Sunfire Theater Grand Receiver 3

In a career spanning four decades, Sunfire's founder and chief designer Bob Carver has morphed from bushy to bald, young Turk to elder (or at least older) statesman, and iconoclast to anointed icon. Throughout, one thing neither he nor his designs has ever been is dull, and Sunfire's latest "Theater Grand" A/V receiver is no exception.

The Sunfire Theater Grand Receiver 3 is short on bleeding-edge features: no video upconversion to HDMI; no auto-calibration routine; no high-def menu system. (It does boast a unique stereo-enhancement circuit, however, more on which anon.) But what this obviously well-built, surprisingly compact receiver does have, like many classic Bob Carver designs, is power, and lots of it. Despite its modest size (a benefit of Carver's "Tracking Downconverter Amplifier" topology), the TGR-3 specs 200 watts from each of seven channels. And while Sunfire does not explicitly claim that with all driven simultaneously, the Grand's performance on this demanding test set a new benchmark for receivers in my lab.

SETUP Straightforward rear-panel layout and fixed input assignments made setup unusually quick and easy. The three HDMI inputs feed the DVD, SAT, and VID1 source postions, as do the three component-video inputs. Each of these positions also has a coax/optical digital audio path permanently assigned to it (the Sunfire doesn't extract any digital audio from HDMI, so you need at least two cables from an HDMI source). There's a fourth digital audio path permanently assigned to the CD input. The downside here is that three digital-audio-equipped video source inputs are not a lot: Hook up, say, a digital-cable box, an upconverting or high-def DVD source, and a terrestrial DTV tuner, and you're out of slots. No front-panel convenience inputs for a game console or camcorder, either.

Menus are simple, intuitive, and purely text-based - compared to the latest powerfully graphic on-screen GUIs from across the Pacific, they look a bit crude, but they do the job. Unfortunately, the TGR-3 doesn't display any graphics over its HDMI monitor output, so if you've got an HDMI-capable TV, you'll be running a second cable and switching inputs.