Outlaw Audio, those "Internet only" rebels
lead by head wrangler Peter Tribeman, have finally satisfied a large
following by entering the speaker market. Now along with SSPs,
amplifiers, subwoofers, and any number of audio accessories, the Outlaw line
is further extended by offering the compact BLS bookshelf speaker.
The effervescent Mr. Tribeman is not new to
speakers; his Atlantic Technology line has impressed home theater
enthusiasts and audiophiles, receiving critical accolades. The Outlaw rooms
at the Home Audio Shows are typically full and always leave a lasting
impression from quality and performance to the unbelievably modest pricing.
Well why not start with the basics? The BLS
bookshelf speaker is smartly designed as a rectilinear enclosure to be
placed on stands, shelves, in bookcases, or entertainment units. The BLS offers adjustments, depending on
the particular situation, so read on.
On the rear, along with a pair of five-way
binding posts for bi-wiring or bi-amplification, already unusual for a
speaker at this price, are two extremely unusual switches. As "Room
Compensation" is the catchphrase du jour, Outlaw does one better by offering
a high-frequency adjustment that boosts or lowers the tweeter output by 2
This fine tuning may make the difference in any room when controlling
brightness due to glass, or hard floors and walls. Likewise,
sonically dead rooms with too much heavy drapery or furniture may require a
bit more edge to the highs.
A secondary switch usually seen on subwoofers
is a Boundary Compensation switch – using it is based on the placement of
the speaker, whether it's in a bookcase, near a wall or corner, or out in
the open. The switch has three positions including 0 dB or no compensation,
and -2 dB or -4 dB specific for the upper bass frequencies.
The Outlaw BLS stands a modest 12" high,
almost 11" deep, and just over 7" across, and weighs 16.5 pounds. The
enclosure is of typical rigid and dampened MDF. Two conservative finishes
are available in either hand-painted black or a lovely cherry veneer for a
slight up-charge and in my opinion, well worth it if you're planning on
placing them out in the open.
The grille is unusual in that it's perforated
metal not fabric, and is held in place with a slot running the entire length
top to bottom on both sides of the face. Felt pads are provided to keep the
bottom of the speaker from sitting directly on the surface.
The BLS is modestly sensitive at 87 dB, can
handle up too 200 watts, and has a nominal impedance of 8 Ohms. The fully shielded
tweeter is a 1" silk dome said to be linear up to 22 kHz. The bass is handled by a 5 ¼" SEAS woofer which will drop down to a
respectable 54 Hz as specified.
After all the discussion of placement
flexibility, I am surprised to see the unit is rear-ported. So, you have to
be careful about putting it too close to the wall behind a bookcase shelf.
It's more common nowadays that audiophiles
practice some bass management than in the past, or are at least open to the
idea of monitor speakers for mains, augmented by a separate subwoofer.
range floor speakers that truly get down to the low frequencies expected
from great recordings are rare and expensive. Pairing just about any
speaker, but especially a bookshelf model, with a subwoofer, makes good
Outlaw has produced some exceptional
subwoofers in the past, and their current lineup is certainly no exception.
Along with the BLS speakers, they sent an LFM, or Low Frequency Module,
The LFM is available in two models: the LFM-1 with a 12"
driver and 325 WRMS, and the smaller LFM-2 (which I received) with an 8"
driver and 150 WRMS.
The LFM is actually a beautiful unit – the top
is mirror-like piano black, while the sides are low luster. Not all that
compact however, the 37 pound LFM-2 sports an 8" down firing long-throw
woofer, stands 17 inches tall, 16.5 inches wide, and more than 11 inches
The rear sports everything you'd expect to find from Outlaw: An auto on/off
switch with detachable power cord, along with a phase switch, volume
control, and crossover control from 30 Hz to 90 Hz, line-level inputs and
lastly, it does have a crossover bypass switch if an external crossover is
used. The sophisticated crossover network is a 4th order low
LFM-2 is single-ported on the bottom. To insure proper height from the
floor, Outlaw provides "dimple discs" for the mounted carpet spikes.
Certainly the main reason is to preserve floors from damaging spikes,
however, I found them convenient on carpet as well, floating the speaker
every so slightly higher. This made me more comfortable allowing more air
between the woofer/port and the floor.
If I were running a surround package here, I'd
definitely take two!
It's usual that I'd commend the owner's
manuals enough to give one its own heading, but frankly I'm totally impressed
with Outlaw's succinct manuals for their clarity and advice.
The text is
easy to follow and explained – all modesty aside, sometimes manufacturers
overestimate their client's experience with such products. From connections to
placement, Outlaw smartly explains how to best take advantage and to realize
the potential in the component.
