Outlaw Model 7900 Seven Channel Amplifier Reviewed

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Outlaw Model 7900 Seven Channel Amplifier Reviewed


Outlaw_Audio_7900_multichannel_amp_review_front.jpgOutlaw Audio is an aptly named American consumer electronics company based in Easton, MA. Their products have a solid reputation in the audiophile community for providing high-end performance at real world prices and based on my experience with the 7900 and a handful of their other products - their renegade name is warranted. The company operates a bit like an audiophile cult. People who buy into the Outlaw concept believe. When you plug in the two (not one - two) AC power cords on the Model 7900 power amp, you know you are in for something special from this American made massive power amp.

Additional Resources
• Read more multi-channel amplifier reviews by the staff at Home Theater Review.
• Find Floorstanding Speakers or Bookshelf Speakers for the 7900 to drive.
• Explore sources in our Source Component Review section.

The Model 7900 is the flagship in Outlaw Audio's line of amplifiers, though instead of labeling it flagship I might have gone with battleship, for it somehow seems more appropriate. The 7900 retails for $3,499 and like all of Outlaw's products, is only available through their website. The amp weighs a stout - no, a robust - oh hell, let's just call it a colossal 145 pounds and measures nine and a half inches high by 17.2 inches wide by 19.5 inches deep. The 7900 is a fully balanced amp, capable of driving 300 Watts per channel into eight Ohms or an astounding 450-Watts per channel into four Ohms. Its differential design and impressive slew rate of 50V/�s ensure exemplary transient performance. According to Outlaw, the slew rate of the 7900 is nearly double that of comparable single-ended (non differential) amps. Another notable feature, especially at this price point, is automatic input selection, allowing you to use the balanced or semi-balanced RCA inputs without having to worry about flipping a switch. Also worth noting, especially for those of you whose processors don't include balanced outputs, is the semi-balanced design of the 7900's RCA inputs, which according to the manual provide a cleaner signal path. The 7900 also features an improved power controller, which delays start-up. No big deal you say? Ever turn on a power-hungry device and your lights dim? This technology eliminates that annoying problem.

When my managing editor, Andrew Robinson, first suggested this amp to me for review, I bristled a bit, wondering if maybe it wasn't overkill at 300 Watts per channel with two power cords. Now that it's connected and effortlessly running my 7.1 system, I've realized that my hesitancy was unwarranted and I'll explain why.

One thing I've noticed about the audiophile community, it doesn't matter if you have to install your amp with a crane and plug it into a dedicated generator to run the sucker; if it sounds good we'll jump through those hoops and be thankful for it. As such, I had my electrician come out and split a four-way outlet so that each outlet was on a different circuit, to ensure the highest level of performance from the amp. But don't let that scare you away, as an extension cord can also be used if you don't have a second outlet near your rack. Just be sure to use a 12-gauge cord for a run of more than 10 feet, per the instruction manual. For runs of less than 10 feet, a 14-gauge power cord will suffice. A word of caution when moving this beast: if you've been spending more time at Krispy Kreme's than the gym lately, have a friend help you pull it out of the box as this will insure a safe and easy installation.

Outlaw Audio carries a strong reputation for quality, value and performance, not to mention the fact that their multi-channel amps are designed and built in the United States. While the trend is to outsource every possible manufacturing job we once had in this country to places like China, Outlaw Audio does what others in their Internet-direct class can't do, which is deliver meaningful performance from an amp built right here in Los Angeles while being competitive with amps from other online brands that come from factories far away. All things being equal - wouldn't you rather have a badass amp made in the U.S. versus one sold online at the same price that costs this country jobs?

Outlaw_Audio_7900_multichannel_amp_review_rear.jpgThe Hookup
The Outlaw packaging was more than adequate, especially for something this heavy and unwieldy. Oftentimes with affordable audio gear, packaging is inadequate and it's a bit of a crapshoot as to whether or not it will show up intact; this is certainly not the case with the 7900. While I'm a bit embarrassed to admit this, I was so excited to fire up the amp I had my wife help me hoist it onto my amp stand. After hearing fellow Home Theater Review writer Brian Kahn's story of his wife dropping an amp and shearing off the rear feet, you'd think I'd know better. Thankfully my wife was able to work it out; I guess she's stronger than Brian's wife. Anyway, once on the stand and after wiping the sweat from my brow, I proceeded to connect the 7900 to my current reference system, which consists of the stunning new Cary Cinema 12 Processor, an Oppo BDP-93 Blu-ray player, a Cambridge Audio DACMagic DAC, and an Apple TV. For the connection between the processor and amp I used Oasis 6 balanced audio cables from WireWorld. In terms of speakers, I used my Bowers & Wilkins 685s for two-channel listening and my Episode 700 Series in-walls for Blu-rays and multi-channel audio. Burning in an amp is the subject of some debate, but the safe bet with any high-end audio gear is to give it at least 24 hours of burn-in before doing any critical listening. As such, I popped in one of my trusty DTS demo discs and set it to "Loop All." This was a trying time as I was dying to get my ears on this thing, hoping to glean new heights of performance from my system.

Performance
I began with some two-channel music and popped Paul McCartney's Good Evening New York City (Hear Music) into the Oppo. On the track "Let Me Roll It," I was immediately struck by the massive soundstage exhibited by the 7900. Paul's vocals were rich and highly detailed, without being overly bright. The low frequency material in the track played with authority and right out of the gate I was starting to understand what my managing editor meant when he said of the 7900 "Brace yourself, for the control and texture you're about to hear will blow your mind." It didn't take a 7.1 lossless Blu-ray for me to realize that 300 Watts per channel will give you a true assessment of your speaker's potential. 

Read more about the Outlaw Audio 7900 multi-channel amp's performance on Page 2.

HTR Product Rating for Outlaw Model 7900 Seven Channel Amplifier

Criteria Rating

Performance

4.5

Value

4.5

Overall

4.5

Disagree with our product rating? Email us and tell us why you think this product should receive a higher rating.


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Outlaw_Audio_7900_multichannel_amp_review_inside.jpgContinuing 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.

For more on multi-channel amps including the latest news and review please check out Home Theater Review's Multi-channel Amplifier page.

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.

Additional Resources
• Read more multi-channel amplifier reviews by the staff at Home Theater Review.
• Find Floorstanding Speakers or Bookshelf Speakers for the 7900 to drive.
• Explore sources in our Source Component Review section.

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