Outlaw Audio Model 7200 Multi-channel Power Amplifier 
Home Theater Power Amplifiers Multi-Channel Amplifiers
Written by Andrew Robinson   
Friday, 01 December 2006

Introduction
Earlier this year, I raved about the Outlaw 970 processor and matching 7075 multi-channel amplifier. Together, the 970 and 7075 not only redefined bang-for-your-buck performance, they also set a benchmark in its price class by which all other products, both separates and receivers, will be judged. I liked the combo so much that I kept them. Beyond the sonic attributes of the subject matter, that review was special to me because it was my first introduction to Outlaw Audio. An introduction, I must say, that has been both eye-opening and frustrating. I say frustrating, because once you’ve crossed over and become an Outlaw yourself, it’s exceedingly tough to justify anything else. The only saving grace for me is that Outlaw doesn’t make speakers (with the exception of their subwoofers) or source components. Sure, I’ve heard a barrage of products that do one thing or another that the Outlaws cannot, but at the end of the day, their price-to-performance ratio is so spectacular that it makes persuading myself to purchase anything else, well, rather difficult.

So I’m going to part ways with my usual review format and kick off with this: Outlaw’s new seven-channel amplifier, the 7200, is astonishing. I’ve already contacted Outlaw to inform them that I will not be sending the 7200 back and here’s why …

The Outlaw 7200 is like most amplifiers in that it’s rather large, 17 inches wide by eight inches tall and 18 inches deep, and very heavy at a backbreaking 90 pounds. The 7200 comes in every color, so long as it’s black and has rounded edges and an embossed set of graphic lines that help shake up its otherwise monolithic look. Now I’m not saying the 7200 is ugly; it’s not. In fact, I fancy it. It’s just the engineers over at Outlaw have put their budget to good use where it counts most: performance. When I talk about Outlaw’s budget, I don’t want you to think this is just another overpriced piece of hardware. On the contrary, it’s very affordable, with a retail price of $1,849, and comes with Outlaw’s 30-day money back guarantee, which allows you to essentially test drive it in your own home for a month. Personally, I think Outlaw offers this program as a sort of middle finger to its competition, because I’ve never come across or heard of anyone sending an Outlaw product back. Sadly, the same can’t be said for the competition. Moving on, I focused my attention to the rear of the 7200, for there’s only so long a guy can stare at a single power button and ponder the whys and hows before just looking silly. The rear of the 7200 is about as complicated as peanut butter and jelly. Across the top of the amplifier are seven gold-plated RCA-style inputs. The inputs are evenly spaced and neatly laid out, which doesn’t surprise me, given the massive amount of real estate on the 7200’s rear panel. If you’ve got massive interconnects, like I do, making the proper connections isn’t going to be much of an issue. Below the 7200’s inputs are the corresponding five-way binding posts. Again, the binding posts are neatly and spaciously laid out and can accommodate every possible termination, from bare wire to spade lugs. To the right of the binding posts are the 7200’s detachable power cord and master power switch. There is also a 12-volt trigger to make life easier for those who may be housing their gear in a dedicated rack away from the primary listening space.

Turning my attention inward, I quickly discover why the 7200 is so large and heavy. It has to be, for its transformer is one of the largest I’ve ever seen. It’s hard to miss, for half of the 7200’s top mounted vents are over the transformer. The 7200’s massive power supply helps it to churn out a staggering 200 watts per channel into eight ohms. The 7200’s power output increases to 300 watts per channel at four ohms, making it pretty much impervious to anything even the most inefficient loudspeaker can throw at it. Keep in mind that the 7200’s power rating isn’t based on a test featuring only a single channel going for broke – no, its power rating is based on all seven channels operating simultaneously from 20Hz to 20kHz with less than .05 percent distortion. Basically, it’s the real deal in there, and with all that power, you aren’t going to miss a beat, regardless of how loud or soft you like to listen to your music or movies.

