Amplifier Review

6000A Integrated Amplifier From Audiolab

Adopting a traditional and solid form factor on the outside, Paul Rigby realises that the magic is occurring under the lid

The thing about the 6000A, when the aesthetics are considered, is that it looks like an integrated amplifier. Don’t dismiss that point. It’s actually critical to target sales. I say again, the 6000A looks like a traditional integrated amplifier. It looks safe. It looks steady and solid. It doesn’t try anything fancy. You would never accuse the chassis of ever emerging from an Italian design studio. There’s no chic fashion sense with this one. If you saw this box in the 80s, it would look rather racy, that’s for sure, but it wouldn’t look too out of place.

6000A Integrated Amplifier From Audiolab

For some users, that is all they want. And that’s important. Weird and even slightly off-kilter designs can scare and make certain hi-fi fans feel uncomfortable. Even slightly conservative half-width amplifiers can be an issue for some. 

The 6000A – at least on the outside – is the Mother’s Pride processed white loaf of amplifier design. You can see it for what it is at 30 paces. Again, I’m not damning this amp with faint praise when I say that. That’s not a bad thing. It’s a firm design choice. 

Before I began the review of this box, I was comforted to know that the designer of the 6000A was also the same designer of the older 8300A. Jan Ertner took the basis of the latter to create the former which meant that hard won knowledge was now being refined and improved upon. There’s nothing worse than a single line of products that feature a host of designers who not only constantly reinvent the wheel but often make the same old mistakes over and over again (it’s happened many times in the past). Not here. So I already had a sense of confidence going into this one.

6000A Integrated Amplifier From Audiolab

This is an amplifier but it features other components too. The ES9018 Sabre32 Reference DAC is one of those, featuring 32bit HyperStream architecture and Time Domain Jitter Eliminator. Again, this chip is not a foreign component. You’ll find it in the company’s M-DAC. Continuity again.

Connected to the DAC are the 6000A’s four digital inputs – two coaxial and two optical – which handle 24bit/192kHz. Tagged to these are user-selectable digital filters: Fast Roll-Off, Slow Roll-Off and Minimum Phase. I’ll say now that I normally hate these sort of things. Anything that takes me away from a pure, default, flat signal is an experience as near to abhorrent as I’m likely to find. That said, I’ll give them all a test in due course. 

6000A Integrated Amplifier From Audiolab

Streaming is also possible via Bluetooth (plus the now usual aptX codec).

A Class AB amplifier, that can also be used as a pre-amp and as a power amplifier too, the integrated mode of the design pumps out 50W per channel into 8 Ohms, the output stage of the discrete power amp circuits uses a CFB (Complementary Feedback) topology plus a meaty 200VA toroidal transformer followed by four 15000uF reservoir capacity (60000uF in total). The idea is to reduce the strain upon the amplifier and to maintain a sort of backup of power, ready to use. 

6000A Integrated Amplifier From Audiolab

Audiolab has included a phono stage for moving magnet phono cartridges – a JFET-based circuit with RIAA equalisation. A dedicated headphone amp with current-feedback circuitry is also included. 

Spanning 445 x 65.5 x 300mm and weighing 7.8kg, the 6000A is available in a choice of silver or black.

SOUND QUALITY

I started with Mike Oldfield and his Platinum (Virgin) LP from 1979. I played Into the Wonderland, featuring vocals by Wendy Roberts. A sweet, beautifully melodic and slightly melancholic, low key ballad with a high-energy, rocking finish.

I suppose, if I were to describe the 6000A in one word, it would be confident. This amplifier is not shy, it doesn’t try to hide any aspect of its sound envelope. The 6000A will never die wondering. That is, the 6000A gives its all in the cause of making you happy. 

