Outlaw 950 "Beta Tester #1" moves on to an MC-8

Discussion in 'AV Receivers' started by RAF, Jul 28, 2003.

  1. RAF

    RAF Lead Actor

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    Last Friday I replaced my Outlaw 950 pre/pro with a brand new Lexicon MC-8 unit in my home theater (a 61st birthday present to myself). I’ve mentioned this to a few people and the inevitable, “Why did you do this?” question has come up several times already. Therefore, to address these inquiries (especially in light of the fact that I was the infamous “950 Beta Tester #1)” here’s the story so far.

    When I first received the Outlaw 950 for testing I was very pleased with the quality of its performance and still am to this day. It was my first serious venture into total separates, having previously added some outboard amplification to my DENON 5700 receiver, which opened up the sound considerably. There were some speed bumps and growing pains along the way as the 950 “matured” (some hiss issues which I never personally experienced, and a couple of coding issues that were resolved before final production or in subsequent hardware modifications) but this is not too unusual in a product as electronically complex as a surround processor. The biggest obstacle in all my testing was unplugging and plugging in a huge number of cables each time the product was updated to the next version.

    But once stabilized, the 950 worked and sounded very good to me – especially when one considers that it is now available for under $800. I never got overly involved with some of what I consider non-issues (the color of the power button for example or the design of the Outlaw logo) and lived with the few things that I wished could be better. And what were a couple of my minor annoyances?

    Probably the biggest annoyance was the delay in the time that it takes for the 950 to lock onto a digital signal – specifically from my Echostar DISH network receiver. Locking on to other digital source signals (like DVDs) was addressed in early software changes during the Beta testing and is sufficiently fast to be practically unnoticeable. However, something about the 950/Echostar digital connection was never really totally satisfying to me. True, you can “force” the 950 to use the analog signal and the delay disappears, but then you also lose any DD 5.1 soundtracks, especially on HDTV broadcasts, etc. I should also note that I was using TWO Echostar receivers, an HDTV Model 6000 and a PVR 501 so this problem occurred on two sources. What it basically came down to was this: whenever I would channel surf there would always be a several second delay before the sound locked in and that became very noticeable – especially in contrast with my upstairs system, which also uses a DISH receiver coupled to my old DENON 5700. The almost instantaneous lock onto a DISH signal upstairs was in sharp contrast to what was happening in my HT. In fact I found myself avoiding watching normal television (except for HDTV) in the HT because of the delay.

    A second item that I had adapted to was the inability of the 950 to adjust the volume for different sources and retain these settings. Not all sources provide the same volume. For example, I usually use a volume setting of around –20dB on the 950 for watching DVDs (all volumes relative, of course, to initial settings on your amps, etc.) and a volume of about –40 for Echostar. Imagine what happens if you finish a DVD and then start watching TV! If you don’t quickly drop the volume ~20dB your ears (and your neighbors) are in for a sonic shock. Ironically, the lock-on delay of the 950 actually helped here since you had a several second “window of opportunity” to turn down the volume (some would probably call this a feature!). But I didn’t always win the race until, like Pavlov’s Dogs, the 950 rang my bells a few times.

    Granted, these are things that one can live with and I have to say that once the 950 was locked in to a signal, with the volume adjusted to my liking, the sound it produced was very, very nice indeed. In fact, it’s still among the best sound I’ve heard in my theater, especially in the surround modes. That is, until I heard Lexicon’s Logic 7.

    Now I’m not going to try to tell you that Logic 7 is vastly superior to the surround modes on the 950, but there are some subtle differences. Some have termed it a bit smoother transition from speaker to speaker during sound pans. The term “clarity” crops up in some descriptions. Others have suggested that the 950 almost seems to have a subset of the processing capabilities of the Lexicon. I’m sure all of this contributes to the delicate difference in the sound field. The quality, quantity (greater processing capability) and the design of the circuitry also plays a role. And a lot of this translates into dollars.

