|Outlaw Audio ICBM-1 Integrated Controlled Bass Manager|
|Home Theater Accessories Accessories|
|Written by Richard Elen|
|Thursday, 01 August 2002|
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All of the above also applies to the LFE Mix control. Remembering that the ICBM controls the level of the LFE coming in from your player, you can turn this down if the extreme bass effects are too much (but the rest of the bass sounds good). It does not mess with the tonal balance of your system, so you can simply set it as you like. Just make sure that you are adjusting to something that’s actually on the LFE – T.Rex footfalls in “Jurassic Park” do this job admirably. Bass synth on your favorite rock surround album quite likely isn’t (or at least shouldn’t be) present on the LFE, so be warned.
The tricky one is the Subwoofer Level control. I would say do your adjustments playing back a test disc and adjusting the subwoofer level knob accordingly. I assume that your sub level is already set up about right for Dolby Digital or DTS, so you may want to avoid messing with the levels in the receiver or on the back of the sub itself, and just tweak this knob on the Outlaw until bass elements sound nicely in balance. In my experience, test tones are not much use for this, so play back something that you know. If you have a DVD-A player with a DTS decoder in it as I do, and you regard your regular system as being set up correctly, you could do this: play your fave surround bass experience (you know mine: it’s “Cloudbreak” from Alan Parsons’ DTS remix of On Air), while listening to the digital output from the player hooked into the DTS decoder in your receiver, thereby bypassing the Outlaw. Remembering how that sounds, compare it to listening to the six-channel analog outs from the player (using the player’s on-board decoder) going through the Outlaw. In my case, that’s just a matter of switching the seven-channel input on (overriding the previous selection) and then turning it off again. Adjust the sub level knob on the Outlaw until the output sounds similar to the other version. Just bear in mind that the Outlaw is likely to be a lot better at bass management than your receiver and allow for that.
By all means, try sweep tones and even sound pressure level meters, but be warned that there are enough factors around at the bass end to mess up measurements of this type. For example, I tried the sweep tone that is on the Chesky Ultimate DVD Surround Set-Up Disc, which is actually designed to locate rattles in your speakers and other parts of your room. I set up a sound pressure level meter and ran the test, and while I could adjust the settings on the Outlaw until I got a reasonably stable level all the way up, you could still see all manner of wavering as the tone went past room resonance. When adjusted for the flattest average SPL, it didn’t sound particularly flat at all.
I had much more reliable results adjusting the settings while listening to music. The “Real Bass” (guitar) test on the Chesky disc was helpful here, and I then went on to try a number of other DVD and SACD sources. The cannons on Telarc’s 1812 sounded very similar on both the DVD-A and SACD versions, which they had not done previously, because my SACD player has its own bass management but the DVD-A player doesn’t. With the Outlaw, both were handled the same way, and both sounded great. The Outlaw has sophisticated crossovers for each part of your system, providing much better control than the somewhat basic approach on the Sony CE-775 (though the fact that it has bass management at all is a good selling point for this budget player). It is, of course, a great deal better than the nothing that my DVD-A player offers.
I played Linn Records’ new SACD multichannel release of Poulenc’s Concerto for Organ. As I expected, the organ pedal notes in several sections of this interesting work (I’ll be reviewing it shortly) came across very smoothly, without distortion and with nice definition. I am currently playing with the tiny little Sunfire Super Junior sub, which is quite an astonishing beast with a remarkable low bass extension, and the Outlaw handled it beautifully.
On to something more contemporary, I played some tracks from the DTS soundtrack on the Eagles’ Hell Freezes Over DVD-Video, which I acquired recently. My friends at JBL have used this as a trade show 5.1 demo disc for years, and it was great to hear what I’ve been missing: it’s a great performance, beautifully recorded and mixed by Elliot Scheiner. The bass parts, and the entire bass end of the audio, came across perfectly, with excellent definition and a smooth crossover from the mains to the sub.
I actually tried a number of different combinations of the L/R Recombine and Front L/R crossover settings. My JBL 4311 front mains have woofers with 10-inch voice coils, which according to the manual can be crossed over as low as 40Hz. This indeed works fine with Recombine Off: bass frequencies below 40Hz go to the sub, and the Sunfire especially had a great time with that. However, with Recombine On, the bass below the crossover frequency goes to the sub, but the front mains still get a full range signal unless the crossover for them is set to Bypass. Here I had the smoothest results with the front mains crossed over at 80 Hz – again, as suggested in the book, the bass was now being split between the mains and the sub.
Next, some movies. Although the main use of this unit will be for listening to hi-res music from DVD-A and/or SACD, if you decide to use your player’s analog outputs for everything, then you’ll be playing movies through the box, too. I checked my usual favorite, "The Fifth Element" (Columbia/TriStar Home Entertainment), and got what I expected: great bass handling in the rumbly bits. But I also went on to check out "Stargate," especially Chapter 8 with its powering up of, and transition through, the Stargate for the first time. The sound was impressive and, moreover, the bass was not out of balance. The Outlaw ICBM is likely to be a lot more sophisticated than any existing bass management in either your receiver or your player. It’s easy to get loud, rumbly, boomy bass and think that’s really cool: cars go by sounding like that all the time. But what you actually want is a nice smooth response across the usable frequency range of your system, especially at those pesky crossover points. The ICBM will help you get it… if you are prepared to take a little time and effort.
Time and effort are really the only things I can think of as downsides to this cool product. If you’re going to get the best out of it, you will want to do a bit of tweaking. You need to know the response of your speakers – all of them – or at least use the handy guide in the manual. You need to carefully read the section on the recombine switch – and the rest of the manual, while you’re at it. You need to disable any existing bass management on the sources you’re feeding into the box (if they have bass management in some modes and not in others). Then you need to mess with it in real life and be prepared to spend some time to get it exactly right.
I am afraid that Outlaw can beg for this component -- it ain’t going back. If you, like me, have one or more hi-res audio players, and if they have either no or only vestigial bass management when playing back DVD-A or SACD material, then you need this box. It will also serve you well if you have a separate preamp and multi-channel power amp, as it can go between the two and sort out your bass management worries. The unit does not audibly degrade the input signal as far as I could hear – the specs are very good on the signal-to-noise and distortion front, though I did not measure them. The unit adds sophisticated bass management that perfectly matches your highest-quality audio sources – the ones that most need it. And the price is right. What more can I say?