Outlaw 950 Pre-Pro

Category: Preamps

First off, I am a compulsive upgrader, and have a terminal case of the "grass is greener" syndrome.

Due to this malady, I have owned the following pre/pros over the years (all paired with either Sherbourn 5/1500A or EAD Powermaster 1000):

Lexicon DC-1 (good sound, flawless operation)
Aragon Soundstage (terrific sound, one of the best)
Acurus ACT-3 (best under $1000 until Outlaw 950)
EAD Encore (great on music, lacks HT dynamics, buggy)
EAD Ovation Plus (superb on music, weak HT dynamics)
Sunfire TGII (Great dynamics, terrific music performance. All in all, the best one of the bunch. Only reason sold is needed money more than the unit.)
Bryston SP-1 (deathly quiet, ruthlessly dynamic, painfully exposing on music)
Anthem AVM20: (outstanding HT, uninvolving music)

A recent downturn in personal fortune had me sell all my gear and settle down with a receiver (I chose the Denon 4800) for HT and my Jolida 202A integrated tube amp for music (breathtaking on female vocals and Jazz).

Good lord, the Denon was a big step down. As receivers go, a fine unit, but my ears were used to some very pretty sounds by now.

I couldn't settle for the Denon, but didn't really have the cash to get back into separates. Then again, thanks to Outlaw, I did.

I grabbed a 950/755 combo from Outlaw's site (thanks to the miracle of Mastercard) and I was back in business.

Here's what I found:


I thought I'd use this set-up until my cash flow improved, but now that it has fattened up, I feel no need to step back up to the supposed high-end stuff. The Outlaw 950 has terrific dynamic range, flawless operation, and PLENTY of features for the price.

All the latest formats and setup choices are there. I'm hooked on DPL-II conversion for TV and any other mono or stereo source, and should I choose to step up to 7.1, the Outlaw is ready.

It even sounds pretty good with music. (Again, with the Jolida, not an issue for me, but nice nonetheless.)

It's an outstanding value, and IMHO, far more than most people need to get EVERYTHING the creators of the source intended for you to hear. Just make sure to pair it with a capable amp, and you'll be nothing less than thrilled.

Crisp, dynamic sound in all formats. 7.1 capable, every current sound format represented. STUNNING value.

Remote ergonomics a little funky. Not the prettiest thing in the world.
Good to see someone that has quite a bit of hands on experience with various models making comments about this unit.

My Father was / is interested in the 950, as was i a while back, and i talked him out of it for the same reason that i did not buy one. First of all, i had read WAY too many "horror stories" about poor quality control / units with "quirky operation". Another problem that i had was that most of the people raving about this unit had only used receivers prior to purchasing this unit and had little experience with quality separates. Another factor was that those that had "audiophile credentials" kept complaining about high noise levels with this unit when using it in 2 channel mode. On top of all of this, while cosmetics don't usually effect my point of view about unit, build quality does. As such, the Outlaw looks like a cheasily built NAD product from yester-year. Put all of this together and it was enough to turn me off, even if the price was VERY reasonable for all of the features that the unit came standard with.

After all of that, i later found out that the Outlaw is made in the same plant as the Sherbourn and the Atlantic Tech units. Supposedly, the Sherbourn is built to their specs and is quite different in performance from the Outlaw. That is, according to Sherbourn marketing reps. While i can understand Sherbourn's reluctance to specify how / why / what is different about their unit from the Outlaw in terms of internal design, especially since the Sherbourn is WAY more expensive and the differences might not be that great, the fact that the Sherbourn has been relatively well received lends a bit more credibility to its' "sibling", the Outlaw. On the other hand, the Atlantic Tech unit is supposedly identical, yet costs several hundred dollars more than what Outlaw is selling the 950 for.

If you don't mind, i'd like to ask you ( and the others that own / have owned the 950 ) a few questions:

How does the unit perform when running it strictly in 2 channel mode ?

