Outlaw Audio Model 1070 Receiver 
Home Theater AV Receivers AV Receivers
Written by Yoshi Carroll   
Sunday, 01 October 2006

In a market increasingly dominated by receivers competing over the number of flashy features they can squeeze into a black or silver box, Outlaw Audio stands apart by competing on the good old values of high-quality audio and solid video switching at a relatively low price. The Model 1070 A/V Receiver is their newest example of this philosophy, a 7.1 channel, full-featured item that foregoes bleeding edge technological gizmos in favor of an $899 sticker price, which falls well below its class average, and performance that rises way above the norm. Not to suggest that the 1070 is in any way sparse on features or that it feels cheap; on the contrary, the flexibility of its bass management system, for example, puts many cost no object receivers to shame. There’s plenty here to get excited about, but let’s start at the beginning.

The 1070 is available for sale direct from Outlaw’s own website (outlawaudio.com) and comes with a generous 30-day trial period so that you have the opportunity to get to know the 1070 in your own system.

Out of the box, the 1070 is 17 inches wide by six inches tall by 15.5 inches deep, which makes it just slightly bigger than your average DVD player. What isn’t average is the 1070’s weight, which is a hefty 40 pounds, due in part to its substantial power supply. The finish is an elegant matte black that disappears well in a darkened room, and the rounded corners go a long way to softening the heavy black box appearance of this A/V component. The light silver finish of the front controls matches well with the black and furthers the impression of quality.

The faceplate is cleanly laid out, with a glossy black panel housing the blue LED display, five-way control wheel, six-button function control and a large, smooth-turning volume control knob. There’s just the right combination of independent button-controlled functions and menu controls, leading me to believe that whoever designed this interface was charged with actually having to use it.

Below the display are a standby button and a headphone jack with its own level control. On the right side of the panel, hidden behind well-fitting, easily removable plastic covers, is a pair of digital audio inputs both optical and coaxial, a set of S-Video and composite video inputs and standard RCA analog audio inputs.

The rear panel is equally thoughtful in its design and layout. In the top left section, there are AM/FM antenna inputs. Below are the component video connections with three inputs and one output, giving the user a total of four. Below the component video inputs are the analog RCA connections, one for a CD player, two for a tape deck and analog recording, and an extra auxiliary. To the right are the DVD inputs, grouped together with the front left and right audio channels on the bottom, RCA and S-Video above, and the center, subwoofer and surround inputs slightly above. I initially found the separation of the main audio inputs from the rest of the inputs a little confusing, but a quick look at the labels cleared up all confusion; it makes sense when you see it. The seven-channel analog inputs make the 1070 ready for DVD-Audio and SACD players, as well as the next generation of high-definition audio formats found on most HD DVD and Blu-Ray players. Moving further right, there are three more analog video connections supporting both composite and S-Video, along with their respective RCA analog audio connections. Video input 1, like the tape deck input, also features an additional output for recordings. There’s also a set of analog video outputs for connecting a monitor. For bypassing the internal amplifier and using the 1070 as a processor, a full set of 7.1 analog outputs, or a pre-amp out, are available. Still to the right but above the pre-amp outs, there are three pairs of optical/coaxial digital inputs and a pair of outputs. Further up is an RS-232 port for custom installations and software upgrades. To the left of the RS-232 port is the 1070’s 12-volt trigger for controlling an attached amplifier and two IR connections for providing remote control accessibility if it is installed in a cabinet or out of plain sight.

Further to left is another pleasant surprise, an interesting little toggle switch that controls how bass is managed for the DVD 7.1 analog inputs. The three settings are “digital,” which applies the set-up menu settings chosen for the digital inputs, “bypass,” which doesn’t touch the incoming signal at all, and “HPF/LPF,” which sets a fixed analog crossover to all channels. The effect of this option is that by cutting off the lower power-sucking frequencies from the speakers, which can’t reproduce them anyway, there’s more power available for dynamic swings at high volumes. It also protects speakers from distorting when trying to play back frequencies beyond their capabilities. So, when you want to rock out on high-definition sources, the 1070 lets you rock harder than you would otherwise. The digital setting offers the most control, but it does ever so slightly degrade sound quality. Chances are, the sonic degradation is so slight that unless the 1070 is powering very high-resolution speakers in an acoustically treated room, you’d be hard-pressed to notice. The “HPF/LPF” option offers less control, providing only a single crossover point for all speakers, but since it keeps the signal in the analog domain, it doesn’t inflict any degradation of the signal. This really is a very useful and advanced feature, especially considering the 1070’s price point.

