The Internet-direct darling Outlaw Audio has always been at the forefront of home theater trends. The company was among the first to sell direct to consumers, focus its product line squarely on value and now offers a barrage of high-performing, high-value, lifestyle-oriented products. Outlaw's initial move into the more lifestyle-oriented marketplace came in the form of the Cue Model r1 table radio. The Cue Model r1 was followed by the OAW3 Wireless Audio System, which essentially made it so that any powered subwoofer could now become a wireless one. Hot on the heels of both the Cue and the OAW3 is Outlaw's newest lifestyle venture, the OSB-1 Soundbar with H-PAS. While Outlaw is hardly the first to offer a soundbar, the OSB-1 seeks to be something more by offering true high-end home theater and music performance at an attractive price. How attractive? Try $799 direct. While $799 may seem pricy for a soundbar, considering they can be had nowadays for less than $200 retail, Outlaw claims that its OSB-1 is not only better, but potentially all the home theater equipment some users may ever need, replacing costly components as well as cumbersome speakers all in a single chassis. Is the OSB-1 all the home theater product most users truly need? That's what I wanted to find out.
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Looking at the OSB-1 for the first time, one thing becomes immediately apparent - it's large and in charge. Clad in a combination of matte black finished MDF and black speaker cloth, there is no mistaking the OSB-1 for anything but a loudspeaker or piece of home theater equipment. Among its soundbar peers, it's not the sleekest-looking piece of kit I've ever seen, though Outlaw has always been about function first and style second. The OSB-1 itself measures 42.75 inches wide by five-and-a-half inches tall (more on this later) by six-and-a-half inches deep. It's also surprisingly heavy at an even 20 pounds. A surprisingly neat feature of the OSB-1's physical design isn't its ability to be table- or wall-mounted, although it's capable of both, but rather its ability to be "flipped," meaning it works as well inverted as it does right side up. Since the OSB-1's display and manual controls are actually located inside or on the face of a hump that rests above the bar itself, the ability for the display to right itself when inverted is an especially nice touch and opens up new possibilities for wall-mounting.
Behind the speaker grille rest two three-quarter-inch tweeters and two four-inch woofers. Having only two four-inch woofers inside the OSB-1 makes Outlaw's claims of subwoofer-free bass all the more sensational, but that's where H-PAS comes in. H-PAS is a patented technology developed by Atlantic Technology to coax better bass response from smaller speakers and/or enclosures through the use of chambers and front-firing ports. H-PAS is how the OSB-1 can achieve a reported bass response of 47Hz from a soundbar possessing only two four-inch bass/midrange drivers. While 47Hz is not full-range territory by any means, it is a surprising claim coming from a soundbar that doesn't also employ a subwoofer, though the OSB-1 does offer a subwoofer out should you wish to add one later. The OSB-1's overall frequency response is stated to be 47Hz to 20Hz, with the crossover frequency coming in at 4kHz.
The OSB-1's inputs, which are located inside the soundbar's hump. include three digital audio inputs (two optical, one coaxial), two analog audio ins and a subwoofer out. There is a single 3.5mm stereo input located on the OSB-1's front panel as well. The OSB-1, thanks to its internal DSP, can decode and play back both Dolby Digital and DTS surround formats to create a faux surround sound performance. It also auto-senses either Dolby Digital or DTS soundtracks, though your choice of stereo downmix or faux surround is left up to you and is selectable via the OSB-1's remote or manual controls located on the soundbar.
Speaking of the OSB-1's remote, it is very simplistic and small, possessing the essential controls for source, volume, bass, treble, mute and mode. Mode refers to the OSB-1's ability to play back in your choice of two-, three- or five-channel surround sound. The remote is basic but straightforward, and easy enough for any novice to pick up and/or understand without having to consult a manual or loved one.
Installing the OSB-1 into one's system, specifically my living room, is about as easy as it gets. As I moved recently, my living room is no longer my dedicated listening space, but is instead an actual living room, meaning the only equipment allowed in it now are HDTVs and soundbars. I connected the OSB-1 to my Dish Network HD DVR and Sony Blu-ray player using two one-meter runs of generic optical cable. From there, it was merely a matter of messing with the OSB-1's bass and treble controls before settling on a sound that I felt best represented neutral - and not zero. Zero is not that setting, which was confirmed by Outlaw.
Outlaw was kind enough to send along a subwoofer in the form of the company's diminutive M8, just in case, but I ended up not using it at all during my evaluation of the OSB-1.
