OK, Here we go. Review of Outlaw 950 vs. HK 520 Battle! WARNING-LONG

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by chung_sotheby, Sep 18, 2002.

  1. chung_sotheby

    chung_sotheby Supporting Actor

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    I asked the question of who would be interested in a comparison between these two, and got a couple of responses, and even more so I was extremely interested in a comparison, so I bit the bullet and decided to purchase both and do a shootout.
    First of all, here is a list of my associated equipment:
    VPI HW19JR with Platter Upgrade
    Trichord Dino Phono Preamp
    AAD 2001 Main Speakers
    norh 4.0 marble Center
    Paradigm Studio 20v2 Surrounds
    SVS 20-39 CS powered with 500 watt amp
    Sony CDPx5000 CD player and transport (japan only)
    Sony CDPcx90es 200 disk cd player
    Odyssey Stratos with 120,000 uf cap upgrade
    3 norh Le Amp monoblocks
    5 pairs of Homegrown Audio Super Silver II
    5 pairs of Homegrown Audio Silver Lace
    SOny CDP660 DVD player
    DIY Speaker Cable (~12 Gauge)
    SOnic Frontiers Line 1 with NOS Siemens, Mullard and Dario Tubes

    Secondly, here is the list of media that I decided to test with:
    Saving Private Ryan (DTS)
    The Matrix
    Amelie
    Eagles-Hell Freezes Over CD
    Dave Matthews Band-Crash CD
    The Gypsy Kings-Greatest Hits CD
    Led Zeppelin-III LP
    Neil Young-Harvest LP
    Pink Floyd-the wall, dark side, wish you were here All LP

    So here goes with the comparison:
    Music:
    I listened to all the above mentioned CD's and LP's in both stereo and multi-channel enhanced modes, and did so with both analog and digital connectors(where applicable). From what I found, the HK 520 had a slight edge in both stereo and multi channel listening. As a reference in stereo listening, I used my Sonic Frontiers preamp, and I compared the two unit to the Sonic Frontiers. With stereo listening on the HK, the overall tonality (Lows, Mids, Highs) was very good, with a slight upper tinge and even slighter loss of air in the midrange. Also, there is slight soundstage compression, as noted in both Hell Freezes Over when the cheer of the crowd feels a little too close to the band, and on DSOTM when the clock clangs all emerge from a 10'x10' space. Also, on Hell Freezes Over, Don Henley's Voice seems to come from about 1' lower than where it should be. In terms of multi channel, I found both Logic 7 Enhanced and DTS Neo Music to be the best multi channel enhancement modes, with a slight edge to Logic 7 in terms of channel seperation and integration. In terms of Digital Connection versus Analog Connection, I found that the DAC's in both the CX90es and the X5000 were better than the DAC's in the Harman Kardon. They seemed to be less analytical and more natural sounding, with a bit more air and depth. Overall, though, I would have to say that the HK was the most musical sounding receiver under $1000 that I have ever heard.
    As for the Outlaw, I used the exact same media, and did the same sort of listening tests. As for the 2 ch stereo listening, I found that the Outlaw, suprisingly, had a bit more bass than the HK, but the Mids seemed a bit muffled. The highs were about the same level, with a slight edge to the HK in terms of smoothness because the HK had better full sound spectrum integration. What I mean by this is that the shift from lows to mids to highs seemed more natural on the HK than on the Outlaw. And while the bass was more prevelent on the Outlaw, it was also a bit sloppier. When listening to the Gypsy Kings CD, which has a lot of sharp bass lines, the bass seemed to drift and sustain a little bit too long. Also, the soundstage was a little bit more compressed compared to the HK, as the crowd in Hell Freezes was about 2 feet closer or so to the band. in terms of internal DACs, once again the Outlaw DAC's were not as good as the internal dacs of the two CD players. The DAC's in the Outlaw sounded very similar to the DAC's of the HK, with a slight edge to the HK. In terms of multi channel, the Cirrus Circle Surround was by far the best mode on the Outlaw, and was in itself very close to Logic 7 on the HK. I would give a slight edge to the Logic 7, but this may have been due to the slight edge in musicality the HK had.
    Music Verdict: HK=B+; Outlaw=B

