The Audiolab 6000A amp with DAC and 6000CDT CD Transport cost £599 and £399 respectively. In a world’s first review of the combo Alan McIntosh sees if this relatively budget pairing delivers the goods.  

Having recently fallen in love with my Audiolab MDAC+ and considering more and more to move to a CD transport rather than full CD player (with DAC integrated) my interest was immediately peeked when the Audiolab 6000A amplifier/6000CDT pairing appeared on the market – and at a very reasonable prince point.  Could a company succeed to deliver both an amp and transport at the quality expected for under grand – if they could, then Audiolab may just have followed the 8000 series with another classic system.

CONSTRUCTION

Taking the 6000A amplifier first, outwardly it has the fascia hallmarks of its bigger, older brother the 8300A, a smooth carbon black finish (also available in Silver), quite slimline vs. some of its class, with 3 sleek rotary knobs and lozenge shaped digital display, power light, standby “soft” button and a standard ¼” headphone socket –modern aesthetics, while retaining the Audiolab genetics.

Solid body and well laid out back panel comprising power, binding posts, 12v trigger (for connecting to other components), Coax/optical inputs (each x2), a USB for software updates and 3 line level Aux inputs- but usefully also a pre out and power in.

Offering over 110dB signal to noise ratio the 6000A is by default an integrated amplifier but can be switched to act as a pre-amplifier  (if you want to drive a power amp for example) or power amplifier mode (useful in an AV setup). A low noise JFET based MM Phono stage is also offered.

It not unusual now to see amps with internal DACs fed via USB inputs for attaching laptops to support Hi-Res  streaming but it’s less common still in this class to have this quality of integrated DAC, and fed by Coaxial. The DAC here is the market leading ESS Sabre 9018 K2M (32 bit, sampling rates up to 192Kz and DSD at 11.2Mhz) – the same chipset in Audiolab’ s acclaimed M DAC+ (I have one and enjoy it immensely) and that employs what ESS call 32 bit Hyperstream for delivery of strong dynamics and a Domain Jitter Limiter to reduce noise.  Power is delivered via a substantial 200Va Toroidal Transformer while control and dynamic range are supported by a combined 60000 µF of capacitance.

Onto the 6000CDT and the strong aesthetics carry through, a slot loader with minimalist fascia but including the usual operation buttons and “soft standby” button. The readout matches the 6000A and offers track number, timings, time to run/time left as expected and the ability to program order of play up to 99 tracks – all via the remote. As a transport, with no integrated DAC the focus has been on creating a solid running high quality spinner – including look ahead buffer technology to ensure even scratched or dirty discs play uninterrupted. This being the case you need to connect to a DAC for play back, in this case it’s ideally partnered with the 6000A amp. Connection is via a simple Coaxial or Optical digital interconnect (I chose Chords Shawline).  You could as easily feed it into any DAC you have already and then into your amp, but the 6000A’s integrated DAC does make it all a lot easier and the synergy feels right.

Very welcome is the solid feeling, comprehensive but clearly laid out remote that allows you to run both Amp and CD player from one (the 6000CDT does come with its own remote but this stayed in the box) – one less wand to drop down the side of the sofa! (Batteries were even included). All amp settings including standby timeouts, DAC filters and pause/play (on the CDT) are available in one remote.

SOUND QUALITY

As the CDT and Amp are designed to work as one that formed the basis of my listening – simple to set up, and hooking the amp to my reference standmounts for first round (Fyne Audio 500) I power on and after allowing time for warm up I settle down to listen to some well-known test CD’s.

Pushing the volume loud enough to hear details but not to overwhelm I’m immediately struck by how clear and smooth the playback in from this pair. After some playing around the I choose the (minimal) phase filter which Audiolab designed to offer a sound “likened to analogue but applied in the digital domain”. That signature Audiolab refinement that I’ve experienced with the MDAC+ which takes the best digital source and somehow transforms them to a clear, detailed yet undeniable “analogue” feel. Floyds’ Welcome to the Machine is delivering the dynamism and authority you’d expect but with a tempered edge that just makes it fun to listen to – power with polish. Melody Gardot’s live in Europe really showed me what the combo was capable of. Soaring notes, truly natural voice, great staging, controlled yet powerful bass notes and a great timing on the fast-moving sections and I just couldn’t stop listening – we say it a lot I know but for once I truly felt like I was in the front row, at times the bass notes made me feel like I could reach out and touch the strings. A number of other tracks return the same and I find it’s late into the night and I’d hardly noticed the time (a recurring theme throughout the test week!).