While the OSB-1 is predominantly aimed at the home theater enthusiast, this didn't stop me from listening to a few CDs - after all, it has but two speakers. I kicked things off with Moby's Play (V2 Records) and the track "Everloving." I experimented with all the various DSP and faux surround sound options, ultimately settling on "5 Channel" and "5 Channel Expanded" as the optimal settings for even two-channel listening.
Read more about the performance of Outlaw Audio's OSB-1 soundbar on Page 2.
In straight two-channel mode, I found the OSB-1's stereo presentation to be a bit too congested - that is to say, it was more or less confined to the speaker, as opposed to its sound being colored. In either of its five-channel modes, the sound opened considerably, with "Expanded" being the more spacious of the two, though the least direct, i.e., with more ambient reverberation present in the mix. Expanded gave a sort of mid-hall sound to the entire mix, which wasn't altogether bad, and a nice tradeoff for a wider, more spacious soundstage than the almost monaural sound when playing back in two-channel mode. The midrange was largely uncolored and neutral, though maybe a touch recessed, again, maybe a byproduct of the DSP versus the OSB-1's actual sound. The highs were extended and airy but not artificially sweet and sat back in the mix a bit further than what I was used to hearing. Some may classify the high frequencies as perhaps dry, but I must admit that the OSB-1's treble performance didn't much bother me. I did note a touch of sibilance at higher volumes, but again, this isn't wholly out of the norm for a) a sound bar and b) a component of this budget range and makeup. Bass was impressive and solid, with great mid-bass impact and, for most listeners, I'd imagine it to be enough, though with this particular track, there was definitely some low-end information left out of the equation. Dynamics were appropriately large, if not a touch enhanced, though they weren't artificially explosive in a sort of "look at me" way. "Everloving" borrows some motifs and cues from old LPs, meaning its sound is such that at times it plays as if it was recorded from the playback of another, older recording. With discrete loudspeakers, this subtle fade in volume is but mere texture. However, regarding to the OSB-1's DSP, it came across a little more wobbly. This isn't a knock per se against the OSB-1, for it's not the first time I've heard it, but it is something to consider.
To further test the OSB-1's two-channel performance, I cued up another favorite, Sarah McLachlan's The Freedom Sessions and the track "Elsewhere." The bass notes were deep, appropriately round and nicely placed within the rather wide soundstage. McLachlan's vocals were also vividly rendered with surprising focus and texture, though they did seem locked to the OSB-1 itself, whereas the rest of the music did not. You could argue this is a testament to the OSB-1's center image, as there is no center speaker present. I would agree to a point, though the rest of the sound did not seem as confined. Still, the vocal performance via the OSB-1 was impressive and natural-sounding, even if its scale was a touch off compared to the rest of the sonic canvas. Overall, the OSB-1's two-channel performance, albeit in a five channel matrix mode, was impressive and enjoyable, but that's not its focus.
The OSB-1's focus is movies. I fired up Prometheus on Blu-ray disc (20th Century Fox) and chaptered ahead to the film's climax. I left the OSB-1's five-channel Expanded mode engaged, though this time it was receiving a 5.1 signal from my Blu-ray player. Boy, what a difference that made. While I found the OSB-1 to be spacious with regard to its two-channel performance, its multi-channel performance was that of near-envelopment, side to side and top to bottom. I should point out that having side walls relatively close and a reflective ceiling (aren't all ceilings reflective?) helps in conveying the illusion of five discrete loudspeakers, but it was impressive nevertheless. With a true multi-channel feed the OSB-1 comes off as sounding more like a center channel with the remaining four speakers hidden from view. This of course means that vocals are largely relegated to the OSB-1 sitting before you. In terms of vocals, because they were ever so slightly constrained, there was some (emphasis on some) coloration at times, specifically when played back against utter chaos happening on screen, but nothing that was too distracting. I noted a little "chestiness" during the film's more chaotic moments. High frequencies were again open and extended, but still a little recessed. Tapping the treble controls up a notch or two helped to bring them out of the mix, but it came at the expense of the OSB-1's largely neutral midrange. Depending on your room, you might get away with a click or two positively on the treble, but much above that and you begin to negatively affect the sound. The bass was plentiful and, at higher volumes, completely satisfying, to the point where I didn't feel it necessary to install the small Outlaw sub loaned to me for this review. Could you add a sub? Sure, and if you have a larger room or a propensity for bass, then perhaps you would, but within the confines of my personal living space, I was completely happy with what the OSB-1 dished out. All in all, I was rather blown away by just how convincingly the OSB-1 presented multi-channel material to me in a wholly cinematic way.
