By William Kallay
Premium sound and video quality for a great price
TECH SPECS: 32-Bit CS497024 Processor
192 kHz 24-bit DAC's for all channels
4 HDMI 3D Inputs
HDMI Output with ARC
7.1 RCA pre-amp outputs
Front height-channel outputs
4 Digital Inputs (2 coaxial, 2 optical)
2 Component Video Inputs
2 Composite and 2 S-Video Inputs
5 Analog Audio Inputs
High performance tuner
RELEASE DATE: 2012
REVIEW EQUIPMENT: Vandersteen Model 2ce
Signature II speakers, Onkyo Integra DTR 30.4 receiver, ATI
Amplifier Technologies AT1202 amplifier, HSU STF-1 subwoofer,
Vandersteen VSM surround speakers, MacBook Pro, AudioQuest
Rocket 33 bi-wire, AudioQuest Sidewinder RCA cables,
AudioQuest Mini-5 mini cable, AudioQuest Dragonfly DAC, LG
flat screen LED 3-D television (55-inch)
For a number of years, I sat on the periphery and read about
Outlaw Audio. They got their start in the early days of the
Internet by selling high quality audio equipment for very
reasonable prices. I've read reviews by fellow writers and
they've been very impressed by the Outlaws. I never ordered
any products from them until now.
The Outlaw Audio Model 975 A/V processor leaves out tons
of technological features to concentrate on one thing: great
audio for movies and music. Since I needed, and really
wanted a simple A/V processor for my Blu-ray collection, I
decided to jump on the Outlaw Audio wagon and take the Model
975 for a ride.
Outlaw Audio shipped the Model 975 quickly to my front door.
The unit came boxed with simple but sturdy foam inserts.
Unpacking was very easy, as the Model 975 doesn't weigh very
much. This is actually a nice change. Many receivers and
sound processors I've had in the past weighed a ton.
The Model 975 is housed in a black chassis with a cleanly
designed faceplate. The power button and a headphone jack
reside on the left side, while a minimal set of buttons sit
on the right side of the faceplate. The volume knob sits
above the five buttons on the right side.
Installation was very easy. I must admit that I don't care
for lightweight audio or video equipment, but it was
refreshing to install the Model 975 into my amplifier. Most
of the time, I have to lug a heavy receiver or pre-pro on
top of the amplifier. Plugging in cables from my
Oppo Digital BDP-105 and
cables from the Model 975 into amplifier took only minutes.
SIMPLICITY IS A GOOD TRAIT
My two most recent sound processors were made by
Onkyo Pro and Integra. Both are high-end divisions of Onkyo
and have received well-deserved kudos for their sound
quality. They are somewhat complicated pieces of equipment
that require some time and patience to set them up properly.
And even when they are set-up properly, they sounded good,
but not great, to my ears.
The Model 975 doesn't have any
fancy menus for set-up. The on-screen display is very basic.
I prefer this method. I don't have to scroll through
numerous menus to get to what I need. They might
not be the prettiest menus, but they get the job done
quickly. A few adjustments to speaker settings and levels
and I was ready to go.
With the Model 975, there is no room correction. What you
hear without the unit's few digital signal processing modes
(DSP) is what you get. My Vandersteen speakers are highly
sensitive and seem to benefit best by audio equipment with
the most direct signal paths possible. I've tried a couple
of receivers and pre-pros with room correction software and
everything sounds unnatural. I like the simplicity of the
Model 975 from its menus to the fact I don't have to set up a
room correction microphone.
The only minor setback for me was the Model 975 ability to
switch between inputs. Switching between HDMI and analog
inputs on the Onkyo products was very quick. The Model 975
has a three-to-five second lag time between input switching.
The fine folks at Outlaw Audio explained to me that this was
an engineering decision. At first this bothered me, but I
actually got used to it. Just don't expect super quick
changes when switching.
The Oppo Digital BDP-105 lets me run an HDMI cable directly
to my flat screen television. It does such a fantastic job
in picture quality that I'm reluctant to run HDMI into a
processor. For this review, I ran an HDMI cable through the
Model 975, and one from it to my television. The picture
quality was stunning. I perceived a slight
bit of resolution loss, but it was hard to tell. I didn't
have matching HDMI cable, so that might explain the
difference in picture quality. I had the Model 975 set to
"Native." Because I'm so particular about picture quality,
even the slightest perception of losing resolution caused me
to go with the BDP-105's direct feed. I will say that using
the Model 975 as a video switcher will please most viewers,
SOUND QUALITY (Blu-ray)
With past receivers or pre-pros I've owned, sound from
Blu-ray discs could be excellent or just good. Certain
Blu-ray discs, when played through those various processors,
for instance, sounded filtered. High pitched sound effects
lost their sheen, while low bass effects had little boom.
