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Product Review - Sherbourn 5/1500 Five-Channel Power Amplifier - September, 2000


Michael James

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Sherbourn 5/1500 Five-Channel Power Amplifier

Five x 200 Watts RMS Per Channel into 8 Ohms, 20 Hz - 20 kHz, All Channels Driven

THD: 0.03%

Input Impedance: 40 k Ohms

Size: 7" H x 17 1/2" W x 17 1/2" D

Weight: 65 Pounds

MSRP: $1,750 USA

 

Sherbourn Technologies, Inc.; Web http://www.sherbourn.com 

Introduction

With the election season upon us, the buzz around town seems to be focusing on the political debates. Those of us from the Home Theater/High Fidelity Party are also concerned with these verbal duels and their impact on issues concerning our audio video purchase choices. Issues close to our Party’s heart are such vital issues as tubes versus transistors, 16:9 versus 4:3 aspect ratio sizes, and balanced versus unbalanced inputs. The other important and more publicized topics, such as taxes, social security, and health care are better left for the other, more well known Parties.

An age-old issue that keeps arising in the audio arena is separate audio components versus the all inclusive audio/video receiver. The line drawn by your audio budget limitations usually decided this issue in the past. Separates, which were widely thought, by audiophiles, as producing a more powerful, accurate, and complete sound characteristic, also came with a more complete price tag. Recently, however, the line drawn by these two camps is beginning to blur. Audio/Video receiver manufacturers, such as Denon and Yamaha, are attempting to produce units with high-end performance levels that can compete with individual components, and in turn their price levels are increasing to new highs. At the same time, some separate component manufacturers are becoming much more efficient in their production methods, without compromising the bottom line performance, thus lowering their cost to the end user. All this ends up as good news for audio enthusiasts, because your audio choices are now better left up to your ears and personal tastes, rather than just your wallet.

One such manufacturer of separate components is Sherbourn Technologies, a two-year-old company founded by two pioneers of the audio industry, Ron Fone and Engne Tang. Ron is formerly of McIntosh, where he is credited with taking the company from its two channel tradition into home theater. Engne was with NAD Electronics, where he was crucial in the design and engineering of many of their high quality products.

Sherbourn Technologies seems to match many of my own audio philosophies.  I have not only preferred the sound of separate components, but in the area of amplification, I have always coveted a system with individual monoblock units for each individual sound channel. Monoblock amplifiers would be considered, in my opinion, the top echelon of separate audio systems. This preference became an even more expensive choice when home theater audio evolved from two to five channels, and more recently, to six and seven. The Sherbourn 5/1500 Five Channel Amplifier has brought these two preferences (separate components and a monoblock amplifier) back into the range of my audio budget (no need to take out a second mortgage) and without a compromise in quality!

Design Theory

Basically, the 5/1500 amplifier is designed as a five separate monoblock system within one chassis. All amplifiers consist of power devices, such as, power supplies, power transistors, toroidal transformers and massive heatsinks.  The majority of multi channel amplifiers share these parts between channels. The 5/1500 Amp has five individual rugged power supplies, five individual toroidal transformers, and five individual massive heatsinks for each channel. Making this unit, in all essence, a five monoblock amplifier system (because there is just one power cord and one chassis, it probably should be called a penta-mono amplifier).

Build Quality

The Sherbourn 5/1500 amplifier is an extremely well built unit. From the solid interior design, to the gold-plated input jacks, to the sturdy five-way gold-plated speaker binding posts, it is first class all the way. They have certainly not cut any corners to cut costs. Each channel is equipped with its own Dynamic Clipping Control Circuit Switch. This is a great feature that protects you from excessive harmonic distortion at high volume levels. You also have the ability to bridge channels One/Two and Four/Five through a rear panel bridging switch. This provides 400 watts per channel at 8 ohms from two channels, and 200 watts from the third channel. A DB-25 input jack lets you connect the 5/1500 to preamp/processors that have the DB-25 output jack.

The instruction manual lists this unit at 65 pounds. Take my word for it, this is a well nourished component. You do not want to be holding it while your wife decides which shelf is the most aesthetic. Probably your best choice is the sturdiest place.

