Test Report: Outlaw Audio Model 975 Preamp/Processor Page 2
Film sound is not the 975’s only reason for being, but it’s at least half of the design brief, especially for the seriously afflicted home theater buff.
You’d be hard pressed to find a better one-disc demo than Skyfall, the third effort of the Daniel Craig-era James Bond franchise. The Outlaw 975/7125 duo negotiated this movie’s countless action sequences without a hiccup: The notably clean, punchy DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack came across as unfailingly clear and effortlessly detailed. Like so many recent films, this one has a somewhat bright mix, but the 975 never sounded harsh or cutting as some less-able A/V receivers and processors (even some quite expensive ones) can at times. Still, I mildly rued the absence of a gentle, top-octaves-attenuating “Cinema EQ” curve (THX or otherwise), a feature that’s found on some other processors.
The Outlaw duo had no difficulty delivering even the fullest-scale episodes, such as the copter-crash scene in chapter 29. As busy as this sequence is, the maelstrom of explosions, rotor-beats, and crashes remained perfectly detailed and spatially located. And I loved how PLIIz processing (and my small height speakers) added an extra, towering layer of ominousness to the hovering, strafing gunship in this section.
Nor was the Outlaw processor the least bit music-averse. With the 975 on duty I failed to note any difference in transparency, dynamics, or timbre relative to my everyday pre/pro, a much more elaborate unit costing more than 3 times the 975’s tariff. Even dense, aurally demanding music like a favorite Mahler’s 5th (EMI, Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic) retained the full transparency and listen-into-ability I’m accustomed to hearing from my system. The 975 does not offer anything in the way of music-mode options beyond Dolby PLII and DTS Neo:6, but it’s easy to overlook just how good these can sound with the right material given careful setup.
Outlaw’s new pre/pro is all about sonics and value, not ergonomics. Nonetheless, anything humans use must suffer ergonomic scrutiny, and the 975 suffers it, for the most part, graciously. A highly capable 8-component omni-remote includes direct-access keys to such must-haves (in my book) as channel-level and LFE trim. There’s even a key to invoke test-noise without traveling to the menus, and another that lets you change speaker settings (large, small, none) on the fly — a unique feature in my experience. Clearly, somebody who has spent lots of time fiddling around with countless parameter-burying A/V receivers and processors, and has the grey hairs to prove it — somebody like myself — put a good deal of thought into these choices.
On the downside, the remote is a bit crowded, and it uses gray-on-white key lettering and gray-on-black labels that are low-contrast in good light and effectively invisible in dim light. The remote does include full-keyboard key-illumination, but it is so bright that it effectively washes out the labels, so if you don’t already know what key you’re seeking you must wait for the light to time out (and then for your eyes to adjust) to read the labels.
The absence of any onscreen displays other than the setup menus (unadorned but clear text) is a bit of a loss in my book. That’s because I’ve become dependent upon pop-up displays, a pretty much universal feature on flagship models these days, to keep me oriented to volume and mode changes, signal formats, and channel-levels. In day-to-day use this is not so big a deal, since you probably do not compulsively tweak channel levels, as I do — a lingering side-effect of years of reviewing. That said, I wish the 975’s blue-on-black front-panel display was easier to read from 10 feet, and that reading it did not require quite so much waiting for text to scroll.
Outlaw throws in a fairly complete roster of video-processing tools. You can scale HDMI or analog video up to 1080p (or down to 480p, if you’re feeling perverse), and monkey around with Color, Brightness, and all the other standard video adjustments. Deinterlacing proved to be equally good with analog and digital signals, negotiating our rotation of test-disc clips with no artifact beyond a tiny bit of subtle moiré on one particular torture-test segment.
The 975’s HDMI switching is neither the fastest nor the slowest I’ve encountered, averaging perhaps 10 seconds to go from source-to-source. And one thing you might not notice unless you were looking for it: The 975 skips any sort of Zone 2 or other multizone facilities, a feature found on nearly all other pre/pros and most receivers today above the Walgreen’s bulk-stack grade. This is no big whoop for me, but if your system is built around a 2- or 3-room setup, it could be a deal-breaker.