Outlaw Audio Model 7075 Multi-channel Power Amplifier 
Home Theater Power Amplifiers Multi-Channel Amplifiers
Written by Andrew Robinson   
Sunday, 01 January 2006

Comedian Dane Cook recently said, “More than sex, every man would rather be part of a heist.” While many of us will opt not to knock off our local Wells Fargo, we do still take a little pleasure in sticking it to the Man. Well, the folks over at Outlaw Audio wouldn’t want it any other way. For years, the men and women at Outlaw Audio have been designing and manufacturing world class home theater electronics and offering them direct to the consumer at low prices by selling them exclusively through their website. Don’t let the “Internet business” moniker fool you; they’ve earned countless awards, as well as a very loyal following from budget-minded consumers worldwide. Even though their products may cost less than the competition, don’t call them “budget” when it comes to performance. Now, with the release of their new 970 7.1 Pre/Processor and 7075 multi-channel amp, Outlaw is poised and ready to steal another piece of the pie from what has become an all-too-corporate marketplace.

The Outlaw 970 Preamp/Processor is, for the most part, the Outlaw 1070 receiver sans the seven-channel amplifier. Retailing for a cool $699 and sold exclusively through Outlaw’s own website, the 970 is a serious taste of high end at an Everyman price. Out of the box, the 970 comes in at a little over 17 inches wide by a little under six inches high and 15-and-three-quarter inches deep, which makes it roughly the size of your typical home theater receiver, coming in at just over 19 pounds. Those of you familiar with past Outlaw gear know that they’ve never been known for overblown looks; in fact, it’s become somewhat part of their charm. Featuring a matte black finish with a large LCD display that stretches the length of the faceplate, the 970, like all of Outlaw’s newer products, brandishes the sort of industrial design usually found in higher-ticket items.

The front panel features navigational controls to be used with the 970’s set-up menus, as well as a variety of buttons that control menu options, input selection, surround sound modes, menu presets, tuner controls and mute. Departing from the largely push-button theme, the 970 has a traditional volume dial, as well as standby power switches that flank either side of the faceplate. For convenience’s sake, the 970 features both S-video and component video inputs, as well as composite, optical and coaxial audio inputs on the front panel. Small plastic caps hide the front panel inputs to help keep the 970’s façade free of clutter, yet they are easy to remove. Lastly, the 970 has a headphone jack with its own output level control.

Turning my attention to the rear of the 970, I found plenty of inputs, all clearly labeled and neatly laid out to boot. Moving from left to right, I first came across the 970’s AM and FM antenna inputs. Directly below are the 970’s three component inputs and single component monitor output. All of the component inputs are capable of passing a high-definition signal. Also, the 970 will convert all composite and/or S-video signals to the component monitor out; however, it will not up-convert component signals to its digital DVI output. This was a conscious decision by the folks at Outlaw to keep production costs down, and with the exception of my reference Denon 4806, I have yet to come across a receiver or processor that will up-convert any signal standard or otherwise to a DVI or HDMI output. Below the component inputs rest the eight RCA audio inputs, including CD, Video 1, Video 2, etc. Each of these are mated with their composite and S-Video counterparts. There is also a 5.1 RCA audio input for multi-channel listening, as well as three pairs of coaxial and optical audio inputs. The 970 does feature a pair of coaxial and optical audio outputs, as well as a composite and S-video monitor out. Below all of this rests the 970’s 7.1 preamp outputs. Since there is no amplifier section built into the 970, you will need a separate five- or seven-channel amplifier to bring your system to life. This is nothing new. However, the separate amplifier comes with more cables, five to seven to be exact, and the 970 allows enough room for you to easily connect them all without having to become a freakin’ magician. Next to the preamp outs are the 970’s DVI inputs and output. If you have a DVD player that will up-sample your DVD’s to, say, 720p or even 1080i, chances are you’re using or will need to use a DVI or HDMI connection. Since HDMI is a little newer to the scene, Outlaw chose to stick with DVI as their digital connection of choice, which should serve everyone just fine. There are adapters available for those of you with HDMI-only DVD players or satellite boxes. The 970 comes equipped with two DVI inputs and a single DVI monitor out. Again, the 970 will switch between its DVI inputs. However, it will not convert analog signals to digital. Lastly, you’ll find the 970’s master power switch, 12-volt trigger, RS 232 port for custom installations and a detachable power cord rounding out its list of features.