Have you tried using the DAC's within the 950 to replace / bypass the DAC's within your digital source ? If so, how do you think they rank compared to some of the other processors that you've run ?

How would you rank the sensitivity / audio quality of the FM tuner section of this unit ?

How satisfied are you with the bass management options with this unit ?

While i think it does, does this unit provide analog pass-through ? If so, how many inputs can you do this with ?

Thanks for taking the time to post this and listing your thoughts on the various units that you've already owned. Sean ( who is currently running a Sunfire TG II in his HT system )
I also own an Outlaw 950. Personally I really like the sound in HT. For 2 channel, it's OK IF you leave the sub on. But I couldn't honestly say its any better than OK.

That's why I'm looking for a used preamp with HT bypass to mate with it for 2 channel. If I can pick one up for around $800, then for $1600 I'll have a system that has better 2 channel sound than any pre/pro for under $3K. And the sound for HT will not lag far behind.

I've never tried the tuner, and the 950 does have analog pass through. I've heard complaints about bass management, but its always worked well for me.
Thanks for the info Larry. As far as your search for a preamp goes, the Adcom GFP-750 is right up your alley. It can do active or passive, comes with a remote, offers an HT bypass and typically sells for $650 - $800 on the used market. Sean
Sean, I am in a similar boat. I am looking to do home theatre and would like good quality 2 channel sound. I have heard the same about Outlaw, Sherbourn, Atlantic Tech. being the same unit. I am considering the Rotel RSP 1066 as a pre-pro. Would I get a bigger bang for the buck with the Adcom? Thanks. Chuck
The Adcom is only a two channel active / passive preamp with an HT processor loop built into it. As such, you can use the Adcom for listening in two channel and then switch in the Pre-Pro for use as needed for HT use. As to this approach offering good bang for the buck, that would be a matter of opinion. Just bare in mind that if one were to invest in the Adcom and a separate Pre-Pro, this would require two more sets of interconnects. One set to go from the Adcom to the Pre-Pro and then another set to go from the Pre-Pro back to the Adcom. The added cost of two sets of high quality "commercially prepared" interconnects could reduce this from being a "good approach" to somethine less ideal. Obviously, this would depend on how much one felt the need to spend on these interconnects. Adding up the cost of the Adcom and two extra sets of interconnects and putting that towards the cost of buying a better Pre-Pro might get you better performance and a lot less "cluster". In the end though, it is all a matter of personal preferences and individual likes / dislikes. I don't know of too many Pre-Pro's that offer the same sonics as a good two channel preamp though. Sean
I'm currently using the Outlaw 1050 for HT and swapping cables to a Scott 222c for 2-channel. I'm thinking of restoring a Scott 130 preamp and tweaking my Dynaco ST-70. Here I would use the 1050 for processor, center and surround amps and use the ST-70 as main amp.

For two channel I would swap the interconnects from the OUtlaw to the ST-70 and replace it with connections from the Scott pre-amp to the ST-70.

My speakers are 96db effecient.

Other suggestions? ARe there sub $1k tube preamps w/HT bypass & phono?
I use the 950 in bypass mode with a denon 2560 and theta pro prime2 and get better sound than using a digital input of the 950. It is much more spacious and better defined. When i want to listen in prologic2 music mode i use a coax instead of analog inputs as it coverts back to digital therby adding another chip into the scheme. using adcom 5503 and 555II for amplification and paradigm referance speakers. The outlaw shows no glitches and is very dynamic and absolutely noise free.
I've had an Outlaw 950 now for about three months. Comparing it on 2-channel with my McIntosh C-42 preamp, it seems to be very good (although it won't take a phono input). Also, I've tried A-B'ing CD's played on my California Audio Labs Delta through a MSB LinkDac, vs. the internal Outlaw processors. The MSB provides somewhat more defined bass and slightly better imaging, but not a lot.

