Outlaw Audio Model 976 7.2 Surround Processor Review

Manufacturer & Model
Outlaw Audio Model 976 7.2 Surround Processor
MSRP
$929
Link
https://bit.ly/2xf7whK
Highlights
Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby Digital, DTS-HD Master Audio, DTS-HD High-Resolution Audio and DTS decoding, balanced and conventional outputs in a 7.2 configuration fed by high quality DACs, 7.1 analog inputs, 4 HDMI 4K/HDR Inputs, 2 HDMI Outputs (1 HDMI 2.0b/ HDCP 2.2 output), 192 kHz 24-bit DAC's for all channels.
Summary
Outlaw Audio's Model 976 is a quality piece of gear with impressive build characteristics, high-quality internal electronics, capable firmware with flexible parametric EQ, and amazing sound. If you are in the market for a highly capable surround processor with HDMI 2.1 performance, this model should be on your shortlist. Priced at $929, the Outlaw Audio Model 976 represents an excellent value.
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The Outlaw Audio Model 976 processor is an exciting and feature-packed home theater processor from a company known for no-nonsense high-value offerings. The 976 is a 7.1 channel surround processor offering high-quality sound, flexible implementation offerings, and a modest price. While it doesn’t offer immersive surround formats such as Atmos, for those not interested in adding this feature, you get a processor that does everything else extremely well.

When discussing the Model 976 with Peter Tribeman, a founder of Outlaw Audio, he frequently relayed the notion that Outlaw Audio would never release a product they couldn’t afford to buy themselves. You will never see needlessly expensive luxury audio gear, and the features they include are the ones they most want themselves. That has allowed them to put together a product that, once set up properly, works as expected. This philosophy aligns with my top requirements for any piece of audio gear, but especially highly complex products such as surround processors. It needs to work reliably and perform as intended 100-percent of the time.

During my time with the Outlaw 976, I can happily say it worked flawlessly, with no operational problems or sound quality issues (at least none that I can blame on Outlaw). Watching movies or listening to music was immensely enjoyable, and the sound quality improvement it afforded over my current Onkyo surround processor was immediately evident. To learn more about the 976 and why I liked it so much, continue below.


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Outlaw Audio Model 976 Unboxing and Features
Opening the 976 was reminiscent of experiencing old-school American muscle. I knew this product was safe because it was double boxed in heavy cardboard with large molded foam inserts, the same way the best gear has been packaged for decades. I must be honest, while I like the new packaging techniques, I don’t like having to find all the accessories in the hidden compartments. With the Model 976, it was refreshing to see all the accessories clearly laid out in the box.

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As for the feature set, this is both a highly complex and yet intuitively simple device. It’s not perfect, which I will discuss, but for most buyers this has the exact features they’ll need. The Model 976 includes HDMI inputs and outputs that support the most current 4K and HDR formats (HDMI 2.0b with HDCP 2.2 compliance), fully balanced and unbalanced inputs and outputs for a full 7.1 system (Some call this a 7.2 processor, but the subwoofer channels are not individually addressable, so I say it is a .1 not .2 product), and decoding for all current surround formats with the exception of Atmos, DTS-X, and the like.

Around back you find a much more complex device. As with any surround processor, one look at the back of this product can feel intimidating. Yet it is very well laid out and easy to connect. Given that it’s a state of the art 7.1 processor, the fact there aren’t more connections is a miracle. What you find are 7.1 channels of balanced outputs across the bottom (two subwoofer outs), 7.1 channels of single-ended outputs above them, four analogue inputs simply labeled 1 through 4, a 7.1 channel input, two optical and two coaxial digital inputs, an RS-232 input for firmware updates, antennae inputs, a Bluetooth input which allows for the addition of an optional Bluetooth module (and future upgrades to the module as technology changes), six HDMI inputs (five on the back, four of which are HDCP2.2 compliant, and one on the front), two HDMI outputs (one is HDCP 2.2 compliant), a set of IR inputs and outputs, trigger controls, and two USB power ports (they are not used to input sound, just power).

This kind of connectivity set is great for custom installers or consumers looking to add greater integration, while not being too complex for the target buyer. Outlaw Ben Brewer (Product Manager) tells me that the inclusion of an older non-HDCP 2.2 compliant HDMI input was targeted toward older HDMI gear that sometimes doesn’t play nice with the newest standards. All in all, I find this a very well thought out package, clearly, the Outlaws know what they are doing.

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Now all of these nice inputs, outputs, and decoding capabilities would be nothing if not for the software that brings it all together. This is where I need to give you my opinion of this product both from the standpoint of its target buyer and my own personal preferences. I also need to mention a quirk in the software, but as we will discuss, this quirk is not the fault of Outlaw and, in fact, likely exists in all products using the same chipset.