Performance

Listening to a wide range of audio recordings over the span of four months (from classic rock, to jazz, to opera, to classical orchestral music), I found the Sherbourn 5/1500 to perform admirably over this gamut of musical presentations. I recently pulled an old CD out of my collection, Emerson, Lake, and Palmer’s 1972 recording, entitled  “Trilogy”. I have not listened to this particular CD for quite some time, and most definitely, not with separate audio components. If anyone is looking for a definition of the full, complete, and accurate sound characteristics I talk of concerning separates, bring this CD with you to your demo evaluations. This recording will bring those words to reality.

I often dislike when reviewers report, ”It was like I had never listened to this CD ever before!”  A more preferred statement would be that one had not been experiencing this recording they way the artist originally intended. Such is evident when playing this particular recording. You will hear all you need for a proper demo test.  From the lows of the Hammond organ and the Moog synthesizer, to the mids and high range of the Steinway piano, acoustic guitar and vocals, this particular CD will immediately expose the faults of any system. It requires the tight, precise, articulate bass, smooth, silky treble, and the liquid midrange to give you the complete soundstaging experience you are striving toward. The Sherbourn 5/1500 amplifier along with the properly matched speakers amply provides these attributes.

When I did my legwork research for this piece, I took the Emerson CD with me to demo sessions. The differences were not only evident between audio/video receivers and the Sherbourn, but also between the 5/1500 and its separate component competition. The CD flourished in the extra power of the 5/1500 as compared to the ATI 1505 (150 watts x 5 channels @$1695 MSRP) or Parasound HCA 1205A (140 watts x 5 channels @$1650 MSRP). These are two competitors in similar price ranges, but not in sonic performance. Both the ATI and Parasound seemed to add a slight brightness to the highs. The bass was also tighter and more accurate on the Sherbourn as compared to the ATI or Parasound. Now the ATI and Parasound are fine products, and the opinions are mine, but I felt their difficulties on this recording were a bit exposed. These faults may be overcome with a different choice of speakers or not as evident with other types of recordings. But then, I think it is better to start the process of trying to build a system by choosing the best performer for your ears and your audio budget, rather than by hiding shortcomings. The ATI and Parasound did not match well with the brand of speakers (B&W Nautilus) I was using in my test demos. In my opinion this is because the B&Ws have a transparent characteristic that may accentuate amplifier brightness. I have always been of the school to experience things as originally intended by the artist, so a transparent characteristic is something I personally favor in my equipment choices. The Sherbourn fits right into my personal design theory for audio and home theater.

Two other amplifiers come a lot closer to the Sherbourn’s performance level, the Sunfire Cinema Grand (200 watts x 5 channels @ $2495 MSRP) and the EAD Powermaster 1000 (200 watts x 5 channels @ $2750 MSRP). Both of these amps did a better job of matching the Sherbourn’s performance with the B&W Nautilus than did the ATI or Parasound, but they also came with significantly higher price tags. In the EAD’s case, it is an increase of $1,000 dollars. Another point of note, it also did not take the Emerson CD long to get some of the other amps very warm, while the Sherbourn was tepid to the touch.

DVD movies are also a delight to watch with the 5/1500, and over the past four months, I have viewed quite a few titles. With the attributes of better bass management, the Sherbourn reflects in an absolute positive benefit and more enjoyable experience with all Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS DVD soundtracks. With this particular amplifier, I go out of my way to choose DTS versions of movies. I only wish there were more DTS DVDs available, and I am eagerly looking forward to hearing the DTS version of "Jurassic Park".

Conclusion

Some consumers are so concerned with the video display options of their home theater, they seem to overlook how important a good sound system can add to the overall experience. I can highly recommend this amplifier without any reservations. I can also not give it any higher compliment than by going out and purchasing it for my own personal system. If you are considering one of the new high-priced audio/video receivers ($2,500 - $3,500), you owe it to yourself to demo separate components. Take the time and effort to hear for yourself the difference between these two approaches to sound reproduction. If you fall on the side of separates, the Sherbourn 5/1500 is an excellent choice for a five channel amplifier.

- Michael James -

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