6000A Integrated Amplifier From Audiolab

The overall presentation from the Audiolab 6000A was balanced and balanced means you get to hear some bass. This is not always the case for mid-placed budget equipment. Bass is often sacrificed or at least trimmed to some extent. Even the best sub-£1,000 amplifiers out there love to trim bass. It’s a cost issue. That doesn’t happen with the 6000A. 

The 6000A allows bass into the soundstage. That means that both the percussion and bass guitar were not only able to ground the music and stop it flapping in the wind but also offer a solid, rhythmic pace to the whole arrangement. That is, there was a sense of order here. The music flowed with an added, deeper groove. The structure was both solid and funky.  

One of the persistent fears I have as a reviewer, from amplifiers designed at this price point, is frequency discipline. This is another reason that may sub-£1000 amplifiers are rather bass shy. Most of them can’t handle it. Too much of it, at any rate.

6000A Integrated Amplifier From Audiolab

That is, there is a danger of allowing too much bass into the soundstage because it may create a warming feeling, leaking into the midrange and creating a sepia-like effect. Again, that never occurred with the 6000A. Frequency discipline was paramount so bass stayed put and never bloomed into the mids.

In fact, let’s pause for a moment here to dwell and emphasise this one feature. If I was going to pin one all-important factor for the success of the 6000A it would be tonal balance. In fact, you could ally tonal balance as being the killer feature of the 6000A. The headline. Tonal balance is the underlying strength of the 6000A. I really haven’t heard anything like it under £1,000.

The upper midrange was delightfully detailed and accurate although fragility and delicacy were not great priorities, I have to say. I never saw reverb tails of filigree lattice flowing from cymbal taps but this is a £599 amplifier we’re talking about here, not a £5,999 design. So no, don’t expect that but do expect to hear everything that a £599 amplifier can provide: complex and chaotic lead guitar with enough precision to make sense, wind instruments that feature a character and lightness of touch and a layered soundstage that revealed even shy instruments lurking at the rear of the mix.

Before I moved from vinyl, note that the built-in phono amplifier is a good one. An external model is better but the internal model will be fine for those of a budget. Buy an external model when you can, though.

I then turned to Bluetooth which I paired to my iPhone 8. Pairing is automatic. That is, you select Bluetooth as a source on the amplifier and the 6000A pops up on your Bluetooth screen on your phone. Painless and easy pairing. I played Marvin Gaye’s Mercy Mercy Me as a lossy file. Often, playing such a file in this way results in a bright and edgy play response but not here. The 6000A was able to calm any possible issues. So while the midrange was lacking insight, bass was hardly focused and treble was almost a non-entity, none of that was the 6000A’s fault. In fact, the 6000A made the best of a bad job, providing a perfectly listenable track without any nasty sonic responses. What I liked about the 6000A’s take on Bluetooth was the creation of a wide soundstage and, because lots of space was now on offer, the instrumental separation that also followed. Allowing each instrument within the mix to be presented on its own, adding to the complexity of the presentation. 

Next up, I plugged in my Astell&Kern AK120 into the rear-mounted optical port and played Dire Straits’ So Far Away from their Brothers in Arms album. I liked the way the 6000A handled this 24bit/88.2kHz track because the track was mastered with excessive peak limiting creating a compressed sound. The low noise aspect of the 6000A, the balanced and controlling nature of the upper frequencies and the solid bass foundation allowed this track to be broadcast in a mature and stable fashion. To such an extent that the compressed element was no longer a real issue. 

Playing the restful piano tinklings of Erik Satie at the same resolution was a relaxing and enjoyable experience. The potentially chaotic resonance of the piano was handled well by the 6000A in terms of control while the nuanced nature of the keys and pedals from the Satie piano was transcribed with both ease and insight to give the performance a sense of delicacy alongside that sense of authority.  

I then took a quick listen at the range of DAC-related filters available within the unit. In the 6000A’s manual, the Phase filter is talked about as if the resultant sound resembled analogue but I had to disagree. The presentation emerged from cotton wool, sounding overly damped with a lack of precision and midrange insight.

