If you read my review of Audiolab’s 6000A Integrated Amp, you know I’m a big fan of that “Entry Level” amplifier.
I loved it so much I ended up buying the review unit. After having such a pleasant experience with that product, I knew I had to take a listen to the matching 6000N Play Wireless Audio Streaming Player.
Thankfully I was able to get my hands on one. Being a digital guy, I think it’s not only a perfect companion for the 6000A, but It’s also an excellent Wi-Fi streamer for anybody looking to bring high-quality, high-resolution audio into their system without spending a ton of money.
The 6000N Play is priced at $599 here in the U.S., which puts it in the middle of the pack for streamers in general, but to me, that price also places it on the low end of the “premium” tier, with products like the rPLAY from Arcam and the NODE 2i from Bluesound.
The one I have is a loaner, and it will be sent back after my review is complete.
Build and Features
Like the 6000A Integrated, the 6000N Play is a study in minimalist, industrial design. Just like its more expensive sibling, the 6000N has a clean, no-nonsense look that comes across as high-end, regardless of its sub-$1000 price tag. There’s no screen, but competitors at this price don’t have one either.
The 6000N comes in two colors, black or silver (they sent me the black), and there are only seven buttons on the front: one power button and six preset buttons for saving internet stations. You use them just like preset buttons on a car stereo, holding them down once you have the station you want to save tuned in.
It doesn’t need a lot of buttons because it leaves the heavy lifting to the DTS Play-Fi platform, a multi-room wireless system that allows you stream audio from all around the internet. You can also stream from a NAS drive or computer that resides on the same network.
Like many Play-Fi products, the 6000N doesn’t come with a remote. You control all operations from the Play-Fi app, which you must install on your iOS, Android, Amazon, or Windows device. The app initiates playback on the 6000N Play, or any other Play-Fi enabled product.
Play-Fi gear is available from a variety of brands in a variety of form factors like the SVS Prime Wireless speakers I reviewed earlier this year, or you can get it in amplifiers, soundbars, etc. etc. All Play-Fi devices are interoperable; you can play music to one at a time, or several at the same time.
Setting up Play-Fi is simple. Just download the app on a device like a tablet, start the setup mode, and press the “set-up” button on the back of the 6000N Play. The app pretty much takes it from there.
Once the device is set up on your Wi-Fi, you can play music residing on your local network, or from the streaming service of your choice. I used TIDAL and Spotify, but Amazon Music, Qobuz, and several others are available.
One thing to keep in mind, with Play-Fi playback is not gapless, so if you’re crazy about that type of thing, which I’m not, this is your PSA.
Connections on the back of the 6000N are par for the course for this type of device. There are two digital outputs, both coax and optical, and one set of analog RCA outs. There’s a mini-coax connector for the included Wi-Fi antenna and an Ethernet jack for hardwiring to your network.
There’s also a couple of 12V trigger connections for remote on/off, a USB connector labeled “CONTROL” that allows remote volume control for the 6000A amp, and a second USB connection solely for system updates. Notably absent is a USB connection for playing back music on a connected drive, something nice to have, but not essential.
The 6000N Play is Hi-res audio compatible, capable of receiving data up to 24-bit/192kHz resolution over Wi-Fi. It also incorporates the same ES9018 Sabre32 Reference DAC chip found in the 6000A integrated amplifier. This is a good thing since it allows for excellent sound even if your amp doesn’t have a built-in DAC.
Listening to The 6000N Play
So why would you spend the big bucks on something like this opposed to a cheap streamer like a Chromecast Audio? Well, it’s the sound. A full-size component like the 6000N allows for more robust circuit design.
For the extra money, you get an isolated power supply along with a high – eﬃciency toroidal transformer to maintain signal purity and reduce noise. No way you’re getting all that in the itty bitty Google streamer.
That not to say I don’t like the Chromecast Audio. I was one of the ones upset when they discontinued it. It’s incredible for the thirty or so dollars they were asking for it. I still recommend it to people since there are some outlets on the internet that are selling them. It’s an excellent place to start.
However, as soon as you put the Audiolab streamer on, the upgrade in sound quality over the Google product is swiftly evident. It’s even more apparent as you scale up in electronics. The sound from the 6000N is so clean and transparent; it just allows the quality of your amplifier to shine.
Lesser streamers can sound “digital,” meaning sharp and metallic around the edges or “dull,” obscuring the details needed to make music sound engaging. The 6000N Play is neither one of those. Instead, it’s just smooth.
You wouldn’t mistake it for Vinyl, but it has an open and detailed sound that is resolving yet delicate when it should be. I listened to tons of music of all different genres via this component, and the result was always musical or satisfying.
I hooked the 6000N to the PS Audio Stellar Gain Cell DAC along with the Stellar 2-ch Power Amp, and the result was nothing less than stunning when played through the Buchardt Audio S400 speakers. The music was so crisp and natural. There was no sense the $600 streamer was holding this almost $5k rig back.
Jazzmeia Horn’s vocals just soared, and there was plenty of air around all the instruments. I couldn’t stop listening, and the hours just flew by. That’s how you know you have synergy amongst components.
The 6000N Play doesn’t have a whole lot of frills, lacking the playback controls and USB Flash Drive access of some competitors. But as far as I’m concerned, the money was put where it needs to be, namely into circuitry required to provide the most musicality for the money.
The use of DTS Play-Fi also adds a reliable tried and true platform for linking your system to tons of music wherever it may be. It’s easy to use, and it supports hi-res music files so you can get the most out of your system.
Audiolab has done it again with another well-designed component that gives you high-end performance without breaking the bank.