Continuing with two-channel music, I fired up my trusty Burmester demo disc, which they used during their incredibly impressive demo at the 2010 CES show. Track nine on the disc is Hugh Masekela's "Stimela" from his album Hope (Triloka Records). The rasp in Hugh's voice was brilliantly rendered and the amp again threw a convincing soundstage with staggering "you are there" transparency. The early portion of this song has some quiet moments, which lead to basic chaos at the end. The amp showed great transient speed and conveyed Hugh's masterful and haunting horn play brilliantly. His vocals were rich and layered, the best I've heard them since Burmester's demo.
Real world, real budget home theaters these days aren't typically going to include two-channel listening rigs, so firing up these two Redbook CDs was basically a test of the 7900's versatility, and I came away impressed. Also, B&W 685s have an open, airy treble, so it's a good idea to avoid bright source components. In this case, the Outlaw proved to be a good fit as neutrality is one of its strong suits.
Moving on to multi-channel music and switching to my Episode in-wall speakers, I played the SACD of Roxy Music's Avalon (Virgin Records), which remarkably is going for just under $200 on Amazon.com right now - and I could use the cash. Anyway, on "More Than This" the 7900 exhibited jarring texture in the vocals and solid channel separation. This is a surround heavy SACD mix and having 300 Watts thrown to all seven channels at once is really a game changer. You end up hearing everything a track has to offer, and it's especially rewarding with well-recorded multi-channel music. Bryan Ferry's vocals were layered, refined and as smooth as I've heard them in quite some time. I cranked this one up pretty good and the 7900 simply scoffed at me.
At this point I was ready for a lossless Blu-ray, which I found in the form of Toy Story 3 (Disney Pixar) in 7.1 channels of DTS-HD Master Audio bliss. The film opens with a bang as all of the characters are on a train heading for a bridge that has gone out; wow, there's a refreshing plotline. As Woody lights up the brakes, the 7900 showed its mettle with both the low-end bass and the high frequency screeching of the wheels. It was incredibly immersive and just plain old fun, exactly what you want with this type of film. Again I pushed the volume to literal ear-crushing levels and again the 7900 let me know that I'd have to quit long before it would. It made me wonder if maybe the Outlaws should market this bad boy to actual movie theaters? Nothing wrong with a new revenue stream.
Next up in the cue was the movie I typically use to demo my system for family and friends - Quantum of Solace (MGM) on Blu-ray in DTS-HD Master Audio. While this isn't a 7.1 Blu-ray it is great for showing off and/or testing amps, speakers, processors, subwoofers, etc. As such, I'm familiar with it and the last time it was this visceral and entertaining was when I was sitting in the actual movie theater. What really stood out in the opening car chase scene were the lower end frequencies, such as the hum of Bond's Aston Martin, which sounded like it was in the room. No joke kids, this amp brings the theater experience directly to your crib and relatively speaking, it's affordable.
Sticking with movies I popped in the Blu-ray of Terminator Salvation (Warner Home Video) in DTS-HD Master Audio. The scene with the A10 Warthogs doing battle with the Terminators was reminiscent of Top Gun and an absolute sonic treat through the 7900. Precision, control and more power than any amp I've reviewed thus far. That's what I wrote in my listening notes, and then I went back and watched this scene three more times. That's big praise.
Competition and Comparison If you're looking for something a bit more subtle and refined, albeit it with significantly less power at 125 Watts per channel, I can confidently recommend the $4,000 Cary Audio 7.125. If you haven't yet made the jump to 7.1 (maybe you're waiting for more source material?), then you might want to check out the highly received Anthem Statement P5, which boasts comparable power at 325 Watts into five channels and costs $4,999. Yet another amp worth comparing would be the identically priced, but less powerful at 160 Watts per channel NAD Masters Series M25.
The Downside For some, the need to run two power cords to separate 15A circuits can induce sweating and mild twitching, not to mention AWS (Angry Wife Syndrome). Although if you can get past those things, you will reap just rewards as the 7900 is worth the hurdles. If I'm being realistic, this is a specialized product designed for a specific purpose - rocking the holy hell out of large home theaters. If your room is small to medium in size, this big daddy is simply going to be overkill.
My other minor quibble is the lack of indicator lights on the front panel for each of the seven channels, as it's nice to know that each channel is functioning properly. Sonically speaking though, there isn't anything to complain about as it's astonishing to find this level of transparency, combined with this level of sheer power, for $3,500.
Conclusion One thing to consider is that an amp, especially one with seven channels, is a good place to begin building a new home theater, or simply upgrading an existing one. It has more built-in future proofing than any other component. While technologies change, especially with regard to processors, a solid amp can remain the foundation of a great home theater for years.
I don't know about you, but if I drop 3,500 bones on an amplifier I want it to be equally adept with movies and music. While I was somewhat skeptical about how the Outlaw would respond with the subtleties of music, I came away duly impressed. If you spend most of your time listening to music and your room is of modest size, you're probably better suited going with one of Outlaw's less powerful amps such as their 7200 or 7125. Conversely, if you want to re-live the downtown LA shootout scene from Heat the way it was intended by the filmmakers, or if you simply hate your neighbors and want to rattle their molars, then the 7900 is your huckleberry. At $3,500 for an amp of this caliber, you'll be hard pressed to do better.