|Outlaw Audio Model 970 AV Preamplifier/Processor|
|Home Theater Preamplifiers AV Preamps|
|Written by Andrew Robinson|
|Sunday, 01 January 2006|
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I unplugged a big Denon 4806 receiver to make room for the Outlaw 970 and 7075. While you may see a few manufacturers stacking their equipment in their latest ads, you’ll want to make doubly sure you don’t follow suit. The Outlaw combo will require two separate spaces in your rack for best ventilation and performance. The two pieces were easy enough to place on my rack and, with the extra real estate on the 970’s back panel, making the proper connections was a snap. I didn’t really run into any issues when it came to accommodating the extra sets of RCA cables running to and from the 970 and 7075. However, if your rack is really tight on space, you might want to take some extra time to ensure proper cable management. For a “separates” system, the 970 and 7075 combination proved remarkably streamlined.
All connected and ready to go, I proceeded to go through the 970’s set-up menus. Just like their remote, the set-up menus were foolproof. Keep the manual around only if you need bathroom reading, because the 970 is the easiest piece of home theater gear to set up I’ve come across. All in all, I was up and running in less than 20 minutes, no joke, and that included the time it took me to unpack the gear.
Music and Movies
I started my evaluation of the 970 and 7075 combo with some good ol’ Redbook CDs – first up, Sigur Rós’ latest album Takk... (Geffen). Featuring a wonderful blend of pop melodies and ambient overtones, Sigur Rós has proven once again they’re anything but conventional. During the track “Glosoli,” I was reminded of why some home theater enthusiasts swear by separates. From the highest highs to the lowest lows, the Outlaw combo was awe-inspiring. “Glosoli” features a variety of bells and chimes throughout the track and, regardless of volume, they remained very airy with the right amount of sparkle. Vocals were clearly defined with a “real” sense of weight and separation from the rest of the musical elements. There was an ease to the midrange that made it hard to concentrate on anything other than the music. The bass through the 970/7075 combo was nothing short of extraordinary. “Glosoli” has a great deal of information tucked away in the recesses of its bass lines and the Outlaw gear dug deep and extracted every ounce of it. At one point, I came to realize that a portion of the song’s bass was actually comprised of several marching footsteps, which is something I had never noticed before. Wow factor aside, the combo’s bass was tight, extremely well defined and plenty deep for my tastes, so much so that I found myself turning my subwoofer down a notch to compensate. The soundstage was vast and rock-solid across the spectrum, be it width or depth. In fact, I’d go so far as to say the 970 and 7075 combo dished out as fine a soundstage as any two-channel rig I’ve encountered in its sub-$2,000 price range. Dynamically, the pair didn’t disappoint. In fact, it matched my Denon 4806 blow for blow in this arena, which took me a bit by surprise. I wouldn’t classify the 970/7075 combo as warm-sounding nor would I call it dry; it just sounds right. The music simply unfolded into my room naturally and never became edgy or harsh, regardless of how hard I tried.
I decided to go against my better judgment and cued up Theory of a Dead Man’s self-titled debut (Roadrunner) to see what the 970/7075 combo would do with a less than stellar recording. Theory of a Dead Man never really broke free of their Nickleback heritage and quickly faded from the charts. During the track “Nothing Could Come Between Us,” the singer’s vocals were immediate, rich and raw and kept harmoniously in check against the raging guitars. On lesser systems, this track can quickly become a lot like an ice pick to the head, yet through the 970/7075 combo, I was treated to a very musically engaging performance. I’m not sure if the album really sounds this good or warrants this type of praise, but it’s nice to know that you won’t have to shy away from bad recordings with the 970/7075 in your system. The bass was so tight that I could hear and feel the mallet against the skins of the drum set. Likewise for the wailing guitars, each one taking on a true to life persona and never drifting from its place in the soundstage. The highs never became fatiguing or overpowering and blended nicely with the rest of the musical spectrum. Dynamically, the 970/7075 combo is just a beast with its ability to start and stop on a dime, creating one of the blackest soundstages I’ve heard in a while.
Overall, the Outlaw 970 and 7075 combo proved to be very musical and completely enjoyable. It doesn’t seem as picky as some other components when it comes to source material, which is good news for all of you still hanging onto your ‘80s pop collections. Sure, feed it a well-recorded disc, like the Sigur Rós album I mentioned earlier, and you’ll experience less of a recreation and more of the music itself.