    Logic 7 is something that has to be experienced to be understood. No words can substitute for actual listening. It is a sound technology that has developed over a long period of time. Of course, Lexicon’s advantage is that Dr. David Griesinger, the architect of Logic 7, has a head start of almost two decades on Outlaw and the others, and is intimately involved in the design and direction of the technology. There is a fascinating interview with Dr. Griesinger at

    http://www.smr-home-theatre.org/Lexicon/dg_qa1.html

    which explains some of the philosophy of surround processing and also provides links to other relevant information.

    Another Beta Tester for the Outlaw 950, Gene Lockaby, owned an MC-12 and when he made the statement that the 950 came very close in sonic ability to his Lexicon there were a lot of people who questioned him on this. Now that I have personally experienced a Lexicon in the exact environment (same connectors, components, etc.) as the 950 I know what Gene was talking about. There is a slight difference, to be sure, but I find it quite interesting how well the Outlaw 950 holds up when compared to the MC-8 in sonic quality.

    Don’t get me wrong. If you gave me a choice between the Lexicon and the Outlaw I would choose the Lexicon every time. Aside from the ability to lock onto all signals quicker and to set individual volumes for different sources – two things that I found lacking on the 950, the MC-8 just has so much more flexibility. Much more control over inputs (you can configure the analog inputs as 8 pairs Stereo, or 5 pairs Stereo and one set of 5.1 analogs, or 2 pairs Stereo, and 2 sets of 5.1 analogs), direct access to the processor via RS-232 and software updates, slots for future modules as new technologies emerge, tremendous build quality, an upgrade and support structure that allows Lexicon owners to move up to new models when they are released – the list is almost endless. And with so much control I am finding the menus to be extremely intuitive and quite logical. Once I was pointed in the right direction by an excellent manual I was able to set out on my own and, so far, everything has fallen into place.

    I chose to treat myself to the MC-8. But if budget is the primary consideration, then the Outlaw 950 walks very, very proud. While it never did set out to compete with a unit that lists for over 7 times its cost, the 950 does provide some very nice sound with a little less of the convenience and upgradeability. As an aside, I ran into a similar situation when purchasing my first front projector. I finally settled on a (then) $5,800 Sony VW10HT LCD unit. The flagship Sony projector – the G90 CRT – was also about 7 times the cost of my Sony and, while superior, it didn’t produce a picture 7 times better. Of course, I never would have been able to make the jump from a VW10HT to a G90 because, while the multiplier is about the same, my pockets are not that big! Luckily, a Runco CL-710 DLP projector landed on my doorstep (see my HT website for details) so I now have a new “crown jewel” for my home theater. And if the Runco is my video gem, then the MC-8 is the audio equivalent.

    In my opinion the Outlaw 950 competes very well with other pre/pros in its general vicinity (under $2,000) and is still a watershed product for those wishing to get into separates. And knowing the Outlaws, I would suspect that they have plans in the works for a follow-up product to the 950. Those who followed all this from the beginning recall that Outlaw initially planned to produce two pre/pros – an “entry” model, which evolved into the 950, and a “deluxe” model, which fell by the wayside as the 950 went through some growing pains. Now that the 950 has settled in I would be very surprised if Outlaw doesn’t take aim at the pre/pro market that starts at $4,000 and up in the not-to-distant future.

    In the meantime, I now know what all of those who kept mentioning two words to me were talking about – “Logic 7.” There’s still a lot for me to learn and I’m sure I’ll be tweaking the sound even more as I learn more. At this point I would estimate that I’m at the 90% comfort level with understanding the MC-8’s operation and 110% satisfied with my investment. So that averages out to 100% and is perfect in my book.

    For now. [​IMG]
     
  2. David S

    David S Stunt Coordinator

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    Congrats RAF![​IMG]
     
  3. John A. Casler

    John A. Casler Second Unit

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    Now if I could just change your speaker alphabet from M&K to VMPS we would be complete [​IMG] [​IMG]

    Sounds like your still having fun. We really do have to have you over the next time you're out here.

