked some basic features that so many lower priced receivers have, such as:
- Subwoofer delay adjustments
- Multiple channel trim configurations
- +/- 0.5dB channel trim adjustments
- Subwoofer output in 2CH direct mode
- Premium DACs in dual differential configuration for each channel
We understand and appreciate that Theater Grand III is using US suppliers, especially for the sheet metal aluminum anodized top covers. Also, we acknowledge that price is dependant on quantity. As we feel the seamless sheet metal top cover found on the TGIII is acceptable for this device, in our opinion, it isn't as complex or refined as those found on other receivers and processors that cost the same or less. The reality is many high end audio companies are at a disadvantage to larger mass market audio companies since they usually have less resources dedicated to R&D and usually do not benefit from trickle down technologies to a multi product platform. The cost of parts (ie. DACs, DSPs, etc) to the smaller manufacturers are generally higher since their demand in lower. Thus it is easy to see if the company chooses to expend most of the products budget on cosmetics and labor costs, very little is left to employ leading edge digital components typically found on less costly high end receivers and processors produced overseas.
Perhaps the Theater Grand III's cost is indeed affected significantly because Sunfire has chosen to use US suppliers for many of their subassemblies. Given that manufacturing costs are substantially higher in the US than overseas, it may explain the $3,500 price - in fact, it may even justify it for a US made product. Budget-conscious consumers, however, must be made aware that there are numerous other products offerings with improved Signal to Noise Ratios, improved product performance and a host of other useful features - all with a level of refinement that, in our opinion, exceeds that of Sunfire's Theater Grand III.