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TITLE

Specifications:

- Power Output (FTC): 7 x 100 watts @ 8 ohms, 20 -
    20kHz, 0.05% THD, All Channels Driven;
    7 x 165 watts @ 4 ohms, 20 - 20kHz, 0.05% THD,
    All Channels Driven
- Signal to Noise: 119dB "A" weighted
- MFR: 20Hz. -20kHz. +/- 0.1 dB at rated output
- THD: < 0.05% at rated output, all frequencies,
    <0.01% at 1 kHz.
- IMD: < 0.05% at rated output.
- Power Bandwidth: 5Hz - >100 kHz +0/-3 dB
- Damping Factor: > 400 from 10 Hz to 400 Hz
- Crosstalk: > -90 dB from 20 Hz to 20Khz
- Gain: Voltage gain of 28.
- Slew Rate: 50v/Microsecond
- Input Impedance: Nominal 50 kOhms
- Size: (HxWxD): 5" with feet x 17.2" x 16.2"
- Weight: 51 Pounds
- MSRP: $899 USA
 

Outlaw Audio

www.outlawaudio.com

Introduction

I often get more excited by a high quality product at a low price than a price-no-object statement piece, no matter how divine the performance. Outlaw Audio’s model 7100 seven channel amplifier sells for $899 plus shipping, and represents a solid value.

Outlaw sells products direct to consumers over the Internet, cutting out the retailer and everything that goes along with retailers: rent, staffing, and profit margin. Of course you also have to give up the ability to try out the product in the store and getting the salesperson’s advice. Instead of auditioning the equipment in the store, Outlaw offers you a 30 day home trial. Instead of a salesperson’s advice, Outlaw offers a (mostly uncensored) Internet forum.

Outlaw and their business model aren’t news to Secrets readers, as we’ve reviewed Outlaw’s 200 watt per channel monoblock amplifiers and a 90 pound, seven-channel x 200 watts beast. While reasonably priced by any measure – by the pound, by the watt, by the dollar – those amps are clearly aimed at folks who need lots of power (the seven-channel x 200 amp requires its own electrical circuit) and are comfortable with separates. The 7100 offers 100 watts per channel, and seems to be aimed at people looking to upgrade from receivers to separates, but who don't want to have it delivered with a forklift. It’s therefore quite reasonable to ask, "Are 100 watts per channel enough?"

It’s important to distinguish between dedicated amplifier specs and a receiver’s amplifier specs. Low end receivers sometimes use amps-on-a-chip, not discrete amplifiers. They typically only reach their rated power output at certain frequencies, and either have high distortion rates or use lots of negative feedback. Even many higher end receivers are rated only for 8 or 6 ohm loads. And even those receivers that honestly put out the juice are sharing a power supply with processing and switching circuitry.

The Design

The Outlaw 7100 weighs 51 pounds, and is spec’d at 7 x 100 watts @ 8 ohms, 20 - 20kHz, 0.05% THD, all channels driven, or 7 x 165 watts @ 4 ohms, 20 - 20kHz, 0.05% THD, all channels driven. Nothing extraordinary here (beyond the price), but good solid numbers nonetheless.

Designed and built in the United States, the Model 7100 uses a modular design you can clearly see through the chassis vents. Each channel has four discrete output devices and 20,000 microfarads of filter capacitance. So, for seven channels, that's 140,000 µF total, which is a big number in anyone's book. The unit's high current power supply is driven by a 1.2 kVA toroidal transformer with separate windings for each channel.

Individual heatsinks provide cooling for each amplifier module. No fans are needed for cooling, so in operation the amp makes no mechanical noise of its own. In addition, the amplifier is protected against high heat and over-current conditions by separate protection circuits for each channel.

A low-voltage trigger input is provided to integrate with the pre/pro that supports it, and it worked as advertised with Outlaw's Model 950 pre/pro. I simply left the amp on all the time when paired with my Yamaha DSP-A1 receiver, using the pre-outs to drive it.

The Sound

I got a chance to compare the 7100 back to back with another similarly priced amplifier. This isn’t part of my normal test suite, just bad luck. As I was hooking it up to my system I discovered that my 300 watt Carver Lightstar amplifier driving my dual subwoofers died. Replacing the fuse had no effect, so I tried powering the subs – just the subs – using a Harman Kardon PA-5800 amp I have on hand. The PA-5800 is rated to deliver 110 watts per channel into 4 ohms. That’s less than the 150 watts per channel they were used to getting, but I figured as long as I don’t need that last half decibel of volume, I should be fine.