Set-up
I lugged the 7200 up the stairs into my reference room by myself, which was stupid, because I spent the next hour lying on my couch, trying to identify which muscle I pulled. A word for those of you considering the 7200 for your own system: dolly. Once the pain subsided, I continued with the installation. I unpacked the 7200, which I must say bordered on the insane as far as product safety goes. Clearly, the folks over at Outlaw don’t put a lot of faith in the hands of delivery personnel. Once I had it out of the box, I slid the 7200 onto the bottom shelf of my rack and prepared to make the requisite connections. I connected the 7200 to my Outlaw 970 processor via Monster M Series interconnects. I then connected the 7200 to my reference speakers, the Definitive Technology 7000 series, with Monster M series speaker cable. The rest of my system was comprised of my Toshiba XA-1 HD DVD player, Denon 3910 Universal player, Mac Mini music server and Outlaw LFM-1 Plus subwoofer (review forthcoming), with all power filtration coming by way of my Monster HTPS 7000 MKII. All in all, minus the temporary setback spent on my couch, I was up and running in less than 15 minutes.

Now, I’m not one of those guys who swears by a great deal of “break-in” and I’m not going to lie to you and say that I put a good 200 hours on the 7200 before sitting down for a listen. Who does that? It’s new, it’s in my room, and it’s plugged in. Let’s hear it. Out of the box, the 7200 sounds good – good enough to listen to all night long – but I will tell you this: the 7200 gets better with age. However, unlike some components out there, the 7200 is a product you can enjoy along the way.

Music and Movies
I started things off with Collective Soul’s greatest hits album, Seven Year Itch (Atlantic), cuing up the song “Run,” which was featured in the late ‘90s film Varsity Blues, which sadly wasn’t as good as the song. But I digress. The first thing that I noticed about the 7200 was its excellent spatial extension and breadth. The soundstage was huge, right to left and front to back. The boundaries of my room seemed to expand more by feet than inches as the sound filled the space. That’s not to say the soundstage was vague. No, sir. While not laser-etched, every element had its place and stuck to it, giving the overall performance a well-balanced feel. Speaking of elements, the treble through the 7200 was rather shocking. It lacked that last ounce of air and ultimate extension that you’ll find in amps costing 10 times the 7200’s asking price, but what it did have was very, very good. It was sweet, round and above all natural. The opening guitars and subsequent string quartet had tremendous texture and presence that seemed to hang effortlessly in space between my speakers. Beyond the treble, the midrange was most impressive. This is clearly what the 7200 is all about. It was so sonically pure that it completely belied the 7200’s seemingly budget status. The vocals had a little added richness to them that was rather inviting, given that lead singer Ed Rolland’s vocals can at times seem a bit over-produced and become harsh or grainy through lesser amps. The 7200 has the type of midrange that you can bask in for hour after hour without fatigue. In terms of bass, the 7200 is solid. The kick drum was taut, and through my full-range Def Techs, the 7200 took full advantage of the built-in subs, punishing my room with epic bass. This wasn’t the kind of bass you hear coming from the trunk of some teenager’s Honda Civic, this was the real deal: full-bodied, full-impact real bass for which the 7200 exhibited remarkable control. Dynamically, I’d put the 7200 up against the likes of Krell or Mark Levinson in terms of sheer acceleration with ample reserves for those really kick-ass moments. Even at insane volumes, I couldn’t detect any signs of strain or graininess that seem about par for the course with budget components. The 7200 just makes music.

Switching tracks to “December,” the vocal track was beautiful with terrific presence and articulation, allowing me to better hear vocalist Ed Rolland’s self-harmony. The kick drum had a great sense of weight and impact, with the snare providing the right amount of snap to the song’s several crescendos. Likewise, the cymbals were airy and sweet, with just a hint of warmth that helped keep them from sounding overly digital or compressed. The soundstage once again was one for the books, with its seemingly endless depth and lateral extension. It made me think at times that my speakers, which are bipolar in design, had a third driver array firing out towards my side walls.

