Outlaw's "Retro" Receiver for the 21st Century - the RR2150 - some impressions

Discussion in 'AV Receivers' started by RAF, Nov 20, 2005.

  1. RAF

    RAF Lead Actor

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    [​IMG]


    O.K. I'll admit it. I'm a gadget freak and have my share of items that I purchase on impulse because they look/sound intriguing. That's why I have an assortment of devices piling up around here (Nintendo DS, Sony PSP - great unit but I actually play the DS!, Microsoft Xbox 360 - coming this week, Sudoku Books, Various iPods, Universal Remotes - my current favorite is the Universal MX-950, Digital Voice recorders, plastic toothpicks, etc. etc.) you get the picture. When I first heard about the Outlaw RR2150 two years ago I thought that this might be a great item to use to resurrect my vinyl collection. A quality two channel receiver with very few digital bells and whistles in a digital world. Intriguing.

    As with most things Outlaw, the unit was announced well before the shipping date so I put things on the back burner. I'd had my share of cutting edge Outlaw experiences as a beta tester for their first pre/pro - the Outlaw 950 and I had no desire to go through the growing pains and countless forum exchanges this time, so I'm speaking as a retail customer, not an Outlaw "insider." But my curiosity was piqued.

    Several years ago receivers and pre/pros (for the most part) abandoned the vinyl world and phono inputs were removed from most new products. After all. vinyl was dead, right? Except for old time "purists." Those of us who still had our record collections had to resort to outboard phono pre-amps (I use a Parasound connected to my Lexicon MC-8) and, while the results were satisfactory I always thought that using my Home Theater for two channel music was a little bit of overkill. Yes, I could get some interesting effects (Lexicon's Logic7 applied to some records actually produces some interesting sonics) but it wasn't exactly like listening to straight 2 channel sound. Besides, my HT is set up for movies and my vinyl collection had long ago been pushed out and upstairs by my growing videodisc (DVDs and LDs -remember them?) collection and HD product is on the way.) Like I said before, I really wanted a separate two channel system upstairs for listening to vinyl. Ideally I would get a two channel amp and some nice speakers but realistically I didn't want to deal with more large speakers (which is usually the way to go with 2 channel sound.)

    As a stopgap my significant other purchased me one of those Crosley "record players" so I could at least audition my vinyl upstairs (and wow the grandkids who had never seen records - they think they are "cool"). But let's face it, a Crosley player doesn't really extract all that vinyl can offer.

    A few weeks ago I heard that Outlaw was finally releasing the long awaited "Retro Receiver" Model RR2150 with a couple of interesting features. In a non-related matter (actually it all comes together later on) I won an Infinity satellite/SW system (5 satellite speakers and a powered Subwoofer) at a drawing at CEDIA and was trying to think of ways to use it since I already have two surround systems (main HT and and Energy system in the bedroom that serves me well). Then something about the RR2150's specs caught my eye - the unit has bass management for two channel sound - something unusual for two channel receivers. This meant that I could, potentially, avoid having to purchase (and house) two large full range speakers for my two channel system if the satellites/SW could handle the two channel spectrum. It was worth a try.

