HOME THEATER & SOUND -- www.hometheatersound.com



June
2004

Reviewed by
Vince Hanada
REVIEWERS' CHOICE 2004


Outlaw Audio
LFM-1 Subwoofer

Features SnapShot!

Description

Model: LFM-1 subwoofer

Price: $579 USD
Dimensions: 21.75"H x 15.5"W x 22.0"D
Weight: 58 pounds

Warranty: Three years parts and labor


Features
  • 12" downfiring long-throw woofer
  • 325W BASH amplifier
  • Line- and speaker-level inputs
  • Dual ports
  • Black matte finish
  • Variable, defeatable crossover
  • Auto-sensing on/off
  • Phase control
  • Detachable power cord

If you’re after the biggest bang for your buck, look no further than Outlaw Audio. By designing audio products in the US, manufacturing them in the Far East, and selling direct via the Internet, Outlaw is a huge audio success story offering great value across their product line. The first Outlaw product I sampled was the now-discontinued Model 1050 receiver, which I still use. It offered a lot of quality for its modest price of $499.

Since then, Outlaw Audio has steadily expanded their product line, from amps to processors and now to the subject of this review, the LFM-1 subwoofer. At $579, the LFM-1 is priced to continue Outlaw’s tradition of remarkable value.

Description

In Outlawspeak, "LFM" stands for "low-frequency module." To the rest of the world, this means subwoofer. And a massive sub it is -- this monster weighs a hefty 58 pounds and measures 21.75"H by 15.5"W by 22"D. You can’t hide it discreetly under an end table.

On the LFM-1’s bottom are two 3.5"-diameter ports and a 12" downfiring woofer. Inside is a 325W BASH amplifier capable of very high peaks of 1300W. A BASH amplifier is a digital-switching amplifier that reportedly combines the sound of a class-A/B design with the high efficiency of class-D. This results in high power that doesn’t require massive heatsinks. Sure enough, there are no heatsinks on the LFM-1, but the subwoofer’s rear stayed cool no matter how hard I drove it.

The LFM-1’s suite of controls will cover pretty much any home-theater scenario I can think of. There are switches for: On/Auto/Off, Phase (it toggles between 0 and 180 degrees), Volume, Crossover (variable from 40 to 180Hz), and Crossover Active/Bypass. Inputs and outputs include a single line-level RCA input and speaker-level inputs and outputs. With these controls, you could hook up the LFM-1 to your receiver’s subwoofer or speaker outputs (the latter to off-load the bass from your main speakers).

The LFM-1 is painted in a black satin finish. I found the cabinet very handsome, with an understated matte finish. The top of the subwoofer has a shiny inset panel of smoked Plexiglas. To keep the cabinet above the floor and allow the downfiring woofer to breathe, Outlaw supplies large, well-made spikes.

Performance

I tried placing the Outlaw Audio LFM-1 next to my left front speaker, about 9’ from my listening seat, but it was a bit too large to fit there. I ended up placing it behind the left front speaker, about 11’ from my listening seat. The beauty of a downfiring design is that its main boundary (the floor) is already defined. Thus, I didn’t have to worry as much about adjacent walls or cabinets compromising performance as I do with forward-firing subwoofers.

The LFM-1 was designed with the help of Dr. Poh Ser Hsu, a renowned subwoofer expert and founder of the subwoofer company Hsu Research. Outlaw’s design goal, established with Hsu’s help, was to provide optimum output down to 25Hz, this frequency chosen because most music recordings and DVD soundtracks have little or no content below this point. To make a subwoofer perform cleanly below 25Hz would require a much more massive cabinet and/or a huge amplifier coupled to a high-excursion woofer -- both of which would result in a cost much higher than $579.

Using test tones, I was able to confirm that these design goals had been achieved. Playing a 16Hz signal, I could feel the woofer’s excursion, but my sound-level meter detected no sound. At 20Hz, the meter measured a slight blip, and I could hear the walls rattling slightly. At 25Hz there was very good output -- about 87dB -- with my meter 6’ away and the walls rattling substantially. What was remarkable was that at around 32Hz, I could keep turning up the volume of my receiver with no audible chuffing from the LFM-1’s ports. The Outlaw just kept chugging along, playing any test tone cleanly without the woofer bottoming. At 32Hz, I was awestruck that the Outlaw LFM-1 could play the test signal as loudly as I could stand (110dB, according to my meter) without protest. This is far better performance than I’d expected, especially at this price.

