One of my favorite local CD stores for classical music here in Raleigh is dying a slow and grisly death, but there are still a few signs of life in the markdown bins. A recent purchase of violinist Daniel Hope performing the music of Elgar, Finzi and Walton [Nimbus 56662 2001] was a real find for less than $10. It's a beautiful recording of music for violin and piano (played by Simon Mulligan). On Finzi's "Elegy," I could hear the atmospheric echoes of the recording venue. The violin was placed forward and I could hear all of the details of the bowing, whether sharp single notes or coarser double-bowed notes. Both instruments had more flesh on the bone than with my integrated amplifier, although said meat was a little fatty with the M-200s. Even though the piano sounded bigger and fuller than I have heard with my integrated, the midrange sounded a little too heavy and prominent.

Comparing the M-200 monoblocks to the PA-300 stereo amplifier revealed just what these amps can and cannot do. Srajan reviewed the PA-300 last year and described it as the audio equivalent of distilled water. My experience with the PA300 versus the M-200s was drier, without the fluffing up of the lower midrange but more tightly controlled resolution. "O Fledermaus" sounded better through the PA-300. Even though the added bass weight of the M-200s was helpful, the experience was more truthful through the PA-300. I could also hear the soloists within the chorus, not just during their solo parts. The Outlaws' added fullness hid the soloists in the chorus.

With the M-200s, Guillaume de Machaut's "Dame, de qui toute ma joie vient" [The Mirror of Narcissus, Hyperion 66087, 1987] as sung by the Gothic Voices sounded fuller in the midrange and the voices had more weight to them. This is an Early Music song for four voices, recorded in a reverberant acoustic. The decays on trailing notes were even longer with the PA-300, making the fades on the M-200s sound disappointing by comparison. Again, the M-200s thicker midrange made it harder to distinguish the two male voices singing the lower parts of the chanson. Compared to the PA-300, the soprano also sounded veiled and a little grainy. Simply put, the M-200s were not as transparent. The PA-300 was as sonically see-through as the M-200s are visually see-through when viewed from above.

Even playing to the strengths of the M-200s didn't help. The difference was like watching a tennis match between a 4.0 and 5.0 player. Don't worry about the numbers of the rankings, just understand that a solid 4.0 player generally doesn't make many mistakes and is good at putting away shots. A solid 5.0 player, on the other hand, plays with even greater consistency and has mastered a higher level of play and game strategy. The PA-300 performed in a different league than the M-200s.

I started with "Wiggle Waggle" played by the Jaco Pastorius Big Band [Word of Mouth Revisited, Heads Up 3078 2003] where a brilliantly recorded jazz band plays around a pre-recorded bass line by the late Jaco Pastorius. This track has a lot of popping bass, brassy horns, harmonically astute woodwinds, and a surprising keyboard solo that rivals the bass guitar solo! This track sounded really good with the M-200s. However, with the PA-300, it was a different game of tennis. The horns sounded more shocking and occupied a bigger soundstage that extended beyond my speakers and behind my equipment rack. The M-200s gave a smaller picture of the venue. Even the all-important bass line was not as easy to follow and sounded a little muddy by comparison.

I also tried "One More Cup of Coffee" sung by Sertab (right) from the Masked and Anonymous soundtrack [Sony 90536, 2003]. What a voice! Sertab Erener is a Turkish pop singer whose voice reminds me of Cher, but with greater range and control. The M-200s did a decent job of conveying the emotion of this Middle-Eastern pop production, although the PA-300 gave a clearer picture of the singer. With the M-200s, the strings didn't sound as articulate and soaring. I was hoping that the M-200s would make the percussion sound better than it did. The drums and synths sounded a little bigger than via the PA-300, but not as well articulated.

The movie Masked and Anonymous is not for everyone, but I really thought it was great because not even for a minute did it let you forget that it was a movie. In case you forgot, this is an audio equipment review, so I'll get to the conclusion now.

Meat and Potatoes

These are meat and potatoes amplifiers. No fancy sauce, no garnish, but you get a very tasty and filling meal. The Outlaw Audio M-200s offer increased power, beefier bass and improved dynamics over the 50-watt integrated I've been using as my reference. The M-200 amplifiers would be a great first step for someone interested in monoblock amplifiers. I could see them sounding just as good with an unbalanced preamplifier in a more affordable configuration. I do not have a home theater, but I like the idea of dedicated 200 watt amplifiers, especially ones as musical as the M-200s. The M-200s couldn't achieve the synergy of the P-1/PA-300 combo, and they weren't as transparent as the BVAudio amp which costs merely $300 more.

So how much do the M-200s cost? That depends on trim level, and whether you modify them to begin with. As reviewed, they are $1,390/pr, or $750/ea. Forgoing balanced operation shaves off $100/pr or $50 for each solo amp. Retrofit modifications installed on stock amps you already own are $800/450 for the balanced version (pr/ea.), and $700/400 for single-ended operation only, shipping extra. By comparison, the BVAudio PA-300 is $1,690. Where things gets financially truly spectacular is with the stock monos: $574/pr plus shipping. Did you have to read that last sentence twice? I still don't believe that price, especially considering the sleek appearance and solid build quality of these amps. Talk about non-conformist! A single stock M-200 is $299 plus shipping. Home theater buffs can corral five of these gunslingers for $1300. That makes them a steal -- pun intended -- and easy recommendation for anyone interested in starting a first system of separates; especially someone on a tight budget like this writer.


The value equation gets trickier with today's Level-1 modification. Assuming that somebody capable of spending $1,390 could, without undue pain, reach to $1,690 for the BVAudio PA-300, I'd have to give the nod to the latter without thinking twice. Granted, that reaction is fostered by using the BVAudio amp with its $1,590 stable mate, the P-1, both fully balanced pieces. My distinct preference is thus potentially a function of unfair synergy. While at CES, my friend Dave Davenport will lend me his DIY tube line stage called Mood Indigo. If this levels the playing field for the modified Outlaw monos, I shall pen a brief follow-up to share those findings next month. And remember, too, that while I reference the stock Outlaws for pricing purposes, I haven't heard 'em and have no opinion whatsoever about their performance, nor a good idea how much better Walter's and Chris' gussied-up modification package makes them.

Manufacturer's website
Underwood HiFi website