    A couple of days and $599 later (+$35 shipping) an RR2150 was at my doorstep. This weekend I've had the opportunity to run it through its initial paces and here are some of my first impressions (in no particular order). I present them here as some points of information.
    • In the first place I was impressed by the build quality of the RR2150. It has a "retro" look but is completely functional with lots of control, an excellent large(!) display, well laid out back panel, etc. etc. Rather than bore you with the details and pictures I direct you to the Outlaw site here where there is a wealth of information including specs, pictures, owner's manual, etc. Suffice it to say, it looks handsome and even better in person.
    • Of course, looks aren't everything, especially in two channel audio. How did it sound? Let me tell you right off the bat that the bass management in two channel mode (the only choice) works as advertised. There are also a variety of configurable crossover points and the ability to bypass it entirely (refer to the Outlaw literature for more on this.) If I closed my eyes I would have sworn that I had two large speakers, not two satellites and a powered subwoofer! The main reason that I purchased the RR2150 was immediately justified.
    • Next I decided to try a variety of sources including records, CDs, two channel SACDs, AM, FM and even my iPod. In every case I was extremely pleased with the results. Let me discuss each of these in turn.
    • For records I connected a long ago shelved AR manual turntable from the 50's. Those of you old enough to remember this classic may recall that it had two speeds, 33.33 rpm and 45 rpm and that you manually moved the belt to change the speed. It was a great turntable at the time and offers tremendous vibration isolation. I still have a Shure magnetic cartidge in it and it passed the listening test with flying colors. The RR2150 offered absolutely no interference or coloration (no hum, no distortion, etc.) and I was amazed how good vinyl sounded - within the dynamic range limitations of the medium. Jazz, vocals, classical (large and small) - all sounded better than I remembered them. My vinyl lives. I'm now seriously thinking of getting my B&O 4002 linear turntable refurbished to add to the mix.
    • I connected Sony's first DVD/CD/2 Channel SACD player - the 9000ES to the Outlaw RR2150 and once again I was amazed at how the $600 receiver performed - this time with the dynamic range that SACD offers. Breathtaking! Jacintha never sounded better.
    • A pleasant surprise was the tuner section of this receiver. I was able to pull in more stations and with greater clarity than on any other receiver in recent memory. True, some stations were stronger than others, but I definitely was able to acquire stereo FM signals with more regularity than with any other radio in my home. I'm not quite sure what the reason was for this but I can tell you that it works. If the RR2150 had HD Radio capability I would be in nirvana. (I suspect that the unit was on the drawing board long before HD Radio was ready for prime time and I hope that The Outlaws will be adding it to the "RR2160")
    • Now comes a bit of serendipity. On the front of the unit there is a "input" jack (stereo miniplug). Can you say, "iPod?" One quick connection later and my jaw dropped again. I've heard the iPod through some quality earphones and even auditioned some of those iPod accessory boom boxes but why throw away $300 (for the "good" ones) when they can't hold a candle to the RR2150? I realize that the music on my iPod is in AAC format so it isn't exactly "CD quality" but it sounded darn good. I can only imagine that higher bit rate MP3 files will sound even better. And I can't wait to connect my XM radio to the RR2150. Right now the RR2150 is situated in a location in my home that isn't "XM friendly" but I have an XM antenna repeater on order that should solve that problem. I'll let you know.

    There's a lot more flexibility and features associated with the RR2150 that I haven't tested yet, partly due to time constraints and partly because I wasn't aware that they were there and I need to learn more. For example, there's a USB (Type "B") port on the back of the unit that can, I imagine, be interfaced with a computer and one of those music distribution systems. I'm not sure how Outlaw resolves the digital input into analog output but over time I'll learn more about this. And the receiver comes with a programmable remote which I've yet to use except for on/off, volume and mode changes. Additionally, there are tuner presets, two sets of speakers (A, B and A+B), recording loop features and some equalization parameters that I have yet to explore. But the bottom line is that the RR2150 is a very impressive piece of hardware and this "retro" two channel receiver may actually be ahead of its time. I'd be willing to bet that it would hold its own when connected to megabuck equipment - which is something that I don't have the resources to do.

    I predict that Outlaw will have a hard time keeping this item on the shelves now that the secret's out!

    [​IMG] [​IMG]
     
  2. RAF

    RAF Lead Actor

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    UPDATE:

    I notice on the Outlaw site that the RR2150 is "Temporarily Sold out." I guess my prediction came true. Let's hope that Outlaw has more units on the way.
     
  3. mackie

    mackie Supporting Actor

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    Thanks for the info. I've been watching/waiting for this thing for awhile. I ended up getting a Denon DRA-685 due to not knowing when it would be released, but I'm not above replacing the Denon with the Outlaw. I got the Denon B stock, so I'm really not out that much cash.

    I'm curious to see how the receiver will handle large, hard to drive speakers, and I'd like to see a graph measuring it's actual power output.

    It does look like a great piece of equipment.
     
  4. RAF

    RAF Lead Actor

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    I'm sure that someone will pair the RR2150 up with some beefy speakers as soon as the unit is more widely available and report on this. Peeking through the grill on the top of the unit reveals what looks like a moderate sized torodial transformer and about 20,000 uF of capacitance and it weighs in at 27 pounds so it's not a lightweight.

    Rumor has it that someone who is going to be reviewing this unit connected some megabuck speakers and a pricey turntable to it and was extremely impressed with the RR2150's performance, but that's just hearsay on my part so I can't vouch for this until I see an actual article in print. The 100W/channel seems like a valid spec.
     
  5. mackie

    mackie Supporting Actor

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    I hope Stereophile does the review since they do the most comprehensive testing of the magazines I read.

