With a sterling reputation for building terrific blue-plate audio/video receivers, Outlaw Audio has unleashed two new entries into the exclusive “separates” market: the $1099 Model 990 controller and the $999 Model 7125 amplifier. The objective at Outlaw Audio obviously remains the same—rock solid performance at fire sale prices.
The Model 990 is Outlaw’s 7.1-channel controller. The unit’s big-box profile won’t turn any heads, but at least it’s large for a good reason: The 990 provides eight channels worth of balanced XLR outputs estate but that can’t be beat for noisefree long cable runs. A wide assortment of Dolby Digital and DTS surround sound decoding formats are standard, as well as 24-bit/192kHz DACs for all channels. And analog enthusiasts will appreciate the phono stage. Additionally there’s DVI video switching that will pass HD bandwidth, DC triggers for powering on a projector or lowering a screen, and second-room audio connectivity with IR control. And all at the touch of a lighted remote control—actually two remotes, since a smaller second-zone remote is also included.
The 990’s speaker/bass management features include dual subwoofer outputs plus a quartet of user selectable crossover frequencies that operate independently for the front L/R main, center-channel, sidesurround, and back-surround speakers. A prosaic automated speaker setup program (complete with microphone) is included and is best run in concert with the 990’s on-screen display (OSD).
The Model 7125 is a 125Wpc sevenchannel amplifier that, thanks to its beefy power supply and toroidal transformer, weighs in at a hernia-inducing 51 pounds. The 7125 can only accept single-ended RCA inputs from the 990, but enthusiasts who prefer amplifiers that can accept balanced inputs should perhaps consider Outlaw’s recently-introduced Model 7700, a fully balanced, 200Wpc seven-channel amp priced at $1999 (a five-channel version, called the Model 7500, is also available at $1499).
Throughout my sonic evaluations I drove the Model 990 in audiophilefriendly Bypass mode whereby DSP, video circuitry, and tone controls are circumvented. This was, by a long shot, the controller’s most transparent and dynamic-sounding operating mode. There is also an Upsample mode whereby 24-bit/ 192kHz DACs upsample stereo PCM from either CDs or stereo DVDs for improved resolution.
The Model 990 and 7125 share a sonic character that emphasizes midrange balance, giving a sense of musicality that eases the soul. Whereas some components “flavor” the sound to appeal to the sensational, the Outlaw’s personality inclines toward the darker and warmer range of the sonic spectrum. Treble frequencies are refined and grain-free, although not extravagantly extended. The sibilance range is appropriately assertive although the leading and trailing edges of hard consonants are not as tidy as they might be. This spectral balance reflects especially well with male vocals imparting full chest resonances and a masculine gravity to the image. Bass dynamics are especially rich and punchy—traits shown to good advantage on the soundtrack to Good Night, And Good Luck, which features Dianne Reeves [Concord Jazz]. All it took were a couple bars of the acoustic bass intro to “One For My Baby” to hear and feel the weight and bloom. Soundstaging and imaging could be better explored. For example the impression of string layering and three dimensional depth and ceiling height seemed reduced on the SACD multichannel recording of the Shostakovich Symphony No. 7 [Dmitriev/ St. Petersburg, Water Lily].
These modest reservations all but vanished in the immersion and envelopment of Outlaw Audio home theater. The bone-crushing soundtrack of Cinderella Man is a good workout for any theater system, and the 990/7125 combo proudly went the distance. Performance means managing the competing multichannel sound elements to produce a continuous soundscape. In the Braddock/Baer title fight the delicacy and detail of clicking camera shutters, the pop of flash bulbs, the snap of a jab, the concussion of an upper-cut, the passion of the crowd—these cues were reproduced by the Outlaw system with a matter-of-fact dynamism and focus so truthful that I was ready to throw in the towel. The Outlaw was the winner by a knockout.
As audiophiles have known for years, separate components, if you have the space, offer an edge in performance and flexibility that’s hard to beat. Hats off (cowboy hats, that is) to the Outlaw gang for lassoing the marketplace with a pair of outright steals. TPV