Surround Modes: Dolby Digital 5.1 & EX, DTS 5.1 & ES, DTS NEO 6, Dolby ProLogic II, 5.1 channel direct, Cirrus Extra Surround, 5 and 7 channel stereo.
Inputs-Audio: 5.1, 9 analog stereo (including tape and VCR in), 4 optical digital, and 2 coax digital.
Inputs-Video: 3 component video, 5 each composite and S Video.
Outputs-Audio: 7.1, 1 optical digital and one coax digital, extra zone out stereo.
Outputs-Video: One each S Video, component and 2 composites.
Tuner: High Performance AM/FM/FM Stereo tuner with 32 presets.
Dimensions: 16.61 wide, 14.76 deep, and 5.67 high.
Weight: 30 Lbs.
This is a preamp that I have looked forward to since I saw it at CES 2003. It is a really good-looking unit with the the video display on the front, and appears well-built. As I unpacked it I noticed the remote control. I thought to myself this looks very familiar. I looked at the rear panel. Again I thought that it was very familiar-looking. It was the same remote and rear panel as the Outlaw preamp I reviewed last month. I opened up both units and noted very little difference on the inside of the units. I called Outlaw, and they confirmed that the same OEM base unit from Malysia has been licensed to at least three other companies for their use. Atlantic Technologies and Sherbourn also use the OEM unit. Each company has their own specifications for the production of their component. In fact the manual for the Fosgate Audionics incorrectly has the weight and dimensions of the Outlaw in the back instead of the specs for the Fosgate. The features and operations are the same as the Outlaw in most cases. In this review, I will only concern myself with the differences in the two units.
The first thing you'll notice is that the Fosgate is heavier than the Outlaw, 27 vs. 17 pounds.The Fosgate also has a LCD video screen on the front panel. Because of the screen the chassis must be higher. The dimensions are 5.67 by 16.61 by 14.76 inches. The faceplate has a more solid feel with a more esthetically pleasing look. The chassis is also heavier and more solid. The extra weight of the unit is probably due to the heavier chassis, faceplate and video screen with its shielding. The Fosgate is definitely a more impressive looking unit.
The video screen is a nice addition to the preamp. It main use is to access menus for setup of the unit and other units connected to it. You can set up the Outlaw from the front panel, but you have to flip through the various selections. The Fosgate has all the menu selections for a specific setting on the screen at the same time. This makes setup easier and quicker. The front panel controls are easier to use than the Outlaw. The Fosgate unit also allows you to access the menus of components that are hooked to it without having to turn on your main monitor. This is very nice for changing audio settings on DVD, SACD and DVD-A. It is a pain to have to turn on your monitor to change from SACD stereo to the multichannel or CD layer. The quality of the picture is not very good, and you have to be fairly close to see the screen, which is five by three inches. The video screen can be shut off. I could not notice any sound difference with the screen off, which means they did a good job of shielding. The radio tuner has also been shielded.
Most of the additions to the unit which have been made are on the video side of its performance. First there is a third component video input, which could be important if you have a number of video sources. Then there is a composite video output for the 2nd zone. They have also increased the video switching bandwidth from 45 to 60 MHz.
On the audio side they have upgraded the op amps to AD T712s throughout the analog stages. They have what they dub the Legacy Fosgate Audionics HI-EQ circuit. They also have increased the output voltage to 5.5 volts max pre-clip, and have put in a better volume control - which I must admit is one of the best-feeling volume controls that I have used. Fosgate has also added a headphone jack on the front of the unit.I cannot say much about the video improvements, because I dont believe in using preamp switching for video signals. Putting extra wire, two extra sets of connectors, and a switch in between components usually can only degrade the signal.
After I reviewed the Outlaw I had a list of improvements that I thought I would like to see in the unit. First was a better chassis power cord receptacle. The Fosgate uses the same one. Second was the ability to enter different distances for each of the surround channels. The Fosgate has not improved this function. The third was better parts. According to Fosgate they have better op amps and volume control. I can verify the volume control but not the op amps. I would need to take the unit apart to see which ones were used. The other parts seem to be the same. The last was a second set of front outs to go along with the 5.1 front outs. The Fosgate has also not added the second set of front outs.
The real question is how the sound compares. One would think with a better volume control, op amps and a better chassis, you would find a good degree of improvement in the sound. To me it is a mixed bag. It seems the sound has been tweaked for video sound as compared to audio sound. The sound is more forward than the Outlaws sound. It concentrates on the macro side of sound reproduction more than the micro side. It also loses a little more fine detail. Most AV preamps are not known for their music sound quality. On some discs it can sound very impressive. When my friend Marv was over for a listening session, he thought that the sound was better than the Outlaw. I had played a disc that I knew would make the most of the Fosgate sound. But after playing more discs that showcased subtleties and room acoustics, Marv started to hear what the Fosgate does not do as well. The Fosgate has bigger bass, but it is not as well-controlled or punchy. I feel that a buyer that is into video more than music, would be happier than a music person with this unit. The Fosgate is in a middle ground as far as price. At $2500, it is more expensive than the few mass-market preamps that are made. Rotel does have one at about $2000. In all likelihood, the Fosgate has better parts and build quality than most of these units. It is cheaper than mid-high-end preamps that go from three to seven thousand dollars. Most of the differences in sound from a really good stereo preamp would be eliminated unless a system is very well set up in an acoustically-treated room. I think if you are a videophile considering buying an AV preamp for under $4000 that this unit might be worth a listening.
-- Clay Swartz