Audiolab Omnia All in One System Review
- Sounds very good indeed across the digital and analogue inputs
- Excellent specification
- Very well made
- Software interface is a little slow
- Play-Fi still not gapless and also slow
- No HDMI ARC
Introduction - What Is the Audiolab Omnia?
The Audiolab Omnia is a 'just add speakers' style all-in-one of the sort that has come to dominate the two channel sector at most price points under five grand. We can get dewy eyed and nostalgic about the idea of painstakingly crafting a stack of components, each of which has been selected because it outperforms all the other options at the price but back on Earth, that’s not really how most people view the business of obtaining great sound in their home. One box that does the things they need is going to appeal a great deal.
And, let’s be clear from the outset, the Omnia very likely does the things you need. Its name is Latin for ‘everything’ which is a fairly neat clue to the approach that Audiolab has taken with its first ever all in one. The specification might in fact be the most complete of any all in one I can remember testing because there’s not really any commonly encountered mode of use I can envisage in which it cannot be used.
The catch with building a product that everybody wants though is that all your rivals build one too. This is a crowded market, taking in everything from amps with a spot of streaming on board all the way through to a small number of alternatives that offer almost the same spec as the Omnia (and that are, slightly awkwardly, sometimes made by your work colleagues down the hallway). Does the Omnia have what it takes to stand out?
Specification and Design
If you are going to insinuate that your product does everything, you had better make damn sure that it does just that and Audiolab has gone to town on the Omnia. The basics are that it combines network audio (more of which in a bit) with digital inputs, CD, Bluetooth, analogue inputs and it matches those with a surprising number of corresponding outputs and puts them all in a rather smart metal box.
This means you get five digital inputs; two coax, two optical and one USB (the latter possessing the highest format handling of any part of the Omnia, with the ability to handle 768kHz PCM and DSD 512 along with MQA support. There are then matching optical and coaxial outputs; a niche thing to find in 2022 but potentially handy if you’ve been searching for such a fitment. Neither is this the extent of digital support. The CD mechanism, Bluetooth and streaming module all tie in to the same digital board. This is built around an ES9038Q2M 32-bit DAC which Audiolab has vast experience with and customarily gets good results from.
This is partnered with an analogue section that is barely less comprehensive. Three RCA inputs are fitted, supported by a moving magnet phono stage that uses a JFET circuit that has been taken from the 6000A Play and is supposed to be a further evolved version of the same JFET circuit that has been doing sterling service in a number of IAG products. There are then both preamp outs and power amp inputs (and in the case of the former, Audiolab does make power amps that would work rather well in bolstering the Omnia should you wish).
The amplifier itself is perfectly respectable too. It’s a class A/B unit and offers 50 watts into 8 ohms and 75 into four. Again, this is not expressly stated in the web documentation but the figures quoted show a very close relationship to the 6000A and this is no bad thing as that’s still one of the best integrated amplifiers you can buy at the price. The output is made available to a pair of speaker terminals and there is a separate headphone amplifier made available to a 6.35mm headphone socket. In a world of class D amps the size of a pack of cards that produce enough power to recreate Woodstock, nothing about the Omnia’s numbers are spectacular but they are well and truly sufficient for most domestic needs.
The streaming section of the Omnia is in keeping with the rest of IAG’s streaming offerings and is built around DTS Play-Fi. The benefits of the system remain much the same as I have listed in previous reviews. It’s a cross manufacturer platform that can tie many different devices together into a single household and it does so in a fairly stable and cohesive way. It also supports a selection of streaming services natively, all tied into the same app. Unfortunately, after making some steps forward in earlier IAG products, Play-Fi seems to have stayed much the same since. It still has no gapless playback (long promised but as yet undelivered) and although the Critical Listening mode is effective at ensuring the native sample rate is played, it never feels as slick as BluOS. What rankles with this is that, as Play-Fi is proprietary, you cannot open a third party app, accept an ad here and there and bypass it either.
Neither are these the only issues. Access times for both streamed and library content are a little slow compared to other streaming devices running alongside on wired connections. This feeds into the wider experience that using the Audiolab is not something that feels very brisk. It combines plenty of inputs with no direct access, meaning that you need to cycle through them to reach the one you need if it's not one of the three (CD, USB and Bluetooth) that have been given a direct input on the remote. This is something you get quicker at as you learn the order of the inputs but it's still never going to be as quick as direct access. There’s no physical volume knob either which makes volume adjustment more sluggish too (although adjustment in the Play-Fi app is fine). In the time I’ve been using it, the Omnia hasn't always felt as cohesive as some other all in ones.
In physical terms though the Omnia itself is beautifully built. The design, build and finish are all absolutely outstanding for the asking price. I’m not sure I love the overall aesthetic (the traditionalist in me almost wishes it looked more like the 6000 and 8300 Series) but I admire the way it ties Audiolab styling touches like the right hand power button into something that is not slavishly retro. When I compare it the NAD C700 and Roksan Attessa, it gives away absolutely nothing in terms of feel, solidarity and design. The catch for the Audiolab is that both those units fire up and make use of an interface that is better than the one that the Omnia has as its disposal.
