RIP Sunfire, Hello Marantz

By the graces of someone better left unnamed, we’ve had a Sunfire Theater Grand Processor and Sunfire Cinema Grand Amplifier in 3 homes before we got married and moved to a fourth. It’s lasted half of forever, outlived several TV’s, Laserdisc players, DVD players, Cable boxes, a couple of remote controls. The sound quality was excellent – to my ears at least. The rear panels offered a myriad of connections – component video, digital audio via fiber optic links. Stuff I’d never even heard of before as much as 10 years ago. They were as far as I could tell, made in the USA between 1998 and 1999.

Front panels, old and banged up

Serials obfuscated.

2 days ago, the receiver unexpectedly gave up the ghost. In a bid to let wifey continue to watch telly, I hooked the cable box directly to the TV. The sound was appalling.

I had no intention of spending a whole wad of cash on new gear. I already have my cable HD box, a simple 5.1 setup with speakers scrounged from all over. From Westlake fronts to no-brand rears. A cheap and cheerful DVD player without HDMI ports, and a Mac Mini. I set the budget to less than $1,000. I figure that 5 figure sound back in the late 90’s would *maybe* approximate 3 figure setups now. LOL. I was also prepared not to reconnect the Cinema Grand Amp and have the new box drive the speakers directly. This would free up some much needed space on the TV console. And probably some power bills too.

Some internet research led me to the Denon AVR-1611, and today we traipsed off to the shops. The sales guy let me audition the AVR-1911. It sounded a bit thin, but perhaps the room and speakers weren’t properly set up. All I’ve heard of Denon was great sound quality. He recommended instead the Marantz NR1501. It was really small – about half the height of the Denon box and had 7.1 channels. The sales guy also confided that his customers preferred the Marantz over the Denon, that the latter’s quality had been dropping and that the Marantz unit sounded superior. It was going for under $600 and was $30 cheaper than the Denon.

The new box

I stepped out of the shop and did more reading. Most of what people were talking about was the size and the features, and that this was “the best” entry level AV receiver you could probably buy. I figure this would at least allow me to add one more set of surround speakers moving forward. Wifey liked the size too. It was a deal.

Setup took less than two hours, including pulling the old stuff off and some housekeeping. The automatic calibration was a breeze and after playing some test tones we were all set.

The DVD player is nearing the end of its life; it’ll show a menu but not play. I turned to HD cable for some reference. Initial impressions were mixed. It sounds cold compared to the warmth of the Sunfire setup. Having said that, the Sunfire tended to overdo the low end. And now listening to the radio while typing this, perhaps I’m confusing cold with clarity. Tina Turner is coming on crisply.

I could get used to this. The unit is cold on standby. This does bode well for our power bill.

Update 24 Jan 2011: It seemed a waste to just toss the Sunfires, so I posted them for sale as-is in a local forum. They’ve been picked up and I hope they get fixed and find their pride of place in someone’s home soon.

Update 25 Jan 2011: This came from the guy who bought the units…

Pre looks like its struggling… it has a heartbeat led inside but while that is flashing I think its brain dead.. this thing is NOT built to be repaired…this could be a gut and reuse the case for some imaginative DIY build. The power supply inside is actually fed thru a 230/120 stepdown thats been added in like an afterthought. Its lived a good life I guess but lost the last fight.

Amp looks like it should be ok. It needs a good clean up but I think will live to fight again. Can only test under a light load at this time of night. Might need a few capacitors done here and there. It has a caring new home.

I just got some balanced out pre gear so this will be welcome.

Thanks again for the deal… I love getting older gear and giving it a new life. You made my day today :)

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