We should all petition Texas Instruments!
Let’s start by discussing one of the major selling points of this processor, its EQ features. Each channel is said to have 10 channels of PEQ. However, I need to explain what that means in practice and what the Outlaws have said is technically true (I personally find it a little misleading). In fact, the processor has ten channels of processing that’s applied to each channel prior to bass management, each with eight bands of traditional parametric EQ (amplitude, Q, and center frequency), and two shelf filters, one high and one low. Shelf filters are handy for adjusting the overall tonal balance of a system. They allow you to shelve down the treble a few dB’s and shelve up the bass a few dB’s creating a pleasant house curve. Accessing and adjusting the bands is cumbersome, I have to admit longing for another means to make such adjustments. If Outlaw would release a software app that allowed you to connect via RS-232 to upload the EQ bands, that would make setup easier. Nonetheless, it was doable using the remote and didn’t take very long. It’s also no more difficult to set up than any competing product with manual EQ facilities; my complaint is more general: the industry should embrace better ways to set up its hardware (and certainly some have). Smartphone apps, web interfaces, or computer programs would all be appreciated options in my opinion.

Next, we have the bass management and level setting portion of the 976. For this, the Model 976 threw me for a loop, but in its defense, Outlaw is clear in their instructions and FAQ (I am a typical guy however and did not read the directions). I plugged in an included measurement microphone, set it in my primary listening position, and ran the tests.

“Huh, that’s strange,” I thought, it doesn’t seem to recognize what speakers I have hooked up?

Well, that would be because I was supposed to tell it that ahead of time. I went back into the menu and established which speakers I had hooked up and their size/crossover point. I re-ran the measurements and it established the level and distance for me. Outlaw Audio made a conscious choice to limit the setup flexibility of the bass management in a way that I didn’t personally like. My preference is to run the mains full range with subwoofers such that there is no crossover between the mains and subs. They both operate at LF’s at the same time, overlapping in response in a critical zone. I prefer this because it increases the number of low-frequency sources in a critical area of modal behavior and helps improve bass smoothness and spatial consistency. However, this is achieved through careful set up, often aided by measurements and some knowledge of the concept and how it works. Otherwise, it tends to just make things worse. This is a common experience shared by some past Outlaw users, and to avoid this problem Outlaw decided not to include this bass management approach. As such, if you run the speakers as large or full range, the subs will not operate except for LFE duty. This being the case, I ran the speakers as small, set to 60Hz. The main purpose of the microphone and automatic setup was to establish the distance and relative levels between speakers. In the end, using measurements, I made some adjustments. My highly unusual and complex LF setup caused some confusion for the algorithm that sets subwoofer distance, and so I needed to manually adjust this until the time delay between the subwoofers and mains was minimized. Since I use a four subwoofer setup with digital signal processing in my external amplifiers, the fact that my system threw off the automatic distance settings is not a knock on the device, none have ever gotten it right. In the end, while I was left wishing for more setup flexibility in the bass management, I do understand the decisions made by the Outlaw Audio team. This product was intended to be easy to set up and use, adding extra flexibility for more complex or advanced setups would have made the product harder to use, harder for Outlaw to support, and ultimately more expensive. Given a choice of one or the other, I too would pick the simpler route.

The remote is a nice looking aluminum bar with white buttons that glow blue. Anyone with a complex home theater may integrate it with a universal control system and ditch the remote, but I’d guess most users will use it (and it worked great).


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Outlaw also sells a Bluetooth module (not reviewed) for $49.99. The module is removable and likely upgradeable as technologies change.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that that the processor has unusually good parts for its price class (Burr Brown PCM1794a DAC and OPA1652). These parts are similar to those found in high-end 2-channel gear.


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Earlier, I referenced a certain quirk inherent in the TI DA808 chipset. The problem is the signal flow path that TI has chosen and what this does to the final product. The way in which the chip operates, the PEQ is applied to the discrete 7.1 channels before bass management. After EQ is applied, bass management is applied, which redirects a portion of the signal to other speakers. Here in lies the problem: you are EQ-ing the source, not the speaker, and that isn’t intuitive since the EQ’s purpose is to correct the speaker and room. This is problematic because if you are trying to remove the effects of room modes in the low frequencies, intuitively you would select the subwoofer or LFE channel to apply EQ. However, problematic low frequencies are likely coming from the main channels and being redirected to the subwoofer. Consequently, you need to apply that cut to the main left and right channel. This process can be a bit confusing at first, but once you understand how it works, applying EQ is very simple and very effective. This quirk would certainly not keep me from recommending this product (or owning it myself).

