Price: $3499 USD
Dimensions: 17.2"W x 9.5"H x 19.5"D
Weight: 145 pounds
Warranty: Five years parts and labor;
30-day satisfaction guarantee.
- 300Wx7 into 8 ohms, 450Wx7 into 4 ohms (manufacturer rated)
- RCA inputs, fully balanced XLR inputs
- Automated input selection for RCA and XLR inputs
- Dual detachable 15A IEC power cords
- Remote trigger switch
Id just reviewed a 150-pound
home-theater rack, and my back was seriously contemplating the wisdom of my having agreed
to review Outlaw Audios Model 7900 seven-channel power amplifier, which weighs only
five pounds less. But there it was in my listening area, complete with the two 15A power
cords (yes, you read that correctly) needed to operate it.
Well, my back might have said no, but the rest of me
shouted an emphatic Yes! This behemoth of an amp is rated to put out 300W into 8
ohms or 450W into 4 ohms. And it gets better: The Model 7900 retails for $3499 -- not a
lot of dough for the ability to drive some of the most power-hungry speakers out there.
The fact that Outlaw Audio has a reputation of manufacturing high-value home-theater and
stereo equipment only made me more eager get my hands on a 7900.
On their website, Outlaw Audio states, only half-jokingly,
that the class-AB Model 7900 has "enough power to weld a fender together at a bike
shop in Orange County." Yes, its power rating of 300W for each of its seven channels
is jaw-dropping. However, whats even more incredible is that this rating is based
not on a single channel operating flat out, but on all seven channels run simultaneously,
with less than 0.05% distortion from 20Hz to 20kHz.
The 7900s power supply is driven by two huge toroidal
transformers. These and the seven massive internal heatsinks account for a good chunk of
the Model 7900s weight. Also, with 36,000µF of filter capacitance per amplifier
module, the 7900 can store an enormous amount of power: even at the biggest climaxes,
ample power will be available.
Aside from its monstrous power-output capabilities, the
differential design of the Model 7900 uses common-mode rejection to reduce crosstalk (i.e.,
leaking of the signal between channels) to greater than -100dB, a level well below
audibility. Additionally, the 7900s slew rate of 50V/µs is twice that of many other
amps. The slew rate is a measure of how fast the voltage rises from almost zero to almost
full power -- or, in audiophile terms, the speed at which an amp can handle transients.
The 7900s large size means that its spacious rear
panel provides generous amounts of room around each speaker output and each single-ended
RCA and balanced XLR input. The RCA inputs are "semi-balanced," which Outlaw
claims provides a cleaner signal path than traditional RCA connections. Also, unlike some
amplifiers, whose internal single-ended circuits are terminated with XLR connectors, the
7900s XLRs are said to be fully balanced. Input selection is automatic: the 7900
detects what type of connectors youre using. This is one of the many features of the
7900 that are typically found only on far more expensive amplifiers.
The rear panel also contains a ground terminal, a remote
trigger switch, the two 15A AC inputs mentioned above, and, just as incredibly, two power
switches to turn the amp off and on. There are no fuses -- an opto-coupled circuit closes
down the 7900 when necessary. This type of switch performs the same function as a fuse,
except that it uses an infrared beam of light rather than a mechanical actuator.
Usually, theres little to say about setting up a
power amplifier, but the Model 7900 is not a usual amp. First, just getting this giant out
of its box and into my system was a two-man job. Second, there was zero chance that the
7900 was going onto my already overloaded, DIY isolation rack. I placed it on the floor in
front of my system, a decidedly imperfect location.
For the 7900 to deliver its full rated output, Outlaw
"strongly recommends" that its two 15A power cords be connected to separate,
dedicated 15A circuits. I dont have one dedicated 15A circuit for my system.
I threw caution to the winds and plugged both cords into my Synergistic Research Power
Cell power conditioner.
Much to my surprise, while the 7900 ran fairly warm, it
never got nearly as hot as my B&K AVR-507 receiver, which also has class-AB
amplifiers. Perhaps the B&K has fewer output transistors than the Outlaw. If so, this
would force each transistor in the AVR-507 to carry more current than any single
transistor in the Model 7900. Either way, the 7900 ran cooler than Id thought it
It immediately became clear that the Outlaw Model 7900 was
no muscle-bound oaf. Sure, it could shock and awe me with the gravest authority. However,
it could also finesse the source signal like some of the very best, big-name home-theater
amps, at a fraction of their price.
One of the best-sounding recordings Ive heard is
Seals Best: 1991-2004 (Warner Bros. 48882-2). The set comprises one DVD-Video
and two DVD-Audio discs, one of the latter containing acoustic versions of many of
Seals greatest songs. If you seek exceptional detail and microdynamic delicacy, seek
no further: If there was ever a time for the 7900 to show its sensitive side, this was it.