But the Outlaw LFM-1 really kicked butt when I cued up some DVDs. When I played chapter 22 of Pearl Harbor, the explosions sounded clean and tight and rocked my room. The LFM-1 showed what a difference a subwoofer can make with action movies. As played through the Outlaw, the explosions were startling, and made the surprise attack much more shocking than when listening to my system with no or lesser subs.

Another great trait of the Outlaw LFM-1 was that it did not call attention to itself. My placement of the subwoofer in the front left corner provided even bass response all over my room, no doubt helped by that downfiring woofer. In chapter 10 of Reign of Fire there is a scene in which the dragon flies around, the sound of its flight panned from one speaker to the next. The LFM-1 gave a sense of the dragon’s enormous size, the deep bass frequencies seeming to follow the dragon from speaker to speaker. In other words, I could simply follow the sound around the room without the LFM-1 revealing its location -- a remarkable feat for a subwoofer. This was more impressive because the speakers I was using -- Magnepan’s MMG W and C -- have very little bass response to speak of. The LFM-1 was crossed over high, at 120Hz, which usually results in bass signals being easily located at the subwoofer. This was not the case with the Outlaw-Magnepan pairing.

While watching chapter 3 of another great bass-heavy DVD, Underworld, I observed another good subwoofer characteristic evident in the LFM-1: good bass transient response. This is a gun battle between werewolves and vampires, and the heavy thudding of bullets was conveyed nicely. Each bullet thud was distinct, never degrading into a boomy morass. In other sound effects, such as when Kate Beckinsale fans out her leather coat, the LFM-1 supplied a foundation of deep bass that added to the movie’s dark atmosphere.

Comparisons

Other subwoofers I had on hand were the Mirage OM-200 ($1000) and the Paradigm Seismic 12 ($1400), each of which has a unique configuration. The Mirage OM-200 has dual 8" woofers on opposite sides of the cabinet, run in-phase. Like the Outlaw Audio LFM-1, the Paradigm Seismic 12 has a downfiring 12" woofer; however, it also has two passive drivers, one on each side of its sealed cabinet. Both the Mirage and the Paradigm are smaller than the Outlaw, the Paradigm being particularly compact -- it’s a 14" cube.

Although the considerably higher cost of the other subs might make this comparison seem unfair, the Outlaw LFM-1 held its own. The LFM-1 played a bit deeper and louder than the Mirage OM-200. In the pants-flapping pod-race scene from chapter 20 of Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace, the LFM-1 had slightly more impact than the OM-200. Where the OM-200 excelled and earned its higher price tag was with music, where it seemed to have more finesse. While listening to the SACD version of SuperBass 2 [Telarc SACD-63483], the LFM-1 sounded a bit "one-notey"; with the OM-200, the bass notes from each double bass were more distinct.

The Paradigm Seismic 12 shows what you can get when you spend about 2.5 times the cost of the LFM-1. When called on to do so, the LFE channel can pressurize my room through the Paradigm. The Outlaw approached this performance without quite reaching it. Both subs could shake my walls, but the Paradigm shook my body, as I discovered while watching The Haunting. In chapter 10, the bass dynamics were explosive through the Paradigm Seismic 12, which added to the scene’s eeriness. The bass did not have quite that presence with the Outlaw LFM-1.

Conclusions

When auditioning the Outlaw Audio LFM-1, I was continually impressed by its performance. The most amazing thing was that it hit high sound-pressure levels without audible port noise, which is usually where I hear performance deficiencies at or near this price. Another remarkable feat was the LFM-1’s ability to blend well with bass-deficient speakers such as the Magnepan MMG W/MMG C system. Although in some respects the LFM-1 revealed some shortcomings in comparison to the Mirage OM-200 and Paradigm Seismic 12, what astounded me was that it wasn’t out of place in this company.

My only caveat is that the LFM-1 is much larger than similarly priced subs -- but that might be one reason it performs so well. If you’re looking for a subwoofer in this price range, the LFM-1 should be at the top of your list. Although Outlaw Audio has a 30-day money-back guarantee, chances are you won’t need it.

Review System
Speakers - Magnepan MMG W (mains, surrounds), MMG C (center)
Receivers - Outlaw Model 1050, Sony STR-DA5ES
Sources - JVC XV-721 DVD player, Pioneer Elite PD-65 CD player, Sony DVP-NS650V SACD player
Cables - Sonic Horizons, TARA Labs
Monitor/Projector - JVC 32" direct-view TV, InFocus X1 front projector
 

Manufacturer contact information:

Outlaw Audio
P.O. Box 975
Easton, MA 02334
Phone: 866-OUTLAWS (688-5297)

E-mail: information@outlawaudio.com
Website: www.outlawaudio.com

 


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