|Outlaw Audio Model 990 AV Preamplifier|
|Home Theater Preamplifiers AV Preamps|
|Written by Matthew Evert|
|Tuesday, 01 May 2007|
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A growing trend in high-value audio video retail sales is to actually remove the physical retail store from the buying process. In recent years, speaker companies like Aperion and Orb Audio have made headway against the brick and mortar entrenched brands, leaving their customers with a glowing feeling when they open the boxes to realize just how much speaker they got for the money. On the electronics side, Outlaw Audio has become an AVRev.com staff favorite, with their powerful yet affordable amps, truly competitive subwoofers, feature-packed receivers and, in the case of this review, a $999 flagship AV preamp that comes loaded with many of the latest bells and whistles found on state of the art AV preamps, at one-tenth the price. Among factors tempting consumers to buy are an in-home 30-day guarantee, a five-year warranty, 800-number tech support and beyond.
When I first unboxed the 990, I noticed the rather large height of the unit. At nearly eight inches tall by 17-and-a-half inches wide and just under 18 inches deep, the 990 clearly offers some real estate for plugging in your various audio and video components. The brushed black aluminum front panel has a matte finish to it with rounded corners for a less blocky appearance. A modest-sized display with a dozen silver buttons allows for menu navigation and accessing common settings without having to use the 990’s remote. The silver volume knob has a pleasing resistive feel to it. It is located off to the right of the front face, along with the aforementioned buttons and display. The power switch and headphone jack are conveniently located in the lower left corner of the unit, and the front A/V ports are covered by matching plastic caps to keep the overall look of the 990 very simple and clean.
The 990 comes loaded with inputs, including two DVI for HD sources like Blu-ray and HD DVD (which requires a DVI to HDMI adaptor), as well as a whopping array of component, composite and S-Video inputs on the back. The Outlaw AV preamp can convert all of its standard video inputs to component video, which are capable of accepting and passing full HD signals. The Outlaw 990 will not convert a video signal from analog to digital through its DVI output, resulting in the user having to potentially run two sets of video cables to the display. However, if you have two HD sources that use either DVI or HDMI connections, the 990 will switch between the two and output them digitally through its DVI output. The Outlaw 990 also comes with 7.1 analog inputs for audio, as well as a matching output. There is an FM tuner, a useful synch feature if you are using a video screen, RS232 ports for Crestron control, a phono input and even a sleep timer. The 990 has a USB port that can be used for easy software upgrades and can also be used to transmit audio signals from iTunes or similar programs on your PC. That is a lot of goodies for a new price of $999 AV preamp.
Under the hood, the Outlaw Audio 990 boasts a 32-bit CS-49400 crystal processor enables that a full spectrum of digital processing formats, including the Dolby Digital EX, DTS-ES and Dolby Headphone. Pure analog and pure digital modes allow for improved listening for any given source. 192 kHz 24-bit DACs are provided for all channels and can up-sample PCM audio up to 192 kHz 24-bit output resolution. Crossover control for each of the three speaker pairs and the center channel allow for adjustment from 40 to 200Hz. The audiophile goodies were not spared when designing this preamp – just the audiophile price.
The universal remote reminds me of ones I have used with products from Lexicon and Anthem processors. It is in most cases easier to configure the 990 with the remote than the few front panel navigation buttons so make sure to keep it handy. There is a second zone output, which gets its own 12-volt remote triggers, allowing you to run other speakers around or outside of your house. In addition to the main remote, a more simplified secondary remote is provided to keep things simple for the wife, nanny, kids or in-laws. An AM/FM tuner with 30 programmable presets completes the features of the 990.
Set-up was pretty easy once I figured out that you must use the onscreen display (OSD). Making the physical audio connections to my Anthem P5 amplifier was easy, allowing me to use my reference MartinLogan Summit speaker system for the review. Inputs were systematically added and programmed, including my HD satellite receiver, my 1080p-scaling DVD player and a DVI output to my 1080i-capable Panasonic video projector.
Audio calibration was yet another wonderful surprise from the Outlaw 990. It didn’t take me more than three minutes to figure out how to plug the mic into the front of the preamp and get to calibrating the levels for my speakers automatically, right in the preamp. I expect this level of ease of use from preamps costing many times more than $1,099.
I noticed that when I went to re-label the AUX input to be an iPod input, I was unable to do so. I went to the very helpful Outlaw Audio website and found a software update and easy to follow instructions to fix the issue. To my pleasant surprise, I was able to use a USB cable to download the update to my 990 from my laptop, instead of having to buy a serial cable, as I did for my Anthem D2. I found that remote was nearly identical to my D2 remote, so the programming of the remote and subsequently my Marantz 9500 Universal Remote was very easy. I let the 990 burn-in for a couple days before really scrutinizing the video and audio performance with all of my attention.