GOODSOUND!GoodSound! "Equipment" Archives

Published September 1, 2001

 

Outlaw Audio 1050 6.1-Channel A/V Receiver

Outlaw Audio is a relatively new company that has taken advantage of modern manufacturing techniques and the Internet to offer their products factory direct at almost unspeakably low prices. And you can order from Outlaw right over the Internet. The company sells the Model 750 five-channel amplifier and today's review subject, the $499 Model 1050 6.1-channel A/V receiver with Dolby Digital and DTS capabilities. The 1050 comes with a two-year warranty, and to take some of the fear out of buying over the Internet, for Canadian and United States residents Outlaw Audio also offers a 30-day satisfaction policy. See their website for more details.

Since we’re essentially a two-channel audio publication, the 1050 seems largely out of place. But the 1050 caught my eye because of its price, build quality, and abundance of features. Given these, I could see the 1050 being used in a two-channel system with a future upgrade path should its owner wish to add extra speakers for a full multichannel system. And alternatively, there are also those who will obviously use this receiver in full home-theater system now and still be interested in how it sounds with two-channel music.

Description

At 36 pounds, the 1050 is substantial and well built. It features a dark-gray, nearly black livery with green display and a green power button and silk screening. The 1050's front panel contains an abundance of controls, but it is decidedly uncluttered in its appearance. Its design brief must have stressed user-friendliness. Noteworthy features include a numerical-readout volume control; 5.1-direct input; standard five-way binding posts for bare wire, banana and spade-terminated speaker wire; a headphone output; a full-function remote control with lit panel; and plenty of inputs and outputs including pre-outs for all six channels. There is an FM tuner too!

Outlaw Audio says that with two-channels driven, the 1050 can output 70Wpc. With three-channels driven, the power rating goes down a tad to 65Wpc (and presumably lower with all six-channels driven simultaneously). Still, given the modest price, it’s a very respectable amount of power that should amply drive many speakers to reasonable volume levels.

For stereo playback, listeners can use the 1050 in one of two ways. The first is to simply connect a CD or DVD player and listen through the processor’s regular circuitry. What this means is that the signal goes through analog-to-digital conversion, runs through the processor, and then gets converted back to analog again. On the upside, this means that you can take advantage of the bass-management features, as well as things like the DSP modes should you wish to use them. It’s also the simplest way to use the 1050. On the downside, purists will despise the conversion process and associated components clogging up the signal path.

But Outlaw has included a solution. You can use the 5.1 channel input as a "CD direct" input by connecting the left and right outputs of the source device to the left and right jacks of the six-channel analog input. This bypasses the 1050's DSP modes with the result that signals are affected only by the preamp section and volume controls. Purists will likely enjoy it more. On the downside, all the bass-management functionality is gone, and the only control left is that to change the volume. I used the 1050 both ways.

My review system consisted of the Arcam CD72 CD player and a pair of Axiom Millennia M3Ti loudspeakers, with assorted cables by Cardas, Onix, Analysis Plus and BetterCables. The Hsu VTF-2 subwoofer performed alternate bass duties, and the Arcam A65 integrated amplifier served as a dedicated two-channel amplification reference.

First go

I started by hooking up the 1050 straight out of the box using the regular two-channel mode through the processor and got a quick lesson in bass management. I immediately noted that the Axioms' tonal balance was very strange. Then I recognized a little "subwoofer" icon on the 1050's front panel -- the speakers were fed a substantially rolled-off signal. Duh! A glance at the backlit remote control quickly zeroed in on a button labeled "SPKR." Pressing it repeatedly shuttled through different options -- setting the front speakers to "large" or "small," defeating the center and rear channels, deleting the LFE bass channel. The subwoofer symbol disappeared and the display now only showed an "L and R" speaker icon, as well as one for the listener. Shuffling through the mode switch, I selected good-old-fashioned stereo (I didn’t listen to the DSP modes at any length because I feel that proper stereo listening should happen unadulterated). Once that was figured out, I noted that the 1050 "remembers." You can power it down to standby via the green button, or power it down entirely via the rear-panel switch. When it goes live again, you're still in full-range stereo mode on the CD input -- or whatever your last setting happened to be. Nice.

Listening

My first listening test scrolled through two of my trusty 80-minute custom demo CD-Rs. Any overt colorations, sonic peculiarities, outright faults or just major differences of presentation tend to be readily apparent on material I know intimately. The 1050 didn't ring any alarms. Despite possible preconceptions that an affordable home-theater receiver will sound harsh, bright, flat, ill-controlled or exhibit any other imaginable flaw, the 1050 just made music without attracting attention. It avoided brightness by erring -- if anything -- on the side of softness in the frequency extremes and possibly foreshortening soundstage depth by a small margin.

On Anne-Sophie Mutter's Carmen-Fantasie [DG 437544-2], the powerfully punctuated orchestral opening accents were rendered with excellent impact and impressive depth that placed the Spanish-style hand percussion far to the rear left of stage. The violin's excursions into extreme flageolet dog-whistle territory showcased great detail without harshness, stridency or ringing. The sharp attacks of successive bow down-strokes in spiccato passages were explosive and sharp, neither blurred, softened nor unduly exaggerated.

