The affordable heavyweight champion: Outlaw Audio Model 5000 power amplifier
Outlaw Audio's powerhouse amp can take your home-theater sound to the next level.
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.
If you've invested in a great set of speakers and subwoofer for your home theater and you want to take your sound to the next level, you need a great amplifier. Sure, your AV receiver may have a ton of features -- Bluetooth, networking, 4K switching, Audyssey MultEQ XT 32, Wi-Fi, AirPlay, SiriusXM and Spotify music streaming -- but the engineers probably didn't have a lot of time (or budget) left over to design a great amplifier section for your receiver. After all, no one actually listens to receivers before they buy them, so it's a long list of features that influences buyers more than anything else.
If you really care about sound quality it might make more sense to buy a surround processor and a multichannel power amp instead of a receiver. The catch: separates are usually a lot more expensive than midprice AV receivers. That's why I'm really excited about Outlaw Audio's new $599 Model 5000 amp. This heavyweight, 50-pound amp delivers sound quality far beyond what's available from receivers priced $1,500 to $2,000. The Model 5000 is the least expensive high-end multichannel amp I've heard; Emotiva's five-channel amp prices start at $999 for the XPA-5.
The Model 5000's build quality feels super-solid; the amp's massive power transformers and internal heat sinks account for much of the weight. And to better put the amp's weight in perspective, Denon's $2,999 AVR-X7200W receiver weighs just 37.7 pounds. It's a nine-channel receiver, rated at 150 watts per channel -- with just two channels driven -- but Denon doesn't list the AVR-X7200W's power output with all nine channels driven. The Model 5000's power rating of 120 watts for 8 Ohm speakers, and 180 watts for 4 Ohm speakers, is with all five channels driven. The Class AB amp measures 6 x 17 x 16.75 inches.
I didn't have a surround processor on hand, so I auditioned the Model 5000 hooked up directly to my Oppo BDP-105 Blu-ray player's analog outputs (Oppo's less-expensive BDP-103 player will also do the job). Or, check to see if your AV receiver has multichannel analog outputs -- if it does you, could hook them (not the speaker) outputs up to the Model 5000. That way, the receiver would function as a surround processor preamp.
I played a lot of concert DVDs and Blu-rays, starting with the Talking Heads' "Stop Making Sense," and that one really holds up. The band was in top form, and the rhythm section's solid grooves sounded great. Next, I turned up the heat with Eminem's "Live From New York City" DVD, and it sounded even better, so I cranked it even louder. I've played that DVD on countless systems, but here with the Model 5000 and my Dynaudio speakers the sound was as close to a live concert experience as I've heard at home.
It was one of those times I felt compelled to really crank the volume up, way beyond what I normally do, just because it sounded so good. There was absolutely no sense of strain or hardening to the sound. That's what a great amp gets you: effortless power. If you're into loud music for parties, or you watch lots of movies that are best enjoyed at maxed-out volume, you need a great amp. No matter what, the amp's chassis remained cool to the touch.
The Model 5000 isn't just about power -- the sound was remarkably clear and clean on the AIX Records HD Music Sampler high-resolution audio Blu-ray. The Model 5000's transparency/clarity was top-notch, again, beyond what's available from receivers.
With "Avatar," when Jake first tangles with a banshee, the Model 5000 didn't hold anything back. Soundstage depth and dimensionality across the front three speakers was impressive, and the Model 5000's sound balance was ever so slightly on the warm side of neutral. There's gobs of detail and resolution, but the sound never grated on my ears.