Audiolab’s 6000N budget streamer makes discs obsolete says Jason Kennedy. Ouch! Read our AUDIOLAB 6000N Review.
Streaming is where it’s at with digital audio today. Vinyl may be making a comeback and sales of one box record players are remarkable – but if you want to hear digital music at its best, discs are no longer it.
The main barrier to uptake of streaming is complexity – and that you have to rip your CD collection to a hard drive if you want to stream it. So many are cutting out the ownership element altogether: with lossless streaming services such as Qobuz and Tidal available – at a price – you don’t need to buy and store discs anymore, CDs or LPs.
The Audiolab 6000N I am reviewing here is a wireless/wired streamer that lets you access various streaming services or music stored on a network drive at a low price few can match. The only alternatives
I could find were the Yamaha CD- NT670D, Denon DNP800NE and Blueroom Node 2i; some might include the Sonos Connect but not if sound quality is a factor. After or arguably before sound quality, the most important thing about a streamer is its control software – Sonos is successful in the streaming market through ease of use. Audiolab have avoided the pitfalls and cost of
building their own control app by using DTS Play-Fi, software created and maintained by an organisation with the resources to do the job consistently, if the 6000N is any indication.
Play-Fi provides access to internet radio, Qobuz, Tidal, Amazon Music (plus several US specific services) – and the free version of Spotify as well as Premium, a unique feature in the streaming world at this point. It allows numerous devices to be controlled in a multi-room situation, limitations being a maximum 24/192 bit/sample rate and no support for DSD.
The 6000N’s claim to fame includes an ESS Sabre series DAC chip, full DLNA/UPnP compliance so it can (should) work with any PC or DLNA/UPnP equipped hard drive, and both analogue and digital outputs. It comes in a full width case (almost unheard of at this price) and has twin wi-fi antenna for robust wireless operation.
EASE OF USE
It took me a little while to get my head around Play-Fi, largely because it’s different from other streaming platforms. That said, once I read the manual it became relatively straight-
DTS Play-Fi provides the control software and app for iOS or Android devices.
forward. Using the Play-Fi set up guide is confused by Americanisms such as ‘dish’ for router, so stick to the manual, especially the forthcoming revised manual which
A lot of empty space behind the facade shows the 6000N has been built to match the 6000A amplifier. It has a linear power supply with toroidal mains transformer (black).
I’m told will be a lot more comprehensive. It might include the fact that for full volume output at switch on you press the right two buttons for the desired amount of time, and that for best results – data rates above that of l6bit/48kHz – you must select ‘Critical Listening’ mode.
You may want to control volume from the app, this approach compromising sound quality compared to the volume control of an amplifier, but it’s very easy. I can’t see much benefit in limiting bit/sample rates however. The six front panel buttons act as presets for net radio stations.
The Play-Fi app isn’t very good at using album art, avoiding it all together until you drill down a few pages or are in Play mode. Slicker apps tend to go large on this free source of great graphics, giving a stronger sense of flicking through a collection. But the alphabetical breakdown means finding artists or albums is pretty quick; there is no search function for local libraries.
The sound of the 6000N is more pumped up and forward than usual for a streamer, it’s appealingly three dimensional however and seems quite smooth on initial listening. I found Lou Reed’s Walk on the Wild Side to be good and spacious if a little lacking in fine detail, but the vocal had an almost exaggerated presence, as if the streamer was amping it up for effect. With a relaxed analogue original like this classic it wasn’t a problem and the timing side of things, while not particularly
strong, was good enough to make it enjoyable.
Esperanza Spalding’s Ebony
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.
and Ivory was also very strongly projected and a little more fulsome than usual. It’s the sort of sound that would suit a budget system a bit better than a revealing one such as the one I use for reviewing, but ultimately could be a bit cleaner around the edges.
Radiohead’s Deks Dark served to illustrate that this Audiolab is not the most revealing but that it can present relatively complex material in a coherent manner without the digital glare associated with budget CD players.
The Audiolab 6000N is not the most refined sounding of streamers but it is well equipped on the features front and well built physically. In the right system, essentially an entry level one, it provides access to the many appealing aspects of streaming in a competitively priced package.
Frequency response of Audiolab 6000N reached 16kHz (-1dB) at all sample rates up to 192kHz from a wired DLNA (Windows 10) server, as our analysis shows. This gives it a bandwidth slightly lower than that of CD (21kHz) in standard mode.
Distortion at peak output (0dB FS) measured 0.003% and at -60dB with 24bit a mediocre 0.15%, better than CD (0.22%) but not in contention with the 0.02% figure possible. The presence of noise and distortion resulted in a disappointing 97dB EIAJ Dynamic Range value with hi-res.
Although the 6000N can read hi-res files from a wired ethernet DNLA server, it gives mediocre performance figures.
External music servers will give a similar result at best.
A lot of streamer for the money but sound quality is not as clean as possible. A good budget solution all the same.
- - big, well built box for the money
- - access to free Spotify
- - lossless services
- - decent control software and feature set
- - not the most refined sound
- - no DSD support
- - slow when switching between sources
Best AUDIOLAB 6000N prices in the US ?
Best AUDIOLAB 6000N prices in the UK ?
EXCELLENT – extremely capable
VALUE – keenly priced
+ 44 (0) 1480 447700 www.audiolab.co.uk