    Now heres the fun part, the movies mode. To test the movies mode, I used a certain set of passages from the aforementioned dvd's. The list of the passages (in chapter:minutes:seconds) are:
    Amelie:
    (2:2:45);(3:1:30);(6:1:00);(14:4:00);(15:4:00);(16 :3:00)
    The Matrix:
    (29:0:00)the lobby shootout;(30:2:00)bullet dodging
    Saving Private Ryan:
    (2:1:30) the D-Day scene
    HK520:
    The HK did a great job with all the aforementioned material. In Amelie, the chimes sparkled, and the accordion made a great companion to the loud bass thumps in the ending epilogue scene. In the Matrix, the sound was authoritative and precise, with the bullets of the dodging scene could not only be tracked from side to side, but from top to bottom as the camera pans around Keanu. In the D-Day scene, the bullets whizzed and the bombs exploded, while the dialogue was kept audible, though muffled due to the documentary-like feel that Spielberg tried to use during this scene. Altogether, a very impressive showing, and once again the best sounding receiver under $1000 that I have heard.
    Outlaw 950:
    Before I describe anything, all I have to say is WOW!!! HOLY CRIMINY!!! GREAT GOOGLY MOOOGLY!!! This thing is downright amazing at HT. I have heard the Lex DC2, the Anthem AVM2, the B&K Ref 30, the Sunfire TGII, and a whole other bunch of processors, and the Outlaw bests them all! It is just so damn good! In the Matrix, the bullets not only whizzed by, but you could almost hear the distortion of the sonic boom as they zoomed up, and around, and behind. In Saving Private Ryan, the thing that impressed me was not just the bullets whizzing by, but the subtle sounds in the incredible battle scene, like the germans screaming at each other in the foxhole when gunning down the invading troops. Possibly the most impressive, though, was in Chapter 15 in Amelie, when Amelie is cooking dinner and daydreaming about her one love picking up some yeast from the corner market. Not only is the sound precisely located to her left, but it is located right above her shoulder. And not only that, since the daydream is situated outdoors, where it is raining, the pitter-patter of the rain only appears in the exact location of the daydream bubble, just above Amelie's left shoulder. In movie mode, the processor was so precise, so amazing, so just right that it plain amazed me. Outlaw has delivered on the promise of a top rate AV processor.

    Movies Verdict: HK=A-; Outlaw=A+

    Conclusion:
    Both these units are at or near the highest level of price-performance ratio in the audio market. Each unit has its quips, though forgiveable. The HK, for example, has the inability to adjust seperate LFE tracks (something mentioned ad naseum in this forum, but I never felt in any DTS tracks that the LFE was too low) and also has a slight subwoofer "POP" when the digital signal is lost for longer than 1/2 second. While on the 950, there is still a slight amount of "hiss" from the unit, only audible within 2 feet of the speakers, and also there is a bit of crosstalk between the analog inputs. But overall, these units proved amazing. As for which unit I will keep, this is a tough decision, but I think that I am going to keep the Outlaw. Reason being: I already have a phenomenal 2 ch preamp, and I have no need for the extra 5 channels of amplification. If I only had the Stratos, I definately would have decided to keep the 520 as opposed to the 950, as the 520 really is that good. I will begin fielding offers for the 520, but if there is no really good offer, I will probably just give it to my parents as a gift, as they are about to renovate their home theater.
    I think that the 520 is a great entry piece into the world of seperates, as it provides amazing music and movie performance for the price, while also giving the user a ton of options for amplification. It is a perfect match with an external 2 ch amplifier, as it will provide great music playback with a ton of options. So anyone who is looking to start a very, very good integrated Mid-fi system should first give the 520 a look.
    As for the 950, I think this unit is for the audio enthusiast who wants a front end piece that will provide near-unbeatable movie watching performance for a incredible price. I cannot reccomend this unit for someone who is looking to have a great all-in-one preamp/processor, but for movie only applications it is hard to beat.
     
  2. Paul Clarke

    Paul Clarke Supporting Actor

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    Great work, Chung. [​IMG] Very thoughtful. I echo your 520 assessment...best bang for buck under $1K.
    I'd be taking the 520 off your hands if I hadn't already used up my budget for my present system. Oh well.
    Thanks again.
     
  3. Ted Kim

    Ted Kim Stunt Coordinator

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  4. Chris Purvis

    Chris Purvis Stunt Coordinator

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    For someone who doesn't care a whit about HDCD and will only be using the thing as a preamp processor for home theater use, is there any compelling reason to go with the H/K 520 over the H/K 320? They both have preamp outputs and on paper appear to have the same surround mode circuitry - the only real differences I can see are the 520 has a bigger internal amp (I don't care) and be connected to a HDCD player (again, I don't care), and has more video switching capability (not a problem).

    Is there something I'm missing here? The 320 used as a dedicated HT pre/pro with audio sources only seems identical to the 520 to me - and can be had for about $200.00 less.
     
  5. Ted Kim

    Ted Kim Stunt Coordinator

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  6. Eujin

    Eujin Supporting Actor

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    Chris,

    I think you've pretty much covered it. This was part of my thought process when I was deciding between the two receivers earlier this year and ended up going with the 320, with an eye toward using it as a pre/pro in the future.
     
  7. Larry B

    Larry B Screenwriter

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    Chung_Sotheby:
    Excellent review. [​IMG]
     
  8. NickSP

    NickSP Supporting Actor

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    A very good comparison Chung, it made for some good reading [​IMG]
    Although I might not miss it too much, the lack of DD-EX decoding on the 520 would bother me to some extent. Also, why can't you simply return the 520 if you had it for less than 30 days I assume?
     
