Audiophile appeal: The Outlaw Audio RR 2160 stereo receiver
Outlaw Audio’s feature-packed RR 2160 stereo receiver sounds expensive, but it isn’t.
Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.
The Outlaw Audio RR 2160 stereo receiver flat out sounds better than any receiver or amplifier I've heard for its $799 asking price. In listening, the RR 2160 really clicked with my KEF LS50, Zu Druid V, Magnepan MMGi and .7 speakers, but its styling is really going to polarize people.
While most receivers only come in black, the RR 2160's only available finish is silver, and its "retro" look doesn't do a thing for me. It is also one seriously heavy brute. This bad boy weighs a hefty 28.3 pounds and can deliver 110 watts for 8 ohm speakers. The RR 2160 is a Class AB design, the same type used in some of the better high-end amplifiers; most receivers and integrated amps in the RR 2160 price range are Class D designs, which can sound decent but rarely great.
The features set is pretty comprehensive with HD Radio; a moving magnet/moving coil turntable input; four stereo analog inputs; 192 kHz/24 bit digital audio with two optical, two coaxial and two USB inputs; an Ethernet port; preamp outputs; a headphone jack with its own volume control; speaker A and B outputs; and dual subwoofer outputs. Sure, every AV receiver has bass management, but the RR 2160 is only the second stereo receiver I've tested that can direct low frequency bass signals to the subwoofer. The RR 2160 also has bass and treble controls, plus a Speaker EQ feature that boosts low frequencies for smaller speakers.
The remote control also deserves special mention. Its backlit buttons aren't something you see on many stereo components' remotes, and it's an all-metal design. Ergonomically, the remote is only so-so, though, as the volume buttons are crowded in with all the other tiny buttons.
Compared to the recent Onkyo TX-8270 stereo receiver, the RR 2160 is missing features like Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and HDMI switching.
To start listening, I hitched the RR 2160 to a set of KEF LS50 speakers, and that combination came to life with Beck's "Morning Phase" album. The lush string orchestrations, dense arrangements for guitars, percussion and overdubbed vocals positively bloomed over the LS50s. For comparison sake, I switched over to the Onkyo TX 8270 stereo receiver and that one scaled back Beck's opulence a notch or two. The RR 2160 made the LS50 sound like it's supposed to.
And with Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson's "VH-1 Storytellers" album the sound was so perfect I was speechless, I was simply in the presence of the two legends, singing and playing their acoustic guitars. The sheer believability of the music totally sucked me in.
I also tried the RR 2160 with my Magnepan .7 flat panel speakers, and was even more impressed with the receiver's refined, yet potent sound. It has power to spare and surprisingly good clarity.
Then I moved on to another Magnepan, the $650 per pair MMGi, which offered more weight and substance to the sound, more body than what I got from the TX 8270 receiver. Frankly, it was no contest. The RR 2160 sounded like a bona fide high-end component and the TX 8270 didn't cut it with the MMGi.
I checked out the RR 2160's bass management skills with the "House of Flying Daggers" DVD's circle of drums scene, listening with MMGis and a subwoofer, my old PSB Alpha SubZero i. The drums impacts were deep and powerful, transients were visceral. The MMGis were fine with home theater bombast taken at a moderate volume; with the .7 speakers I could play movies louder without the panels running out of steam. A pair of towers like ELAC Debut F5s would deliver a lot more home theater muscle, but they're less transparent than the .7 Magnepans.
The MMGi can sound too lean at times, but they responded well to the RR 2160's Speaker EQ bass boost feature, which did a great job filling out the bass when I wasn't using a subwoofer. The sound wasn't thicker or muffled, and the Speaker EQ supplied just the right amount of heft to the MMGi's sound.
I was having such a good time I also hooked up my Zu Druid V speakers, and they were more dynamic than the KEFs and Magnepans, so even when I cranked up rock music nice and loud the RR 2160 was absolutely coasting. Music from Morphine -- a three-piece band with a rather unusual lineup of two-string electric bass, baritone sax and drums -- was a "test" of a different sort. I love their music, but with the three instruments playing in the bass range only a great receiver and speakers let me really hear and feel the string bass's meaty texture, the baritone's menacing growl, and the bass drum's thunder. The RR 2160/Druid V combo was making all the right moves.
If you'll be listening to more movies and TV than music the Onkyo TX 8270 stereo receiver might be a better choice, because it has HDMI, Bluetooth, and a bunch of other features the RR 2160 lacks, and it sells for $300 less than the RR 2160. If, on the other hand, you're going to play more music than movies and sound quality is the top priority the RR 2160 is well worth the extra cost. It currently sells for $799 on the Outlaw Audio website.