Outlaw Audio 990 inital impressions... [Archive] - Audio & Video Forums


View Full Version : Outlaw Audio 990 inital impressions...

N. Abstentia
05-05-2006, 05:19 PM
My Outlaw Audio 990 pre/pro arrived today, much props to both Outlaw (for shipping it same day after my afternoon order) and FedEx Ground (for delivery a 'day' early..it was scheduled for Monday delivery).

Good packaging, no need to go into details. It's a box. It works!

Of course the first thing you notice when unpacking something is the build quality. This baby is put together nicely. Real nice. It's solid, does not rattle when you hit it, and just feels really good. It's very heavy for a preamp, obviously not as heavy as a receiver but it's got some serious heft.

This unit is HUGE! I's a good 3" taller than my Onkyo receiver and a little deeper. You might want to measure if you plan to put this in a rack. But for me, it's not a problem.

The layout on the back is roomy, one advantage to it's height. Plenty of room for cables, and room to get fingers in.

Hookup was straight forward, no surprises there.

Setup was a breeze. Plug in the supplied microphone, run the auto setup, and it's done. Speaker size, distance, everything is done for you. However, the tweaker in me will do this by ear.

The menu system is very simplistic and straightforward, giving you only what you really need. My Onkyo had pages and pages of menus with all kinds of settings. Navigating the menu is a snap and it's impossible to get lost. There is a main menu, then each option under that is just one page. You can't get lost going from page to page because there is just one page!

It didn't take long to get all my video inputs mapped to the correct digital inputs and get it up and running. It works great so far.

I have not had a lot of time to sit down and do critical listening, but so far I'm impressed with the sound quality. I didn't expect a huge difference from my Onkyo but it does seem a little cleaner, maybe just a little brighter.

The multi-channel input is not working quite to my liking yet, my SACD channel levels are all out of whack which should not be since that's handled by the player. Probably just needs more time and attention to get ironed out.

In time, I will mess with the audio upconversion and bypass modes, as well as testing the DAC's against my Marantz DV-6400.

When I upgraded my Nakamichi AV-10 to the Onkyo 898 I had severly outgrown the Nak. I needed multi channel analog inputs, component video inputs, Zone 2, and more audio inputs. The Onkyo gave me all that, but I kind of missed the simplicity of the Nak. I also think the Nak sounded a hair better, but not a major difference. Overall, my Onkyo has been a top notch receiver and if it had more component video inputs and video upconversion I probably wouldn't bother to upgrade.

So, I have barely outgrown the Onkyo. The only input I really need that it does not have is 1 more component video input. So going with this Outlaw pre/pro is more about getting a proper modern preamp (I've been using the Onkyo as a preamp for a while so adding amps is a moot point) with a few more inputs. It also has DVI for future expansion. The video upconversion works flawlessly, and I really feel that it will bring me back to the sound quality and straight forward-ness of my old old Nakamichi AV-10.

So far, so good. This baby is feature rich, and if you're looking to upgrade to a pre/pro don't hesitate if you need the extra features the Outlaw has. But for me, my Onkyo did 90% of the stuff the Outlaw does (plus I used it's internal amp for zone 2) so I need to decide those convenience features and extra inputs are worth $1100 to me. If I didn't already have a top notch receiver, the Outlaw would be a no-brainer. It's phenomenal. I just need more time with it to decide if I'm going to keep it. I probably will, unless I run into something that changes my mind.

So far, here's the main good points it has over my Onkyo receiver:

-Video upconversion. Any component or s-video source is output through component automatically.

-3 component inputs. I'd actually like to have 2 more just to be on the safe side, but 3 is all I really need right now.

-Seperate remote for zone 2. Nice touch.

-Auto setup via supplied microphone. Another nice touch.

-It also has a phono preamp (my Onkyo does too, but not many pre/pro's have them if you're looking for one)

I do miss two things that my Onkyo has that the Outlaw does not:

-Individual source level controls. My Onkyo allows me to adjust the level of each source, like if DirecTV is twice as loud as DVD, turn that input down. I miss this, but I can get over it. The 'audiophile' in me wants to say that this 'waters down' the audio signal since it goes through that level adjustment processor.

-Front panel dimming. The screen is BRIGHT! It can be set to turn off after a specified amount of time, but I'd like to just see a dimmer added. I don't mind it being on, but I'd like to just have it dim.

I will hopefully get a chance to spend some quality time with it this weekend. But so far, I'm impressed. It's pretty much what I expected, which is a good thing!

N. Abstentia
05-05-2006, 05:21 PM
Here's a pic:


N. Abstentia
05-06-2006, 08:54 AM
Well on it's second day, the Outlaw preamp is strongly becoming a keeper for sure.

I got the multi-channel SACD sound fixed up, that was a connectivity problem on my part. The Outlaw has a totally seperate section for the multi-channel inputs, you don't have to steal a video input for it. Very thoughtful.

My DirecTV picture quality is greatly improved by the Outlaw. It's s-video which gets upconverted to component, which goes out to my projector. I don't know if the Outlaw is improving the quality, or if the quality comes from the fact that I'm no longer using a 35ft s-video cable for DirecTV. All I know is that it's better and I did not expect that.