    ATB
     
  4. Lewis Besze

    Lewis Besze Producer

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    Traitor![​IMG]
    Enjoy your new toy,but we will meet at OK corral.[​IMG]
     
  5. Kevin C Brown

    Kevin C Brown Producer

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    RAF- Welcome to the club! [​IMG] (I have a very similar story... [​IMG] )
     
  6. John-Tompkins

    John-Tompkins Second Unit

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  7. RAF

    RAF Lead Actor

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    Well I see that my comments have brought a lot of old-timers out of the proverbial woodwork.

    [​IMG]

    A few comments, by the numbers:

    David,

    Thank you.


    John C.,
    Playing the alphabet soup game, eh? Don't you remember? You were the one who helped steer me toward the M&K's. Got some spare change lying around so I could make the switch? Remember, these 61 year old ears aren't what they once were.

    [​IMG]


    Lewis,

    O.K. corral? O.K. Next time I'm in Tombstone, AZ. Besides, you guys always disagree.

    [​IMG]

    Kevin,

    Yep. Similar story. Same results, eh?

    John T,

    What would life be without some disagreements? (Just ask Lewis!)

    On the issue at hand, I really haven't been following the market for entry level pre/pros closely over the past year or so, so maybe my $2000 ceiling is no longer applicable. After all, the 950 has been around for a while and the list on it is now down under $800. And at that price I still don't see too much competition for someone wanting to get a nice price/performance ratio. True, there are many more contenders out there but as far as I'm concerned the improvements in sound, if any, are very minor. Yes, some offer upgradability, others offer nicer looking knobs [​IMG], or a feature or two that the 950 lacks. But, unless I'm missing something, I don't see much other new equipment in the under $1000 separates category that gives you everything the 950 does. Yes, the used equipment route is also an option for people to consider, but my "Under $2000" comment was meant to indicate that I wasn't about to dump the 950 for anything in that price range since I didn't consder the improvement to be worth the investment. On the other hand, moving up to a Lexicon makes a lot of sense to me (especially since I had some discretionary income to treat myself) because it takes my HT to the next level of performance. Just as I was happy with my Sony LCD projector until the Runco DLP dropped into my lap, I was happy with my 950 until I decided to move up to the Lexicon for the reasons I stated in my original message in this thread.

    I think this can best be summarized by an e-mail from someone at Outlaw who wrote to me once my switchover became known, "Robert, if you had dropped the 950 to move on to a Rotel or similar, I would have been crestfallen. But since you are moving on to an MC-8 I can't complain." (Note - I'm using Rotel as an example here, and not to inflame the Rotel/Outlaw "wars" again. You could substitute a number of different vendors here. The point is that they are basically in the same general category whereas the Lexicon is not.)

    Thanks for the comments.
     
  8. Claude M

    Claude M Stunt Coordinator

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    ENJOY! That's a very nice pre/pro, you are a lucky man.
     
  9. RAF

    RAF Lead Actor

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    Thank you, Claude.
     
  10. John-Tompkins

    John-Tompkins Second Unit

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    Robert,

    I know what you mean, if your gonna upgrade you my as well make it a worthy step-up. Ive wasted too much of my time with upgrades that werent really upgrades( more of a lateral move).

    With all the tweeks the mc-8 has you can make it sound however you want, the more time you have with it the more you will apreciate just how good it is. Ive been "zooming" my mc-8 in for a month or so now and couldnt be happier...thus havent visited any HT sites lately, but couldnt resist when I saw your post[​IMG]

    PS...anyone considering spending a 1000~1200.00 on a pre-pro should give the mc-1 serious consideration..its not the mc-8 but imo beats anything in its price range for someone thats into HT
     
  11. Ricky T

    Ricky T Supporting Actor

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    RAF,

    Congrats on the MC8. That's a fine processor that should last you for a few years. For others yearning for but can't yet afford the MC8, loaded MC1s under 1200 or DC2s under 900 are great values right now. The Logic7 and feature set is older, but these units are great ways to experience Logic7, Lexicon flexibility/tweakability, ease of use, and great menus.

    Interestingly how the Outlaw which was supposed to compete straight up with 4k prepros, now just competes with 2k prepros. But, until recently, the Outlaw 950, its clones, the Rotel 1066, and the Audio Refinement Pre2-DSP are the *only available* DPL2 capable prepros under 2k (actually under 1500)...not a wide area of competition. One would be hard pressed to name *one other* DPL2 capable prepro that the Outlaw sounds better than.