The Slow filter reduced that effect dramatically while Fast was a default flat response. I hold my hands up here. I had to eat my words with these filters because my preference leaned towards the Slow filter which I actually found superior to Fast. The latter is supposed to be default and flat but I found Fast to be a touch edgy.

So, thumbs up to Audiolab. I never thought I would actually hear a usable filter on any piece of hi-fi equipment but, blow me down, Audiolab has created the very thing. 

One important thing. Critical if you’re sound testing the 6000A and the DAC is significant to you. Make sure you properly review the amplifier with each and every filter. Cycle through each in turn and give each one time. Punching in any one of these filters will change the inherent character of the 6000A’s DAC. For example, if you talked to me about the 6000A having only listened to the Fast filter and I replied to you having only listened to the Slow filter, we’d effectively be talking about two different amps.

Hence, don’t judge the 6000A until you’ve heard all three filters. Listen to your Uncle Paul on this one.

Finally, I plugged in my reference headphones to listen to Satie via the internal headphone amplifier. While there may have been a limit on midrange extension, within the confines of the head amp’s performance envelope, the sound was admirable indeed offering plenty of refined detail on offer plus light and shade to add interest. 

CONCLUSION

I listened to this amplifier for some time and realised that the basic presentation was supremely balanced in terms of how it delivered music to the ear. Some hi-fi components do one thing very well and if you’re looking at a budget component that can often be a fascinating experience because build budgets often preclude a generally good performance. The 6000A is one of those pieces of kit that does its best to do everything very well indeed. 

Of course, it can’t. Not really. Money won’t let it. That doesn’t stop to trying, though. 

In terms of ‘can’t’, what the 6000A doesn’t give you an extended dynamic reach. That high ceiling that higher-end amplifiers provide to allow the upper midrange to soar. 

Now, some amplifiers in this price range will give you that. But then they will fall over very badly in other areas because too much emphasis has been placed upon that soaring thing for the build budget limits. So, for example, you may come across an amplifier that offers great midrange extension but the bass will be lacking. In other words, you go too far in one direction? You pay for it in another.

The 6000A doesn’t do that either. It never actually falls down. It never leaves you feeling, “Wow, it does this and this amazingly well but I wish it didn’t do that…” You won’t give that response to a 6000A listening session.

In short, the 6000A provides the perfect balance of performance to a build budget. It’s the perfect compromise. Every part of the sound envelope has been looked at and enhanced to the point when the money ran out. Then Audiolab stopped at that point.

Hence the 6000A squeezes every last penny of performance from your £599. If the designers had been told that the price was £649, they would have improved everything a bit more. For £699? Everything would have been improved a bit more still. You see? The 6000A is even handed, offers great sound and is one of the best value amplifiers on the market. If you want to hear how your money has been spent, buy a 6000A.

Bottom line? The Audiolab 6000A is better than you think.


AUDIOLAB 6000A INTEGRATED AMPLIFIER

Price £599

Website: www.audiolab.co.uk


GOOD: confident bass, instrumental separation, upper midrange detail, balanced output

BAD: nothing

RATING: 9


[Don’t forget to check out my Facebook Group, The Audiophile Man: Hi-Fi & Music here: www.facebook.com/groups/theaudiophileman for exclusive postings, exclusive editorial and more!]

REFERENCE

Pro-Ject RPM3 Turntable

Trichord Dino phono amplifier

Rega Brio-R amplifier

Leema Elements CD player

Spendor A1 speakers

Tellurium Q & QED cabling

Blue Horizon Professional Rack System

Harmonic Resolution Systems Noise Reduction Components

All vinyl was cleaned using an Audio Desk’s Ultrasonic Pro Vinyl Cleaner 

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27 Comments

  • Reply
    Ronald
    2nd July 2019 at 11:33 am

    Can it be matched with my Monitor Audio Bronze 5 tower series? Currently using an Emotiva TA-100

    • Reply
      Paul Rigby
      2nd July 2019 at 12:55 pm

      Don’t see a problem there Ronald.

