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Audiolab 9000A & 9000CDT

Audiolab has enjoyed an enviable reputation for amplifier excellence ever since the original 8000A arrived in 1982, establishing itself as the classic step-up model from the 'budget' integrated hi-fi amps of the time. This reputation has remained constant through successive product generations, right up to the 6000A and 8300A, both of which have delighted music lovers at their respective price points in recent years. As we approach the end of 2022 - 40 years after the launch of the 8000A - it's time to reveal the next generation of Audiolab amplification. The 9000A is the first component in Audiolab's new flagship range, the 9000 Series. It is also the best integrated amplifier Audiolab has ever made. The 9000A introduces a smart new aesthetic, as befits a new flagship range. Built for sonic excellence, the 9000 Series CD transport - the 9000CDT - is the perfect CD-playing companion to Audiolab's flagship 9000A integrated amplifier.

The screen displays a variety of information in a more visually appealing way than most other integrated amps - volume level, input selection, format data and more. It gives access to the amp's menu system, which includes such options as digital upsampling, input sensitivity adjustment, balance control, automatic standby switching, and volume curtailment when the amp is powered up. It can even be set to display a VU meter in 'analogue' or 'digital' form, showing real-time decibel levels for the left and right channels - a satisfying graphical representation of the music as it plays. And it can be dimmed or turned off completely, as the user prefers.

Functionally, the 9000A builds upon the highly successful 6000A, which launched in 2018 and remains one of Britain's best-selling integrated amps. The 6000A recognised that while an amplifier is still the beating heart of any high-performance audio system, just as it has been for decades, a truly versatile integrated amp now needs to cover many bases - digital and analogue sources, wireless connectivity for portable devices, a phono stage for playing vinyl, and amplification for headphones as well as speakers. The 9000A is born from the same ideal but greatly enhanced in every area - cutting-edge digital audio technology, massively upgraded analogue circuitry, more connectivity and a performance that elevates the open, detailed and engaging sound for which the 6000A is famed to an entirely different level. The 9000A's lead electronics designer is Jan Ertner - the same man responsible for the 6000A, as well as many other award-winning audio components over the years. He was posed the significant challenge of creating Audiolab's best-ever integrated amplifier - the very product category that brought the brand to prominence - expanding the 6000A's high level of functionality whilst delivering flagship performance. The 9000A delivers everything expected of truly high-end hi-fi, but at a price that remains eminently reasonable in return for the quality on offer.

The 9000A incorporates state-of-the art digital-to-analogue signal conversion, enabling digital sources to be connected directly without an external DAC. A USB Type B input caters for PCs, Macs, smartphones, tablets and digital storage devices, alongside four S/PDIF digital inputs - two coaxial and two optical. There are also four line-level analogue inputs - three stereo RCA and one stereo XLR for balanced connectivity - plus an MM phono input for a turntable. Those wishing to stream wirelessly from smartphones, tablets and computers can take advantage of the 9000A's high-spec Bluetooth facility, which is Bluetooth 5 compliant for optimum range and speed. Decoding is included for high-definition Bluetooth formats aptX HD and LDAC, as well as aptX Low Latency, regular aptX, AAC and SBC.

While this wealth of connectivity is impressive, the 9000A does not include built-in network streaming. From a performance point of view, incorporating network streaming of sufficient quality to match the amp's sonic ambition within the same chassis would have meant compromising performance in other areas - the 9000A is, first and foremost, a high-performance integrated amplifier. Also, not everyone requires network streaming; by developing a separate, dedicated audio streamer for the 9000 Series - set to arrive in early 2023 - Audiolab is able to deliver optimal performance and system flexibility.

The 9000A's hi-res audio support is state-of-the-art, handling PCM to 32-bit/768kHz and DSD to 22.5MHz (DSD512). Every significant hi-res and lossless audio format is catered for, including FLAC, ALAC, AIFF and WAV, as well as compressed legacy formats. The 9000A also delivers full decoding of MQA, the hi-res streaming technology. This means that the complete 'three unfold' decoding process is performed internally, as opposed to just the final unfold in the manner of an MQA renderer, making the 9000A an excellent amplifier for subscribers to Tidal's 'HiFi Plus' tier where Tidal Masters (MQA) content can be found. The 9000A is officially 'Roon Tested' too, ensuring it works seamlessly in a Roon audio environment. Users can opt to upsample digital audio signals to 352.8kHz or 383kHz, and five DAC reconstruction filter settings allow the listener to adjust the sound to suit the source material - particularly useful given the variable quality of digital formats and streaming platforms. No matter how it is connected, via USB, S/PDIF or Bluetooth, every digital source benefits from the exceptional quality of this DAC.

The 9000A builds on the expertise Audiolab has built through four decades of Class AB amplifier research and design, pulling out the stops to take the company's time-tested circuit concepts to a new level. With a rated output of 100W per channel into eight ohms - double that of the 6000A - it delivers sufficient power to drive any loudspeakers with consummate ease and plenty in reserve. Some competitors may stretch their power ratings somewhat, but Audiolab rates its amps conservatively - you can be sure that the 9000A will never run short of 'grunt' and always remain firmly in control. The 9000A's power amplifier is a dual-mono design with entirely separate power supplies for the left and right channels, delivering excellent detail resolution and spacious, well-defined stereo imaging. A low noise 320VA toroidal transformer combines with 60,000uF reservoir capacitance and four output transistors per channel, specifically configured to improve linearity under difficult load conditions and capable of delivering a maximum output current drive of 15A per channel. This high current drive capability ensures the output stage remains under minimum stress, leaving the rest of the amplifier free to operate under optimal conditions. The result is an amp that delivers wide ranging, free breathing dynamics whilst retaining a vice-like grip on the music and revealing the subtlest details in any recording. The preamp section is kept as simple as possible to maintain signal purity, with line input signals passing to a precision, microprocessor-controlled analogue volume stage. Much effort has gone into the physical layout of the 9000A's circuitry, protecting the sensitive preamp section from noise interference. Independent low-noise power supplies for critical stages, highly effective RF rejection and meticulous power supply decoupling on the power amplifier modules contribute to a performance on par with much more expensive two-box pre/power amp systems.