Moving on, I cued up one of my pop rock favorites from Fuel, Something Like Human (Epic). Starting with the track “Hemorrhage,” which I must confess leaves a bit to be desired in terms of recording quality. With the 7200 in my system “Hemorrhage” sounded rather, well … good. The 7200 isn’t super-critical of source material, which is good for me, because audiophilia be damned, I listen to some crap music when I don’t think anyone else is around. It’s nice to know that the 7200 won’t pass judgment on me; instead, it gives me a free pass to be me. For better or worse. Back to the music, the bass once again caught my attention. There really doesn’t seem, at least to me, to be any real limit to the 7200’s depths and control. It just keeps slammin’ all the while, saying, “Hey, look what else I can do.” What else, indeed. The roaring guitars, for instance, were aggressive and somewhat offensive, which is a good thing. That’s right. Sometimes music should be offensive, but don’t confuse this with fatiguing. No. The 7200 was never that. The vocals were dead in the center of the soundstage and retained all of the gritty texture and strain of Brett Scallion’s voice, all the while sounding natural and effortless. There’s just a greater sense of scale and purpose to the music through the 7200, no doubt made possible by its tremendous power and power reserves.

Skipping ahead to the track “Bad Day,” the 7200 proved to be having everything but. Once again, the 7200 proved to be a smooth operator completely unfazed by the dramatic dynamic swings that the song produced. The vocals were appropriately edgy, without a hint of harshness or excess grain. The bass, again, was incredibly deep, with enormous heft and speed. The highs were ever so slightly polite, which lent further richness to the midrange and made the whole presentation a bit more fluid in comparison to other solid-state amps in the 7200’s price class. Overall, I’d have to say the 7200 is ever so slightly forward of neutral in the midrange, which makes for a more energetic presentation, which I tend to like. The 7200 is effortless across the musical spectrum and even more so when it comes to its dynamic prowess. It is, at its core, essentially and musically right, which is more than I can say for a lot of the competition.

Moving on to multi-channel music, I opted for 3 Doors Down’s latest album Seventeen Days on Dual Disc (Universal). Beginning with the song “Landing in London,” which is a duet with legendary rocker Bob Seger, the 7200 dished out more of that Outlaw magic. Starting with the vocals, the 7200’s presence tightened up a bit and picked up a touch of weight in the lower midrange, which filled out the whole presentation nicely. The midrange overall was very fluid and pure with just a hint of added energy which made, the otherwise plodding song, a bit more forward. The 7200’s resolution helped in creating a more natural delineation between 3 Doors Down lead vocalist Brad Arnold and Seger himself, placing them both in their respective spaces with in the soundstage. The high frequencies gained a little of the air I missed when listening to two-channel music. The highs also were a bit smoother and retained their demeanor longer than with two-channel fare. The bass, on the other hand, didn’t seem to change much if at all. It was still as deep, fast and articulate as before. However, it did gain a bit of air and decay, which further rounded out the track’s presence. The soundstage was, again, very good in terms of both depth and width, and became a bit more focused with multi-channel music.

Switching tracks to “Father’s Son,” the 7200 allowed me to rock out with my … well, you know. Brad’s vocals were ever so slightly forward but held their ground within the soundstage with terrific weight and presence. The drums were slammin’ with the sort of bass you can feel later reverberating in your colon. More impressive still was the 7200’s ability to present me with roaring guitars without killing me. The guitar solos proved to be the 7200’s showcase, in that they were blazingly fast, loud and natural but kept completely in check within the musical spectrum regardless of volume, which was quite a feat, given that on several other occasions, with different amps, I’ve been forced to turn the music down or, worse, off. Another thing that impressed me was the 7200’s background noise, or should I say, lack thereof. Budget components often are plagued with noise that becomes more than audible during quiet passages. Well, the 7200 doesn’t fall into this camp with its almost pitch-black background, which only helps aid its overall stellar dynamic prowess.

