For the last 6 years I have lived with an Outback VFX inverter. That may sound like a pretty close relationship and it is! When you live off the grid and need good clean electricity for work, the inverter play an important part in one's life. But a truly fine inverter is so hassle free that it demands attention only when you require it to do something different than it has been doing (i.e. turn it off while on a trip, equalize, etc). After getting married and moving into a rental homestead (temporarily until we build our own), I found myself using a spare modified sine wave inverter I had owned for some time...and wishing I wasn't!
So the search was on for a new sine wave inverter, but which one? I had pretty much decided to go with Outback based on my previous experience. But I decided to take a closer look at a newer brand I had heard good things about--Magnum. Eventually, I decided to go with the Magnum and have been very happy so far. See my detailed Review of our Magnum MS Series inverter. But since I have had personal experience with both Outback and Magnum (not to mention Xantrex), I wanted to share a comparison of the two--not so much from a technical or statistical perspective, but from an end-user's point of view.
The Outback VFX Series
I have found the Outback to be an excellent piece of equipment with the ability to manually adjust almost everything. It is more difficult to initially program because of this very fact, but I am a person who likes to be able to tinker with everything, so that is a plus to me. Search mode is a prime example. An inverter goes into search mode when it detects no load (or a load under a certain amount) being used in the house.
While in search mode, the inverter uses very little power, much less than when it is in full operation. The inverter periodically sends out a little pulse of electricity to test and see if there are any loads. While the Outback may be programmed to control the interval between pulses, the Magnum only has one stock setting. This was not a major problem for me but the extra control would be nice as a longer interval between pulses would use less electricity; but the difference really is quite small.
I also like the sturdy aluminum case on the Outback. It is much more rigid than the Magnum, however this is probably not much of an issue as you will hopefully only have to handle it once during initial installation. The Outback "Mate" controller (a necessary purchase for any Outback inverter owner) feels slightly more durable than the RC-50 that came with the Magnum. In all fairness, though, Magnum does make the ARC-50 which enables more advanced programming. Also it is possible that the Mate is made a little sturdier also.
And finally, Outback's customer service has been simply incredible! We have heard that and experienced it. After encountering a warning light flashing for months we finally called Outback. They gladly shipped us the new part for free even though it was well out of warranty.
The Magnum MS Series
First and foremost with the Magnum is ease of installation and use. It truly was a breeze! This is partly due to fewer customizable options, but I have found that they did a pretty good job of simplifying by eliminating the options you really don't need and leaving the necessary ones. This is part of what makes Apple computers so user friendly (sorry PC diehards).
Comparing the Mate
While the RC-50 remote (which is a necessary purchase for the Magnum inverter user) feels less durable than the Outback Mate, it includes a turnable and pushable knob that does simplify and speed up use, compared with the Mate. If a person was interested in setting up automatic generator start capabilities (AGS), the ARC-50 remote would be a better choice instead.
It's QUIET in Search Mode
Another item I instantly liked about the Magnum is how quiet it is while operating or in search mode, unlike the Outback. If your inverter is mounted away from the living space, this may not be an issue. But ours was within earshot of our bedroom or living room, so it really was a factor for us.
Due to the noise of the Outback, it became something we just learned to live with and even take advantage of. At night when we would turn the last light off in bed, we could hear whether the inverter had gone into search mode or whether something was still plugged in and keeping it on. That strategy won't work with the Magnum, which is just fine with me because I don't like all the noise. By the way, the Xantrex TR2512 I previously used was just as noisy if not more so than the Outback.
Interestingly enough, a couple of dealers tell me that Outback is now outsourcing some of their manufacturing to China. Not a good sign for the future. Only time will tell how that affects their products in the long run. But for now, Magnum is still made right here in the good old USA!
And last but not least, the Magnum can be significantly less expensive than the Outback. Of course it depends on who you purchase from. This, along with the Made in America factor is what ultimately swayed me toward the Magnum. I am very happy with my decision so far, even though I would have been just as happy with an Outback.