Outlaw 950 & 770-preamplifier-processor & 7-channel power amplifier Page 2
Another audio component that should come with a coupon good for $50 off your next visit to the chiropractor, the Outlaw Model 770 7-channel power amp tips the scales at 90 pounds and makes rack placement a two-man operation. The 770 can be remotely powered on and off by any pre-pro suitably equipped with a 12V trigger jack and a cable with phono miniplug—such as the Outlaw 950. Like the 950, the 770 has no balanced XLR inputs.
Inside the 770 are two big toroidal transformers, one slightly larger than the other, and 22,600uF of capacitance for each of the seven channel cards. Cooling for the 10 output transistors per channel is strictly via large heatsinks, not noisy fans. The top of the amp (I set it on the floor) was never too hot to touch, and usually just barely warm. With 200W on tap into 8ohms or 300W into 4ohms (according to Outlaw), the 770 should be able to comfortably drive any speaker load. Even if you don't necessarily need a 7-channel amp, you might consider taking advantage of the 770's formidable power and biamp your front channels.
The Good, the Glad, and the Snugly
Like most people faced with a component that arrives with a universal remote control, I generally find those few buttons I need and ignore the rest, at least for a while. The Outlaw's remote is comfortable to hold and nicely backlit at the push of a button, though the legends written above the glowing buttons are impossible to read in the dark. At the top edge of the remote, eight buttons let you select the desired source component and tell the 950 to reroute audio and video signals to the inputs as you defined them during the simple setup process. Unfortunately, when you select a source—"DVD," for example—then try to change the volume, nothing happens. You have to re-select the first of the source buttons, labeled Aud/950, to gain access to the volume control. But you can get around this by using the "Punch Through" feature, which lets you reprogram the remote to keep the volume control active when the remote is set to control a source, rather than the 950.
The Outlaw 950 and 770 turned out to be a very comfortable and—with one exception—trouble-free system to live with. My review sample of the 950 was built in early 2003, after Outlaw had redesigned the circuits to solve a hiss problem reported by many early adopters. I heard no hiss, or hum for that matter, except for some phono-cartridge hum induced by my VPI Aries turntable's inadequately shielded motor, and that had nothing to do with the 950 itself.
The Outlaws exhibited none of the brashness sometimes associated with inexpensive solid-state electronics. They lacked some of the ultimate transparency of a 10-times-more-expensive Theta or Krell product, but they were still much more resolving and inviting than I'd expected. My Japanese LP pressing of Supertramp's Breakfast in America was intricately detailed but never artificially sharp. More important, movie soundtracks, such as my new fave, The Bourne Identity (DVD, Universal 21551), were replete with detail and dynamic contrast commensurate with the source.
Listening to DVD-Audio and SACD was even more impressive. The 80Hz highpass filter on the 950's rear panel proved useful, even necessary, for me to listen to the DVD-A of Yes's Fragile (Elektra/Rhino R9 78249) at the levels this beauty demands. Without the filter engaged, the smallish Polk LSi9 speakers labored needlessly in trying to deal with Chris Squire's pummeling Rickenbacker bass on "Roundabout." This was a job eagerly awaited by the 18-inch-cone of my Velodyne FSR-18 subwoofer.
I ran into one strange and annoying software glitch with the 950 pre-pro. Sometimes, though not always, when I selected the 6-channel direct mode from the remote and sat down to listen to SACD or DVD-A, only the front left and right channels would play. After countless hours of swapping cable and amp channels, I stumbled on the problem's cause and cure: If you're listening to a source (LPs, say) in Stereo Bypass mode, then switch directly to 6-channel direct mode to listen to SACD or DVD-A without first turning off Stereo Bypass, the 950 gets mighty confused and offers you something that, for lack of a better term, I'll call "2-channel direct." If you find yourself stuck in that mode, you can correct it by turning off 6-channel direct, then switching to another input, such as TV, and then switching back to 6-channel direct.
The performance of the 950's FM section was somewhat disappointing, even when connected to my 14-foot, roof-mounted Channel Master antenna. The admittedly exceptional 22-year-old JVC mono table radio that lives in my bathroom did a better job of picking up some Bridgeport and Long Island stations. With reasonably close transmitters, however, the 950's FM section was adequate, and certainly better than the radio I had in my home theater to begin with—none! The AM section might be adequate for talk radio, but it suffered from the same limited bandwidth that seems to have plagued all AM tuners since Ford stopped using tubes in the T-Bird.
I was most impressed by the successful conversion of the sow's ear that is Dolby Pro Logic to the silk purse that is Dolby Pro Logic II, which handily defeats anything I've ever heard from straight Pro Logic. DPL II's Music mode backed off the center channel a bit while still providing some clean ambience in the rears, and the Cinema mode turned old "stereo" movies into new experiences, not to mention what it did for mundane TV programs.
Reach for your Wallet!
Outlaw Audio's Model 770 power amplifier is a top performer that never sounds harsh or etched, and it's capable of dealing a lifeblow to any speaker. Whether it might be too much amp for your needs is something you'll have to ask yourself. Few people really need this kind of power. And, of course, if you're looking for a 5-channel solution, many lower-powered amps are available.
For $799, you can't expect everything, so it's a real treat when you get it anyway. The Outlaw Model 950 pre-pro's good sound—no, make that really good sound—and easy operation make it the home-theater buy of the year. And considered as a $2398 package (note the $200 discount when you order the pair together), the 950/770 combo is a one-two punch few receivers can touch.