Once I identified the problem, I was able to make great use of the EQ, but I can absolutely see this non-sensical signal path causing problems for other end users. While talking with Ben, he indicated he was working on an EQ instruction document for owners, designed to ensure they make better decisions than I initially did. In my case, it turned out to be an invaluable tool. I only wish that TI would move the EQ filters after the bass management so that the EQ is being applied to the speaker, not the incoming signal.

Before and after EQ (Left, Center, and Left Surround)


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Note, before EQ there were some differences in the response shape, poor subwoofer integration between channels, and a prominent peak in the treble of the main speakers caused by the B&C DE250 at 18kHz.

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Careful response shaping allowed for better subwoofer integration with the different speaker channels such that the match between channels was much improved. The peak in the treble was removed from the mains with a small bit of EQ, which helped provide a response balance more similar to that of the surrounds. Further, a shelf filter was added to ensure a similar response shape across all the speakers.


Model 976 Sound
I often think of myself as being a very pragmatic audiophile. That is, I recognize the differences in sound quality between good and bad gear, I recognize why some gear costs more, and I will spend more money to get better sound. On the other hand, I tend to use average quality signal cables, inexpensive bulk speaker cable, and I don’t buy into a lot of the more unusual ideas around how to get better sound. Some of this comes from experience. I’ve tried expensive cables and I didn’t find the difference to be notable or clearly better. I’ve also tried various tweaks, isolation platforms, built amplifiers and speaker crossovers with high-end capacitors and resistors, etc. In the end, I’ve found some parts make a difference to a point, while others do not (for example, in crossovers the better poly film capacitors tend to sound better in crossover series components than do electrolytic, but Teflon film and oil don’t necessarily sound better than a more basic film and foil type). I tell you this story to explain that I went into this review expecting the surround processor to sound no different than my current Onkyo receiver, but to offer more flexibility. Instead, I was absolutely shocked by the change in sound I heard once the Model 976 was installed. In order to allow an A/B comparison, I connected the processor through my receiver, using the amplifiers in the receiver to power my system. This way I could quickly switch back and forth for a more instantaneous and accurate evaluation. While I did eventually bypass the receiver using external amps, this was a good test. With the Outlaw 976 in the signal path and the receiver in bypass mode (essentially a direct connection to the amplifier), I found the sound brighter (but not unnaturally so) and a bit more transparent. Now, bright sometimes comes off as transparent, so I wasn’t sure of what I was hearing. I shared this finding with a fellow reviewer who was highly skeptical and suggested I quantify my impressions with measurements. I did, finding the Onkyo’ s own processing caused a more rolled off response as compared to the Outlaw. The Onkyo also had an order of magnitude higher distortion, such that I could easily read it above the distortion of the measurement interface. The Outlaw had the same residual distortion as the measurement interface, suggesting I was just measuring the distortion and noise of the device itself. In other words, the Outlaw was both more extended in the high frequencies and of lower distortion. My ears did not lie, I wasn’t nuts, the Outlaw really did sound different, and the measurements sure suggested that this difference was due to objectively better performance.


Listening Tests
As for sound, it’s always hard for me to describe my experience with something like a surround processor. I certainly put it through its paces, playing a variety of music and movies. All were always enjoyable. Did I enjoy it more than before? Yes, I think I did. I really didn’t want to send the Outlaw Model 976 back and would have been happy to keep it in my system long term. The differences between the new processor and my old setup were subtle enough that it wasn’t always obvious what I was hearing. Some of the things I liked weren’t even related to its sound. For example, I preferred its PEQ on each channel and general setup flexibility. While the bass management didn’t suit me, I could easily bypass it and perform external bass management that met my needs. The system worked well and sounded great when set up this way. The perception of more extended highs and greater transparency wasn’t immediately obvious in listening tests, more of an impression left with me after I listened for a while, switching back and forth.

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To start off my music listening, I queued up one of my favorite albums by Lewis Nash, which I described as follows in my NAD C368 review:

“One of my all-time favorite test albums for drums and soundstage is by a wonderful bebop jazz drummer named Lewis Nash. The album, entitled It Don’t Mean a Thing, a reference to Duke Ellington’s hit song, is one of the best bebop jazz albums I’ve ever heard (and he’s even better life). It’s clearly a fully improvised jazz set, as it should be, but is often not the case in studio albums. Nobody was worried about getting the performance just so, everyone just grooved together, and the chemistry and magic of a great improvised jazz piece are obvious.”

“Caravan” has a great rhythmic drum beat that is both audibly impressive and revealing of lesser systems. Through the 976 I found a perfectly accurate portrayal of the sound. Lewis Nash uses a close-up multi-mic setup on the drum that is produced into a larger than life drum set with substantial width and depth. As Nash plays on the toms (his set is depicted as having two) you can hear a clear left and right channel separation, with what I would describe as a dry jazzy sound. He experiments with the portion of the head he plays and the change in sound is subtle but clear. On lesser systems this can go unnoticed. In fact, I first heard it on headphones, later noticing it more clearly on better quality playback systems. With the Model 976, the change in timbre as different parts of the head are played was clear. The visceral component, as well as the leading edge of the beat to the bass drum, came through clearly. On lesser systems, the bass drum tends to just sound boomy.


