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Audiolab 6000N streamer
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 Analogue and digital outputs on the right, USB for the control bus and ethernet for wired set up. The set up button and ethernet activity light are also here as an aid to install.

 

   With Critical Listening mode, for top quality (118dB dynamic range), all this changed. CD files and 24/48 hi-res files played, most 24/96 music files played but with some hesitance – I had to repeatedly select and wait for play to start. When the files ran, however, they gave full hi-res sound quality, measurement showed. Some 24/96 test files, those with high data rate (white noise), all but refused to play and 24/192 files would not play at all. So Critical Listening mode works up to 24/96, but only just. This appears to be phone/wi-fi critical. Audiolab tell us they can play 24/192 in Critical Mode, using a Samsung phone. We could not.

   Play-Fi is not a system optimised for hi-res audio. In Standard mode it plays everything; in Critical Listening mode it will play hi-res – but with hesitation. When it does play, you do get fine sound. In standard mode you get quality slightly below that of CD.

 

SOUND QUALITY

For this re-test the 6000N was connected into our network, playing files from a Melco N10/100 server. Chord Company Epic cables delivered its output to a Creek Evolution 100A amplifier driving our reference Martin Logan ESL-X hybrid electrostatic loudspeakers. Loudspeaker cables were Chord Company Signature Reference and mains power delivered by an Isotek Evo 3 Mosaic Genesis re-generator to eliminate influence of mains distortion (3% in London). 

   In this set-up Audiolab’s 6000N in Critical Listening mode very obviously delivered the smooth and deep sound that ESS Sabre32 series DACs are known for. There was a sense of background silence that brought focus to Mercedes Sosa singing Misa Criolla, the choir laid out behind in deep space (CD). With rougher Rock, like Tom Petty’s Refugee (24/96), the 6000N projected both the power and pace of the track whilst keeping the edginess at bay – another classic property of ESS Sabre32 DACs. It made for an enjoyable listen. Running through a selection of uncompressed CD tracks and hi-res the 6000N showed it was indeed capable of delivering true hi-res. sound quality, within our preened set-up. 

What it offers in more general conditions is less easy to pin down and standard listening mode reins performance back to slightly less than CD quality. 

 

CONCLUSION

Audiolab’s 6000N is based on the DTS Play-fi app that offers access to a wide variety of internet music streaming services such as Spotify, Tidal and Qobuz. It can also access music libraries on a network attached storage (NAS) drive, PC (Windows) based DNLA server or iPhone/Android phone/player. 

   Running from our Melco N10/100 network drive it delivered fine sound quality in Critical Listening mode, that’s for sure. Standard mode was unimpressive. 

The need to run all music through the phone is a crucial limiting factor with Play-Fi. In long discussions with Audiolab about this they tell me DTS are working on a Play-Fi system that avoids sending music through the phone, so at this point the 6000N is a streamer that best works with external commercial music providers, revealing the quality of their files through its on-board ESS ES9018K2M DAC – impressive for the price. 

The 6000N will also give ESS quality from CD and 24/48 files you might have on a NAS drive. With 24/96 files your phone and its wi-fi link start to creep into the picture; in my case 24/96 files played but I struggled at times. Low data rate files (Jazz) always played, intense Rock and high date rate test files were erratic. 

   Good value then, considering its very low price and top quality ESS ES9018K2M DAC, that will give fine sound quality from internet music providers. I see no problems here. It is only with a local music server (NAS drive), life with hi-res gets difficult I found – but Audiolab disagree. Time to ditch the iPhone and get a Samsung perhaps.

 

 

 

 

AUDIOLAB 6000N PLAY £449

 

 

 

 

EXCELLENT - extremely capable

VALUE - keenly priced

 

 

A lot of streamer for the money, and a good budget solution.  But with problems.

 

FOR

- good sound from on-line servers

- good sound from CD

- good sound from 24/48

 

AGAINST 

-  'phone dependent

-  erratic in Critical Mode

-  slow changing tracks in Critical Mode

 

Audiolab

www.audiolab.co.uk

 



 

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