Outlaw Audio RR2160 stereo receiver

For audiophiles of a certain age, the mere mention of NAD Electronics' original 3020 integrated amplifier (1980, designed by Erik Edvardsen), or Adcom's GFA-555 stereo power amplifier (1985, designed by Nelson Pass), conjures up happy memories of audio's last Golden Age—an idyllic time when working stiffs could luxuriate in the same audio arcadia as bankers and brokers. Since then, few, if any, audio components have achieved that level of iconic high value. Which caused me to wonder: What would it take, nowadays, to manufacture a genuinely high-value audiophile product: one that delivers exciting, satisfying sound at a price most audiophiles can afford?

Just a few weeks ago, as a result of my time spent with Outlaw Audio's RR2160 receiver ($799), I learned the answer to that question: It takes a group of persons with the desire and ability to make a product that sounds conspicuously good, combined with the will to sell that good-sounding product at a reasonable price.

These days, such people are rare. Too many of today's audio manufacturers are toadies who aspire to sip Château Lafite Rothschild 1787 with princes and robber barons, not swill draft beer with the lumpenproletariat. Too many manufacturers would rather sell five pairs of loudspeakers for $500,000 each than 5000 pairs for $500 each. This type of Madame Déficit–style audio elitism currently rages out of control. I believe it is time for a revolution. Liberté, égalité, fraternité!

Outlaw Audio's founder, Peter Tribeman, has been a friend to the working class since his time at NAD, during the inception of the legendary 3020. In his 15 years with Outlaw, Tribeman has conscripted for his audio-manufacturing cadre people who recognize good sound and have a desire to sell it at a price that he, his partners, and every Outlaw Audio employee can actually afford.

Description
Outlaw Audio's website refers to the RR2160 ($799) as a "Retro Receiver," as "The Last Great Stereo Receiver," and as "the proud successor to the RR2150." I never heard the RR2150 but my trusted peeps tell me it was "amazing for the price."

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The solid-state RR2160 is built to supply up to 110W into 8 ohms and 165W into 4 ohms. These class-AB watts can be directed, alternatively or simultaneously, to two different pairs of loudspeakers. The RR2160 also has two subwoofer outputs, both with analog bass management. As a "retro" receiver, the RR2160 has an FM/AM tuner, a moving-magnet/moving-coil phono stage, tone controls, and speaker equalization to provide bass emphasis from 55, 65, or 85Hz down; as a modern receiver, it has front and rear USB inputs, an Ethernet port, an MP3 input, HD Radio, and a DAC.

The RR2160's most obvious retro feature is its pseudo–art deco faceplate, whose naãve elegance and intelligent layout have seduced me. Every button, knob, and jack is clearly labeled. Everything a user might need to do—including network setup and display brightness—can be easily intuited without ever opening the well-written owner's manual or picking up the brushed aluminum remote control.

The front panel is arranged in ziggurat-like steps that are interrupted, in the right-most section, by a graceful arc that corrals the most frequently used controls: the large Volume knob, and buttons for Mute, Source, Record, Menu, and Enter. To the left of this arc, at the top of the panel, are the display and the attendant up and down buttons for selecting from the menu. Below the display are analog Bass, Balance, and Treble knobs, with a Tone Off button to remove these controls from the signal path. Running along the bottom of the faceplate, from left to right, are: a Standby button, a ¼" headphone jack, a headphone volume-control knob, a 3.5mm Aux jack for line-level input from a portable audio device, buttons for Speaker, Speaker EQ, and External Loop (the last for an external processor), and a USB port for storage devices of up to 16GB max. A small blue pinlight at the center of each button (though not the knobs) indicates that its function is active.

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Listening
I powered up the Outlaw RR2160 and let it cook for five days. Then, to get a feel for the quality of its amplifier, tone controls, and Speaker EQ, I used front-end components with which I was familiar. I connected Schiit Audio's Yggdrasil DAC ($2299) and AMG's Giro G9 turntable ($10,000), with an EMT DST 75 MC cartridge ($1950) driving an Auditorium 23 step-up transformer ($999) and Tavish Design Adagio tubed phono stage ($1690) into the Outlaw's line-level analog inputs. That's $16,938 worth of palace-level music sources prompting a working-class, $799 audio receiver! I then wired the Outlaw to a pair of the most yeomanlike, true-of-tone, small loudspeakers I know: Stirling Broadcast's LS3/5a V2 ($1990/pair).

The first record I played was the Grateful Dead's 1970 classic, American Beauty (LP, Warner Bros. WS 1893). I use this record frequently to check gear for naturalness of tone and low distortion. Unfortunately for the humble Outlaw, it had been immediately preceded in my system by HiFiMan's EF1000 amplifier ($12,000; see "Gramophone Dreams" in this issue), and in my ensuing automatic and unavoidable comparisons, the RR2160 sounded small and uncolorful. Voices and instruments were sculpted, slightly forward, and tangibly present, but in a jukebox-like way.

Happily, after a few hours, the RR2160's power supply seemed to get more traction, and those initial shortcomings were replaced by a generously big, warm, articulate sound. Fully broken in, the Outlaw's sound through the Stirling LS3/5a V2s wasn't as spacious or as solid as those speakers usually sound with the First Watt J2 or PrimaLuna ProLogue Premium amplifiers, but it was equally rich and luxurious.

As usual for a small speaker, what there was of the LS3/5a V2s' bottom octaves was noticeably low-energy—until I pushed the Outlaw's Speaker EQ button, which boosts the output by 6dB "at and below a selected frequency": 55, 65, or 80Hz. The RR2160's manual recommends that you "Select an EQ setting that is either at the speaker's lowest frequency or one notch above it." The 65Hz choice made Jerry Garcia and Pigpen sound more like they should.

The next night, again with the Stirlings, I played Puente Celeste's Nama (CD, M•A Recordings M084A), but now the RR2160 had too much bass—the sound was fat and billowy. I turned off Speaker EQ, listened again, and now every track on Nama felt nicely formed and naturally detailed. Bass was clean but lean. As I listened, I speculated about the Outlaw's reproduction of bass energy.

COMPANY INFO
Outlaw Audio
PO Box 975
Easton, MA 02334
(866) 688-5292
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
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.
https://usa.yamaha.com/products/audio_visual/hifi_components/r-n803/inde...

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.

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