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I spent quite a lot of time listening to TIDAL HiFi and TIDAL Masters with my laptop as a source. Here’s a sampling of the music I listened to with some brief reactions:

Yo-Yo Ma and Kathryn Stott’s Songs from the Arc of Life, “Ave Maria." This is a beautiful song and one that causes a pilomotor reflex in me (goosebumps and raised hair), a proven measure of emotional response. After listening to certain pieces enough times I find that my emotional reaction fades as I become accustomed to the piece, and while I might enjoy it, it isn’t the same as the first time. When I queued this up to playback on the Outlaw, it was as if I was hearing it for the first time. I was lost in the music. The processor did nothing to harm this great recording, with a very clear and coherent presentation.
Mozart’s “Requiem: Amen” performed by the Boston Baroque and Martin Pearlman is a classic Mozart choral piece. This piece builds with grand drama at a pace modern attention deprived audiences can barely stand. This short building fugue is a great musical test piece as it contains both a large dynamic rise and wonderful silence between the notes. The 976 delivered a beautiful reproduction of this piece, nothing added, nothing taken away.



Movies
I watched The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies as part of this review. There is no denying the visual and aural effects of the Tolkien based movies, so this seemed like a fitting way to review the processor's prowess. This movie includes a great DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack and the 976 delivered an enveloping soundscape. I found, at times, that the soundtrack spooked me, causing me to pause the film and check for unexpected noises. Where some movies provide surround effects in a manner that is more a distraction than an enhancement, that was not the case here. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the 976 did anything magical here, it did exactly what it was supposed to do. It reproduced this soundtrack just as it was encoded, with nothing added or taken away. The slightly brighter presentation seemed to help with dialogue clarity. On the other hand, I don’t generally like a brighter presentation, so I found myself pausing the film and adding a few dBs of treble reduction using the shelf filter. It took just a few seconds to do this, and I was back in the action. That is one of the nice things about this processor, you can make basic adjustments like this to taste.

Thor: Ragnarök is another one of those action films where, regardless of your opinions on the acting or story, the action, visuals, and sound are undeniably spectacular. Relying upon another DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack, I found the encode’s aural effects and enveloping soundscape to be impressive. Highlighted by Hulk and Thor battle scenes that present low-frequency effects that best be described as an assault. As I explored the outer limits of this soundtrack, the 976 issued a clear and effortless sound even as pushed volume levels to the extreme. Even as my house shook, I found myself thoroughly impressed by the processor’s ability to drive a clean and enveloping presentation.



CONCLUSION
The Outlaw Audio Model 976 has been on my shortlist of processors I’d like to own and it didn’t disappoint. It’s an excellent piece of gear with a high-quality build, high-quality internal electronics, capable firmware with excellent flexible parametric EQ, and amazing sound. My quibbles with the bass management or wishing for easier set up are minor when considering how well the product worked once it was properly integrated, its reliable performance, and how wonderful it sounded. If you are in the market for a highly capable surround processor with excellent sound, the Outlaw Audio Model 976 is highly recommended. And at a price of $929, it’s an excellent value.


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Specifications
  • Surround Formats: Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Digital Plus, and Dolby Digital decoding; DTS-HD Master Audio, DTS-HD High-Resolution Audio and DTS decoding
  • Surround Upsampling: Dolby Pro Logic IIx, Dolby Pro Logic II, and DTS NEO:6 processing
  • 10 band PEQ per channel
  • All Channels Stereo
  • Advanced Dual Core DSP
  • HDMI Standby Pass-Thru
  • Quadruple Crossover control
  • Lip Sync Delay
  • On Screen Display
  • 192kHz 24-bit Dacs for all channels (Burr Brown PCM 1794a)
  • High-Quality opamp output stage (OPA1652)
  • 4 HDMI 4K/HDR Inputs
  • 2 HDMI 1080p inputs, 1 on the rear panel, 1 on front
  • 2 HDMI outputs, 1 HDMI 2.0b/ HDCP 2.2
  • 7.2 XLR/RCA Pre-amp outputs
  • 4 Digital inputs (2 coaxial, 2 optical)
  • 7.1 Analog Audio input
  • 4 Stereo Analog Audio Inputs
  • High-performance Tuner
  • Direct access station tuning via remote control
  • 5-volt trigger
  • Advanced Config. Settings
  • Discrete IR on/off and input commands
  • Aluminum Front Panel & Remote
  • S/N Ratio: 112 dB

Extended Measurements
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Stepped Sine Distortion with all EQ turned off. Completely flat response and distortion vanishingly low, .003% or less THD. I measured a noise floor of -105 dB, but note that this is likely the limit of my sound interface and not this processor.