    27 Pounds? That's pretty heavy for a stereo receiver.
     
  6. RAF

    RAF Lead Actor

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    Yes, it has a bit of heft to it, because it's no lightweight in the amp department (pun intended.) It's definitely not a "tuck-away" unit. The pertinent stats are (taken right from the spec sheet):

    •Dimensions:
    (HxWxD) 5.75 x 17.1 x 15 in.
    Weight 27 lbs
     
  7. Larry Sutliff

    Larry Sutliff Cinematographer

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    This looks like it may be perfect for a music only system that I'm going to be putting in my bedroom(eventually).
     
  8. RAF

    RAF Lead Actor

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    Exactly, Larry. I suspect that there might be a greater market for this item than I first thought. The RR2150 isn't suited for a surround sound environment (and it doesn't claim to be) so it isn't the unit of choice for people getting into, or upgrading their Home Theater. On the other hand, it's a bit foolish to have a 5.1 or 7.1 receiver being used exclusively for music since you are paying for features you don't need or want - some of which can actually take away from the 2 channel experience or cause adaptation problems. For one thing, most AVRs don't have a phono pre-amp stage any more. And I question whether some of the digital processing of these HT receivers might actually introduce some audio issues that might disappear if they weren't there in the first place.

    If two channel audio is your goal, whether in a second room or as your primary system, the RR2150 appears to be a perfect fit and a remarkable bargain when you consider its performance. I can't wait for the "professional" reviews to start rolling out. Like mackie, I'd like to see Stereophile's take on this unit.
     
  9. Danny Tse

    Danny Tse Producer

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    It says "Temporarily Sold Out" on Outlaw's website [​IMG]
     
  10. Philip Hamm

    Philip Hamm Lead Actor

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    This is a beautiful unit, thanks for the review.....


    But it doesn't tempt me to replace the Harman/Kardon HK3270 in my stereo setup just yet.........
     
  11. RAF

    RAF Lead Actor

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    Those HK units are also nice but I still like the fact that the RR2150 has the bass management that allows you to use satellite speakers with a powered subwoofer for applications where large full range speakers might just not be possible (like in some small rooms or bedrooms). This was something that I couldn't have easily accomplished without a lot of outboard stuff. And if you want to use large full range speakers the bass management is totally defeatable.

    I also like the inclusion of a USB port for computer applications although I've yet to play with this. One thing that I did do since yesterday was to connect my XM Radio Delphi unit via the aux input (stereo minijack to minijack). I was able to rig a temporary XM antenna to the XM receiver while waiting for my XM antenna repeater to be delivered later this week since I was anxious to see what it would sound like. With my temporary antenna I was able to get "two bars" (out of three) signal strength and, therefore, pick up XM stations. What great sound! Once the repeater comes from Delphi I should have no problem finding a "three bar" location.

    Let's just say that in the past 24 hours I've listened to more XM radio than I have in the last 6 months. I have one of those Delphi docking Boomboxes but they can't hold a candle to the sound I'm hearing with my new set-up.
     
  12. Philip Hamm

    Philip Hamm Lead Actor

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    Well, in my stereo setup - cough - the office in an unused bedroom - cough - I'm using full range Wharfedale Modus 1.6 towers. Not high end by any means but fairly close to full range. I'll bet the Outlaw would really bring them to life, but I'm not sure I'd notice the difference with my tin ears. But for a lot of people looking for stereo setups this is a nice piece.

    I wonder how it would drive splitting the signal to lots of speakers? My brother-in-law who really has rather modest needs fidelity wise (like me) recently (couple years ago) bought a very high end Rotel stereo receiver to get enough amp beef to handle his speaker distribution system.
     
  13. RAF

    RAF Lead Actor

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    Like the HKs, the Outlaw RR2160 has the ability to drive two sets of speakers in either A, B, or A&B configuration. I don't know whether or not this was what your were talking about. The heft of the unit suggests a very capable power supply and my ears confirm this. I'd like to see some test results using instrumentation although to me the ears are the most important determining factor.
     
  14. John Garcia

    John Garcia Executive Producer

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    Very cool. Nice review too; thanks! I saw this when they sent out the newsletter a while back and was interested in it. Too bad I already bought a new integrated amp to replace my dying one because this guy was not available yet. I REALLY would have liked some of those features....
     
  15. Mark Russ

    Mark Russ Second Unit

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    If only this unit would have had an XM tuner built in since it carries the "penalty" of a tuner anyway....

