|Outlaw Audio Model 1070 Receiver|
|Home Theater AV Receivers AV Receivers|
|Written by Yoshi Carroll|
|Sunday, 01 October 2006|
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Connecting the necessary wires is quite painless, and the manual provides a handy chart for writing down all the cable locations. Thinking myself too cool for the chart, I didn’t use it and ended up making several trips to the back of my rack to remember which cable I had put in which input. I will give a fair warning here about speaker hook-ups: if the 1070 is facing the same direction as the speakers, the left binding post ends up being the one closer to the right speaker, and the right post is closer to the left speaker, the opposite of what’s expected, at least by me. In this case, reading the labels is better than trusting old habits.
If you’re familiar with setting up modern receivers, the manual can stay in the box, but Outlaw recommends giving it a read, and so do I. It’s well written, informative on the 1070’s many features, and a good primer on home theater sound for beginners.
I configured all options using the extremely painless and speedy onscreen menu and I was good to go in less than half hour from start to finish, including a fair amount of time spent looking at all options and possibilities.
One part of the set-up worth noting is the 1070’s highly configurable bass management. Instead of just two options for each speaker, a small size and a large size, Outlaw offers five crossover settings, adjustable for each set of speakers. This advanced set of options allows for very precise tuning of all the speakers in the room, allowing the creation of more realistic spatial environments with less distortion. And, by setting the Bass Management switch on the back of the receiver to “digital,” these settings can be applied to incoming analog 7.1 channel inputs. But enough with the details, how does it sound?
Music and Movies
Starting with two-channel music, I chose Gnarls Barkely’s album St. Elsewhere (Atlantic), which is a collaboration between singer/rapper Cee-Lo and producer superstar Danger Mouse of Gorillaz fame. Fame and hype aside, St. Elsewhere is just one of the most fun albums to be had this summer, which is reason enough to check it out. It’s like a retro soul album with soft and smooth male vocals and catchy hooks, mixed with a frenzy of DJ sampled beats and sound play. The midrange, occupied mostly by Cee-Lo’s vocals, is open and detailed. The 1070 rendering is neutral, sounding neither thin nor bloated, neither euphoric nor analytical. I found this realism involving and easy to get absorbed into, much closer the “magical” sound of small tube SET amplifiers than receivers usually get. Amazingly, all these qualities remain steady no matter what else is going on in the track, which is often a lot. Bass tracks are fast and deep, comprised of many layers of simultaneous sampled drums, stomps and who knows what else. The treble is equally layered with whistles, cymbals, accordions and trumpets. At its most frenzied, even at uncomfortably high listening levels, the highs retain impact, sparkle and roundness, while the bass remains controlled and well defined. There’s often too much going on to pick out all the sounds and instruments, but careful listening reveals the 1070 delivers plenty of harmonic and special detail.
On track seven, “Feng Shui,” Cee-Lo’s voice is presented front and center, and reverberates to the sides of the soundstage, creating a very unique and interesting layered effect, which the 1070 reproduced wonderfully. The drum kit beats reach through the floor, which gave the 1070 little trouble. I could listen to this track 50 times over and continue to find new and exciting elements I’ve never heard before – it’s that dynamically and sonically complex. What’s more astonishing, however, is that the 1070 allows me to hear everything, which is a remarkable accomplishment for a receiver in this price class.
I played all CDs using my Denon 2910 as a digital transport driving my highly modified Perpetual Technologies P-3A DAC. The P-3A sounds a little more dynamic and refined than the 1070’s own internal DACs, but the differences are subtle and, considering that just the P-3A itself costs more than half of the 1070’s price, the Outlaw is abundantly impressive.
Moving on to multi-channel music, I caught a high-definition broadcast of Sheryl Crow’s Wildflower tour, shot live from New York. This was an episode of the music show Soundstage on Rave HD, part of Dish Network’s high-definition satellite package. Rave HD is an all-music channel, featuring high-definition concerts presented in Dolby Digital 5.1.
When Crow starts singing, I am immediately stunned by the disappearance of my center channel, so much so that I feel the need to check that it is actually working. It is working just fine, so I’m happy to report that we finally have an affordable receiver capable of producing a multi-channel soundstage that’s worth hearing. Throughout the entire concert, Crow keeps her place suspended in my room, her voice moving in and out as she steps around her microphone, but the 1070 never ties her down or confines her to a speaker.
Along with the usual rock instruments, the band is accompanied by a string quartet. They make their presence known throughout the concert, sometimes playing back-up and sometimes, like on “Maybe Angels,” stepping up right alongside the guitars. The 1070 retains all their texture and character, successfully infusing the concert with a welcome touch of classical drama.
But this is a rock show and rock shows are about guitars and, in Crow’s case, many, many different guitars, sometimes four at a time. The 1070 is more than happy to go along, keeping up with the soft strumming of the acoustics and the distorted wailing of the electrics, never losing the individual voice and character of each of the instruments.
And Crow sounds simply wonderful. On her pop-fun bluesy classics, like “All I Wanna Do,” her infectious silky sass comes through delightfully unconstrained and clear, without the slightest hint of slurring. New songs, like the title track “Wildflower,” show an entirely different side of this artist’s ever-evolving talents. Intimate and pained, the aching falsetto stirs a powerful sense of loss, and the Outlaw maintains its open neutrality, introducing no harshness or false peaks. Whatever the genre or musical style, the 1070 faithfully reproduces vocals and a wide variety of instruments with neutral clarity and dynamic punch, creating a rich, emotionally involving experience.