  9. Paul Clarke

    Paul Clarke Supporting Actor

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    Chris,

    If all you are interested in is the preamp capability then yes, the 320 is the smart choice. But, for the extra $200 or so, as all H/K 5xx owners know, with main ins you get a very decent quality 5 channel amp for future use as well. Now this is what makes it a killer value IMO...great preamp now, useful amp later...all for an extra $200 or less.
     
  10. Leo_P

    Leo_P Second Unit

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    chung, great review![​IMG]
    It makes me feel a little better about using my h/k 520 as a prepro. I was thinking about getting the Outlaw 950, but I think I'll save up my pennies and spring for something a little sweeter. Maybe an Anthem AVM 20?[​IMG]
    When I end up getting a prepro, I want one that'll stomp my 520's butt, sonically.
     
  11. Judy Y

    Judy Y Stunt Coordinator

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    Okay, I'm sorry, but I have to ask.........where the heck did you get that expression "great googly moogly"??????

    On a serious note, I went from an Adcom GTP 740 preamp to a Harmon Kardon 320, (kept the harmon kardon 5 channel amp I had). I have always thought the Adcom had an edge with music AND movies over the 320- but not by much. One area in which I was suitably UNIMPRESSED with the 320 is in the DAC. I always use analog in rather than the optical or coax dig in whenever I can. I hear quite a bit of harshness using the digital inputs on the 320.

    In case anyone wonders, I went to the 320 for the ability to use DVD-A and SACD. The Adcom did not have the 6 channel pre ins.

    Judy
     
  12. Chris Purvis

    Chris Purvis Stunt Coordinator

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    thanks all - my 320 should arrive Friday. I agree that main amplifier input is very cool, but I'm up to my ears in amplifiers already. [​IMG]
     
  13. Rich Malloy

    Rich Malloy Producer

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  14. chung_sotheby

    chung_sotheby Supporting Actor

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    First of all, thanks for all the positive reactions. I was really interested myself to comparing the pre sections of these two great pieces of equipment.
    LarryB:
    I meant that I have no use right now for the extra 5 amp channels, considering that I already have 5 channels of great amplification coming from the Stratos and the LeAmps. So in other words, the amplifier in the 520 is just going to waste as of right now.
    NickSP:
    I can return the unit, but it would incur my own shipping and probably a 15% restocking fee. I just wanted to see if anyone was looking to purchase a fully warrantied product at a heck of a price.
    Ted Kim:
    Yes, I have auditioned about three other preamps using my setup (The Lex DC2, the B&K Ref 30, and the Sunfire TGII) and in terms of pure movie mode, the 950 bests them all. I heard a demonstration of the Anthem AVM2, not he 20, at my local B&M, and the setup was of all top of the line Sonus Fabers and a Paradigm sub, and I left quite unimpressed with the results, as the Anthem sounded a little too forward and brittle for my tastes.
    Judy:
    The phrase "Great Googly Moogly," much like "funky buttlovin'" and "are you guys brothers?" comes from my near-encyclopedic knowledge of stupid lines from movies and commmercials. "Great Googly Moogly" is from the Snickers commercial where the guy is painting the endzone. Here, I will give a small script:

    Camera Opens on an old man, painstakingly lining and painting the endzone of the Kansas City Chiefs football field. You see him start in the warming sunlight of the morning, and as the time lapse goes on, he finishes his last line just as the football team has finished practice.
    The old man stands up, stretches his back, and a player walks up besides the guy. As the player looks at the job well done, he comments to the old painter:
    "Hey, that's great. But who are the Chefs?"
    At this point we see an aerial shot of the endzone, and we see that the "I" has been left out.
    "Great Googly Moogly." the old man says.
    "Not going anywhere for a while," the voiceover annoncer clamors, "grab a Snickers."
    The player says "You see, you spell it..." and the old guy says "Nuhhh!"

    An all time classic
     
  15. Chris S

    Chris S Cinematographer

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    Just wanted to add my thanks for the review. Very nice job!

    Chris S.
     
  16. Chris Tsutsui

    Chris Tsutsui Screenwriter

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    Good read,

    Though, I still don't understand how the HK beat the Outlaw in music.

    What should also be mentioned is that you say how the Outlaw bests those other pre/pros... yet you auditioned them all at a different time and different place w/ different equiptment.

    I find it somewhat hard to compare speakers unless I can "ABA" test them one right after another.
     
  17. Larry B

    Larry B Screenwriter

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    chung:
     
  18. Larry B

    Larry B Screenwriter

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    chung:
     
  19. Kevin L K

    Kevin L K Second Unit

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    chung--you've been emailed and PM'd--thanks [​IMG]
     
  20. chung_sotheby

    chung_sotheby Supporting Actor

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    Chris, I auditioned three of the preamps with my current setup in my current room, and indeed the Outlaw bested all of them. In my follow-up post, I put into more detail of where and how I auditioned the other pre/pros and how they stacked up.
    Kevin-Emailed you back
     

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