Review: Sunfire Symphonic Reference Preamplifier

Category: Preamps

There was a few hot summers that got me realy exhausted especially if I would leave my VTL amps on. They do bring extra heat onto already UV-ed room and I started to shop for affordable SS amp.
The brand new Symphonic Reference stereo stack immediately turned my eye on and I won the auctions in the last minute.
After a payment I was awaiting two brand new items in the boxes for just a-bit over a kilobuck.
To the last minute I couldn't stop thinking of getting my speakers biamped with some great powerfull SS drive and during the summer I'd put my VTLs to the closet and will only be using SS amp.

So why here am I reviewing a preamp when I actually needed simply an SS amp?

Originally I wasn't planning keeping preamp but after a while of playing it in my system I realized that I'm very and very happy with this unique and universal driver with excellent sound quality and superb phonostage for less than halfK!!!

Yeah, I sold my ARC PH3 and little McCormack preamp in favor of SRP that still shows me how wonderful, robust and versatile it is. I realized that it hasn't enough upper-end definition in the line mode(phono is great great great all the way arround) so I connected Musical Fidelity X10 buffer to the external proccessor outs of preamp that totally eliminates this problem.

My musical tastes lie mostly in instrumental music: fusion, electronica, progressive rock and certainly FZ. He should sound very clear and very next to my ears man! If he's not there, the system's a trash! Another words the system must be precise and tight all the way arround in order to hear every instrument chrystal-clear. Despite my tastes to electric music I get pissed off certainly if piano is played with clipping and another words unclear.

The system arround this preamplifier goes even beyond my basic tastes with flowless voice performance of any instrument and any kind of music whether it's small band or huge symphony orchestra.

With addition of SRP I saved a vast amount of money selling ARC PH3 and McCormack overseas.
If money didn't matter to me, I'd probably run with Pass all the way through(with SF Cremona Amator).

Associated gear
Sunfire Symphonic Reference amplifier as a bass driver connected via balanced line converter with adjustable gain,
VTL MB100 as tweeter drivers in ultra-linear mode via high-pass output.
Sources are:
Michell Gyro SE with Incognito RB300/Lyra Argo as an analogue source.
Monarchy universal transport with EAD DSP700 MK II DAC as a digital source.

Similar products
Audio Research PH3,
McCormack Micro Line Drive.
Very good review...

I would like to add, the direct feature that bypasses the function controls.
This feature is a big plus when you get lucky and find a well produced (ie) CD.
Also: this unit is DEAD QUITE and does a fine job with headphones, which was another reason for my purchase. For the limited investment, this little Sunfire is hard to beat...
+ I have to add or may be post a separate reviw that Sunfire SRA is a $700 giant slayer.
I thought a lot about posting this one here. We are so used to positive, glowing reviewes of audio equipment, that it sometimes feels odd to think of a truly critical one.
I've owned 2 srp by now- the first one had an annoying tendency to shut itself off, so it was replaced. The second one had no technical problems. I think, that this qualifies as a higher than avarage experience with this particular preamp.
This preamp is a visually impressive, full featured device and was a great bang for the little sum of money I've paid for it. At least at first, the soundstage is impressive and dramatic. In addition, Sunfires customer service was more then OK.
So much for compliments....However, SRP preamps have a very noticeable high frequency roll off, and severe image smearing, to the point where it was hard to locate each instrument. That defnintly wasn't a speaker placement issue.
The SRP was so dominant in the overall sound of the system, to the point where I felt there replacing any other element wouldn't make much of a difference...and that's a problem.
It really felt as if the SRP was an unsuccessful SS go at tube sound..
After several months, I tried to sell my mint SRP in Audiogon, succeeded, but just couldn't do it to a fellow audiogoner....cancelled the deal and traded it for something else (older and MUCH better) at a vintage audio shop.
Compared to the classic tube preamp, the SRP was quickly withdrawan from the market. Maybe it is associated with some of my impressions here
Two remarks:
1. But why did I keep it for so long? Well, one reason beside money is that it DOES have a wonderful midrange- I can't take that from the SRP.
2. My appologies about the "Compared to the classic tube preamp, the SRP was quickly withdrawan from the market." sentance. A typing mistake.
I had one of these in '04 for about a month. While it did show more detail than my B&K PT 3 Mk2, the midrange was hard sounding, the bass was so-so and the highs seemd to roll off. I tried to keep it long enough to break in but, I found that I developed listening fatigue after about 20 minutes of music. So I sold it for what I paid for it. Preamps used since were a Counterpoint SA-3, which sounded much better than either the B&k or the Sunfire, an ARC Sp9 Mk2 which sounded even better, and I now have a Tube Audio Design 150 since 9/04 which blew the doors of on the rest of the pack. The only move that I plan to make is to upgrade the TAD. It could be that it was not a good match for my system at the time which consisted of Vandersteen 2CE sigs, Adcom 600 CD, B&K Reference 4420, Thorens 160 BCMk2. Current system placed the CD with an Eastern Electric and the B&k with a McCormack DNA-1, then a TAD-60.

This not to say that the Sunfire is not a good unit but, that it did not work well in my ststem.