MUSIC PERFORMANCE Outlaw dispensed with any "extra" surround modes for the Model 970, contenting itself with Dolby Pro Logic IIx and DTS Neo:6 for 6.1- or 7.1-channel from stereo and matrix-encoded surround sources and Dolby and DTS flavors of 5.1-, 6.1- and 7.1-channel decoding. (What? No "Stadium" mode? No "Disco"!?) All of these worked as expected and delivered first-class sound, at least while playing first-class sources.
One of the Outlaw Audio Model 970's more unusual features is its 6-channel analog input, which offers three bass-management choices, selected via a mini-toggle switch on the back: Digital, HP/LP, and Bypass. The last is self-explanatory (no management), while the first applies whatever crossover and "speaker-size" choices are made via the 970's setup menus (at the sacrifice of extended response above 22 kHz, since the digital crossovers limit this). In the middle is an unusual audiophile option: It applies a simple, fixed, analog high- and low-pass crossover to the analog multichannel input at a frequency of 80 Hz (actually closer to 110 Hz on my test bench).
The distinction between using the analog filter and simply running your multichannel source full-range in the Bypass mode is subtle, but perceptible if you have smaller, less bass-capable front speakers. You'll hear better weight to the midbass and a hard-to-define improvement in bass definition, or "speed" (an oxymoron, I know), or spatiality - or something. Whatever the case, it works well. Jimmy Witherspoon's The Blues, the Whole Blues and Nothing But the Blues, a clean, very live-sounding DVD-Audio recording, sounded impressively present and transparent, with great spatial and timbral detail of both the band and Witherspoon's big 'n' tall-sized voice, all arrayed realistically across the stage. While my own amp (at precisely twice the spec'd power) could push things to genuinely first-table club levels (loud!) with no hint of strain, the Outlaw came up just perceptibly short (perhaps 2 dB) before a faint sheen of effort crept into the sound. But it was otherwise indistinguishable.
MOVIE PERFORMANCE Though the 7-channel Outlaw Audio Model 7075 is rated at "only" 75 watts per, I found little if any audible distinction between it and several fine 100+ watt A/V receivers I've auditioned recently. I cued up a handful of my favorite audio-stress movie scenes and encountered no stumbles or artifacts in Dolby Digital or DTS playback.
But film sound is inherently different, because when things get really loud in several channels simultaneously, it's almost always from elements that tend to mask distortion: explosions, crashes, thunderstorms, and the like. So on cinema material, I had a much harder time hearing any differences between the $699 Outlaw and my everyday power amp, which sells for roughly three times as much. There was little or no difference quantity-wise - it played about as loudly - and the sound quality was consistently fine. Ocean's Twelve is a hopeless muddle, with limited soundtrack challenges but an occasionally intriguing score (I particularly loved the "Vietnamese banjo"). It sounded uniformly clean, dynamic, and intelligible at any volume I might consider in my fair-sized studio theater.