Next, I cued up the Godsmack documentary Changes (Zoe Records). Technically, it is a film. However, I dispensed with the story and went straight to the concert footage, which is not only beautifully produced with its rich visual pallet but also masterfully mixed in a barrage of surround sound formats, ranging from Dolby Digital to SRS Surround. For the purposes of this review, I set the DVD’s settings to Dolby Digital and left it at that. I skipped ahead to the chapter titled “Batalla De Los Tambores,” which features lead singer Sully Erna in a drumming duet with percussionist Shannon Larkin. If you haven’t seen or heard of this disc, you’re missing out. “Tambores” features what can only be described as one of the single most badass drum solos ever. With dueling trap sets at the ready, the 7200 prepared to battle. The soundstage was immense and felt larger than my room. Each of the drum kits were rock-solid in their space, with zero signs of sonic blurring. The sheer force that the 7200 brought to the performance was epic. The bass was simply knock-down, drag-out, kick-your-teeth-in fun. Having its way with my Definitive Technology powered subs proved to be little issue or feat for the mighty 7200’s awesome power. The bass was simply unreal in its size, scale and weight. The 7200 had the resolving power to clearly delineate both sets’ double kick drum configurations. Getting away from the bass for a moment, the cymbals shimmered with such grace that I was dumbfounded that such performance could resonate from such a modestly-priced component. The ridges on the cymbals could not only be seen on my big screen, but also felt and heard as the solo’s climax raged on. The dynamics were eye-popping in that just when I thought I’d reached the limits, there was always a little more in the wings to surprise me. Most impressive, though, was what happened when I turned the volume down. The track retained all of its musicality, depth and punch at low volumes, which bodes well for those of you unable to take it to 11. However, with this much raw horsepower, why wouldn’t you? The presentation of “Tambores” through the 7200 was magical, further cementing my view that the 7200 isn’t simply a good amp for the money, it’s a great amp, end of argument.

I ended my time with the 7200 with the HD DVD presentation of the Clint Eastwood film Space Cowboys (Warner Bros). Dialogue through the 7200 was extremely natural, free from grain or excess coloration. Eastwood’s trademark raspy delivery was produced faithfully with a bit of inner grunt that placed him squarely in my room with terrific presence and weight. All of the characters vocals were lifelike and clearly distinguishable from one another, even during several scenes where they all jockey for the last word. There is naturalness to the 7200’s midrange that only helps to convey all of the actors’ intentions and emotions in ways that most budget amps miss. Not to be outdone by sheer dialogue, the film’s many action scenes were also magnificent. The rockets of the space shuttle managed to rattle my walls and shake my coffee table, yet remained completely poised and detailed. The 7200 proved as adept with movies as it was with music.

The Downside
You might think we can just skip this part. However, as much as I liked the 7200, it isn’t perfect. For starters, it’s big and heavy, which means that placing it in your system is going to be a two-person job. Also, it gets rather warm, so proper ventilation is essential. Adhere to the manual at all costs when it comes to integrating the 7200 into your system.

Next is the issue of the 7200’s sound. While I think it’s tremendous, it is ever so slightly forward-sounding in the midrange and has a tendency to let the highest frequencies roll off when played at greater volumes. Even so, it never becomes fatiguing or harsh at any volume. As for the forwardness of the midrange, I found it engaging, but ultimately you’ll have to let your own ears be the judge.

Conclusion
At a retail price of $1,849, the Outlaw 7200 multi-channel amplifier is a killer deal – possibly the best deal I know of in the market today. Its understated looks only ensure that you remained focused on its sonic gifts, of which it has many. I could gush on ad nauseum about the 7200’s seemingly endless list of attributes, but instead I’ll end with something rather shocking.

Halfway through my review period with the 7200, I received another fine amplifier, the Mark Levinson 433. Now I consider a product like the 433 to be, well, borderline perfect. However, that being said, I’m more impressed by the 7200, with the same enthusiasm one gets when one finds an $11 Monterey Country Chardonnay that competes favorably with a bottle of Kistler for many times more money per bottle. For at the 433’s price point, I expect perfection, but at the 7200’s price point, I have no right to expect what Outlaw gives you. It is, without a doubt, a feat of engineering and a marvelous amplifier, one that you need to hear to believe.
Manufacturer Outlaw Audio
Model Model 7200 Multi-channel Power Amplifier
Reviewer Andrew Robinson





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