Testing next the amps analogue inputs I throw a number of good vinyl pressings at it via my heavily modded Technics 1210 (see review kit at end) including recent Abbey Road half speed masters of OMD and Simple Minds, and sit back to hear how well it delivers the synth and guitar pop of yesteryear with a great energy, smoothness of reproduction (nothing harsh or jarring here) and with a solid sense of thwack where needed. Again, the ease at which the 6000A delivers such an enjoyable playback really does belie the relatively price point.  I found myself LP after LP simply enjoying my music, often with some new found subtle yet evident details. Gilmour’s Live in Pompeii (a key go to test LP for me) just confirms the quality as the opening guitar work of Shine On just sings.

Streaming via Bluetooth is simple and stable – simply choosing “Audiolab 6000A BT” on your device. AptX Playback through the Sabre DAC is very enjoyable, I don’t Bluetooth music very often but for those that do you will not be disappointed.

Repeating the above round with the popular Dali Zensor 3 standmount’s I again enjoyed listening thoroughly, but it’s clear the more refined the speaker the more you can reveal what the 6000A has to offer (especially around the lower frequencies)  so audition with that I mind.

Driving with ease a standmount like the Fyne Audio 500’s is to be expected but I was able to drive them harder than with previous (some costlier) amps with far less harshness or distortion creeping in. For a medium (or small) listening room and those who want a solid, expressive but smoothly refined playback the 6000A for many will be a new force to be reckoned with and is definitely challenging rivals above its station – whether it’s as an integrated standalone, or if you are considering feeding a power amp all the while gaining that integrated DAC, I struggle to see past this amp/CD combo… and as for the sub £1k mark – what alchemy is this?! The DAC uncommonly, while remaining exceptionally detailed, can deliver a hint of warmth at times (counter intuitively) while retaining great resolution and “air” which I enjoyed but you may want to audition with pairing of speakers to ensure your personal desired transparency of sound. 

CONCLUSION

If you are seeking to move to a dedicated CD  transport you should definitely audition the 6000CDT for its smooth operation, sleek looks and constantly robust playback. The 6000A alone is a strong offering and I suspect as more people hear it the market rivals will be working hard to compete, as a combo for me this is a class leader and is punching up the weight class in spades. Solid, punchy, refined and delivering at time a truly detailed but analogue feel, this is one to watch. I suspect Santa may be visiting Audiolab this Christmas for many. I for one am seriously considering buying it.

AT A GLANCE

Build Quality: Designed well, solid unit, high quality materials and strong aesthetics

Sound Quality: Frankly wonderful in context of competitors – smooth, yet detailed on-board DAC delivering solid bass and smooth highs and mids but with an “analogue” feel at times. Staging, drive and timing very good.

Value for Money: No question – to achieve an aamp of this calibre (with good DAC) and quality CD transport bundled for under a grand is a work of Audiolab magic.

Pros : Sound quality and punch, option of inputs, DAC quality (including filters)

Cons: At this price, absolutely none!

Price: 6000A rrp. £599, 6000CDT rrp. £399

Alan McIntosh

 

Specifications

Total Harmonic Distortion (THD): < 0.0004% (Line, 1KHz @ 2V, Volume = 0dB)

Frequency Response: 20Hz-20kHz (+/-0.1dB)

Signal-to-Noise Ration (S/N): > 110dB (Line, A-weighted), >76dB (Phono MM, A-weighted)

 

DAC: ES9018K2M

Total Harmonic Distortion (THD): < 0.0006% (1KHz @ 0dBFS)

Max. Sampling Frequency: 192KHz

Signal-to-noise ratio (S/N): > 112dB (A-weighted)

Digital Filters: Fast Roll-off, Slow Roll-off, Minimum Phase

Power Amplifier Section 

Max. Power Output: 2 X 50W (8 ohm, THD<1%), 2 X 75W (4 ohm, THD<1%)

Frequency Response: 20Hz-20kHz (+/-0.3dB)

Total Harmonic Distortion (THD): <0.003% (1kHz @ 40W/8ohm)

Signal-to-Noise ratio (S/N): > 110dB (A-weighted)

Weight: 7.8kg (Net)

 

Review Equipment: Modified Technics SL1210Mk3D, Origin Live Zephyr arm , Isonoe feet stabilisation, Denon DL103r,Timestep HeV PSU , Pioneer n50 Streamer, , Chord Clearway + Shawline Interconnects , Fyne Audio 500 and Dali Zensor 3 speakers + MS4.45 bi wire Speaker cables and Ecosse 2.23 respectively. Tidal HiFi streaming via iPhone 7. GIK acoustic room treatments.

 

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