    The prepro to beat under 2k looks like the Integra 9.4: 1999 retail, ~ 1500 street, THX Ultra2, Chad remote, balanced inputs, no major bugs, the stability of a large company like Onkyo. The poster, Jerry, has experience with many different prepros, including the MC12. Also, the new Sherwood prepro at 1500 retail should be coming.

    http://www.hometheaterforum.com/htfo...hlight=integra
     
  12. RAF

    RAF Lead Actor

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    John,
    "Lateral Move." An excellent way to put it. Wish I had thought of using that term since it describes it so nicely. And with the introduction of the MC-8 (essentially a replacement for the MC-1) the market now contains some very, very nice bargains for MC-1 (version 4?) units for consideration as an entry pre/pro. Good point.

    Ricky,
    Yes, Lex (luthor?) finally won me over for all the reasons I indicated in my initial comments in this thread. [​IMG]

    And, of course, a lot of the original Outlaw comments are now a bit dated. For example the reference to challenging the under $4K processors was based on what was out there 2 years ago, not what's out there today. The new Integra unit looks to be a solid option in the under $2K category. I see you moved on from MC-land to Integra yourself. (I've been following some of the threads.)

    One thing that was said almost two years ago (not by me, but by a 950 Beta Tester who owns an MC-12) still is, in my opinion, valid. The 950 produces a sound that is very close to that produced by the MC-12. Just not as configurable and as easy to get to (some lock-on signal issues and other tweaks such as volume controls, etc.) But once all the adjustments are made I still find that the 950 (now going to be used in my secondary system) provides a lot of bang for the buck. It's just that the field is getting a little more crowded now (inevitable) and Outlaw has recognized this by lowering the price of the 950 to $799. Speaking of which, I think it's safe to assume that The Outlaws have been taking notes and are planning a new pre/pro that will provide some of the options that were either lacking or compromised (for cost reasons) in the 950. Remember, we were promised two Outlaw pre/pros in the early days. I imagine it's almost time for the second one to show up.

    Just more grist for the mill.

    Take care, guys.
     
  13. Lewis Besze

    Lewis Besze Producer

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  14. Ricky T

    Ricky T Supporting Actor

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    RAF,

    The Ref50, Anthen AVM20, Aragon Stage One, Sunfire TGIII, etc were all out about 2 years ago.

    Lewis,

    Where do you get that I own the Integra? Please give us a link to that information... [​IMG]
     
  15. John-Tompkins

    John-Tompkins Second Unit

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  16. Lewis Besze

    Lewis Besze Producer

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  17. Ricky T

    Ricky T Supporting Actor

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    Lewis,

    You might not care, but don't make things up.....
     
  18. John-Tompkins

    John-Tompkins Second Unit

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  19. RAF

    RAF Lead Actor

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    Play nice, gang. This thread is taking some unnecessary swerves off-topic.

    I simply started a thread to explain that I had moved on to a new pre/pro and gave my reasons why since some people had asked once they found out about my new purchase.

    The next thing I knew some people were attacking each other (not me this time - after all, I'm not beta testing the MC-8, I own it) [​IMG]

    Let's try to stay focused.

    It's not unusual for people to change equipment. It happens all the time (the nature of this game). We all do it. Ricky has (I think, if I'm not mistaken and have read some threads correctly) an Aragon Soundstage right now, not an Integra. That's not an endorsement nor an indictment of either piece of equipment. Everyone "pays their money and makes their choice" in a free economy. And other than the fact that he has changed equipment like I did it has nothing to do with the subject of this thread.

    We won't all agree and not all of us have the same amount of discretionary income but we all are pursuing what is, for us, our own personal HT nirvanas. And this is obtainable (or unobtainable) on a variety of levels.

    However, personal confrontations don't really have a place here so let's please stay focused on the issues (if any) at hand and not react or over-react to the comments of others.

    'Nuff said. O.K. ?
     

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