Outlaw Audio RR2160 stereo receiver Page 2

I was still meditating on the subject of woofer control when my aging but unusually sturdy Russian neighbor knocked at my door. Vladimir, who speaks very little English, was clutching a Ball jar of home-distilled vodka and a sack of ribs he'd smoked. He wanted to show me the new axe he'd forged. I was down with that.

As I studied the axe, I let Vladimir slip under the hypnotic spell of Puente Celeste. For a long time he rocked his head, chewed ribs, listened, didn't speak. Then he pointed at my system, smiled broadly, and raised both thumbs. I drew sketches of the Outlaw and the Stirling speakers, and next to them jotted down their prices. He looked shocked. "Too many babki!" he said loudly. I shook my head. "No—not enough!"

1217out.rem.jpgThe last contents of the Ball jar were disappearing behind Vladimir's collar when I pointed to a pile of CDs. "What should I play?"

He slammed down the jar. "'Straight, No Chaser.'"

I laughed. That track was easy to find. I'd recently bought the Thelonious Monk Quartet's The Complete Columbia Studio Albums Collection (6 CDs, Columbia/Legacy 88697957682 1-6). By the time we hit "Japanese Folk Song (Kojo No Tsuki)," the Russian was snapping his fingers, and I was feeling very drunk on tenor sax and piano. The sound through the LS3/5a V2s was fast and realistically toned. Monk's piano notes were slightly soft, but strong and artfully expressive. All his swinging grooves were available for our delectation, and Vladimir looked unusually happy. The harmonics of plucked double bass notes were something to enjoy, and Larry Gales's playing was easy to follow. Charlie Rouse's sax was delivered with a stirring dose of blatty-tenor textured presence. By the time we got to "We See," Vladimir had morphed into drummer Ben Riley. And by "Green Chimneys," I was making mental notes of the RR2160's profoundly good way with rhythm and momentum. Monk's music was as tasty as Vladimir's smoked ribs.

I can't remember how many times I've told people that flamenco guitar records are mostly boring showpieces devoid of soul, earth, and bodily fluids. Then one day, at Tower Records, I picked up a couple of $1 LPs by Carlos Montoya and fell in love with his hugely popular and expressive exultations. Those records are long gone, but recently I discovered a fun little soft-core version of Tao Ruspoli's Flamenco, on Pierre Sprey's notorious label (CD, Wild Child/Mapleshade 10452). Ruspoli's playing is interesting and enjoyable, but still lacking in Romany lust and primitive fire. The fun with this record is Mapleshade's extraordinary audiophile sound, resulting from Sprey's placements of his PZM microphones, which are perfect: not too close and annoying, not too distant and boring. The Outlaw receiver and my KEF LS50 speakers made Ruspoli's guitar sound surprisingly real and tactile. Lower-priced amplifiers seldom generate this level of body and texture. Vladimir was impressed. So was I.

An Outlaw DAC
The Outlaw RR2160 uses a Burr-Brown PCM1792a 24-bit/192kHz DAC chip with NE5532 dual op-amp filters. I was curious to hear how that combo would compare with my reference DACs.

I connected my Integra DPS-7.2 DVD-A/CD player to the RR2160's coaxial input, and for an entire day, CDs sounded smaller, thinner, weaker, more canned and mechanical. It was annoying, depressing. My reviewer's ego lamented: Why me, Lord? The second day was a bit better, but nowhere near the sound of my Schiit Yggdrasil or Mytek Manhattan II DAC.


But on the third day the Outlaw RR2160's DAC rose up to sing, with quivering reverberant believability, the 10th song Elvis Presley ever recorded: a cover of a 1948 hit by Lonnie Johnson, "Tomorrow Night," included on Elvis's A Boy from Tupelo: The Complete 1953–1955 Recordings (3 CDs, RCA/Legacy 88985417732). This track was mastered directly from Sun Records' 30ips (!) "reference tapes." I was now using the Magnepan .7 speakers, and everything felt BIG and lush and extremely direct. These are Elvis's very first recordings, and I'd never heard the King sound this humble, tender, or vulnerable. I felt I was finally experiencing the real Elvis. I've been playing "Tomorrow Night," track 10 of disc 1 of A Boy from Tupelo, 10 times a day for three days. The loping double bass, the mournful background of barely touched pedal steel, and a perfect mist of spring reverb make "Tomorrow Night" a sublime example of Presley's heavenly singing and producer Sam Phillips's crystalline recording. Through the Maggie .7s stimulated by the Outlaw RR2160 and its onboard DAC, A Boy from Tupelo surprised me with its unfettered verity. Consider this a very recommendable combination.

An Outlaw Phono Stage
To evaluate the RR2160's MM phono section, I used an EMT TSD 75 MC cartridge with an Auditorium 23 step-up transformer. I've been rolling with the sound of that combo for months now—I know it well, and felt it would give me a good measure of the character of the Outlaw's MM phono stage.

