This is another review of a speaker that participated in the Great Small Speaker Shootout 2007.
So good...it's criminal
After the StereoMojo small speaker shootout I was kindly asked to review the third place finisher in the shootout, the Outlaw BLS-B bookshelf speaker that comes in a black($999)or cherry($1099) finish.
I went back and looked at my notes on the Outlaw after each round and from what I wrote about it, it seems that I didn’t like it one bit. Trying to come to grips with what I heard at the shootout and what I hear at home in my system had me pulling hair.
THE DEFENDANT'S RAP SHEET
A custom designed 25mm soft dome tweeter with copper cap, vented former, ferro fluid cooling and a full video shield and bucking magnet to virtually eliminate any stray magnetic forces
• A long throw 5-1/4" SEAS woofer, for deep controlled bass extension
• Identically sized (internal and external) port baffle areas to equalize internal and external air pressures, and to provide fully symmetrical woofer excursion
• Furniture grade cabinetry including book matched veneers for cherry finish($1099) and high-quality, hand-painted black finish($999) on MDF
• True Bi-amp/Bi-wire design using precision five-way binding posts with separate crossovers for woofer and tweeter
• A proprietary 3-position Boundary Compensation switch for wall and corner placement
• A proprietary 3-position High Frequency switch to compensate for either heavily damped or live rooms
Rated Amplifier Power: 50 to 200 watts
Frequency Response: 54 to 22kHz. +/- 3 dB
Tweeter 1" Custom Silk Dome designed and manufactured with precision Scandinavian parts
Woofer 5-1/4" SEAS Driver with Die cast Magnesium basket, treated paper cone, low-loss rubber surround and 26mm CCAW voice coil
Linear Coil Travel: 10mm p-p
Boundary Compensation Switch: 0dB, -2dB, -4dB starting at 400Hz where it plateaus at 250Hz and remains flat to resonance
High Frequency Switch: +2dB, 0dB, -2dB starting at 4kHz and peaking at 20kHz
Dimensions (HxDxW): 12-1/8" x 10-15/16"(w/ grill) x 7-1/4"
Weight: 16.5 lbs (each)
1) Kari Bremnes – My Heart Is Pounding Like A Hammer
2) Katie Melua – Piece By Piece
3) Andre’ Previn – Stars Fell On Alabama (Old Friends – Telarc)
4) Vienna Teng – Eric’s Song
5) 1st Pirates Of The Caribbean soundtrack – Barbossa is Hungry
6) Brian Bromberg – Freedom Jazz Dance
7) Amos Lee – Dreamin’
8) Art Pepper – Over the Rainbow
The speakers come double boxed in one box and look quite nice with their metal mesh grill covers and pass the knuckle test with flying colors.
I only used the “Boundary Compensation Switch” in a normal setting as my room is not setup for corner placement.
The first thing I did was to see how the Outlaw stacked up against “Marvin’s Law” whose three components are:
The tonality was very natural and musical sounding as evidenced on Art Pepper’s “Over The Rainbow” where the sax was intoxicating with a great brashness. Brian Bromberg’s “Freedom Jazz Dance”, that 300 year old bass put out sounds that were unreal, you could smell the wood and I could feel the strings sting my fingertips a little. Amos Lee has a great voice and on “Dreamin’”, he was in the room and the guitar was oh so natural.
Pace was there in toe tapping spades. The beat on Kari Bremnes’ “My Heart Is Pounding Like A Hammer” had the room just a jumpin’ and to top it off, on Vienna Teng’s “Eric’s Song” the piano was right on.
The balance was very even overall although the lower bass is limited.
Soundstage had good width and height with the depth being very good. The speakers totally disappeared into a wall of silence. Andre Previn’s “Stars Fell On Alabama” really highlighted the components of the soundstage.
Images were pinpoint with just the right amount of air. When I say pinpoint, I don’t mean razor sharp around the edges but a little rounded which made for a warmer sound. Instruments and voices stood out in all dimensions. There is no harshness or shrillness in the high end, no fatigue. There is pretty good detail but I could stand a little more sizzle for my tastes. Altogether quite natural sounding and does not bring attention to itself.
The midrange is clean, clear, and sweet sounding. Voice/instruments very natural sounding with good detail and dynamics.
The bass, while not in the full range area, was enough to make the music enjoyable. While I wouldn’t put them in a large room without a sub, they did quite well in my mid-sized room. Outlaw does make several different subwoofers I am sure they would be glad to sell you that one would think would be good matches.
WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION
My reference bookshelf speakers are the Av123 Onix Reference one speakers ($1200). I decided to give the Outlaw’s a spin against the Onix.
Listening to the Outlaws, they are so smooth and you are fooled into thinking there is enough bass to get you by, but when compared to the Ref 1’s you begin to miss that extra bass extension. The Ref 1’s are a little more forward sounding and seem to play a few db more without breaking up
Besides the extra bass extension, there is better high end extension with the Ref 1's. Some people say the Ref 1’s are bright sounding, but I hear them as more detailed without being harsh sounding.
I tried the Outlaws with my 60 watt Jolida JD-502b integrated tube amp($1200) and talk about tube friendly - a very nice sound indeed.
Because the Outlaws are so smooth, mellow, and balanced I could live with them and be quite satisfied.
"Me the jury", in the above case, find these “Outlaws” to be guilty of being a very nice sounding speaker and would be perfect for a secondary system in a small to medium sized room. Handcuff them to either a medium power tube OR solid state amp. Put them in a bedroom, office, or just your “getaway” room and I’m sure you’ll escape to a world of music for hours on end.
by Danny Richie - GR Reserach
The first response curve shows the pair of review samples. Deviations between the two are within normal industry standards.
The on axis response is fairly smooth but the peaked area in the 700 to 1kHz range might add a touch of brightness or edge to the upper vocal range.
Shooting the individual drivers showed them to be well in phase and summing with one another just as they should. The crossover point looks to be in the 2.4 kHz range.
The spectral decay is fairly clean with just a few areas of stored energy showing up as thin ridge lines in the upper ranges and a little bit of a lump in the upper mid-range.
Horizontal off axis response looks fairly good.
Vertical off axis looks pretty good too. Drivers start to get a little out of phase once up to 12" over tweeter axis (remember only 1 meter away) but this is not too bad.
Effects of the grill were not too bad either.
The Outlaw Audio speaker also had some three way toggle switches on the back of the speaker that would allow output adjustment to the bottom end and the top end. The following measurements show the affects of these switches.
The adjustment to the bottom end was called boundary adjustments. It had a minor effect on the response above 200Hz but was fairly significant below 200Hz.
Electrically it presented quite a bit of resistive load to the amplifier as the adjustments are made.
The more alarming aspect of the impedance has to be the dipped area at 3,375Hz where it dips to 3.2 ohms. Here is the impedance with the controls on both ends set to flat and with no adjustment.
The adjustments on the top end had a pretty profound effect lowering it by over a full db or raising it nearly 2db.
The adjustments to the top end also had some effect on the impedance up top as well. Increase the load and reducing the tweeter level raised the impedance slightly. Lowering the resistive load and raising the tweeter level also reduced the impedance to an alarming 2.9 ohms.
Overall this is not a bad measuring speaker except for the really low impedance load on the top end. Listening was done with the levels set to the neutral positions as this was where they had the the most accurate response curve.