The top right half of the rear panel is taken up by seven well-spaced, very solid gold-plated five-way binding posts. I’m happy to say they’re a pleasure to connect wire to, whether banana plugs or bare wire. There are plenty of receivers costing four times the price of the 1070 that don’t have binding posts this nice. Below these is a detachable power cord input, which is non-grounded to prevent hum, and its somewhat controversial DVI inputs. I say “controversial” only because Outlaw’s decision to go with DVI flies in the face of today’s HDMI-crazed marketplace. Most manufacturers are dumping DVI for HDMI and, in light of this, I initially frowned upon the 1070’s apparent anachronism. As it turns out, however, holding off on HDMI was a conscious decision by Outlaw. The industry standards defining what HDMI is and what it’s supposed to do are still changing, with the latest release being only a few months old. With different manufacturers supporting different standards, there’s a high potential for frustration because connections across devices end up not working as they should. My DVD player, for example, passes video and DVD standard audio just fine, but my HD satellite box only managed to pass stereo signals, not Dolby Digital 5.1. To avoid this kind of confusion, Outlaw’s engineers decided to stick with what works and wait for the dust to settle before supporting HDMI. According to AVRev.com’s publisher, Jerry Del Colliano, HDMI connectivity issues are, at this point in the history of the HD disc war, a major problem facing today’s consumer. It sure looks at if Outlaw bet right at this stage of the game.

The other question on the subject of video sources is video conversion. The 1070 will happily convert all analog video sources, (composite, S-Video and component video) to its component video output, but it will not convert analog video signals to digital for DVI/HDMI output. This means two separate connections are required from the 1070 to its monitor, one component video and one DVI/HDMI. For some, this redundancy is a deal breaker. While I understand this sentiment, I don’t personally agree. The technology required to convert analog video to digital video is still evolving and currently very expensive. If Outlaw were to include such a feature in the 1070, the price would rise dramatically, quality would have to be sacrificed somewhere else and in a year it would still be obsolete. I would rather pay less, run the extra cable and have my display handle the video.

Moving on to the innards of this little beast, the 1070’s power rating is 65 watts per channel into eight ohms, with all channels driven across the entire frequency spectrum. This might not seem very impressive when you consider that there are $300 receivers claiming 100 watts per channel. The truth of the matter is that there are many ways to test the power rating of an amplifier and some of those tests produce high scores that don’t translate to high performance. I’ve heard 100-watt receivers sonically break apart at normal listening levels, and three-watt amplifiers that have no trouble filling a moderately-sized room with wonderfully engaging music. The point is, don’t trust the numbers until you’ve heard the sound. In the 1070’s case, 65 watts should be more than enough power for most rooms and speaker combinations.

The 1070 features the usual array of decoding options: Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital EX, Dolby ProLogic IIx in 5.1, 6.1 and 7.1 varieties, Dolby Virtual Speaker, Dolby Headphone, DTS, DTS-ES Discrete and Matrix, as well as DTS NEO-6 and DTS 96/24. Thankfully absent are the kitschy processing modes, like “Church” and “Hall” that take the precise sound-mixing work of very talented, highly trained sound producers and smear it around the room with the accuracy and care of a baby with crayons. There is none of that silliness for the Outlaws. In their place, the 1070 has some more pleasant surprises, like a setting called “two-channel subwoofer offset,” which automatically changes the subwoofer volume to a predetermined setting when the two-channel analog mode is activated. This is in response to users’ complaints that subwoofer settings that work for movies are too loud for music. Another surprise is the Dolby Digital Center Width setting, my personal favorite, which feeds a chosen amount of the center channel into the left and right channels, creating a smoother, deeper, more harmonious soundstage when listening to five- or seven-channel music.

Lastly there’s the remote, which doesn’t suck. In fact, I quite liked it. It fits well in hand, the buttons are large enough, well grouped and well delineated, and its backlighting feature kicks in as soon as you press a button. Way cool. Some of the labels are still hard to see in the dark, but after a few days’ use, everything is familiar and commands become intuitive.

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.

The Downside
If I haven’t complained much so far, it’s because there isn’t much to complain about. My biggest gripes are not about the 1070’s performance, but its build. I found the display rather hard to read from my listening position, but this is minor, considering its display is still better than most found on receivers costing five times as much.

Second, the power button on the remote turns the 1070 off, but it does not turn it on. Turning on the 1070 from the remote requires pressing any of the Source Selector buttons (ex. Video 1, Video2). This action will turns on the 1070 and switch it to the respective source. Since none of my other components work like this, I first assumed that the 1070 simply could not be turned on via the remote. The manual does describe this function, but since I felt I was familiar with the workings of a Power button, I initially skipped that section. The lesson here is that it's always good to read the manual. But if the Power button was instead named Power Off, and the Source Selector buttons were also labeled Power On, it would make this operation more intuitive.

Adding another DVI input would’ve been very helpful. I think it’s kind of presumptuous to assume that users will only need two, with seemingly everything going digital these days. Lastly, I really miss the extra power outlet I’ve seen on the backs of other receivers, but a power strip can solve that problem for me pretty easily and cost-effectively.

Costing $899, the 1070 easily earns the award of most bang for the buck as a value-conscious home theater receiver. Astonishing performance with music and movies, rich and meaningful features like digital video switching and advanced bass management, excellent build quality, stylish design and a little bit of attitude all combine to inflate that bang to sonic boom levels. Whether you’re an audiophile looking for a deal on a multi-channel set-up, a home theater enthusiast looking for a receiver that simply sounds great or even a novice just looking for an easy decision, I highly recommend you give the Outlaw 1070 a test drive. This little beast changed my mind about what’s possible at this price range, and I’m betting it’ll change your mind too.
Manufacturer Outlaw Audio
Model Model 1070 Receiver
Reviewer Yoshi Carroll

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