If you are going to insinuate that your product does everything, you had better make damn sure that it does just that and Audiolab has gone to town on the Omnia
How Was the Omnia Tested?
The Omnia was connected to an IsoTek Evo 3 Aquarius mains conditioner and used over wired internet. It has been accessed over Play-Fi, usually running on a 2021 Apple iPad Pro but has also been used via USB connected to a Roon Nucleus. A Rega Planar 10 fitted with a Vertere Sabre moving magnet cartridge has been used to test the phono stage and an LG 55B7 OLED TV was connected via optical to test that. Speakers used have been the Spendor A1 and Focal Kanta No1, with headphone testing via the Focal Clear MG. Material used has been FLAC, AIFF, DSD, Tidal, Qobuz, CD and some vinyl.
More: Audio Formats
One of the challenges that makes itself felt when you build something as universal as the Omnia is that you cannot drop the ball in any of the different areas it works in. This isn't a minor detail either. The Omnia has to sound good over digital and analogue but it also has to go on to make a decent stab of working with your turntable as well. Audiolab deserves fulsome praise here because the Omnia sounds absolutely brilliant everywhere (yes, via Play-Fi too).
In some ways, this should not be a surprise. The various strings of Audiolab technical development that have contributed to the Omnia are all individually superb. The combination of digital decoding and amplification on display here is exceptionally cohesive. You can listen to the Omnia pretty much any way you fancy and it delivers the same fundamentally impressive performance regardless. The most notable aspect of this is the extremely ‘light touch’ by which the Omnia delivers any sense of decoding. With some ESS implementations, the effect is detailed and unfailingly accurate but there is an ‘etched’ element to how it sounds that can be slightly wearing. This is absolutely absent here. Neither is this solely the preserve of Hi-Res being streamed via Play-Fi or pumped in over the digital inputs. A well mastered CD played via the internal drive is a glorious reminder of how good this format can be, helped by the mechanism itself being absolutely silent in use.
Likewise, the balance that Audiolab has achieved with its amplifiers is deeply impressive too. The original and much vaunted 8000A integrated (an amp I bought a used example of with a degree of starstruck awe) was actually a fairly dry and uninvolving listen (although in a world of lively speaker designs of the period, that was often exactly what you needed). The Omnia is still a neutral sounding amplifier that avoids unwanted emphasis at any point in the overall frequency response but it balances this against a warmth and engagement that its predecessors never managed. I also need to stress that fifty watts is quite sufficient too. There’s been no point, when driving either the Spendors or the Kanta’s, that anything approaching half power has been required. Unless you’re eying up something truly unusual (and likely rather more expensive than the Omnia is), it is unlikely to struggle.
What this adds up to is a device that powers its way through As I Try Not to Fall Apart by The White Lies with a confidence, accuracy and swagger needed to pull it off. Like all albums from the band, this is not a recording for the ages but it is dynamic and good enough that the Omnia finds the enjoyment without highlighting everything that is amiss. It’s not the most spacious performance around; the sound tends to sit between the speakers rather than extending out beyond them, but there’s a shape and an order to what the Audiolab does that I’ve found very hard to wrongfoot.
Special mention has to go to that phono stage too. Some of the surprise and delight of it has been lost for me because I’ve encountered it (or relatives of it) on other products but the manner in which it helps the Planar 10 to deliver Goldfrapp’s Supernature isn’t ‘good for an all in one’, it’s simply ‘good.’ It’s the one area of the Omnia where something approaching a specific character can be identified. There’s fractionally more midrange emphasis and a little more warmth to it but neither are a distraction and the result is so consistently listenable, I doubt many people will object.
The Omnia is still a neutral sounding amplifier that avoids unwanted emphasis at any point in the overall frequency response but it balances this against a warmth and engagement that its predecessors never managed
Audiolab Omnia All in One System Review
The Omnia is a slightly tricky product to summarise. On the one hand, we have a product with connections for days, peerless build and a sonic performance that is truly outstanding. Using the Omnia with the Rega or via the USB input (using Roon instead of Play-Fi), it has delighted me. Mechanically and in all sonic regards it is utterly untroubled by the rivals under two thousand pounds.
It's hard to shake the feeling that rivals have been let off the hook a little though because the Omnia could be even more commanding if Play-Fi made good on some of the promised updates to its platform. For streaming alone, I cannot recommend the Omnia over the NAD C700 or HiFi Rose RS-201E but the Audiolab has functionality they cannot get anywhere near; indeed functionality that leaves everything else under two grand looking rather limited. What's more, none of that functionality is anything less than superb to listen to. It's this formidable strength in depth that earns the Omnia a Recommended badge.
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