Audiolab has developed a new, improved MM phono stage for the 9000A, ensuring vinyl is treated with the same care as digital sources. Thanks to a high-quality, low-noise circuit with precise RIAA equalisation, precision input filtering and an upgraded power supply, every drop of detail that's dug from a record's grooves is conveyed with engaging energy and crystal clarity. The phono stage handles moving magnet cartridges but is not switchable to suit low output moving coil types, for good reason. Phono stages in integrated amps that cater for both MM and MC cartridges are usually a compromise; a good MC cartridge will invariably benefit significantly from a high-quality offboard phono stage. Rather than cover both bases to a merely adequate degree, Audiolab decided to focus solely on making an excellent MM phono stage - for users of this cartridge type, this is all the phono stage they will need. Headphone listeners are equally well served by the 9000A's dedicated headphone amplifier. With its current-feedback design and high slew rate, a dynamic and detailed performance with all manner of headphones is assured - a far cry from the elementary headphone outputs of most integrated amps.

As is traditional with Audiolab's integrated amps, the 9000A offers three distinct operational modes, reflecting its discrete internal architecture and enabling it to adapt as its user's requirements evolve. The primary mode is 'Integrated' - this combines the pre and power amp stages, for the connection of digital and analogue sources to the amp's inputs and a pair of speakers to its binding posts. 'Pre-Power Mode' disconnects the pre and power amp stages. The allows the 9000A to be used solely as a power amp - for example, connected to an AV processor in a home cinema system. It also enables additional signal processing to be added, by connecting the 9000A's 'preamp out' socket to an external processor, then returning the processor's output to the amp's 'power amp in' socket. Finally, 'Pre Mode' disables the power amp stage, turning the 9000A into a standalone DAC/preamp. This enables external power amplification to be added, thus providing a possible upgrade path.

Audiolab's new 9000A integrated amplifier is the ideal 'hub' around which to build a high-performance audio system, however you choose to play your music - from digital streaming to vinyl records. For the many people for whom CD remains a crucial part of their musical diet, Audiolab's new 9000CDT is the 9000A's perfect CD-playing companion. The 9000CDT builds on the reputation of the highly respected 6000CDT, engineered to make the most of any still-treasured CD collection. It incorporates a new, high-end transport mechanism, featuring a high-precision optical system and low-friction loading tray. A read-ahead digital buffer reduces disc-reading failures, enabling the 9000CDT to play damaged discs that may be rejected by other CD players.

The 9000CDT's construction, with its sturdy aluminium base and chassis, combats the effect of vibrations generated both externally and by the mechanism's high-spin-velocity motor. By mounting the transport in its own, electromagnetically shielded enclosure, and including a dedicated power supply, the digital signal extraction from any CD is as accurate and precise as it is possible to achieve. The 9000CDT's master clock is controlled by a temperature-compensated crystal oscillator, enabling the digital output from its coaxial and optical sockets to exhibit vanishingly low levels of jitter (digital distortion). In addition, the coaxial output is fed from a differential line driver to ensure a flawless digital signal reaches the accompanying DAC. Naturally, the 9000A's state-of-the-art DAC section is a superb sonic match; the 9000CDT can also be partnered with any other high-quality DAC selected by its owner. As well as spinning CDs, the 9000CDT features a USB Type A input, enabling playback from USB storage devices. FAT12, FAT16 and FAT32 formatted devices are supported, and WAV, WMA, AAC and MP3 files can be played, with file navigation available via the front panel controls and remote handset.

The 9000CDT's aluminium casework shares the same crisp design and impeccable finish quality as the 9000A, with a matching 4.3in colour display and rotary function selector. The display shows track information from CDs and USB-connected storage devices, and also provides access to functions such auto-standby settings, language selection, 12V trigger activation for system control, and dimming of the display itself (or the option to switch it off entirely). The presence of this 4.3in screen not only matches the 9000A integrated amp and forthcoming 9000N network audio streamer aesthetically, but it also elevates the user experience above that of a typical CD player.

The 9000A is Audiolab's best-ever integrated amplifier - available from mid-November in a choice of silver or black, at an RRP of £1999. The Audiolab 9000CDT CD transport is available from mid-November in a choice of silver or black, at an RRP of £999. It joins the 9000A integrated amplifier as the first two components in Audiolab's flagship 9000 Series; the 9000N network audio streamer will follow in Q1 2023. Info and photos by Audiolab.

Audiolab 9000A & 9000CDT

Audiolab 9000A & 9000CDT

Audiolab 9000A & 9000CDT

Audiolab 9000A & 9000CDT

Audiolab 9000A & 9000CDT

Audiolab 9000A & 9000CDT

Audiolab 9000A & 9000CDT