Why did I choose the RR 2150?
I have owned a great number of amps in the past: integrated, receivers and separates. My choice of the RR2150 at this juncture does not reflect a changing taste. It is greatly economic. I just can’t justify dropping kilobucks on an amp right now. Old, used amps don’t sit well with me because I have seen electrolytic storage caps dry up and explode in as little as 12 years. I cannot justify a tube amp at this point—simply to avoid the money pit that they can be. That is...endless tube rolling and tweaks. The RR2150 was chosen because the expense is set. $723.00 is all I am really spending. That's a fraction of the cost I'd eventually spend on a Jolida JD502 or Dynaco ST-70 getting tube rolling or mods done. I will state that I was considering an NAD product. That is because NAD uses excellent parts and has a more refined product than almost everything in their price class. The only downside is that NAD amps really aren't that powerful. When it comes to solid state, I prefer a little too much vs. “almost” enough. The NAD wasn't quite “steel-fisted” enough IMO. NAD is musical and revealing, but not quite there, in terms of dynamics. At least they err on the polite vs. harsh side. The RR 2150 has gotten impressive reviews, even from the relentlessly condescending (to affordable gear) Stereophile magazine. Other e-zines were more direct and less aloof in their assessments. I liked Home theater
, Enjoy the music
more than snottio…err stereophile. I decided to give it a shot. For purposes of this review, I am going to stick to the $299 to $3,999 price range. I could throw in my high end ss amps or tube gear, but I wanted to compare apples to apples. That is: modest to high priced receivers or integrated amps. They do a good job for casual listening with often very good musicality. On paper, they are electrically well executed.
Too much junk in the trunk.
Compare some 1980’s counterpoint components to modern A/V components. I have opened the case of both. In the counterpoint, you find copper shielding and space between components. Under the hood of modern mid-fi lies a forest of daughter boards are unshielded and separated by just a few millimeters. This looks like they are begging for interference. Oh, I am sure they have been tested in some way. Some even use some decent components. But there is a reason mid-fi receivers tend to sound harsh or opaque and I hypothesize that this is a big part it. To test my hypothesis, I build some faraday cages out of copper sheeting. I shielded the transformers and case. It was obvious to me, and everyone else that heard the components that there was an absence of the previous glare and stridency. This may, or may not always be the case, but it does explain why seemingly well built integrated units just don’t sound as clean as separates. It also explains why there is either a smearing of the signal or harshness. I suspect in the case of a receiver or integrated, skimping in the low-signal level pre-amp section is the biggest detriment. The other detriment is that some surprisingly beefy looking amps simply lack a proper transfer function or don’t meet rated output. Deceivers…oops, I mean receivers are the biggest culprit. “170 watts” is often a real-world 30 watts per channel: not even close. And 50 watts per channel will often get dusted by a 30 watt tube amp. It’s all cheap mid-fi mass marketing and a numbers game hyperbole. Poor power supplies, poor shielding, and poor transfer function. There is not one single a/v receiver that is crammed full of processing chips that sounds high end and transparent to me…none. There is just too much junk in the signal path, and too much interference from too many boards. I understand a degree of “sonic purity” that minimalists prefer. I am not a minimalist, but again…no “maximized” set of features have show me they can be the sonic equal of something designed just for 2 channels.
Where does the Outlaw fit in?
None of the receivers I have heard from Denon, HK, Yamaha, Sony, Pioneer etc.. are in the league of a Sim Audio or Bryston integrated. Pro reviews imply that the RR-2150 is. It does make sense that if you cut out the overhead of huge magazine ads and esoteric names and markup, you can offer a product that performs like high end, but doesn't have the pretentious price. I was around when hi-fi started becoming cost-is-no object in the late 80's. Price tags inflated dramatically, but often performance did not. In fact, some high end gear measured badly and sounded underwhelming. Even this day, the price tag forces the snooty, pinky-extended audio types to respect the product more than it may deserve. The very name “Outlaw” does not carry with it the beluga caviar-and-XO brandy image that the vanity or formulated exotic names have. I dare say that “Outlaw” flies in the face of that crowd. By the non vanity or exotic name alone...never mind price, the Outlaw RR2150 will not be taken seriously by audio snobs like it deserves to be. Maybe I can answer where it belongs after listening.
