Audiolab 6000N Revisited

lokyc

Well-known Member
Hi all

I know its been out for a few years now. And most user comments have been one filled with anguish! I thought I might share my recent experience.

So I had been satisfied with using a Mac Mini feeding via USB to my Chord Hugo TT2 DAC, using Bubble Server as my control system. It works quite well, but like any computers running multiple things, sometimes there are problems. Things got better after I changed to an SSD, but I was reading about noise etc. So started looking at music streamers for a change.

Part of the criteria is Amazon Music HD support as I am thinking of switching from Qobuz (for extended family to use Echo). It boiled down to the Audiolab 6000N and the Denon DNP800NE HEOS. While the HEOS seem work better, the optical output maxes out at 24/48. So with all the grief from online discussions, I decided to trial the Audiolab.

Opinions are divided. Professional reviewers sing their praises. End user feedback is full of gnashing teeth. It really boils down to hardware vs software.

So let’s look at the hardware and why I think it is a little special. FIrst you get a sleek consumer grade minimalist casing Oozing quality. Clean lines. No frills. Optical output to a full 24/192 which will work for hires streaming. Many competitors may do so for coaxial but not optical. A top line ESS Sabre DAC, which is slightly irrelevant to me as I use an outboard DAC. On the inside is a toroidal transformer linear power supply, a feature which cost more than £100 itself from the likes of Uptone. Timing and low noise is key to digital transports using SPDIF, and linear power supplies seem to be the must-have. Other digital transports like the Project Streambox Ultra 2 cost a bit more for these features. For £450, the hardware seems to be good value.

Now we come to the DTS Playfi. It’s.... a fixer-upper. But to cut the long story short, I got it work. No dropouts. Read on for the long story.

Play-Fi seem to be like an Airplay wannabe. For whatever reason though, its used by top hifi brands like Anthem and previously Arcam too. Like Airplay, you stream from the controlling device instead of from the streamer itself. There is a transfer to streamer function, which is 1. A bit laggy; 2. transcode everything to 16/44!

Unlike the Linn/LUMIN OpenHome architecture, the streaming device is the master device. Other controllers can see what is going on but can’t do much beyond changing tracks in the playlist. And the whole adding zone business does my head in.

Despite so, everything kind of works. I connect the 6000N via Ethernet only and have been streaming with both my iPad and Samsung S20 with no issues.

I had problems with 24/192 initially, I thought was my cheap Amazon cable issue so got a QED Performance Graphite Toslink today. Initially it still seem to be problematic until I swap the optical input on my TT2 and now works like a charm in every resolution.

And yes, both the streamer and cable are WHFaward winners and they do deserve their accolades. The music now has the same weight and volume as when I was using USB. Transients are broght into focus. Imaging is precise. The sound stage is 3-dimensional, boasting both width and depth. And of course the benefits of the smooth Toslink sound.

The music services interface on Play-if is pretty clunky and does not show any track info. So its a matter of compiling favourites from the native app then play with Play-fi. One thing it is quite good at is browsing DLNA content which is faster and smoother than the OpenHome apps I have been using till now.

But to give Play-Fi its due credit, it is improving all the time and trying to integrate with DLNA. I appreciate it probably has wireless surround sound from TVs as its stronger remit. However to me, there are 2 key functions which will salvage its reputation amongst audio lovers.

First is the transfer function. It has to be smoother and support native content resolution instead of downsampling to 16/44.

Next is to complete the DMR function. The 6000N can be seen on the network as a Digital Media Renderear so any DLNA player can stream content into it. More importantly, Bubble Server can use it as a renderer so I can still use OpenHome control apps like the Linn Kazoo, LUMIN DS or Bubble DS. Which means I can free up my mobile device to be purely control points and content streamed from the Bubble Server. There are a couple of caveats. First you have to release the 6000N from Play-fi’s control by closing down an active zone. Maybe even restart the whole thing. Second, the DMR function is in beta now and only support up to 24/48 resolution.

And of course there is the much discussed Gapless playback function which at the moment does not bother me too much. The transitions are relatively smooth, like CDs in the old days. For me the DMR function would go a long way into making the Play-if architecture highly livable.

The good news is these 2 functions are likely to be available in Ver 7.0 which is the next major release.

I got the 6000N initially as a trial. I think I will keep it.
 

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