Setup and Listening
During the early break-in period, a variety of
sources were used for amplification, including the ample LFM subwoofer
line-level inputs from my integrated. Having said that, no less than three
amplifiers were used, all two-channel. On hand were also a wonderful solid
state integrated from McIntosh (review on the way) and the thoroughly
enjoyable combination of the Rogue Perseus tube preamp with a hefty ADA
(Audio Design Associates) solid state amplifier.
Although there are some incredible differences
between these sources, the BLS adapted well to all, yet I found my first
intuition to pair it up with a modest tube amp to be a wonderful
combination. In the end, it was my superb Onix SP3 33 watt integrated to be the ideal match with the BLS speaker, so for the most
part most of my comments are from this setup.
sources included a Marantz turntable and a McCormack universal DVD player,
Goertz interconnects and speaker cables, along with upgraded Wireworld power
cords. All connected to a massive Torus Power isolation unit.
I chose to match the BLS with my modest-sized
listening room, measuring 12 feet across and 15 feet deep, with 7.5 foot
ceilings. I'm certain after some playing time that the Outlaw units can
handle a larger room, but to give the BLS the best opportunity for imaging
and soundstage, this space was a good fit.
One of the reasons this room was chosen, not
that I have so many rooms to audition speakers, was that it has a permanent
shelf/bench behind the along listening room wall, so I felt it best simulate
the potential for the BLS to be bookcase or shelf mounted. This proved to be
an exceptional experiment, as the compensation adjustments afforded on the
speakers worked nicely as designed.
I thought I'd work my way from the back wall
forward, first playing the BLS without the LFM and then combine it with the
subwoofer as the speaker made its way into the room away from walls. All the
while adjusting the compensation switches as I felt necessary.
I also thought it might be interesting to
concentrate on one CD for the entire review as the variety afforded of
placement, adjustments, compensations, and using/not using the subwoofer,
provided the variables. The CD I chose was the new Alison Krauss/Robert
Plant duet, Raising Sand. Why? Because it has both male and female
vocals, along with a variety of musical genre from mystical rock to folk, as
well as a
variety of instruments. And I was curious about this anticipated
album, yup I can say that, it's out on vinyl too.
My first auditions excluded the LFM subwoofer
to afford the BLS some time alone, as the bass resonance from the rear wall
quickly had me leaping to lower the boundary switch to the lowest setting -
the bass was overwhelming in its location.
Putting the issue aside for the time being, I
just closed my eyes and listened. The BLS doesn't resemble its modest size,
with the soundstage wider than the 6 feet apart I placed them, by as much as
several feet to each side. Through the BLS, Alison Krauss' voice was nicely
rendered, and as a duet, her voice is just in front of the speaker plane and
Robert Plant's slightly back, even when he's the lead voice. My first
thumbs-up for the BLS was with voices – simply superb.
I resisted removing the speaker from the shelf
until I was able to hear the entire CD. Consistent was the rear wall effect
on bass and definition. Rear ported, the BLS pushed a lot of air out the
back. If this were my final location, I'd forgo the subwoofer.
Placing the BLS on stands about three feet from
the rear and side walls, and switching off the boundary reduction, Plant's
voice was brought further forward, yet air remained between his voice and
hers. Guitars became more apparent and articulate. Percussions become more
vibrant, although a bit lacking in the low end, understandably.
Stopping the playback and integrating the
LFM-2 subwoofer brought the bass guitar back and made the bass drum fuller.
Alison's fiddle was warm, yet defined and rich. Midrange, another thumbs-up!
The LFM subwoofer wasn't the main goal for
this review, yet I've always been impressed by the Outlaw subwoofer line.
Having as many as four in a room yielded typically some of the best surround
experiences at the audio shows, so the Outlaw subwoofers are impressive
considering their very reasonable pricing.
Track 8 "Trampled Rose" is a melodic mix of
Alison's sultry voice, a plucking Dobro, (steel guitar which is almost
mandolin sounding), and deep distant drums. The Outlaw BLS/LFM combination
left me mesmerized and wanting more.
I felt the BLS came into their own after a
number of hours playing as the music became more revealing, highs more
extended and timing more accurate. The final track 13, "Your Long Journey"
is vintage Krauss bluegrass. Riley Baugus' banjo was surprisingly elegant
So there you have it, Outlaw Audio's first
foray into the competitive speaker world is highly successful, and I can't
wait to see what they do next – perhaps full range units?
I will say placing the unit is critical to get
the most from this compact speaker. My preference was away from the wall on
substantial stands with the modestly priced LFM-2 squarely between them.
I truly can't stress enough how worthy I found
the BLS from Outlaw Audio. The more I played them, the more I liked . . . no,
them. In fact I did wonder what five would sound like spaced around my room
with some high resolution audio! Needless to say I could imagine.
- Piero Gabucci -