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Outlaw Model 950 7.1 Channel Preamp/Processor - Product Review

A High-End Preamp For The Rest Of Us

About.com Rating 4.5 Star Rating

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Outlaw  Model 950 7.1 Channel Preamp
Robert Silva
The Outlaw Model 950 addresses the need for a flexible preamplifer that provides the latest 5.1 to 7.1 channel processing, as well as video switching capability for home theater setups. Read the following review for more details.

Overview

The Outlaw Model 950's features include: all current surround modes (Dolby Digital EX, Pro Logic II, DTS-ES, Neo:6, Cirrus Extra Surround), 6-channel analog inputs for SACD/DVD-Audio application, input bass management control, composite, S-Video, and component video switching (HDTV compatible), all the analog and digital inputs you need (minus a dedicated phono input), plus an AM/FM tuner and a remote control with onscreen menus. As a final bonus, the 950 also has the ability to output a second zone stereo signal to an auxillary two-channel amplifier. This enables the preamp to supply an alternate source that can be accessed in another room at the same time the preamp is being used in the multi-channel mode in the main room.

Despite its seemingly complex rear input/output panel, setup connections are surprisingly easy to make. In addition, the remote control allows easy navigation through an extensive array of onscreen setup menus that enable the user to control everything from 5.1/6.1/7.1 channel configuration to individual gain calibration (test tone generator included) for each channel, to compensation for the size and distance of the speakers from the user's listening spot.

Setup

The following components were used in this review: A Technics DVD-A10 DVD/DVD-Audio player, Butler Audio 5150 5-channel vacuum tube hybrid power amplifier, Belkin heavy duty surge suppressor, monster cable interconnects throughout, various speaker setups, inluding custom-made units, and a Mitsubishi 490U LCD video projector using S-Video connections.

Software used: DTS video/audio sampler discs #6 and #7, Queen "Night At The Opera" DVD-Audio/DTS 5.1 channel disc. Also used were various DVDs with Dolby Digital soundtracks and standard CDs using Pro-Logic II and DTS Neo:6 music settings.

Testing

All sources sounded great through the 950. The surround processing was excellent, and the extensive setup and adjustment menus were effective when changing speaker types and distances from the listener.

I purposely moved the center, mains, and surround speakers closer and farther away from the listening spot in an uneven fashion to test how the speaker distance function worked to compensate. I was very surprised how the correct balance of sound between the speakers could be easily corrected. In addition, although no subwoofer was used in this test, the preamp sent an adequate bass signal to the two main front L/R speakers.

I could detect no audio anomalies from the preamp to the power amp. The DVD-Audio and DTS source material used sounded excellent. The power amp would have easily shown any weakness in the preamp's processing ability. One note: since the power amplifier used was a 5-channel unit, I did not take advantage of the full 7.1 channel operation for this initial test, however, based on the excellent performance of this unit using the 5 channel setup, I can see no reason why its 7.1 operation should suffer. I may post an update on this at a future date.

Wish List

Despite the excellent performance and ease of use of the 950, there were two important features that I wish it had.

The first missing feature I would have liked is a dedicated phono input for a turntable. With the 950, you need to purchase an additional phono preamp in order to match the impedance of the turntable outputs to the the Model 950's standard audio inputs. In addition, since the 950 offers Dolby Pro-Logic and DTS Neo:6 processing, which creates a multi-channel sound field from any two-channel source without destroying the integrity of the source, vinyl records should sound great through this unit.

The second missing feature I would have liked is a headphone jack (great for listening late at night without having power up your power amplifier). Hopefully, Outlaw will consider adding these two features in their next-generation unit.

On the other hand, one feature I could have done without is the AM/FM tuner. Although this function is nice for the second zone capability of the 950, I feel that I could add a separate tuner unit with better performance and more flexibility (such as one that includes an internet or satellite radio tuner) than the one included with the 950. A phono input and a headphone jack would be much more desirable for me than a standard AM/FM tuner.

Bottom Line

However, despite minor shortcomings, the Model 950 is such a stellar unit for the price ($899 plus shipping from Outlaw Audio directly), I have no hesitation recommending it as an excellent option for a home theater system that requires the inclusion of a preamp/processor.

Update 4/05: Since this review was initially posted, the Model 950 has dropped to a price of $699.

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