My listening environment:
My setup is in a 26x16 room with carefully measured speaker and sofa listening positions. There is nothing between the speakers except a VMPS new larger sub crossed at 60hz. IMNSHO, there is no substitute for a listening environment sans obstacles between the speakers or being too close to walls, or in too small a room for a given system. I am not going into the specifics of my system, because unless you have EXACTLY what I have, in EXACTLY the same room, your mileage will vary. The parameters required to drive power-hungry speakers like ATC and B&W are entirely different than driving horns, stats and planars. Some thrive on voltage transfer, some thrive on current transfer. Some need both. Horns can be particularly fussy because the lowest level noise can be really in-your-face obvious. No one in their right mind would consider single-digit wattage from a flea-powered SET proper amplification for B&W 802’s. Yet some mega-powered solid state amps sound pretty arid or harsh on horns. It’s all synergy.
It never fails. When I am at work, FED EX drops by in the morning and leaves a tag. When I am off work, they ALWAYS show up in the afternoon- meaning I have to sit around waiting for them. That, or drive for an hour to the fedex hub to pick it up. I was pleased at the heft and solidity of the RR-2150. That inspires confidence. I totally dig the art-deco design, it's really nice looking. Come to think of it, I like art-deco period. This is the Chrysler building of receivers.
Personally, I am glad there are no onscreen menus for the RR 2150. I have had plenty of bad experiences with receivers that become bricks when you suddenly find that the HDMI or video menus go down. Some have gone down due to software issues, others have burned out. That left me unable to use most of the receiver’s functions. I also didn’t want to have a display on just to listen. I immediately ruled out any components that relied on that technology from a 2 channel system. I like avoiding that too much junk in the trunk routine.
I chose eclectic types of music to give me a good sense of scope of the RR2150's abilities. I really dig a good sounding tuner. My past favorites have been the Yamaha T-85, Carver TX-11A, Nakamichi ST-7 and Onkyo 8080. I was hoping the RR was in that vicinity. The first thing I listened to after unpacking was NPR on FM. I listened to both NPR talk (like car talk and “wait wait don’t tell me” ) classical, jazz and new age stations. Listening to FM, it was obvious from the outset that the voices sounded natural. They didn’t have that midbass bloat associated with a lot of receivers. I cannot ascertain if the tuner has a superior ability to get the signals, but I can say the end result of the output is better vocals and better music. So, at least I can determine that the tuner section does sound very good when compared to my favorites. I’d have to split hairs to really get a winner. It would be like choosing a favorite daughter or something.
I am using both FLAC and ALAC files via USB input. Here is where the outlaw showed me that it does belong in that class of integrated amps that run in the 3-4 grand range. The one thing these amps do that even some very well equipped av receiver’s (AVR) don’t is ambience. That is, recovering the decay and timbre of instruments. Standard receivers sound pleasant, musical but they are abbreviated. Playing back something along the lines of choral work to the soundtrack from “O brother, where art thou?” is an instant stand out. Where a standard AVR would reproduce something decent sounding, I have yet to hear one that retrieves special cues like the outlaw. When a recording is done with real fidelity (never mind the overproduced pop of today) the echoes from a voice or instrument should describe the recording space. Listening to “Cantate Domino” you should be able to hear the internal space of a cathedral. I have not heard an AVR do this. Nor have I heard an AVR sort instruments and layer them like this. Music isn’t just a flat plane in front of you and one mass of sound. Instruments have their own space. Playing Sonny Rollins or Al Hirt, the horns sound like they are physically there, directly in front of you with great focus. The image does not drift. Nor do female vocals like Eva Cassidy, Diana Krall or Jennifer Warnes flatten out or congest like I was getting from any one of my receivers. Despite it’s 1957 vintage and mono recording, John Williams guitar recital really blooms realistically, a very faithful and vivid acoustic guitar image is painted in the space between the speakers. I have heard these on many systems and I know how good they are supposed to sound. The musicality of the RR 2150 kept making me impatient to hear another tune…and another. It was nice to hear previously opaque sounding recordings really shine. When a Zildjian A custom cymbal was struck, the warmth, sheen and decay were all there beyond mid-fi capabilities. The cymbal really takes on that shimmer of B-20 bronze alloy.