CD sound is overall a little tighter. I still prefer the DAC in my Marantz player but not by a wide margin. I could tell a huge difference between the Marantz and my Onkyo's DAC's, and the Outlaw closes that gap. I doubt that most people would even notice the difference!

05-06-2006, 12:05 PM
Do you know if the outlaw can upconvert to 720p/1080i, or does it just allow you to pass the signal through the component output without a conversion?

Also, what made you decide on this unit as opposed to the Rotel 1068? Just curious. Were there any other contenders in the sub $2000 market?

N. Abstentia
05-06-2006, 06:19 PM
I looked into the Rotel, but there were four things that turned me against it:

1) The $2000 price tag.
2) Only TWO optical digital inputs. I have 4 devices that use digital outputs.
3) No phono input.
4) No balanced outputs.

I looked at lots of preamps just for the sake of comparing them to the $1100 Outlaw and usually one of those 4 issues above immediately deleted that particular unit from my search. I couldn't even tell you specfically the brands/models...I just saw one of those red flag problems (for me) and forgot about that unit.

05-07-2006, 05:48 AM
Thanks for taking the time to give us your impressions. That's a great looking piece of gear and I'm pleased to hear you're finding everything up to expectations, as I have been considering buying an Outlaw piece(r2150) for a two channel project. I have yet to hear a bad review but, of course, it's better to heat an educated opinion. Seems like this is a company in which aeshetics and utilitarianism are held in equal esteem. Good deal.

Cheers and good listening

N. Abstentia
05-07-2006, 06:29 AM
Do you know if the outlaw can upconvert to 720p/1080i, or does it just allow you to pass the signal through the component output without a conversion?

Also, what made you decide on this unit as opposed to the Rotel 1068? Just curious. Were there any other contenders in the sub $2000 market?

I forgot the other question..I wouldn't think it would convert 720 to 1080, it does not do any video processing. It just transparently passes the video signal and does switching, I would think most all preamps are like that.

05-07-2006, 07:57 AM
Sounds like you've got yourself a great little unit. Now you know you're gonna have to buy some M-blocks for your surrounds and center....Or upgrade to the Outlaw receiver...
Nice that your picture quality got a boost too!

One thing I liked about the Outlaw I toyed with was the user friendliness...all the goofy write-ups the companies have about sound quality and processing etc is bung in my books...ease of use, inputs, and flexibility is almost all that separates these units.

Outlaws carved themselves a neat little portion of the HT market just by using common sense.

N. Abstentia
05-07-2006, 09:17 AM
Actually the Outlaw receiver would be quite a downgrade from the 990, it's missing most of the nice features that the 990 has. Plus of course since it's a receiver the amp and preamp section have to be compromised. Plus if you notice, the Outlaw receiver is about half the size of the 990 pre/pro! You think it would be the other way around! That kinda proves right there that the 990 is a no compromise unit.

And, no need for the mono-blocks. Notice that Rotel 3 channel amp at the bottom of my rack? That's dedicated for center and surrounds. I'm kicking around the idea of getting a nice 5 channel amp with balanced inputs and 12v triggers and using the 2 extra channels for Zone 2. Right now I'm using a seperate amp for that.

05-07-2006, 11:37 AM
Plus if you notice, the Outlaw receiver is about half the size of the 990 pre/pro! You think it would be the other way around! That kinda proves right there that the 990 is a no compromise unit.

Sorry, missed the picture, I click right on the e-mail replies and I didn't see it...that's one big muther sucker, way bigger than my pal's pre-pro.

Plus of course since it's a receiver the amp and preamp section have to be compromised.

Well your unit doesn't have a parallel receiver model, it'd weight 80lbs if it did, but the smaller pre-pro does.

It's not fair to say because it's a receiver it has to be compromised in some way. Most of the time the compentry throughout a company's pre-amps, pre/pros, integrateds, and receivers is the same. The pre-amps sections especially...It's just far easier and far cheaper for these to have consistent part throughout instead of having to design and manufactur 3 different pre-amps.
All the good write-ups I've seen on Outlaws receivers boast the fact it's just "separates in a box". I've never worked on an Outlaw, but I do buy broken NADs, Rotels and H/K's from time to time, and they all do the same thing....Easy way to tell is when the service manuals are for 8 different units. The only compromise is the power supply and amp size, not quality,(and possibly heat dissipation disadvantages long-term). You'll lose some wattage and whatever sound quality comes with that, but we shoudn't just say because it's a receiver it's automatically compromised. Once you get out of entry level receiver-ville the only benefit to going to separates is more power and upgrade flexibility (and I would think less damage from heat over time). The uprade flexibility makes it all worthwhile...I'm on my 3rd unit since I bought the 3 power amps. Probably saved over $1000 right there.

But I can see your point on how you'd have no use for the receiver's small amps though...what's next for you after this?

N. Abstentia
05-07-2006, 04:23 PM
Next up is....I'm done for a while. Upgrading my receiver was the only thing I had left to do that I wanted to to do. I might get some new Skylan stands for my fronts, I like the Skylans I got for my rear speakers. They make my existing stands look puny. I'm about 99% sure I'm keeping the Outlaw, at this point I just can't see going back to a receiver. The only reason I wouldn't keep the Outlaw is if I were to find another pre/pro priced the same that had all the same features plus a few more component inputs and a few more optical digital inputs, and I don't think that's gonna happen.