Any ambient sound effects were buried. One disc that always
frustrated my eardrums was 2008's "Quantum of Solace." I
wasn't originally fond of the film but it has its merits and
it has grown on me.
The opening sequence features an exciting car chase and it's
filled to the brim with loud sound effects. My previous
sound processors couldn't get a grasp on this sound mix. The
Model 975 brought out the soundtrack's intense mix in all of
its glory. The sound was finally crisp and clear. Not all
the sound effects had to be loud to impress me on how the
Model 975 handled them. In one sequence that takes place on
Dominic Greene's jet (Mathieu Amalric), I never, ever,
noticed the ambience of the jet's interior until the Model
975. I actually played the scene a couple of times to hear
the ambience. In a later scene in which Bond (Daniel Craig)
and Camille (Olga Kurylenko) hide out in a cave, the sound
of dialogue and cave ambience was extremely realistic.
"Shine A Light" is director Martin Scorsese's ode to the
Rolling Stones. The disc has three audio options: Dolby
TrueHD, DTS-HD Master Audio, or uncompressed PCM. On my
previous Onkyo Pro/Integra processors, when using bitstream
without any DSP, only Dolby TrueHD sounded the best. For
whatever reason, DTS-HD and PCM sounded heavily filtered and
lower in volume level. The Model 975 took out the virtual
cotton from my ears. The Model 975 excelled. Dolby TrueHD,
DTS-HD and PCM sounded equally awesome.
"Tron: Legacy" is the follow up to the original 1982
classic, "Tron." Since I wrote a
book about "Tron," I'm pretty close to that film and its
own legacy. The sequel wasn't what I was hoping for, but it
does have its moments. What stands out is its aggressive
soundtrack. The opening narration by Jeff Bridges (who plays
both Kevin Flynn and Clu) is extremely dynamic. Bridges'
voice played through my Onkyo products was very deep, but
muddled to a degree. The Model 975 kept his deep voice
present in my listening room and it also gave it a touch of
At times, the Model 975 sounded so realistic, I jumped out
of my chair. Gun fire in "Quantum of Solace" had me actually
ducking on my couch as if someone lit a firecracker behind
me. When Keith Richards hit the strings on "Jumpin' Jack
Flash," my skin got goosebumps and my heart pounded from
sudden shock. I thought to myself, "Damn! That's how the
Stone probably sound live!" "Tron: Legacy" had an aggressive
punch to it and it sounded better than ever. I saw it
originally at the Samuel Goldwyn Theatre in Beverly Hills,
and that theatre has one of the best sound installations in
the world for film.
I didn't feel the need for room correction while listening
to the Model 975. It just sounded right. Room correction can
help rooms and certain speakers seemingly sound better. In my experience, I'd rather have speakers that are honest
with a component's signal. I'd also rather have components
that are as neutral as possible to the signal that flows
through them. The Model 975 demonstrates that simplicity
works extremely well.
SOUND QUALITY (Digital Audio Files)
The Model 975 can act as a preamplifier for audio sources in
your sound system. I was skeptical that a piece of audio
equipment this small would sound good on music. Most good
sounding components have some heft to them when you pick
them up. The Model 975 is weighs so little, it couldn't
possibly sound all that great, right? Color me a believer in
the Model 975, because it had me grinning.
From my hard drive plugged into the Oppo Digital BDP-105, I
used the player as a DAC. I ran a pair of AudioQuest analog
cables into the Model 975. Going through the menus, I found
an old favorite of mine, The Cure's "Staring at the Sea."
This was one of the earliest CDs I bought back in the 1980s.
A friend of mine recommended it to me when I was going
through my pseudo late-teen angst period. I still dig on the
cheesy lyrics and Robert Smith's dark singing. The CD was
transferred as WAV files onto the hard drive. The verdict?
Nearly every song played from the Oppo into the Model 975
sounded very good.
The Eagles "The Long Run" was their underrated 1979 album.