On Ragheb Alama's duet with Faudel (Saharony Elleil, [Mondo Melodia 186850021-2), the 1050 captured the huge space of the band surrounded by an enthusiastic audience. It beautifully conveyed the excitement, energy and peculiar rawness of this live performance. The slamming percussion rocked my Kasbah with control and precision, and the minor brightness inherent in this Arab-pop production was neither subdued nor enhanced, proving that the 1050 is detailed but neither hypes nor exaggerates.

To test transparency of its internal bass management, I compared the Axioms full-range (speakers set "large,'" no subwoofer) against themselves (set '"small'," subwoofer on, crossover at 60Hz) with the volume control on the Hsu turned off. Defeating the sub at this juncture avoided timbre changes from low-bass presence. Without distraction, I could take the 1050's internal crossover in and out of the signal path and compare filtered and full-range modes.

I used two very well-recorded tracks by Diana Krall, from All For You [Impulse IMPD-182], and Sting, from Leaving Las Vegas [Ark 21 810055]. The filtering effects of the 1050 were very minor. They primarily affected the way sounds first appeared in the dark space of silence and how they vanished again into it. The filtered mode softened the leading edges and shortened the decay. The Axioms without the 1050's crossover ahead of them were a little more direct, a little more focused. The Axioms also went a bit lower, which was no surprise. Though they naturally roll off somewhere around 60Hz, they do so at a slower rate than the steeper slope of the receiver's network.

Turning the subwoofer volume back on proved that the 1050, unlike pre-outs or sub-outs of certain preamps and integrateds I have used in the past, forwards its LFE signal straight and undiluted. I had to set the Hsu's seven-indent volume control one-third of the way between the first and second indent (the first indent being dead mute). Filtered through the 1050 with the subwoofer in the loop, the voices now gained body and fullness. They were more clearly appearing in ambient space. Using the remote to switch back to the Axioms solo created a drier and flatter presentation. Did the sub/sat setup lose anything against going monitor-only? A smidgen of transparency, yes. But the increase in ambiance, the fleshed-out vocal range, and the solid foundation of real bass presence renders that a moot point in my book.

Bypass

I obviously compared the two modes of operation I described earlier: the standard connection through the processor, and the bypass mode that purists will likely favor. I was surprised to find the differences subtle again. The bypass mode retrieved more ambient cues and sounded slightly more rich harmonically. Through the processor things were a mite drier and less resolved in terms of space. This neither affected the width or depth of the soundstage nor created any (expected) veiling.

Frankly, though, although there were differences, they were very small, and the Outlaw's DSP circuitry remained as transparent as one could wish for and is a credit to well-implemented modern signal processing. Add the option to sacrifice bass management in favor of the purest signal path, and it seems that this receiver was designed by and for folks who want their cake and to eat it, too.

Comparison

To ascertain whether the 1050 performs in the same sonic league as a dedicated music-only component, I compared it in both modes to the $799 Arcam A65 integrated amplifier. Even non-bypassed, the full-boat home-theater receiver was in no way embarrassed by the integrated amplifier whose circuitry wasn't encumbered by a tuner section, a surround-sound processor and serious digital signal processing power. In fact, once level-matched to a reasonably close tolerance, the differences proved minor -- a subtle but distinct case of character rather than class.

GOODSOUND! APPROVED COMPONENT
Outlaw Audio 1050 6.1-Channel A/V Receiver

The Sting standard "My One and Only Love" from the Leaving Las Vegas soundtrack is recorded in a room of his castle, with a large log fire burning in the fireplace. Every so often, wood crackles or pops. The 1050 rendered this more sharply and distinctly. It emphasized the percussive nature of David Hartley's piano with its metallic highlights and made the reflections of Sting's moderate sibilance off the room walls more obvious. The Arcam appeared more rounded, fuller perhaps, and the 1050 was somewhat more extended on top.

A similar but even smaller difference occurred in the bass. The 1050 captured the initial attack of Chris Laurence's bass notes with a firmer grip. The Arcam was a little softer and warmer again. These were the same basic differences that a few months ago had distinguished the Audio Refinement Complete and Cambridge Audio A500 integrated amplifiers from each other. However, the Arcam/Outlaw duo differed by a considerably less pronounced margin.

Conclusion

Based on its excellent two-channel showing, the feature-packed Outlaw 1050 earns a major thumbs-up. Even if the other four channels and various DSP and surround-sound modes were there only for show, the 1050's music prowess alone stands proudly in the same league as very good music-only components. Of course, you probably won’t buy it just for stereo. Likely, you will consider it for future upgrade or for a full home-theater system. Considering that at $499 the Outlaw is only barely more expensive than the Cambridge Audio A500 integrated amplifier I reviewed some months back, and it's much less expensive than the $995 Audio Refinement Complete and $799 Arcam A65 integrated amplifiers, and it adds comprehensive home-theater capabilities, the Outlaw 1050 is an outstanding bargain.

Price of equipment reviewed


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