In terms of performance, the 970 features a variety of surround sound decoding options, as well as more traditional two-channel ones as well. For movies, the 970 can decode Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital EX, Dolby ProLogic IIx, Dolby Virtual Speaker, Dolby Headphone, DTS, DTS-ES Discrete and Matrix, as well as DTS NEO-6. The 970 also features 192 kHz 24-bit DACs for all of its seven channels, as well as an analogue bypass mode for all of its inputs for you purists out there.

After the “oohs” and “ahhs” about the 970’s looks had passed, I turned my attention to its matching seven-channel amplifier, the 7075. Almost identical to Outlaw’s own 7125 amplifier in terms of style, the 7075 boast a hefty 75 watts per channel and retails for $699. It measures in at a little over four inches tall by 17 inches wide, 15-3/4 inches deep and tips the scales at a respectable 41 pounds. The front panel is sparse, with only a single power button on its face. Spinning the 7075 around to the back, I found seven clearly labeled RCA inputs that correspond with a set of five-way binding posts that will accept bare wire, banana plugs or spade lug terminated speaker cables. Throw in a 12-volt trigger and a hardwired power cord and you’ve got the 7075 in a nutshell.

Finally I turned my attention to the 970’s universal remote. I found the remote to be the only indicator of the combo’s price tag. It resembles the kind of universal remote found at most large-scale electronics stores that can be had for more or less 20 bucks. It’s a pleasing shape that fits relatively nicely in the hand and has some of the largest buttons I’ve seen in a while, all of which can be illuminated via the remote’s backlighting option. I applaud Outlaw for making the remote easy to read and navigate, which goes a long way in allowing even the most novice user feel a touch in control of the big bad system. While it may lack the coolness factor of my Harmony 880, the 970’s remote is the only one that I’d give to my mother without prefacing it with a lesson in Home Theater 101.

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.

The Downside
While I more than enjoyed my time with the Outlaw 970/7075 combo, I did find a few things objectionable. First, I would have liked to have seen one more DVI input. I can understand Outlaw’s reasoning on why not to include full video switching or up-sampling via the 970’s DVI output, but in today’s growing digital marketplace, I felt a third DVI input would be incredibly useful.

Also, with separate components, you’ll want to make sure you have adequate real estate on your rack to accommodate both the 970 and the 7075. Given the 7075’s slimmer profile, you might try to squeeze it into a tighter space and while it never became too hot to touch, proper ventilation is a must to ensure its longevity. You’ll also want to make sure you can accommodate the additional cables comfortably, especially if you’re using bulky “higher-end” interconnects. However, this is a consideration for every system of separate components.

I recently went on record as saying that, in this day and age, with receivers being as good as they are, who needs separates. While I stand by my remarks and believe that receivers may be the way to go for those tight on space and/or money, the truth of the matter is that the Outlaw 970/7075 combo makes a very compelling argument to the contrary. Retailing at $699 apiece ($1,298 if purchased together) and featuring all of the latest 7.1 decoding software, as well as digital video connections, the 970/7075 combo might just be the greatest buy in all of home theater today. Combine that with the ability to upgrade your amplifier to one with more power should you want, or if you have less efficient speakers at present, tack on Outlaw’s bulletproof reputation and customer service and it’s no contest. What more can I say except buy ‘em and enjoy home entertainment like no other in this price class.
Manufacturer Outlaw Audio
Model Model 7075 Multi-channel Power Amplifier
Reviewer Andrew Robinson

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