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Stepped Sine Subwoofer channel, shows a 4th order roll-off at 200Hz and vanishingly low noise and distortion.

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Onkyo vs Outlaw response difference. Note the clear evidence that the Outlaw is operating in 96kHz whereas the Onkyo is operating in 44kHz with a slow roll-off filter. The bass response of the two looks identical because my measurement interface was the limiting factor in this case.
 
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James Larson

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As usual, a thorough and outstanding review from the Poes Meister. Looks like another great Outlaw Audio product. Their newly announced 7000X amplifier would make a great companion to this processor. I think their new BLS and LCR speakers and Ultra-X13 sub would round out that system for a truly stellar Outlaw Audio sound system. Having had experience with some of their products. I definitely would not mind owning such a system.
 

Todd Anderson

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Great review, Matt. Nice to see this finally go live! :T

So the Onkyo – natively – has an output rolloff that falls significantly short of the Outlaw starting around 6 or 7kHz? That's with no processing engaged on the Onkyo? The measurement graph is a crazy visual of this behavior... what process was used to generate it?

Very interesting... and totally surprising.

I'm curious to know what kind of volume a brand like Outlaw sells over the course of a year, versus the larger competition. You obviously fell in love with its performance... it's interesting that its market footprint is smaller.
 

Matthew J Poes

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Great review, Matt. Nice to see this finally go live! :T

So the Onkyo – natively – has an output rolloff that falls significantly short of the Outlaw starting around 6 or 7kHz? That's with no processing engaged on the Onkyo? The measurement graph is a crazy visual of this behavior... what process was used to generate it?

Very interesting... and totally surprising.

I'm curious to know what kind of volume a brand like Outlaw sells over the course of a year, versus the larger competition. You obviously fell in love with its performance... it's interesting that its market footprint is smaller.
It was just a sweep in REW through each processor. I captured the output with a 192khz AD device. The Onkyo in bypass mode looks identical to the Outlaw audio. The rolloff in the only is very gradual but otherwise looks indicative of a 44.1khz device. It’s supposed to operate at 48khz so I found this odd. In any case, it appears the Onkyo has a fairly gradual rolloff for some reason.

It caught me as so odd I thought maybe I had some processing turned on with the Onkyo. However I checked and rechecked and always got the same result. If I did inadvertently leave any processing on, I certainly can’t find it. This was without Audyssey, tone controls bypassed, and bass management essentially off. However I intentionally did not bypass the dsp as I wanted to capture its impact since I had believed that might indicate the difference in sound I heard.
 

Matthew J Poes

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As usual, a thorough and outstanding review from the Poes Meister. Looks like another great Outlaw Audio product. Their newly announced 7000X amplifier would make a great companion to this processor. I think their new BLS and LCR speakers and Ultra-X13 sub would round out that system for a truly stellar Outlaw Audio sound system. Having had experience with some of their products. I definitely would not mind owning such a system.
I saw that new amplifier. It looks amazing for the money. Good value.

That would make an awesome system. The BLS speakers are an outstanding value in my opinion.
 

Todd Anderson

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OPPO UDP-205, UDP-203, Panasonic UB820
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SVS Ultra Towers
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SVS Ultra Bookshelf
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SVS Prime Elevation x4 (Top Front, Top Mid-Front)
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SVS Prime Elevation x4 (Top Middle, Top Rear)
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dual SVS SB16s + dual PSA XS30s
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Behringer 1124p; Aura Bass Shaker Pros; SuperSub X
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JVC RS520
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Carada Cine-White 0 gain
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It was just a sweep in REW through each processor. I captured the output with a 192khz AD device. The Onkyo in bypass mode looks identical to the Outlaw audio. The rolloff in the only is very gradual but otherwise looks indicative of a 44.1khz device. It’s supposed to operate at 48khz so I found this odd. In any case, it appears the Onkyo has a fairly gradual rolloff for some reason.

It caught me as so odd I thought maybe I had some processing turned on with the Onkyo. However I checked and rechecked and always got the same result. If I did inadvertently leave any processing on, I certainly can’t find it. This was without Audyssey, tone controls bypassed, and bass management essentially off. However I intentionally did not bypass the dsp as I wanted to capture its impact since I had believed that might indicate the difference in sound I heard.
That's really interesting. If you don't mind, I might try to see what Onkyo has to say about it. You'd expect a processor to deliver no rolloff - at least through the range of human hearing - when processing is eliminated. No? It's a little disturbing that's not the case...

Does Outlaw offer any modularity when it comes to HDMI upgrades?
 

