Outlaw Audio LCR Speaker System

Outlaw Audio markets A/V receivers and amplifiers direct to consumers via the Internet (hence, the inside-joke corporate name) and it remains among a handful of hi-fi manufacturers pursuing this "retail channel" exclusively. Consequently, it has from the outset pitched its products on the technology-value-performance troika. In adding the simply named LCR loudspeaker to a line that also includes the like-named Bookshelf speaker and four powered subwoofers, the Boston area firm is staying on course.

Featuring a typical "LCR" layout (duh!) with dual woofers sandwiching the tweeter, the new speaker is a plain, flat-black, visually unexciting box (though a handsome perforated-aluminum grille takes off a good deal of the curse). This symmetrical layout is widely employed among home theater speakers because, when arrayed vertically, it impedes the vertical spread of midrange sound while leaving horizontal directivity unaffected, reducing floor and ceiling reflections. This promotes clarity and intelligibility but preserves lateral spread, which in most rooms is more effectively dispersed and damped and thus contributes to tonal evenness and a spaciousness.

Laying down such a speaker for center-channel work, however, delivers the opposite results, meaning that listeners sitting well off-center will hear substantially different balance than those sitting head-on - usually, a more cupped or hollow tone color. (This is the off-axis lobing we're always harping on - "lobing" from the bumps and dips that the woofer interactions induce on a frequency-response plot.)

Okay, acoustics lesson concluded. Outlaw's solution to this conundrum is in visible terms a small switch (one of three on the speaker's rear) labeled Ctr-L/R, which selects between two arrangements of its crossover circuitry. Switched to L/R, the Outlaw is a two-woofer two-way meant for vertical setup in left, right, center (as with an acoustically transparent projection screen), and most surround placements. Switched to Ctr, the speaker is a so-called 2½-way, in which one woofer runs bass-midrange while the other functions as a true, bass-only woofer. This maintains full low-frequency ability but eliminates the lobing response, and thus the horizontal off-axis tonal shift, through the mid frequencies. So, then, what is the LCR? It's two, two, two speakers in one!

The LCR's other switches are labeled High Freq and Boundary Comp. The first delivers ±2 dB of tweeter level, for matching tip-top highs to room reflectivity or individual tastes. The second adjusts bass response to the acoustics of locating a speaker close to or against a wall.

Setup I placed five LCR speakers in my standard locations, on 30-inch stands at front left/right and center and, for the surrounds, on high shelves to either side of my seating. To complete the system here, Outlaw matched up the LCRs with its imposing 12-inch LFM-1 EX subwoofer, which I heaved into my long-proven sub location, to the left of and behind the left-front speaker.

Selecting the LCRs' switch settings took longer than placing and wiring the speakers themselves. There's nothing to prevent you from setting your stereo pair to Ctr if you so choose - and indeed, I found the front Outlaws, vertically placed and playing in stereo, to sound a tad warmer, deeper, and more musically inviting that way on their own, while the L/R setting clearly worked better for movies and multichannel music. Again, nothing stops you from walking around and switching modes for serious listening in one program type or the other; there is a resultant level change, but it's pretty negligible.

In my setup, Boundary Comp 1 and High Freq 0 proved optimal, yielding highly accurate, uncolored response that tilted just perceptibly toward the cooler or more analytical side of the midrange-warmth spectrum, and with impressively unforced treble presence, crispness, and air. (Even setting High Freq to +2 dB couldn't make the speaker sound spitty or hard.) The LCRs deliver enough bass for casual listening on typical pop stuff, with useful response to around 80 Hz, but a subwoofer is certainly intended and necessary. I ended up with a crossover set to 70 Hz for the best blend of LFM-1 EX sub and LCR speakers.