Shortly before my review period ended, HDNet Movies started showing a high-definition version of Lost in Translation (Focus Features), and seeing Scarlett Johansson in hi-def proved too big of a temptation to resist. More relevantly, however, the film’s minimally-processed soundtrack retains the natural ambience and dynamics of each location, providing an excellent test of the receiver’s ability to believably reproduce an environment. In an early scene, a jet-lagged Bill Murray is trying to relax at his hotel’s lounge and, short of offering me a cigar, the 1070 does an uncanny job of recreating the lounge in my room, seemingly beyond the space of my walls. The lounge singer’s voice sounds like it comes from somewhere far beyond my right wall, many quiet conversations fill the space around me and a group that’s had too much to drink can be heard yelling and laughing from beyond my closet. When a couple of young travelers start talking to Murray from across the bar, their voices naturally rise out of the background and are perfectly distinguishable. In a later scene, Johansson is wide awake in her hotel room in the middle of the night, and Tokyo’s ambient sounds filter through the windows so realistically that it’s impossible to tell if the sounds are coming from the movie or if they’re filtering through my own walls.
Throughout the entire film, the 1070 renders countless layers of stacked details with a precise ease that often feels downright spooky. In almost every scene, I can pick out some sound that I hadn’t noticed before, or a muffled voice that is now completely clear. And if that isn’t impressive enough, the 1070 can do all this even at low volumes, a rare feat.
On the image side of the equation, the 1070 does virtually nothing but pass through the signal it receives, so there should be no more image degradation than when connecting directly to the display. When using component video cables, however, there is a caveat: if the cables are of low quality and visibly degrade the image, the 1070 will accentuate this degradation. With a host of cables tested during the review, I couldn’t detect any visible degradation between video going into the 1070 as opposed to it going directly into my HDTV. That is a very good thing for an $800 receiver.
Though my Sony 1080 display, the 1070 proved so transparent to the video source that, during several city shots, it was possible to identify the make and model of distant ant-sized cars. Where this transfer truly puts standard-definition DVD to shame is in the creamy smoothness of skin tones and shallow focus close-ups. I detected no signs of video noise, pixilation or the crunchiness of high video compression, something even the best DVDs don’t avoid. As expected, the 1070’s DVI/HDMI connection won out over component video, offering a more three- dimensional image with that elusive HD sense of “filmlike” presence, without aliasing errors or edge flicker. Even without built-in video encoding and de-interlacing technologies, the 1070 is comfortably ready for the high-definition future.
Switching from rich and natural high-definition content to choppy low-resolution choppy DVD feels like the vague and blurry experience one gets when standing up too fast, which happened when I watched the first few minutes of Steven Spielberg’s latest film, Munich (Universal Studios Home Video). Luckily, the confusion didn’t last long, as I was quickly absorbed in Spielberg’s masterful montage of live action and historic news footage that sets up the cataclysmic events of 1972’s kidnapping and murder of 11 Israeli Olympic athletes, which sets the stage for the story to follow. Once settled in, I started paying attention to the sound. Munich’s soundtrack has different moods depending on the action. Most scenes aren’t very flashy, featuring just well-mixed voices and sound effects, which, unsurprisingly, the 1070 handles very well. Dialogue sounds crisp and clear, even when it comes from actors with thick accents, ambient cues are rendered effortlessly and precisely, and the score sounds rich and moving without ever stepping all over the other elements.
The really interesting stuff happens when the action gets tense. In one scene, for example, the covert team is about to assassinate a terrorist using a bomb in the terrorist’s home phone. When a young girl picks up the phone instead, the sound drops out completely as Ciarán Hinds realizes he has only seconds to run from the phone booth to the car and stop the detonation. When he slams the handset back on its cradle, it sounds as though the phone booth explodes. The 1070 shows its dynamic prowess by going from complete black silence to peak levels with startling ease, while keeping the detailed texture of scraping and ringing metal. As Hinds runs in complete silence, Mathieu Kassovitz, in the car, peels off a piece of tape from the detonator, which again sounds like a small explosion echoing around the room. A dense rumbling sound starts emanating, as if from underneath the room, and grows to room shaking proportions as Kassovitz nervously attempts to insert the key into the detonator, producing surreal textures of grinding and knocking sounds which the 1070 easily outputs, seemingly unaware that it’s close to rattling the room apart at the same time. The explosion is held off until the little girl is safely away, but when it does come, the Outlaw brings it with reverence and authority. For a receiver that looks underpowered on its spec sheet, it constantly blows me away (sometimes almost literally) with its available headroom and its refusal to sound compressed or muddled under high load.
Visually, the film looks very good, at the high limits of what can be achieved with standard DVDs. Munich’s colors aren’t very saturated, but they showed up well-defined and separated, creating tonal richness and depth. When it comes to video, the 1070, true to intention, succeeds in looking like it isn’t there. Overall, when it comes to the 1070’s performance, I am awestruck. This is an excellent piece of gear that gives no offense and finds a way to create an enjoyable experience, regardless of software material or other equipment in the chain.