Serious home theater fans and audiophiles have long extolled the benefits of buying separates--that is, two separate, dedicated components to manage the processing and amplification rather than housing both functions in one box (as in a home theater receiver or an integrated amplifier). Sonically, some of the benefits include having more space for high-performance designs, better heat management, and generally more power for amplification. That's not to say there aren't high-end receivers with very beefy amplifier sections. But many consumers just like the convenience that separates can offer, of being able to change the preamp section at will to keep up with all the latest sound and video formats like DTS:X or 4K Ultra HD without having to change out the amplifier section along with it.
The main problem with separates is that, most of the time, buying a separate preamp and amplifier is much more costly than the one-box solution. While there are at least a few modestly priced stereo amplifiers out there, there just aren't very many choices for someone looking for a budget-priced multichannel amplifier.
In standard "outlaw" fashion comes the new $599 Model 5000 amplifier from Outlaw Audio to disrupt the status quo in the marketplace. Readers of this publication should be very familiar with this Internet-direct retailer that has been selling high-quality amplifiers and other gear at outrageously competitive prices. Low-priced gear is a dime a dozen in today's world, but it's Outlaw's dedication to bringing true reference-quality performance to the masses that has set it apart. Just a few years ago, the Model 7900 won the honors of best multi-channel amplifier here.
So, when Outlaw told me they "hit a new low" so to speak, and were now launching a new amp at the sub-$600 price point, I was all but foaming at the mouth to get my hands on one.
The Model 5000 is a five-channel, Class AB design rated at 120 watts per channel, with all channels driven at a nominal impedance of eight-ohms, across the audible frequency range from 20 Hz to 20 kHz at less than 0.02 percent Total Harmonic Distortion. Manufacturers publish amplifier ratings in wildly varying ways, and sometimes it is really hard to determine what it all means. This spec that Outlaw provides is about as conservative of a standard as it gets. It means Outlaw guarantees that, if you connect five speakers with a standard impedance of eight-ohms (which many speakers have) to the amp, each speaker gets at least 120 watts, even if all speakers are blasting at the same time--and no matter what audible frequency the source material is playing through. And the signal will come out pretty much exactly as it went into the inputs. Oh, by the way, this is an RMS rating, meaning continuous sustained power, not the power measured at a peak. Any one of those line items is an area where many manufacturers cheat a little in order to publish a higher power rating, with the consumer being none the wiser. As they say, caveat emptor, right?
While there are certainly more powerful dedicated amplifiers out there, 120 watts is more than a match for the amplifier sections of even the most powerful receivers out there, including those from longstanding high-end audio names like Anthem and Cambridge Audio. There are more goodies in the design that show how Outlaw didn't skimp on performance just to make the budget. The company built in a differential-sensing RCA input circuit to reject input hum (in other words, it's quieter). Each of the five channels has four bi-polar output transistors sharing current, meaning it runs efficiently with less heat. Each channel is also designed with its own power-supply rectification; this way, the amp can isolate each channel's power supply, and you can max out on power on each channel with every channel driven.
Transitioning to a smaller home has me on the lookout lately for components that make more sense from both a budget and space standpoint. The amp is six inches tall by 17 inches wide by 16.75 inches deep and weighs in at 50 pounds. It wasn't tiny, but it was definitely manageable for me to get out of its packaging and move onto my standard-sized Sanus component rack. The chassis was all black and metallic, machined with excellent precision. A single on/off button with blue LED lighting surrounding it adorns the front panel. Honestly, you wouldn't be able to tell it was a $599 amplifier just by looking at it.
Outlaw also sent me its Model 975 processor for testing so that I could use a preamp of similar build quality and price to what a consumer interested in the Model 5000 would use. (Outlaw has a package deal that includes the 5000 and the 975 for $999, which represents a $200 discount.) For speakers, I mainly used the SVS Prime Satellite 5.1 system that I still had on hand, but I experimented with few others for reference. For sources, I toggled between streaming sources on my HP Envy laptop, a Roku streaming stick connected through the Outlaw 975, and the Sony Playstation 3 as my Blu-ray transport. All cables and interconnects were from Wireworld. I should note that the Model 5000 only has unbalanced RCA inputs.
Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...