    Also, digital inputs with it's own built in DACs would have been nice too to help upgrade the sound of older CD players that could still be used as transports.

    By the way this Outlaw unit sold out so fast in it's intial run, and by how Denon, HK, Onkyo, Yamaha, Marantz, NAD, etc. still make plain old vanilla 2 channel receivers, there is obviously still a market demand for them.

    The Onkyo TX-8511/8211 have been around now unchanged for, what, about 5 years or so? That is unheard of in today's market where manufacturers have new models every year.

    I expect built in bass management on these units to become more the norm than the exeption. XM tuners too.
     
  16. John Garcia

    John Garcia Executive Producer

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    The 8511 and 8211 are relatively new models that replaced nearly identical ones that were around for many years. I would expect this level of features to become standard also on future stereo receivers from the big names.
     
  17. mackie

    mackie Supporting Actor

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    This is my main interest in this receiver. One day I hope to have a pair of top-of-the-line bookshelves like the B&W 805 or Paradigm Signature S2 and run stereo subs like the velodye SPL800 or minivee. From my experience, I can get better overall sound by doing this since I can EQ the subs, and using the receiver's built in bass management will be easier and less expensive than trying to incorporate an external cross-over.
     
  18. RAF

    RAF Lead Actor

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    mackie,

    Like I said, the fact that you can easily use a satellite/sub configuration with the RR2150 thanks to correct bass management without the need for a lot of outboard stuff was the final straw that convinced me to get one. And I'm glad that I did, since I must have gotten in just before the rush.

    As I was sitting listening to XM radio on the RR2150 another thing occurred to me. I have the unit situated in a very large room (16 x 40) that is broken up into two areas separated by a 4 sided fireplace. The RR2150, like many current receivers, accommodates two sets of speakers, A or B (as well as A+B if you want). I'm going to look into taking two of the remaining satellites from my Infinity 5.1 set and installing them as Speakers "B". Since the room allows me to place the Subwoofer at the dividing point of its two areas I'll be able to listen to two channel source material in each area separately or together. Since the low frequencies produced by the SW are basically (no pun intended) non-directional, this could work out very nicely. In other words, an RR2150 coupled with any one of a number of nice 5.1 speaker systems out there (Infinity, Energy, etc. etc.) could serve large areas as well as adjoining smaller ones. The fact that the RR2150 appears to be very conservatively rated at 100W/channel leads me to believe that it can accomplish this without even breathing hard.
     
  19. RAF

    RAF Lead Actor

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    Mark,

    Actually, I feel that it would be more appropriate if the RR2150 had an HD Radio tuner in it for a couple of reasons.
    • In the first place, I think that HD radio will be terrestial radio's answer to satellite radio to some extent. There are currenty 969 licensed HD stations in the country and 586 are already on the air. Here's a link to see the current station roster in the U.S.
    • Additionally, both XM and Sirius radio are fee based and once Howard Stern starts broadcasting on Sirius I think that the gap between the two in membership will close. The fact that HD radio doesn't come with monthly fees would mean that including it in the next generation RR2150 would mean that purchasers would be able to use it right out of the box whereas anyone who chose not to subscribe to a satellite service would be stuck with a unit that didn't have full functionality. I would assume that additional tuners would incur additional cost for the next model and it doesn't seem prudent to ask people to pay extra for something they don't want to use. With HD radio the extra cost would be justified by the fact that there would not be any on-going fees.
    • Also, if Outlaw were to offer a unit with XM radio they would probably have to offer a model with Sirius too, and that would probably not be something that is the simplified business model that they seem to be following.
    • Finally, I'm listening to XM radio right now through my Delphi tuner and I could also add a Sirius unit if I wanted to (I probably will, for Howard). The point here is that it's my choice, and not something that is forced upon me. And I also feel that shortly companies will offer relatively inexpensive HD radio outboard tuners (if they don't already) for the home market. Look at what's out there already. Here's a link. I notice that one can already get an adapter for car audio so the home can't be too far behind (although right now, as with any "bleeding edge" technology, these first tuners are a bit pricey.) As HD radio grows, tuner prices will drop. More and more companies are coming on board and some will offer receivers with HD radio capability.

    We live in interesting times. (I seem to recall saying that in the mid 50's when I purchased my first Stereo records.)

    [​IMG]
     
  20. mackie

    mackie Supporting Actor

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    Robert - just checked out the link to your HT. Man, that's nice. One day I'll be there...
     

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