I ended my evaluation of the OSB-1 with Marvel's The Avengers on Blu-ray ( Paramount) and, rather than bore you with the same colorful adjectives and whatnot, let me just say that soundbars have arrived and, while the OSB-1 from Outlaw may not be the prettiest belle at the ball, it is among the best out there in terms of substance. Rather than jot down notes, I ended up watching a two-hour movie in the middle of the day via a 50-inch plasma and a soundbar. That's how much the OSB-1 helped to draw me into the story, which is really what any piece of equipment should aspire to do. My litmus test for any product I'm reviewing is whether it can get me to stop reviewing and enjoy the content. The OSB-1 accomplished this feat.
I don't find the OSB-1 to be all that attractive, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so you may disagree with me there. I do think that, at the very least, the OSB-1's controls, inputs and I guess its processing could have rested internally rather than atop the cabinet. This would've dressed things up considerably in my opinion, even if Outlaw chose to stick with the matte black painted MDF look.
I wish the OSB-1 had some form of wireless connectivity, such as Bluetooth, for after living with a Bluetooth-enabled soundbar in the LG, I really discovered how much I value such conveniences. It just helps to bring another level of user engagement and functionality to an otherwise terrific product.
The OSB-1's surround sound effect is going to be the most engaging when it has reflective surfaces to play off of, which means your mileage may vary, depending on your room and how you choose to set up the OSB-1. If you live in a loft or open space, then you may disagree with some of my findings, whereas if your room is smaller, you may think I've undersold the OSB-1's capabilities. Any way you slice it, as with traditional or discrete loudspeakers, the room will play a critical role in just how good (or how bad) the OSB-1 will sound.
Lastly, can it be prettier? I'll stop.
Competition and Comparisons
There are a number of soundbars from which to choose, some costing much less than the OSB-1 and some costing far more. Within the OSB-1's supposed wheelhouse, not necessarily based on price, I would point to the MartinLogan Motion Vision soundbar ($1,499.95), the ZVOX Z-Base 580 ($599.99), the Aperion Audio SLIMstage 30 by Soundmatters ($799) and maybe (maybe) even Bowers & Wilkins' Panorama Soundbar ($2,200).
As some of you may be aware, the MartinLogan Motion Vision is my current top dog as far as soundbars go, possessing incredible performance and style at what I consider to be a reasonable price point. The OSB-1 manages to pack a lot of the same punch, or more in some instances, as the MartinLogan, albeit in a much less attractive package, though it makes up for its lack of looks with a far lower price, half to be exact.
In terms of performance, perhaps the OSB-1 is the better product. However, soundbars are aimed at the lifestyle-oriented consumer, so their physical appearance plays a role in one's purchasing decisions. It is because of this factor, and this factor alone, that I don't believe the OSB-1 runs away with the competition. Also, there are soundbars available, albeit not as good, for even less money that also look better than the OSB-1. I like the OSB-1 a lot and find its sonic performance exemplary, but it does have some competition. For more on these soundbars and others like them, please visit Home Theater Review's Soundbar page.
While not a foregone conclusion, I kind of had a feeling Outlaw's first foray into soundbars wasn't going to be a dud. The fact that it says Outlaw on it means the OSB-1 is available to consumers in a far more meaningful way, as in 100 percent direct to the consumer. Additionally, it allows the OSB-1 to be priced aggressively at $799. To me, what matters most is that the OSB-1 manages to be as good as, if not better than when it comes to movies, my current favorite soundbar, the MartinLogan Motion Vision, at half the price. While the OSB-1's two-channel performance isn't the best I've heard among its soundbar peers (that distinction goes to either MartinLogan or Bowers & Wilkins products) it's simply sublime when it comes to movies, especially well-mixed Blu-ray content. While I may not be falling all over myself over the OSB-1's looks, its sound quality when it comes time to dim the lights and get on with the show more than makes up for its image deficiencies. As of this review, the OSB-1 from Outlaw Audio is one of the best soundbars available today. Factor in that it costs less than half as much as either of the two soundbars I may put above it and you could make the argument that it is the best of the three overall.
Read more soundbar reviews from HomeTheaterReview.com's writers.
See televisions to pair with OSB-1 in our HDTV Review section.
Explore more reviews in our Subwoofer Review section.