Matthew J Poes

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That's really interesting. If you don't mind, I might try to see what Onkyo has to say about it. You'd expect a processor to deliver no rolloff - at least through the range of human hearing - when processing is eliminated. No? It's a little disturbing that's not the case...

Does Outlaw offer any modularity when it comes to HDMI upgrades?
Not with the 976, it’s a fixed product. However they may be working on future processors with more current and future technology. As you know, it’s tough to bring a processor to market. I have no inside knowledge on this so we shall see.

You can ask Onkyo but keep in mind this is an old receiver.
 
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Matthew J Poes

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I guess I will add, If any post-processing is on in the Onkyo, then it was on in my listening comparison too. Even if it turns out that this is not representative of the receivers best response, it is representative of the receivers response as I have been using it.

I have much better audio interfaces now so I’m going to try to re-measure the Onkyo and see if I come up with anything different. I also hope to have better quality equipment measurements in future processor reviews. If not obvious, the Outlaw was at least as clean as my Interface.
 

Todd Anderson

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My AV System  
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Denon X8500H
Main Amp
Emotiva XPA-5
Additional Amp
Emotiva XPA Gen3 2.8 multichannel amp
Other Amp
VSX21-THX
Universal / Blu-ray / CD Player
OPPO UDP-205, UDP-203, Panasonic UB820
Front Speakers
SVS Ultra Towers
Center Channel Speaker
SVS Ultra Center
Surround Speakers
SVS Ultra Surround
Surround Back Speakers
SVS Ultra Bookshelf
Front Height Speakers
SVS Prime Elevation x4 (Top Front, Top Mid-Front)
Rear Height Speakers
SVS Prime Elevation x4 (Top Middle, Top Rear)
Subwoofers
dual SVS SB16s + dual PSA XS30s
Other Speakers or Equipment
Behringer 1124p; Aura Bass Shaker Pros; SuperSub X
Video Display Device
JVC RS520
Screen
Carada Cine-White 0 gain
Other Equipment
LG Electronics 65-inch B6 OLED, Sony 65-inch X900F
I trust your ears and analysis!
 

Matthew J Poes

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I trust your ears and analysis!
Thanks Todd. The result really is peculiar. I wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t taken it myself and done so repeatedly.

I was really shocked that I heard and measured such a difference. When I had @James Larson over, he was fairly sure I either did something wrong or had a defective receiver. While possible, I can’t figure out what.

The audible difference this made was striking. As I noted in the review, I was so used to the more rolled off sound that I actually added a shelf filter to make the two units sound more similar.
 

bkeeler10

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Well, this review pokes holes in the theory that all modern audio electronics should sound the same. I've never been totally convinced of this, but admit I've been leaning in that direction lately. One should take that idea with a grain of salt and not blindly assume that's the case. Interesting.

Thanks for a great and thorough review. I wonder if Outlaw will ever attempt a 12+ channel product. I have to imagine they've been keeping tabs on other smaller companies and their struggles with more complex processors. I see Outlaw as a more conservative, cautious company. They may be missing out on the Atmos/DTS:X movement right now, but perhaps they're wise to take their time and maintain their reputation. I hope they're working on it and, if so, I imagine they're taking the time necessary to have it ready for prime time before coming to market with it.
 

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Well, this review pokes holes in the theory that all modern audio electronics should sound the same. I've never been totally convinced of this, but admit I've been leaning in that direction lately. One should take that idea with a grain of salt and not blindly assume that's the case. Interesting.

Thanks for a great and thorough review. I wonder if Outlaw will ever attempt a 12+ channel product. I have to imagine they've been keeping tabs on other smaller companies and their struggles with more complex processors. I see Outlaw as a more conservative, cautious company. They may be missing out on the Atmos/DTS:X movement right now, but perhaps they're wise to take their time and maintain their reputation. I hope they're working on it and, if so, I imagine they're taking the time necessary to have it ready for prime time before coming to market with it.
It seems some of the receivers from this generation did all their processing at 44.1 or 48.2 kHz sampling, even though they were technically 24/192 devices. The Onkyo has the same frequency response and sounded the same if i turned off the bass management and didn’t attempt to use eq of any kind. In direct mode it was the equal of the Outlaw.

Some of things I noticed but didn’t include was that the Outlaw was quieter and had less distortion than the Onkyo. You can debate the audibility of the noise and distortion, but it was objectively different at least. Crosstalk was also worse but I didn’t include those measurements because the measurements were severely hampered by the rig I used. I will start sharing those in the future.

I think, in general, good gear (even of modest cost) tends to sound mostly the same across the gear. The differences are often small and on the margins. Incrementally quieter gear with incrementally lower distortion might be audible but only under very specific conditions. The comparison here is not really the same thing. This is showing that the onkyo’s frequency response is rolled off.

