Sherbourn offers a compelling surround preamp/amp combo priced at a point equivalent to today’s top-of-the-line receivers. Separating the preamplifier and amplifier into individual components usually allows greater engineering prowess and higher fidelity performance, while offering a more flexible upgrade path, since you can upgrade one component at a time.
Receivers combine a preamp/amplifier/processor into one box. The preamplifier is the system/volume controller that provides the circuitry to easily switch between audio/video sources. The processor is often included in a preamplifier to decode and convert the digital data from a DVD or CD into two or more channels of analog output. The amplifier boosts the analog signal to drive speakers, so the sound can be heard. Each step of the process has potential for error. The goal is to get the most accurate signal reproduced from the beginning to the end of the process.
Receivers vs. Separates
The more expensive the receiver, the more bells and whistles are packed into one box, which can increase the potential for signal coloration. Above $4,000 you have the option to choose a flagship receiver or preamp/amplifier separates. Receivers tend to be more convenient, while separates boast higher amplification and a cleaner signal path.
The advantage of a dedicated amplifier is full power to each channel, whereas the amps in most receivers share power (wattage) to the channels that need it most. Having a dedicated amplifier for each channel provides a huge power reserve when all channels are driven at the same time.
A solid built power amplifier can last for many years while surround processing is advancing yearly with new standards, formats, and more speaker channels. If you prefer to be on the cutting edge of surround sound technologies you will find yourself upgrading your surround processor every year. Replacing a receiver yearly may not be the best use of your hard earned money. Receivers often offer no upgrade solutions, and one can see how costs can add-up if you upgrade a receiver every year or two.
Deciding to buy preamp/amplifier separates is usually a carefully planned decision for the experience A/V enthusiast. Upgrading individual components helps you to justify the cost and benefit of new equipment purchases. In your search for audio nirvana you will come across a wide range of products and prices from unfamiliar companies. Sherbourn is a relatively new company that has been making amps since 1998. They target the more value conscious high-end audio consumer. Affordability becomes a relative term when you consider the PT-7000 preamp is $1,500 and their 7-channel amp costs $2,850.
The PT-7000 preamp is a relatively basic looking black box with few round buttons and a digital read-out. Its rear panel connections appear the same as a receiver minus the speaker terminals. It offers 7 full-range RCA outputs and a 1 low frequency output for the subwoofer. However, it does not contain any balanced XLR outputs. It does have two component inputs for HDTV and DVD video switching. Audio inputs include four optical and two coaxial jacks for digital audio as well as the usual analog RCA audio jacks for every source. S-video and composite video (yellow jacks) pass-thru video switching is also available, but it should be noted the unit does not offer composite/s-video to component up-conversion, which greatly simplifies video switching. Operating the preamp proved to be very straightforward. The on-screen menu simplifies setting surround delays, speaker levels, and crossover settings. I had no problems selecting audio/video inputs, surround modes, or matching speaker levels. The included universal remote control is a version of the Home Theater Master SL-8000 remote, without the LCD screen. The remote was easy to use to the control the preamp, as well as easy to teach commands from other components. All buttons are reasonably sized, and backlit, making it a great universal remote for your entire home theater system. As with most universal remotes, you press the source button to control that component. It works great most of the time, except you can’t adjust the volume when you are changing channels in SAT or TV mode, until you remember to hit AUD, then volume up/down. A minor gripe to an otherwise good, universal remote control.
Amp = Power
The PT-7000 is the brains of the system, but the 7/2100 multi-channel amplifier is the heart and soul. At 300 watts per channel @ 4 ohms (200 watts @ 8 ohms), it delivers more than enough clean power. Each mono amp includes a dedicated toroidal transformer, heat-sink, and 8 Bi-polar/Mosfet transistors. Now multiply that by seven, and in simple terms, you are getting seven individual amps packaged into one hefty unit.
Two Power Cords?
To satisfy the power needs for such a beast, the 7/2100 provides two detachable power cords, which should plug directly into two wall sockets. Sherbourn utilizes two power cords to ensure that you are providing the amp with all of the power that “might” be necessary under extreme power needs. Power cord one powers channels 1, 2 , 3 & 4. Power cord two powers 5, 6 & 7. They claim there is no way that an amp requiring more than 20 amps from a single circuit could provide it without the use of a second cord on a second circuit, thus two cords and optimum performance.
Heavy Lifting Required
Saying the 7/2100 amplifier is a behemoth would still be an understatement. It tips the scales at a backbreaking 115 lbs, so make sure you have spent a few days at the gym before trying to pick up this baby. It’s also worth making sure your stand or rack can support the weight.
The back of the 7/2100 amp has connections for XLR (balanced) outputs, RCA (unbalanced) outputs, five-way speaker binding posts, plus a helpful load detection system (LDS) that makes sure you speakers are connected correctly. The amp also has three “mode” settings — On, Music, or 12V. The “On” setting keeps the amp on all the time as long as the power is on. The “Music” and “12V” settings both can intelligently turn the amp off when no signal or music is detected. The settings are both a power saver and convenience, since the amp can only be turned off by the front panel power button. It cannot be turned off via remote. The “Music” music mode works as promised, except it intermittently shut the amp off during silences in low volume (> -50db) listening. Therefore, I had to use the “always on” mode to alleviate the annoyance.
Having spent most of my time recently testing various receivers, I could instantly appreciate the extra power from the Sherbourn amplifier. I first noticed much more detail from the center speaker, and greater clarity in the surround speakers. The overall character of the sound was full, lively, and open. The amps sound quality, left nothing to complain about. Unfortunately, I was unable to compare it against other multi-channel amplifiers. On its own, it’s a rock-solid performer.
Are Separates For You?
Choosing separates doesn’t limit you to one manufacturer. You also don’t have to buy both at the same time. If your current receiver has preamp outputs, you might consider buying a dedicated amplifier first, and a preamp later. When you do buy separates, don’t forget the hidden cost of the seven RCA or XLR interconnect cables you will need to connect the amp to the preamp. When it’s time to dive into separates the Sherbourn combo is a worthy contender. The 7/2100 seven-channel amplifier is a definite powerhouse and great sounding unit. The PT-7000 preamplifier offers a clean signal path, the latest 7.1 surround processing, and is a sensible controller/processor investment.
|PT-7000 Preamplifier/Processor/Tuner – MSRP: $1,500|
|True Analog Bypass||No THX Certification|
|Good Remote||No Component Video Upconversion|
|Second Zone Output||No XLR outputs|
|Configurability Options Limited|
|7/2100 Power Amplifier – MSRP: $2,850|
|Load Detection System||No THX Certification|
|7 Power Supplies||Intermittent Shut-off in Music Mode|