The RR2160's phono stage gave me pleasure with a variety of LPs, but the one that left me wide-eyed and stuttering was the Electric Recording Co.'s reissue of Music for Viola and Cello, recorded in 1963 by 53-year-old violist Herbert Downes and 17-year-old cellist Jacqueline du Pré (LP, HMV CSD 1499/ERC 028). This fascinating recording represents one of the supreme combinations of high-quality recorded sound and inspired music making. An audiophile friend brought over a copy of this very expensive (ú500), limited-edition (300 copies) LP to hear how it would sound on my system. After I apologized for the budget nature of the Outlaw RR2160 and KEF LS50s, I turned out the lights and lit candles. We listened in silence to both sides. I have no adjectives to describe the experience, but if ever in your life your system plays this level of music making at this level of sophistication and naturalness of sound, the gods have blessed you. Aural images were drawn on soundstages with surprising precision. The high frequencies were sweet and unobtrusive. Bass, without Speaker EQ was full and taut, never pondering or hesitant. The midrange was lucid. Transients were slightly rounded—but only compared to the Parasound Halo JC 3+ ($2995) and Tavish Design Adagio ($1490) phono stages.

When I ran the EMT MC cartridge straight into the RR2160's phono stage set to MC, which loads all MCs at 47k ohms, I fell back to earth. While rhythmically satisfying and spatially well described, the sound was considerably less supple and viscous than it was with the Auditorium 23 step-up transformer driving the Outlaw's phono input set to MM.

The taut richness of the RR2160's MM section suggests that it will be sonically compatible with a wide range of budget cartridges; but the inability to adjust the MC loading to anything other than 47k ohms could make finding a good match problematic.


An Outlaw Tuner
I've owned a lot of FM/AM tuners, including, most recently, a Kenwood KT-990D hooked up to a Magnum Dynalab ST-2 FM antenna. But one day a few years ago, the reception of FM in my bunker sucked so bad that I abandoned tuners for streaming. The Outlaw RR2160 reminded me just how cozy and human old-school radio can feel in my room. It was like reconnecting with an old friend. In a direct comparison of the Kenwood and Outlaw, using only the RR2160's supplied antennas, the Outlaw pulled in a lot more stations than my old Kenwood. With the Outlaw, my favorite stations—WBGO FM (88.3), WNYC FM (93.9), and WFAN AM (660)—came in stronger, cleaner, richer in tone.

An Outlaw Headphone amp
Like its DAC, tuner, and phono sections, the RR2160's headphone output far exceeded my expectations. First, it played the hardest-to-drive headphones in my collection, HiFiMan's Susvaras ($6000)—they have an impedance of 60 ohms and a sensitivity of 83dB/1mW)—with a youthful, red-cheeked tonality, moderate dynamics, and excellent detail. Best of all, I didn't have to turn the Outlaw's separate/dedicated headphone volume control all the way up to enjoy it. More impressive was how well the Outlaw worked with AudioQuest's NightOwl headphones ($699.99). It was such a fabulous, well-balanced, natural-sounding match that I kept wondering: Could the Outlaw's headphone output be even better than its loudspeaker outputs?

Clearly, the people at Outlaw have worked really hard to make all of the RR2160's sources sound equally enjoyable.

The only things that audibly hinted at the Outlaw's modest price were an ever-present softness of transients, some imaging vagaries, and occasionally, with its own DAC or phono stage, a momentary flash of unnatural brightness. But as I type these words, I'm listening to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Party's Back to Qawwali (CD, Long Distance 122083), and my musical pleasure meter is pegged all the way into the red.

Vive la revolution!
Outlaw Audio's RR2160 receiver was a joy to use. With every source and output transducer I tried, it reproduced trumpets and kazoos, guitars and pianos, saxophones and harmonicas, Scotty Moore and Miles Davis, Elvis and Thelonious, with accurate tone, taut bass, scrumptious detail, and satisfying dynamics. Outlaw's Retro Receiver is a conspicuously good-sounding audiophile product at a ridiculously low price. Highly recommended.

Outlaw Audio
PO Box 975
Easton, MA 02334
(866) 688-5292

Eddie R's picture

A terrific review as always. Would it be possible to compare the Stirlings to the Falcon Acoustic LS3/5a? Two different approaches to re-creating the same speaker. I owned a pair of Chartwells. Wish I still had them.

Thank you!

Ortofan's picture

... Yamaha R-N803, which is comparably priced, but includes an automatic room correction equalizer.

Shahram's picture

Stereophile never reviews anything made by Yamaha. Why is that?

tonykaz's picture

It even has a: pre-out to amp-in, like the Vintage NAD 3020 and can handle a moving coil phono cartridge. ( if a person can afford a record player with all that added expense )

Is this Outlaw a Class B recommendation or Class A- or where will it place on the Annual List ?

Anyway, Stereophile is doing some hell-of-a-reporting job now-a-days.

These various probes into Vlog ( as Tyll demonstrates ), video journalism as Jana has been apprenticing on, Live stuff like HR & Jana just did at NYAudio Showing ( I wish they would've covered the Electrocompaniet Room ) and the daily Vlog that SteveG. & Paul at PS Audio are doing are all :

Summable into a successful market place tool. ( as evidenced by Casey Neistat & Jimmy DeRista -- both NYers ).

