As I said in my first impressions/unboxing post, Audiolab shook things up 35 years ago with their 8000A Integrated Amp, a product still revered today for its bulletproof build quality and high-end sound. The $950 6000A Integrated Amplifier I’m looking at today is the cornerstone of the UK company’s new and more affordable 6000 series, a product line that also includes the new 6000N Play DTS Play-Fi Streamer, and the 6000CDT CD Player.
Externally, the 6000A bears a strong resemblance to the 8300A with its rotary controls and large, central OLED display. Unlike its costlier, analog-only sibling, it incorporates high-quality D/A conversion, enabling digital sources to be connected directly without an external DAC. It makes use of the ESS ES9018K2M Sabre32 chip to perform D/A conversion, handling high res files up to 192khz.
There are four digital inputs (2 Coax, 2 Optical), three line-level analog inputs, an MM-only phono input for turntables, wireless connectivity via Bluetooth (apt-X codec for CD-Quality transmissions) and a dedicated headphone amp.
The 6000A also has a pre-out, something I love on an integrated since it gives you room to grow as you build your system. Just add a 2-ch power amp or a pair of monoblocks, and you can take your rig in any direction you want. On the front of the unit, there is a knob that lets you quickly switch between pre-amp and amplifier mode, which is a pretty cool feature.
Speakers are driven by the 6000A’s discrete Class AB power amp stage, which outputs 50W per channel into eight ohms. It’s also capable of 75w per channel into 4ohm loads.
Build quality is amazing. As soon as I pulled the 6000A out of the box, I knew it was something built to last. The heavy-duty steel chassis is put together so tight you can barely see any seams, and there is hardly any plastic to be seen anywhere. The three rotary knobs on the front panel turn smoothly with just enough resistance to allow proper control. They are also just the right size, making it effortless to scroll through sources, change amplifier modes, and adjust the volume.
The OLED display is simple, displaying in large type no more than a word or two at any time, but it’s always clear what is being communicated. That’s probably the best part of the Audiolab integrated; everything is laid out so simply and elegantly. There aren’t a ton of things listed in the menu, but each thing listed is useful.
For example, I like the digital filter option, which allows the listener to tailor the sound to their liking by adjusting the character of the DAC. By cycling through the filters, you can switch between a more transparent sound, a more spacial sound, or a warmer analog-style sound. I think this is a nice touch since many integrated amps don’t give you the option to do this, even though the DAC chip has the capability.
The remote control is also well thought out. It’s a little on the large side, but it’s solidly built just like the rest of the unit. Buttons are nicely spaced out, and it can control the other products in the 6000 series, like the 6000CDT.
Overall I’m very impressed with how well built the product is, along with the clean design, and it’s ease of use. It makes you feel like you have made a good investment. The only thing it’s missing is a USB Input for direct connection to a laptop, but if you use dedicated streamers as I do, then this is not a big deal.
With the British hi-fi pedigree Audiolab has, you would expect no less than top-flight sound out of this integrated, and the 6000A doesn’t disappoint. I previously thought the Rega Brio was the best sounding integrated amp under $1000. But the 6000A is right up there with it in terms of sound quality if not better. Add in the digital capabilities of the 6000A which the Brio doesn’t have, and the Audiolab comes in as the better value to me.
For my sound tests, I streamed CD-Quality TIDAL music via the Chromcast Audio connected to the optical input. This was to ensure the ESS DAC chip on the Audiolab was engaged. This is where my listening impressions come from. Just a note, I also streamed to the 6000A via apt-X Bluetooth using my LG V40 phone, and the sound was comparable to the Wi-Fi stream, except for a slight lack of transparency. But it still sounded really good, either for a quick listening session, or to let a friend share some music when they drop by.
I first hooked up my $298 Paradigm Monitor SE Atom stand mounters to hear what the 6000A would do with a good pair of budget speakers. I love my Digms’ because they don’t try to manufacture excitement; they allow the source and amp to shine with their wide-open sweet sound. They have taken down speakers that cost many times their price, and I doubt will never get rid of them.
The pairing of the SE Atoms and the 6000A was magical. On “Caravan” by Jeff Goldblum and the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra, the speakers just melted away and made way for some impressive imaging and a beautiful soundstage. The bass was weighty and well-controlled, the mids were nice and clear, and the treble was so sweet. The horns, along with the brushes striking the drum heads had so much texture and life, more than I’ve ever heard with these speakers.
The only problem with the Atoms is they tend to be challenged by material with deeper bass, so to see how the Audiolab would do with more demanding stuff, I hooked up the $1800 Buchardt S400s, a pair of stand mounters that can rock with the best of them. On “Wildfire” by SBTRKT, the Audiolab displayed its uncanny timing and bass control, pounding out the beat with astounding composure. This song again showed off the 6000A’s soft, delicate high end, an aspect of this amp which kept the high-pitched vocals and effects from becoming harsh or shrill.
The more I listen to the 6000A, the more I love it. The spacious sound, sweet highs, and deep, controlled bass make inexpensive speakers sound better than they have any business sounding, and when you scale up to better speakers, you end up with a system that many audiophiles could live with for many years to come. I also love the bulletproof build quality and the elegant, no-nonsense way all the features are implemented. It makes it so easy and nice to use on a daily basis. Because of this, I plan to buy the unit I have right now, it will be my new reference amp for testing speakers. Great job, Audiolab.
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