Sunfire Atmos Subwoofer
Price: $2,000 At a Glance: Extremely small form factor • Powerful, tight bass response • Impeccable build quality
Bob Carver is a legend in the A/V industry, and when he formed Sunfire in the 1990s, the company’s name became closely associated with subwoofers. In 1996, the Sunfire True Subwoofer, as it was marketed, was born, and it popularized what eventually became a whole new subcategory (so to speak) of the speaker industry. The 11.5-inch cube produced a copious amount of bass from a small enclosure by utilizing specially designed drive units and a patented Tracking Downconverter (TDC) amplifier that could dynamically adjust its power supply based on the incoming signals.
In 2005, Carver sold Sunfire to Nortek but stayed on board for a while to work on other projects, one of which was a new challenge for the audio genius: Could he build an even smaller subwoofer and still produce enough deep bass for practical home theater applications? Carver left the company with the product unfinished, but he laid the foundation for what would grow into the Sunfire Atmos subwoofer.
At $2,000, the Atmos isn’t in the budget subwoofer category, but it’s by far the smallest I’ve ever seen or used. It measures just 8.9 by 8.5 by 10.1 inches, including its rubber feet, and weighs in at only 32 pounds. When I cracked open the box, I thought of Princess Leia’s line from Star Wars: “Aren’t you a little short (small) for a stormtrooper (subwoofer)?” My family’s impression was much the same. My daughter thought it was cute. My wife didn’t think Lord Farquaad would use it in his home theater. But my son reminded me what Yoda said in The Empire Strikes Back: “Size matters not!”
Engineered for High Output
The Atmos includes two 6.5-inch woofers (one active, one passive) and a 1,400-watt TDC amplifier. Sunfire custom-designed an aluminum cabinet of various thickness for two reasons: The first was to handle the massive back pressure (stated to be internally up to 24.4 psi) the sub’s woofer movement creates (with claims of up to 1.8 inches of peak-to-peak excursion). The second was for sound quality. The sub includes an Auto Room EQ feature that consists of a measurement microphone that plugs into the rear panel of the sub to optimize response for your particular room.
In addition to the mike input, the rear panel includes a pair of line-level RCA inputs, two line-level outputs with a high- pass or full-range switch, a 12 VDC input for remote turn-on, and controls that include knobs for continuous variable phase, crossover frequency, and volume level.
To simplify the hookup and operation of two Atmos subwoofers—a reasonable option for many rooms given the sub’s tiny size—there are also slave RCA input and output jacks. Connecting the slave output from the first subwoofer to the input of the second allows the second Atmos to receive the processed audio signals from the first (volume, phase, crossover, and EQ).
The Atmos is designed to be placed in a corner for maximum output, but this location may not produce the most even response. A good way to find the sweet spot is to place the subwoofer in your home theater’s money seat, play a well-known bass-heavy music track, and crawl around the room. When you find the location where the bass sounds the best, X marks the spot: That’s the best place to put the sub if you can. If you can’t run an RCA cable from your surround processor or AVR to that spot, Sunfire sells a Subwoofer Wireless Kit ($160) I tried out, which worked like a charm. All you’ll need are two power outlets to plug the sub and wireless receiver into, or a third outlet if you need to use a second Atmos running in slave mode. If you place the additional sub elsewhere in the room, the transmitter can support up to two receivers, but you’ll have to run separate EQ calibrations if the pair isn’t hooked in tandem.
Since my home theater is over 5,000 cubic feet, one Atmos wasn’t powerful enough to tackle such a large room, so I did the majority of my testing with two subs hooked up in slave mode. My reference sub is an SVS PC-Ultra that looks like a skyscraper next to the tiny Sunfire. But the WAF (wife acceptance factor) of the SVS in my home is somewhere near zero, while the Sunfire is at the top of the list. I’m lucky enough to have a wife who appreciates deep bass as much as I do and doesn’t mind having a giant cat-scratching post in her family room, but if you aren’t so fortunate, the Atmos may be just what the doctor ordered.