The FM tuner is the pits compared to separate high-end tuners. (I use an Accuphase T-106, McIntosh MR-71, or Citation 14 primarily.) I live in Alexandria, VA, and the Outlaw will not reliably get WBJC in Baltimore, 50 miles away, with a folded dipole antenna--unlike all my others and even my Adcom GTP-550II tuner/preamp.

Also, I've recently moved my two Hurricane amps to a different system, along with several Scott Lab 280 tube monoblocks which I was using for the other channels in home theater. Replaced them all with a new Adcom GFA7605 5 X 125 watt amp. Sounds fabulous with the 950, particularly playing multichannel SACD's.
Ran accross these reviews and thought I might add a long term review of my own. I've had the 950/755 combo in my system for about two years (a long time for me) and have been very happy with the performance and reliability of this combo. The rest of my system consist of a Sony DVDP NS999ES (primary source), SVS 20-39pci sub, Energy Veritas 2.3i mains, 2.0Ci center and Sonance TR-4000 in-ceiling for the rear (5.1 set-up only). Only recently did I get the Veritas', I was running Maggie 1.6's with a B&W HTM-2 center and I had a Rega Planet-2000 CDP in my system for awhile as well. Previously I used a Fosgate model-4, Parasound-1500, Denon 3300, and some other not so memorable processors during the early DPL days. Never had any really high end stuff except during the days when I used to do only two channel audio. Anyhow, in the price range of the Outlaw equipment I really don't see how you can beat it. It has true analog bypass inputs and a 80Hz analog filter that can be placed on or off for SACD and DVDA. I would describe it's analog performance as somewhat reserved and warm sounding, but lacking in absoulute detail. A very good match for the really detailed and ethced sounding speakers, probably the opposite of a Bryston. A warm sounding speaker might not fair too well and could become a bit muddy sounding IMO. The soundstage width and depth are excellent, mid-range and hi frequency performance are very good as well, bass is strong and extended, but not as detailed as I'd like it to be. When I go from the digital input to bypass mode while playing a CD, the difference in enormous. In analog bypass the soundstage just opens up and the music is presented well outside the boundries of the speakers. With the 1.6's I often had to double check the settings as I thought I had left the rear speakers on. Early models suffered from hiss, mine is dead quiet, except for a minor 60Hz buzz that I need to solve being caused by a ground loop from my cable. Oh yeah, dynamics are as good as I've heard, good puch. If there are any weaknesses with this processor it's with pulling that last little bit of detail from in analog performance, but the digital side of things are about as good as it gets. For HT I have zero complaints. With properly matched speakers this processor will do it's thing and does it very well indeed. Very detailed, exceptional D/A conversion througout. I switch back and forth between the analog inputs using my Sony's D/A coverters to the onboard converters used by the Outlaw and both are very good, I can easily live with either. IMO, for HT there your gonig to need to spend MUCH more to get better performance than this. BTW, the analog performanc is still better than the other units I've owned and I've been able to live with it very easily. Most will find it good enough, the really critical crowd will want more. According the the Outlaw website the 990 which replaces this unit has improved analog performance, probably my next upgrade (I'll do another review and let you know how they compare if I get that unit). Bottom line is that you can spend a whole lot more and get a whole lot less. I'm a huge Outlaw fan.
I have an Outlaw 950 and an Acurus Act 3 running into an Acurus A150 going to my Klipsch Fortes. I only use them in stereo so keep that in mind. The Outlaw has an 80hz crossover that cuts out all of the lows, which sucks for stereo listening but is probably great for theater use. It can be bypassed but sounds more like a bass boost was turned on. The bypass only works on analog inputs and not digital, another downer. It also starts to distort at higher volumes.

I switched over to the Acurus Act 3. It was night and day difference. The Acurus sounds amazing. Very full and open...the opposite of the Outlaw. It may be that the Pre and the amp are matched therefore should sound good. Maybe the Outlaw just can't keep up.

I may attempt to use the Outlaw in my theater and give it one more chance. Maybe I will just sell it and call it a loss.