The New Audiolab 6000A Play

The Audiolab 6000A is one of the best amplifiers for less than £1000 on the market. The Audiolab 6000N is the best streamer for less than £500 on the market. So it's really exciting to see Audiolab have combined these award winners into one box to even further reduce the cost. A sonic bargain, a great value one box solution, and an exciting "just pick speakers" system. 

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Audiolab’s new 6000A Play combines two multi-award-winning audio components in a single chassis, to deliver a just-add-speakers streaming amplifier that handles all your analogue requirements, too.From internet radio and streaming over Wi-Fi and Bluetooth to the hook-up of a turntable, CD player or TV, this amp has it covered–and with Audiolab’s quintessential sonic excellenceto boot.In a single chassis,the 6000A Play takes the circuitry from the 6000A stereo amplifier –the UK’s best-selling amp in the £500-£1000 range–and marries it with the streaming architecture of the 6000N Play, What Hi-Fi?’s current Product of the Yearin the music streamer category.The result of such a formidable fusion: a fully integrated, versatile and musically captivating streaming amplifier that delivers everything a modern music lover could ask for.

The ideal amp for every music source - The 6000A Play’s Wi-Fi networking is powered by DTS Play-Fi: an app-controlled platform enabling high-quality, whole-home wireless audio, capable of streaming hi-res music up to 24-bit/192kHz and supported by a greater range of established audio brands than any other wireless platform.The free Play-Fi app (available for iOS, Android and Kindle Fire devices, Windows PCs and Apple and Android smartwatches) is an intuitive gateway to a wealth of music services, including Spotify, Tidal,Amazon Music, Deezer, Qobuz, HDtracks, TuneIn, iHeartRadioand SiriusXM. It is also your trusty music butler, able to serve up a streaming library stored on any DLNA-compatible NAS drive or media server on the same home network.Favourite playlists and radio stations can be assigned as shortcut ‘presets’ within the app, while Works With Alexa support enables voice-controlled playback when the 6000A Play is paired with any Amazon Alexa-equipped device.Play-Fi supports a wide variety of file formats,including MP3, MP4A, AAC, FLAC, WAV and AIFF. In standard mode, which is optimised for multi-room bandwidth, audio is streamed at up to 16-bit/48kHz –akin to CD-quality. By engaging Play-Fi’s Critical Listening Mode, hi-res audio up to 24-bit/192kHz may be streamed to the 6000A Play over Wi-Fi or Ethernet cable, without transcoding or down-sampling.

There are other ways to stream music to the 6000A Play wirelessly, other than via the Play-Fi app. Spotify users can connect directly from the Spotify app thanks to Spotify Connect, while smartphones and tablets can stream to the amp without connecting to the local Wi-Fi network thanks to aptX Bluetooth.The 6000A Play is not all about streaming, however. Those with physical music collections on CD and vinyl are equally well catered for, thanks to four stereo RCA inputs –three line-level and one MM phono input. The built-in phono stage is a high-quality, low-noise design with precise RIAA equalisation, engineered especially for the 6000A Play to make the most of the marvellous music nestling within an LP’s grooves. There are five digital inputs too –two optical and two coaxial, as well as Ethernet –for those who prefer to connect their digital devices via cable rather than wirelessly.

High-quality audio engineering –unfettered and uncompromisedAll this versatility would be worthlittleif it came at the cost of genuinehi-fi sound quality. True to its roots, Audiolab has refused to compromise on performanceby drawing on the sonic know-how that earned ample accolades over the years.The 6000A Play’s digital stage incorporates the ES9018K2M DAC chip from the Sabre32 Reference family, applying the benefits of ESS Technology’s 32-bit HyperStream architecture and Time Domain JitterEliminator to deliver ultra-low noise and high dynamic range.

Though technically excellent, Sabre32 Reference DAC chips can be challenging to implement effectively. If the circuitry that surrounds them is not of a sufficient standard, the resulting sound can seem a little on the ‘cool’ side; but treat them right and the level of musical expression that these chipsdig from the digital signal is captivating.Audiolab’s original, universally acclaimed M-DAC was one of the very first home audio components to incorporate an ES9018 chip back in 2011, and the company has been honing its implementation ever since.One particularly critical element is the post-DAC active filter; the Audiolab design team has paid great attention to this circuit, using op-amps selected for their synergy with the ES9018K2M. Whether received via cable, Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, all forms of digital audio benefit from three user-selectable digital filters: ‘Fast Roll-Off’, ‘Slow Roll-Off’ and ‘Minimum Phase’. These settings allow the user to optimise the response to suit the source file and bandwidth of the partnering equipment.

Specification summary

Hi-res wireless streaming and multiroom connectivity

Network connectivity by Wi-Fi or Ethernet cable

aptX Bluetooth streamingESS Technology Sabre32 Reference DAC

Three user-selectable digital filters

Class A post-DAC active filter

Low-noise MM phono stage

Class AB power amplification: 2x50W into 8 ohms; 2x75W into 4 ohms

Three operational modes: Integrated Mode; Pre-Power Mode; Pre Mode

Dedicated current-feedback headphone ampCable inputs

5x digital audio (2x optical; 2x coaxial; 1x Ethernet)

4x analogue audio (3x line level; 1x MM phono)

Power amp input

USB for firmware updates

12V triggerCable outputs

Speaker binding posts

Headphone output

Preamp output

12V trigger

The 6000A Play’s Class AB power amp sports a discrete circuit design and delivers 50W per channel into eight ohms, with a maximum current delivery of 9 Amps into difficult loads. The output stage uses a CFB (Complementary Feedback) topology, ensuring superior linearity and excellent thermal stability, as the idle current is kept independent of the temperature of the output transistors.

A substantial 200VA toroidal transformer, followedby 4x15000uF reservoir capacity (60000uF in total), helps the amp to maintain firm control of the music whilst enabling excellent dynamic range.The preamp section is kept as simple as possibleto maintain signal purity, with line input signals passing to a precision analogue volume stage.

The latter covers the range from -80dB to +8dB in steps of 2dB and 1dB (step resolution increases with volume position).Much effort has gone into the physical layout of the 6000A Play’s circuitry, protecting the sensitive preamp section from noise interference. This, plus the use of independent low-noise power supplies for critical stages, helps to deliver a performance that rivals considerably more expensive analogue amplifiers, even before taking the 6000A Play’s impressive digital streaming credentials into account.As well as performing its primary function as a fullyintegrated amp, other user-selectable modes separatethe preamp and power amp stages, perhaps tooperatesolely as a power amp, or as a streaming DAC/preamp. This additional flexibility reflects Audiolab tradition and the discrete nature of the 6000A Play’s internal architecture, enabling it to adapt to its owner’s evolving requirements.

Anyone who usesheadphones as well as speakers is catered for by a built-in headphone amp with dedicatedcurrent-feedback circuitry. Its gain bandwidth and high slew rate ensure a dynamic, detailed and engaging performance with all manner of headphone types –more boxes ticked for this most integrated of integrated amplifiers.

Putting the music firstDeep, well-defined bass;expressiveand expansive midrange; crisp, sweet treble –the 6000A Play delivers an adroitly balanced performance with all kinds of music, without favouring one style over another. From a Spotify stream to a vinyl record, it delivers an open window on the music being played, as all great hi-fi should, engaging the listener with natural, unforced energy that is fully reflective of the source material.The 6000A Play is available from July in a choice of silver or black, at an RRP of £799. The standard 6000A without Wi-Fi/ethernet streaming continues at £599.