The remastered version sounds incredibly good for a 16-bit
WAV file. One of my favorite tracks is "Those Shoes." It's
got great bass and drumming that gets my feet tapping every
time I hear it. "The Sad Cafe" subtly captures the mood of
the band before they went their separate ways. It's a track
that is very rarely played on the radio (though you can hear
"Heartache Tonight" frequently). For the first time in a
long time, I sat down and listened to the entire album.
Despite music sounding very good through the Model 975, I
did sense that the processor digitized analog signals. I
confirmed this with Outlaw Audio. Normally when a receiver
or pre-pro digitizes an analog input signal, the sound
becomes very unnatural. The presentation can sound lifeless.
Fortunately, the Model 975's analog input didn't seem to impose
too much of
its own sonic signature.
If anything, there was a hint of "strain" on how music played.
The best way I can describe this is by driving a four
cylinder car versus a V-6. The four banger is more than
capable of hitting high speeds, but the horsepower starts
petering out fairly quickly (at least on my car). A car with
a good V-6 engine will generally keep going as you hit the
higher revs. The power feels more confident. This is how I
felt about the Model 975. I felt it sounded very strong at
first, but the overall sound lost its power to a degree.
This was not a deal killer for me. I prefer a straight
analog path from a DAC into an analog pre-amp. Since I
didn't have an analog pre-amp on-hand, I was more than
pleased with the Model 975's sound with music.
Between my previous Onkyo Pro and Integra products and the
Model 975, I much preferred listening to the Model 975,
despite the analog input being digitized.
SOUND QUALITY (SACD)
The first SACD I played through the Model 975 was Mobile
Fidelity's "JT." I chose the analog inputs on the Model 975. In my review of the Oppo Digital BDP-105, I
remarked on good this remastered album sounds. I wanted to
hear how it sounded through the Model 975. I came away
really impressed with how it allowed the album's sonics play
naturally. The album sounded like a fine piece of vinyl LP.
I played select tracks from my other favorite test SACD,
"The Nat King Cole Story." On the Onkyo Pro and Integra
units, the SACD sounded excellent, but somewhat muffled. The
Model 975 seemed to open up these outstanding recordings.
Nat's voice always had presence in my listening room, but
his vocals were clearer and more robust through the Outlaw.
The "Concord Jazz Super Audio CD Sampler" has recordings
dating back to 1979. My favorite is a naughty little number
by the late singer Carmen McCrae called "My Handy Man Ain't
Handy No More." Recorded at Birdland West in Long Beach,
California, the 1987 recording seduces you along with
McCrae's sultry vocals. It's a "you are there" recording
that automatically drops you into, what I imagine, a smoky
nightclub as McCrae playfully sings this tune. The staging
of the recording is deep, as you can hear the audience in
the background very clearly. McCrae's vocals enter your ears
and she makes sure you're listening to her. The Model 975
steps out of the way and lets this recording grab your ears
with its double entendres, and then it pushes you back in
your chair once it's over. After hearing McCrae on the Model
975, I felt like I needed a cigarette, and I don't smoke!
THE WOW FACTOR
After reading about Outlaw Audio for years, I'm glad I
finally checked them out. Their customer service is
impeccable and the Model 975 is an impressive little
The Model 975 finally gives me movie sound that I've been
craving. Blu-ray discs, with their high-octane soundtracks,
sound excellent through the Model 975. For the first time in
years, I've actually been eager to sit down and watch and
hear a movie. I found myself going through my
Blu-ray collection to see how good they would sound through
the Model 975.
What surprised me was how good music sounded through the
Model 975. I won't say that the Outlaw sounds better than an
expensive pre-amplifier separate, but it does an incredible
job in sounding remarkably good. I'm not a fan of digitizing
analog signals, but the Model 975 performed like a champ.
Unless you have an analog pre-amp, I don't think you'd be
too disappointed in the Model 975's sound on music.
For $549.00, you can buy a receiver with tons of technology
inside of it, plus numerous trademark logos stickered on the
front panel. You may want fancy room correction, too. But
why bother? Get the Outlaw Audio Model 975 and pair it with
an inexpensive amplifier. A combo like this will give you
hours of enjoyment that no receiver can provide. At this
price, only audiophiles with "golden ears" would ever know
you didn't have pricey components. Or would they?
Special thanks to Jennifer Martin, Scott Jackson, Peter and
Nancy at Outlaw
Photo: © Outlaw Audio. All rights