I feel like this might be overstating the differences and that maybe this also merits its own separate discussion. I should maybe take a lot more measurements on some of the gear i have right now to show the differences.
 

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Ah... Matt. I thought your measurements Onkyo vs Outlaw assumed the Onkyo was in direct mode?
 

Matthew J Poes

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Ah... Matt. I thought your measurements Onkyo vs Outlaw assumed the Onkyo was in direct mode?
No, it was in normal mode. Otherwise it wouldn’t have been comproable. Both were measured in a mode that had the same level of processing on. Bass management on but full range and eq flat/off.

Don’t get me wrong, they rolloff isn’t caused by Audyssey or anything like that. It is the response of each unit setup in the mode it would be used.
 

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Thanks, Matt, sounds like another great product from Outlaw. I, too, was surprised to read about the Onkyo HF roll-off and 10x greater distortion. Glad to see you took the trouble to A/B the two and make sure.
 

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Very thorough review, Matt. Thank you for this. Seeing that Outlaw Audio has a THX Ultra certified sub, the Ultra X13, do you see the company rolling out THX certified processors in the near future? With your connection with Peter Tribeman at Outlaw Audio I wonder if he at all touched upon this. Thanks!
 

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Very thorough review, Matt. Thank you for this. Seeing that Outlaw Audio has a THX Ultra certified sub, the Ultra X13, do you see the company rolling out THX certified processors in the near future? With your connection with Peter Tribeman at Outlaw Audio I wonder if he at all touched upon this. Thanks!
Hi Grayson, thanks for the feedback. Let me ask Peter. My guess is no. Other than proprietary processing that isn’t all that relevant today, it doesn’t add a lot of value to the processor. With a subwoofer it really is a guarantee of quality to another level, and Peter took advantage of a cost savings where the sub was built using standardized THX approved components. That reduced the cost of developing THX speakers. I don’t think that exists for processors. Peter made very clear to me that everything they do is about the most product for the least money.

I also have to admit that I was asked to sign an NDA regarding internal information that pertained to future developments. I can’t share anything I know without permission. I can honestly and openly say that THX never came up.
 

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Hi Grayson, thanks for the feedback. Let me ask Peter. My guess is no. Other than proprietary processing that isn’t all that relevant today, it doesn’t add a lot of value to the processor. With a subwoofer it really is a guarantee of quality to another level, and Peter took advantage of a cost savings where the sub was built using standardized THX approved components. That reduced the cost of developing THX speakers. I don’t think that exists for processors. Peter made very clear to me that everything they do is about the most product for the least money.

I also have to admit that I was asked to sign an NDA regarding internal information that pertained to future developments. I can’t share anything I know without permission. I can honestly and openly say that THX never came up.
Matt, thanks for your insight. Outlaw Audio's products have always been impressive to me on both the performance and cost scale.
 

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It was just a sweep in REW through each processor. I captured the output with a 192khz AD device. The Onkyo in bypass mode looks identical to the Outlaw audio. The rolloff in the only is very gradual but otherwise looks indicative of a 44.1khz device. It’s supposed to operate at 48khz so I found this odd. In any case, it appears the Onkyo has a fairly gradual rolloff for some reason.

It caught me as so odd I thought maybe I had some processing turned on with the Onkyo. However I checked and rechecked and always got the same result. If I did inadvertently leave any processing on, I certainly can’t find it. This was without Audyssey, tone controls bypassed, and bass management essentially off. However I intentionally did not bypass the dsp as I wanted to capture its impact since I had believed that might indicate the difference in sound I heard.
How do you compare this model with the Emotiva MC 700?
 

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How do you compare this model with the Emotiva MC 700?
I don’t have hands on experience with the MC700. I can say this much, look at the inside images of each. The Outlaw has a lot more going on. The parts quality on the Outlaw is the same parts used in really good high end processors. The Dac chip and opamps in the MC700 aren’t as good. The circuit isn’t differential balanced.
 

wjw002

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Good review it was very thorough. I must admit I'm still a little confused about the PEQ I understand I am applying EQ to the source, you mentioned the cuts from the L/R should be applied to the subwoofer? Should the cuts from all channels be applied to the sub? and is it safe to say the sub should not be eq'd using REW etc. Any idea when that manual from Ben will be out?
 

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Good review it was very thorough. I must admit I'm still a little confused about the PEQ I understand I am applying EQ to the source, you mentioned the cuts from the L/R should be applied to the subwoofer? Should the cuts from all channels be applied to the sub? and is it safe to say the sub should not be eq'd using REW etc. Any idea when that manual from Ben will be out?
Actually the cuts you want to the LF’s should be applied to the L and R channels. That will then be applied to the subwoofer. Because there is a summative effect you have to be careful how this is applied. I would avoid much if any boost. For any subtractive eq, I would consider splitting the difference. In REW you can test this effect by combining the LFE and L or R channel when measuring.