Switching gears to multi-channel music, I popped in the DTS disc of Sheryl Crow’s The Globe Sessions (A&M and DTS Entertainment). During the chart-topping hit “Favorite Mistake,” Crow’s vocals were nimble and inviting. When she reaches for the high notes, her voice tends to crack ever so slightly; on some systems, this sounds more like digital hiss than anguish. I’m happy to announce that the 970/7075 combo didn’t fall victim to this phenomenon. The drums were very lifelike in scale and weight and plunged much deeper than their two-channel counterparts. Moving onto the track, “There Goes the Neighborhood,” the combo’s ability to recreate spatial cues was beyond my wildest expectations; I felt as if I was actually sitting just inches from Sheryl and the band in the actual studio space. The saxophone roared to life with all the reckless abandon one could hope for, taking me back to the music of the early ‘80s, when every song seemed to feature a swanky saxophone riff. Track after track, Crow’s vocals were spot on and larger than life, which was shocking given the rather small size of my center channel. The midrange is so clean you just want to bask in it for hours on end. Not since my recently departed SET rig have I heard midrange purity like this. In fact, this is one home theater combo that I wouldn’t be ashamed to have in my two-channel rig as well. Beyond all the highs and lows, what impressed me the most during the album was the way the 970/7075 recreated a true sense of space that was not only appropriate in scale but completely enveloping.
Having more than satisfied my curiosity with music, I turned my attention to movies. I cued up the recently re-released box office juggernaut “Titanic” (Paramount Home Entertainment). Staying in the audio realm, the 970/7075 combo proved to be more of the same. The dialogue was crystal clear and completely intelligible, even amidst the chaos of the sinking ship. The bass was threatening and plenty deep for my tastes. In fact, during flooding scenes, the Titanic’s buckling hull resonated through my walls, making me rethink the structural integrity of my own home. I was most impressed with the combo’s ability to balance all of the movie’s many audible elements so clearly with nary a sign of slurring or confusion. As I found with its portrayal of multi-channel music, the 970/7075’s ability to recreate a true sense of space was awe-inspiring, allowing me to suspend my disbelief and feel more or less like a passenger aboard the doomed ship. Turning my attention to the image quality, I noticed several things. First, the 970 seemed to smooth the image ever so slightly, which worked wonders for my slightly noisy Vizio plasma screen, allowing for a much smoother film-like image. If your monitor tends to run a bit soft, you might have to adjust your picture controls ever so slightly to compensate. The black levels were good but not as deep or rich as I’ve seen. However, in the combo’s price bracket, they are among the best. Color saturation and rendering were excellent. Compared to my reference, the 970 seemed to add a little extra punch to the image, regardless of my calibration. I was unable to detect any added grain or pixilation through the 970 and, during rapid pans, I didn’t see any signs that the 970 was infecting the signal path at all. Edge fidelity remained very good. However, the image didn’t quite seem as three-dimensional in terms of depth as I’ve experienced in the past. Bottom line, be it audio or video, the 970/7075 combo just felt right and got out of its own way long enough for me to simply enjoy the show.
I ended my review period with Steven Spielberg’s “War of the Worlds” (DreamWorks). Again, focusing on the audio side of things, the first aspect that jumped out at me was the combo’s sheer agility with dynamic swings. During the sequence where the machines are coming out of the ground, the bass elements were threatening, yet when mixed with the deafening silences between shudders, they became downright spine-tingling. When the machine finally lunges from below the street, the mist of gravel and debris falling through the air rained down upon my room with the right amount of snap that made each individual impact not only audible but definable within a three-dimensional space. The sounds of shattering glass never became harsh or digital-sounding, nor did they ever overpower the scene. John Williams’ score was able to unfold gracefully amidst the chaos, making for a smooth balance and even smoother transitions between the film’s many action and dramatic sequences. Spielberg’s films have become edgier of late as he continues to experiment with numerous film processing techniques. “War of the Worlds” is a grainy film, especially as it reaches its more climatic moments. The 970 didn’t smooth over the rough parts quite as much as I was expecting, given my experience with “Titanic,” which was both good and bad for my Vizio plasma. Happily, it wasn’t adding any extra grain or artifacts to the image, which is much more important. The slightly desaturated color scheme of the film was rendered beautifully; however, when I connected my Denon 3910 directly to my Vizio screen, I did notice the 970 was boosting the colors just a bit. Black levels were very good, better than they were with “Titanic,” which helped bring back a little bit of that three-dimensional quality to the image. The white levels were just stunning. During the scene where Dakota Fanning is at the river’s edge watching the bodies float downstream, the lighting on her face was as clean and clear as I’d ever seen in terms of white and brightness levels.
Overall, the combination of the 970 and the 7075 proved to be sheer magic. It held its own at above average playback levels, as well as keeping both music and movies completely enjoyable during lower volume late-night sessions. If I were to sum up my experience with the 970/7075 combo, I would have to say that I found it to be the perfect supporting cast for most equipment, as well as my music and movie library. They don’t do anything objectionable on their own, and when thrown a lemon, they’ll simply make lemonade.