I liked fiddling with the “ICBM” bass management system. I didn’t EQ bass for my mains, but I set the crossover for 60hz. I was impressed by the definition. AVR bass tends to boom and be less defined and controlled. This is great for explosions, not great for fidelity of music. In addition to bloating bass, AVR’s allow bass to murk up the rest of the recording, make everything sound less definite and clean. I like that there are toroidal transformers here, not cheap/noisy iron core. There also seems to be more than adequate storage capacity as dynamic peaks and headroom do not struggle. I can tell plenty of current is on tap and bass damping is on the money. It’s a nice power tranny. That is, never wooly and never over damped. I have heard some mega-amps that choke bass too much, and it sounds unnatural that way. Not here. It hits the spot, never overdamping or sounding wooly.
In the years before outlaw, I’d say that the level of detail, layering and musicality the RR 2150 delivers was only available if you were willing to drop 3-4 grand. In the modern age, things are designed in the USA, and built in China to specifications, and sold internet only. That, with the lack of pretense does in fact mean that what cost the consumer to buy a North American built integrated of high quality a few years ago and sold at a hefty price to support boutiques and magazine ads, now can be had for $723.00. There is no question that the RR2150 is on equal footing sonically with anything in that price range. That USED to be what I aimed for, because the all-on-one AVR’s don’t perform that way, and quality integrated amps used to come at a premium. I don’t worry about that anymore. As trite as it may seem without actual test equipment, I firmly believe that the RR 2150 delivers it’s rated power and then some. The sound is smooth, never bloated, detailed and clean. It doesn’t suffer from the veiled murk of run-of-the-mill midfi. Call the Outlaw the “ Hors-la-loi sonique”, sell it in a boutique for $3,499 and it would be the toast of the aloof hi-fi press. I’ll settle for $723 shipped, and the same performance normally associated with that price point. It gives you plenty of that “you are there” experience without pretense or excuses.
I have to say, the Outlaw RR-2150 exceeded expectations. It was a great investment that far outperforms AVR’s and integrated amps in the price range and beyond. It does not cease to amaze me with it’s sonic delicacy and yet solidity when called for. It has the kind of dimensionality and layering alien to this market. I have gotten liquid music from trumpets that just pour out into my listening room. If you are willing to compromise sonics for A/V features, this isn’t the component for you. But if you want to laugh heartily at someone who spent 3-4 grand to achieve the same thing, then have at it. I do not hesitate to call this amp a top-notch performer and a winner in every aspect. I am glad I got one now, because who knows, in a few years they could pull a Shanling and triple the price. That’s my .02…your mileage may vary.
Here is some recommended listening. Get classical and jazz, as they tend to be much higher fidelity than rock/pop. Also note that pre-1990’s analog recordings tend to be superior because they aren’t over processed with pro tools. Analog recordings are not as badly compressed so that instruments are at one dynamic level. There is also certain blandness to recordings that have been through too many adjustments. And incidentally, to really run a component through its paces, you have to include some of all of this…several hours of eclectic listening. Never jump to conclusions…always take your time.
- Eva Cassidy
- Jennifer Warnes
- Holly Cole
- Celine Dion
- James Taylor- gr hits
- The Eagles- 7 bridges road, no more walks in the woods
- Steve Perry- Various with Journey
- Randy Travis- always and forever
- Holst the planets: Charles Dutoit/Montreal symphony
- Space spectacular- Telarc
- Anything conducted by Furtwangler
- John Williams- film collection
- Trumpet spectacular-Telarc
- Nojima plays liszt
- Glenn Gould
- Horowitz at the Met
- John Williams (guitarist) guitar recital (2cd) Mono, 1957
- Anner Blysma- Bach cello concertos
- Jacqualine du pre- Elgar concertos
- Rob Wasserman- Solo
- Violin adiagios-various
- Celtic guitar-Michael Hromek
- Al Dimeola- kiss my axe
- Bela Fleck- last flight of the cosmic hippo
- Andreas Vollenwieder- down to the moon, white winds