What is happening is that EQ is being applied to bass management and then routed through bass management to the respective channel you have managed the signal. So bass management takes the low frequencies from the mains and routes it to the subwoofer. When you apply eq to the LFE channel, that isn’t the subwoofer. So the room problems aren’t corrected at the subwoofer for any low frequencies being routed to the sub. The only problems that are corrected are the LFE channel material. In order to ensure the L and R channel bass is corrected, you have to apply the eq to the L and R channels. Because it’s all rerouted to the sub, the effect is summative.
 

wjw002

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Actually the cuts you want to the LF’s should be applied to the L and R channels. That will then be applied to the subwoofer. Because there is a summative effect you have to be careful how this is applied. I would avoid much if any boost. For any subtractive eq, I would consider splitting the difference. In REW you can test this effect by combining the LFE and L or R channel when measuring.

What is happening is that EQ is being applied to bass management and then routed through bass management to the respective channel you have managed the signal. So bass management takes the low frequencies from the mains and routes it to the subwoofer. When you apply eq to the LFE channel, that isn’t the subwoofer. So the room problems aren’t corrected at the subwoofer for any low frequencies being routed to the sub. The only problems that are corrected are the LFE channel material. In order to ensure the L and R channel bass is corrected, you have to apply the eq to the L and R channels. Because it’s all rerouted to the sub, the effect is summative.
Sorry for being so thick about this, so if I'm understanding you correctly I should not use the actual PEQ subwoofer settings (leave the gains at 0) I should run REW analysis for full range and the PEQ setting for LFE will be steered to the sub. When you say split the difference what do mean (sorry).
 

Matthew J Poes

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Sorry for being so thick about this, so if I'm understanding you correctly I should not use the actual PEQ subwoofer settings (leave the gains at 0) I should run REW analysis for full range and the PEQ setting for LFE will be steered to the sub. When you say split the difference what do mean (sorry).
When you run the sweeps in order to calculate eq, you want the bass management already setup. Eq should be the last thing you do. You want to run full range sweeps through the mains but you don’t want to have the mains set as full range unless you intend to use it that way (in which case all of this is a non-issue).

You set eq for the bass in the mains. It will automatically steer it out the LFE channel to your subs.

Split the difference means that if you think you need 6 dB of cut at 50hz, you might set it to 3dB for each channel. That is because once it’s combined the net cut will be back to 6dB. Since most music and movies has mono encoded low frequencies, especially that low, this works for most recordings. It’s a cludge, not an ideal solution. When i tested it, I found it best to play with those numbers. Sometimes I didn’t really split the difference, I set it to -4 or -5dB instead of -6, and that worked best under most scenarios.

I wish there was a better solution, it’s inherent in the chipset. Every processor and receiver on the market which uses this chipset with the factory firmware has this problem (which is most of them). A company like Marantz/Denon can afford custom firmware.

I don’t know that it would be fair to name names, but I will just say that a ton of great products suffer this faulty signal chain problem because they use the same chipset. @Kal Rubinson has written about it a number of times as it applies to products he has used or own.
 

wjw002

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When you run the sweeps in order to calculate eq, you want the bass management already setup. Eq should be the last thing you do. You want to run full range sweeps through the mains but you don’t want to have the mains set as full range unless you intend to use it that way (in which case all of this is a non-issue).

You set eq for the bass in the mains. It will automatically steer it out the LFE channel to your subs.

Split the difference means that if you think you need 6 dB of cut at 50hz, you might set it to 3dB for each channel. That is because once it’s combined the net cut will be back to 6dB. Since most music and movies has mono encoded low frequencies, especially that low, this works for most recordings. It’s a cludge, not an ideal solution. When i tested it, I found it best to play with those numbers. Sometimes I didn’t really split the difference, I set it to -4 or -5dB instead of -6, and that worked best under most scenarios.

I wish there was a better solution, it’s inherent in the chipset. Every processor and receiver on the market which uses this chipset with the factory firmware has this problem (which is most of them). A company like Marantz/Denon can afford custom firmware.

I don’t know that it would be fair to name names, but I will just say that a ton of great products suffer this faulty signal chain problem because they use the same chipset. @Kal Rubinson has written about it a number of times as it applies to products he has used or own.
Matthew thank you VERY much for your thorough explanation, this completely explains the anomalies I have heard when setting up PEQ on this processor. What's frustrating is, that manufacturers do not clearly explain or mention info like this in their manual's. I don't mind jumping through a few hoops especially if a product is solid and is a good value however, to read about something like this from a review (no offense) bothers me. Especially since I have already purchased this processor.

Please keep up the good work, thanks again and I appreciate your time!
 
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