"Crazy" (track 3), like most of the acoustic
tracks, handily outshines the electric version. I could hear Seals hands move over
the guitar, and his bodys movements against the guitar. The strings were tight and
full-bodied, with excellent timbral accuracy. And the 7900 produced remarkably little
background noise: everything was painted on a canvas of inky-black silence.
It soon became apparent that, no matter what music I
played, the sound of the 7900 was remarkably balanced: neither warm nor cool, but
absolutely neutral. While it would be difficult to mistake the Outlaw for a tube amp, this
is not a criticism. The sound of the 7900 was much more crisp and sharp than that of tube
amps, which can sometimes sound a bit soft and rounded. The 7900s reproduction of
music-only recordings was not what I expect to hear from most home-theater amplifiers. I
can only wonder what improvements two dedicated AC lines and a pair of good aftermarket
power cords would contribute to the 7900s articulation of microdynamics and the
lowering of its noise floor.
Out came Saving Private Ryan. The first scene of the
beach landing at Normandy (chapters 2-4) is a sonic tour de force of mechanized warships,
automatic gunfire, explosions, and butchery. Through the Model 7900, these sounds were so
sharp and visceral that the punch of the explosions kept on surprising me, even though
Id played the scene again and again.
When I turned up the volume for these beach scenes as much
as my speakers and neighbors could stand, the 7900 didnt flinch, but just sat there
doing its stuff as if in disdainful disbelief that I could even think that this
exercise might cause it to break a sweat. Based on the 7900s over-the-top
power-output specifications, I wasnt surprised. One Outlaw engineer told me that
they still havent found a speaker that can make the 7900 clip.
Last came Basic, a military thriller starring John
Travolta. Chapter 1 opens with an Army Ranger helicopter that enters from the right rear
surround channel and proceeds to the front right channel in a way that typically makes
visitors jump from their seats in disbelief. With the Model 7900, the sound was so clean
and detailed that I could make out the tiniest nuances in the sound of the choppers
blades, even as the overall impact of the soundscape was shockingly deep and powerful.
I compared the Outlaw Model 7900 with my current reference,
Halcros Logic MC50 five-channel amp ($5990). The Halcro, which I reviewed in April
2008, sounds cooler and cleaner, with breathtakingly crisp transients. The 7900 was an
all-around great performer that presented a fuller bottom and more, well, oomph.
All in all, I preferred the Halcro. However, others might want an amp like the 7900,
which, with its sonic weight, can bully any kid on the block. That the 7900 costs little
more than half as much as the Halcro might affect such a choice. Add to my sonic
preference the modest size and electrically challenged nature of my listening area, and it
should be no surprise that the Halcro will remain my reference amplifier. The Outlaw 7900
may simply be more amp than I need or can now accommodate.
Its difficult to be critical of an amplifier that
offers so much performance for so little money, but I wasnt overly happy with the
quality of Model 7900s chassis. While the faceplate is very solid, the cover that
fits over the top and sides is thin and, like the Halcros, resonates significantly
when tapped. Most audiophiles would consider a chassis so eager to vibrate a bad thing
that would likely prove detrimental to its sound. Nonetheless, here are two overachievers
whose chassis resonate substantially. Go figure.
My other criticism is that, unlike the faceplates of some
other multichannel amps, the 7900s doesnt include a set of LEDs that indicate
that each channel is on and working properly. The more information youre given about
your amps performance, the better, and indicator lights can often warn you of an
internal fault or anomaly in time for you to turn the amp off before any damage occurs.
But such criticisms are little more than nitpicking. The
totally unexpected amount of hardware and level of performance offered by the 7900 for
$3499 make it an out-and-out steal. To ask for anything more for the money would be
unreasonable -- in fact, you wont get it anywhere.
For some audiophiles, the ultimate purpose of an audio
system is to ease their appreciation of the graceful, refined subtleties of a work such as
Mozarts Requiem, his final, unfinished composition. For others, it means
shaking their neighbors paintings off their walls while watching Terminator 2.
If you can provide the Model 7900 with the massive amounts of current that Outlaw
recommends, it will take you well along the way to attaining either or both of these
visions of sonic nirvana, and at a price that constitutes an obscene bargain.
My goal, however, was to produce this review. The toughest
part of the job will be to get the Model 7900 back into its double box, then downstairs to
my lobby to be picked up. The easy part will be giving the 7900 my recommendation, which I
do without hesitation.
|Speakers - MartinLogan
Vantage (mains), MartinLogan Stage (center), MartinLogan Script i (surrounds), MartinLogan
Descent i (subwoofer)
processor - B&K AVR-507
|Stereo preamplifier -
- Halcro Logic MC50
|Source - Marantz DV9600 DVD
conditioners - Synergistic Research Power Cell, PS Audio Noise Harvesters, DIY
|Cables - Synergistic
Research, Kimber Kable, DH Labs
devices - Bright Star Audio Big Rocks and Little Rocks, Black Diamond Racing
cones and pucks, Balanced Power Technologies Cable Stilts, DIY isolation rack
|Display device - Sony RPTV