It didn’t work out that way. All my speakers, including the subs, are part of the Carver 5.2HT series and are listed as 4 ohms. The PA-5800 is a five channel amp that originally sold in the $1,000 range. I’d been using it to power the surround and front effects channels from my Yamaha DSP-A1 / Parasound CSE 6.1 combo and was quite pleased with the breathing room it gave the receiver. But when I used it for the subwoofers (and powered the rest of the speakers with the Outlaw 7100), bass was muddy, resonant, and ill defined. The PA-5800 lacked the power and control the subs needed – and this was not a subtle audiophile thing. Bass guitars sounded fuzzy, and movie explosions were loud, but not distinct.

Next, I connected just the rear center channel to the PA-5800, and drove all five main speakers plus the two subwoofers with the 7100. And it rocked. I don’t usually get excited by amplifiers. They take a signal and make it louder. Sonic differences between them tend to be subtle. But I do get excited by value: when the Outlaws tell you that for $899 they’ll give you 165 watts per channel (into 4 Ohms), for all seven channels, all driven hard at the same time, you can believe them.

What impressed me most was the bass. I ran through my usual test suite of music and movie clips, and the 7100’s bass was tighter and more tuneful for both movies and film than either the Harman Kardon or the Carver Lightstar (though, to be fair, the Carver may have been sick before it died).

Music

Dave Matthews Band’s CD Crash – Track 1, "So Much To Say" has a rolling bass line and a lot of jam-style instrumentation. It played loud and clear. My only criticism: there was a tiny bit of congestion in the instrument mix at high volumes. I ran through tracks from several CDs, and in both DPL-II and stereo, the amp’s tone was neutral leaning towards analytic; for a strictly two channel setup I would prefer a bit more warmth. Not a criticism, just my preference for sound characteristics.

I was not able to test DVD-A or SACD, so I started with a DTS DVD – Diana Krall, Live in Paris. Track 6: “’Deed I do” is a great test of low level detail resolution – I’m still not 100% sure what the humming sound is at 38:04. The music had plenty of swing, and I had no complaints. Moving on to a Dolby Digital DVD, I listened to James Taylor Live at the Beacon Theater. I intended to listen to “Me and My Guitar” and then move on, but in the end I listened to a half dozen tracks without writing any notes. Always a good sign.

Movies

People considering a seven channel amplifier are probably most interested in using it for home theater. This was where the 7100 distinguished itself. Here are a few highlights:

The pod race sequence in Star Wars Episode 1 is basically a Dolby Digital EX test track. Deep, deep bass on the explosions, exquisite sound design on the flybys/overs, distinctive engine sounds, layered music, and occasional dialogue. The 7100 provided a completely immersive soundfield, with all the different harmonics from each of the pods’ engines. Driving five speakers and two subwoofers, the 7100 kept its composure at all volume levels, even with the pre/pro set to produce regular peaks at over 95 dB measured at the sitting position. You want to go louder than that? I don’t – I need my hearing to do this job.

I moved on to The Matrix, and watched several loud scenes to hear if the sounds of ejected shell casings are distinct within the mix. They were. Chapter 31 includes helicopter flyovers that test your surround integration and how loud can they play, and more fun with shell casings. Are they distinct throughout the shootout, or just when the camera looks up at the Gatling gun, and at that point, are they harsh? The 7100 passed with flying colors.

Impressed with how loud it could play and the “tunefulness” of the bass, I moved on to dialogue intelligibility. The ideal test here is where the actors are recorded on set, not dubbed afterwards in a studio. To make it difficult, add in slurring and bad accents, and you’ve got: This is Spinal Tap. The outside interview scenes (ex: “Dust For Vomit”) and guitar storage scene (“This one goes to eleven”), meet all these requirements, and, unlike the action demo sequences, are enjoyable even when watched repeatedly. This is more of a test of the processor and speakers than the amplifier, but the 7100 was not the weak link.

Conclusions

Inigo Montoya said in The Princess Bride, "Let me explain. No, there is too much." So, let me sum up on the Outlaw 7100. It is quite good but slightly analytical for two channel music. However, it is a terrific performer across the board with home theater, with more than enough power for anything I threw at it. At $899 for all seven channels, it is unquestionably a tremendous bargain.

 

- Avi Greengart -

 

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