Stereophile Staff are about to Unlock magic.

This is working up to be an exciting 2018!

Tony in Michigan

ps. somebody here is going to have one go Viral !!!

DaleC's picture

"But on the third day the Outlaw RR2160's DAC rose up to sing, with quivering reverberant believability".

I'm curious if that means that the DAC changed in some way or was the difference due to source or speakers chosen?

Herb Reichert's picture

changed in "some way" as most electronics do after they've been powered up for an extended length of time

audio1321's picture

Would like to see how this compares to a 1976 Marantz 2325. If you want features and a beautiful faceplate, this is the integrated amp to get. They don't make them like they used too!

Shootr's picture

You succeeded in making audio only attractive to the very rich and the very arrogant. Thanks. Lucky for me I bought equipment when it was still priced in earthly amounts. I've listened to the "audiophile" equipment you people rave about. Mine is better than most of it and I paid a small fraction of what you describe. I'm sure if I mentioned the brand the arrogant side of the audiophile crowd would kick in and kick down everything they thought wasn't expensive enough. I remember when the whole country wanted audio equipment. Now you're the only ones. Do you really think you did the world a favor? I've driven super fast cars too. I find no use for them whatsoever. There's nowhere to drive 200 mph anywhere near where I live and they don't drive any better than some regular priced cars. And by regular priced cars I include my Mercedes S500 that's well used and affordable. That's the same way the audio industry is. It may be a lot more expensive but it isn't all that great. And BTW I was the sound engineer for some very successful bands so spare me your golden ear theories. People liked my work.

bdaddy62's picture

Yeah it’s like that....Herb seems to be more than sympathetic in real life but in that fantasy world that the majority of readers of this mag and TAS live in ...a job is a job. I keep a copy of the TAS buyers guide ( got the 2018 last month) just for shits and giggles, those $500,000. speakers are in there. Every well adjusted human no matter how well heeled I show this stuff to....laughs at first and then raises an eyebrow in confusion and dismay.....

David Harper's picture

good review but would have been more interesting if instead of the overpriced high-end associated equipment it was listened to with Elac B6 speakers and maybe an Oppo 203 player, the kind of stuff that more grounded people would use it with.

Herb Reichert's picture

I absolutely understand the concept you allude to -- and generally I try to make whatever efforts I can (with whatever gear I have at my disposal) in that direction. But objectively, I do not see how using a less refined speaker, or a DAC I am not familiar with, would reveal much more about the character of the Outlaw. My goal is to acurately elucidate a product's general BASIC character - so then perhaps you can predict how it might sound in your system.

Stardust Emblem's picture

A good entry into the world of audio is always satisfying.

There are a lot of bad amplifiers, so stereophile can guide newcommers to audioland and pick up the good stuff.

In my case i bought bad amplifiers and loudspeakers, till i came at home with a wonderfull sounding NAD amplifier who is a far familymember of the 3020. The DNA is in, and yes it is playing for almost 18 years.
It is a China NAD, but i can not hear it how it sounds.

The outlaw RR2160 can have the same effect to others. I would say, go and try it.

TedWithey's picture

I want to preface this comment by saying that I’ve been reading stereophile since you were only a monthly magazine and have always loved it. It was one of your reviews that gave me my great (cheap) Adcom amp that I still use (May they Rest In Peace).

Using the high end equipment listed to test a budget component is understandable. You have probably been listening to ultra-expensive components for so long that using any other equipment would leave you wondering what unit was the bad link in the chain. I get that, but I also have been playing sax professionally at small venues in LA for more than 20 years and can tell you price does not follow quality sound. If I had to use a $40k amp and a $30k microphone connected using $20k in cabling every time I did a gig I’d never work again. I simply can’t afford to spend that much on equipment and have made an audience cry playing John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins. Sometimes I wonder if any of you reviewers ever go to live concerts.

I have visited some of the most extreme high end b&m audio stores in LA and have found much of the snobatorium equipment severely lacking when comparing it to live play. I only wish live music sounded as crisp and flawless live as it does through $50k in home audio gear. Most of that gear makes it sound so tonally pristine it’s artifical. Any and all audio equipment colors the music, even expensive gear. I would like to see you review more cost effective equipment like this but review them together. Most people can’t afford tinny sounding B&W Diamond speakers and overly bright Luxman amps. At least if you did review “lesser” gear more often you could dispel any belief that you are just in the pockets of expensive equipment manufacturers.

David Harper's picture

audiophiles equate price with sound quality. A ten thousand dollar amplifier MUST sound a little bit better than a nine thousand dollar amplifier. A thousand dollar wire MUST sound better than a twenty dollar wire.It's placebo LA-LA land. Where anything subjectively imagined is valid and credible. IMO this trend began with The Absolute Sound. In the 1980's TAS was responsible for the most imaginative and fantastic nonsense ever printed about the sound of audio components.