  • Reply
    ido
    2nd July 2019 at 11:48 am

    Paul – what a great review that differs from others I have read on the 6000a – we like not only a warm sound, but also warm words 🙂 If I may, I would like to ask your opinion: I consider buying the 6000a to connect with my Monitor Audio Silver 200, whose sepcs recommends amplifier output in the range of 60-150w. The audiolab output is 50w (with maximum current delivery of 9 Amps into difficult loads). Should I be worried that it may lack some power for my speakers? (I listen in a 14 x 20 ft room, sitting ~10 ft from speakers, and main source is Technics 1200GR)

    • Reply
      Paul Rigby
      2nd July 2019 at 1:01 pm

      Thanks ido and a good question. Hmmm. Firstly, if you can, seek a demo to find out. My gut reaction though is that the amp will perform fine BUT I’d still advise you to look at something more powerful to allow the amp to offer reserves of power. Sometimes, when an amp does a decent job but has to strain a bit to do it, you can hear that in the sound. There’s a lack of confidence. I would consider looking at a pre/power combo. What’s your budget?

      • Reply
        ido
        2nd July 2019 at 1:27 pm

        Thx Paul. Budget can be stretched as needed. I would like to consider the 6000a as a decent single piece that can connect between the Techincs 1200GR and the MA Silver 200 without being a serious bottleneck, while supporting also cd player and Bluetooth sources. However, if it is, I can spend as much as twice (but still prefer to manage with the less number of pieces as possible)

        • Reply
          Paul Rigby
          2nd July 2019 at 2:10 pm

          Hi ido – thinking of your wallet for the moment, do you have an amp that could be used as a pre-amp? Another reason I ask is, to get around 100W or so from £1,000 integrated is a bit of a challenge but its easier from a pre-power combo.

          • ido
            2nd July 2019 at 2:53 pm

            I do not have… I have the opportunity to demo the 6000a with s200, so I guess I should try that first. The thing is that previously I listened to these speakers with Marantz PM6005 (even a bit less powerful) and I usually got the volume dial to make just a third of the way (though as you say, I understand it is not just a matter of volume, but also confidence)

          • ido
            2nd July 2019 at 3:24 pm

            I do not have… I guess I should first demo the 6000a + s200 as you suggested

          • Paul Rigby
            2nd July 2019 at 4:04 pm

            Just to add, this power amp – low in cost, high in sound quality and small in footprint – might be of use to you: https://theaudiophileman.com/edge-a2-300-amplifier-review-xtz/

  • Reply
    Jacek Glebocki
    3rd July 2019 at 6:18 am

    Hello, thank you for great review. How would you compare 6000a to rega brio?

    • Reply
      Paul Rigby
      3rd July 2019 at 10:54 am

      Thanks Jacek – the Brio is excellent and, if you did plump for that, you wouldn’t be disappointed. That said, I feel that the 6000A offers a better balanced in terms of overall tonality.

  • Reply
    Kavin
    3rd July 2019 at 11:14 am

    Hello, in case the 50w of the 6000a are later found to be insufficient (when I move to a larger room and speakers), can I use it in preamp mode, and add a power amp (I see your recommendation for the edge-a2-300 for example) in order to gain more power? In that case I would still be able to utilize all the analog/digital/phone/bluetooth inputs of the 6000a?

    • Reply
      Paul Rigby
      3rd July 2019 at 11:28 am

      Hi Kavin – indeed yes you can do that. The Edge is a good option as a power amp too.

  • Reply
    Gustavo Anaya
    5th July 2019 at 11:31 pm

    Thanks Paul, great review as usual!!!!

    I bought the 6000A a week ago and I can’t be more happy with my decision. It is a great piece of equipment for the money I paid. I have matched the 6000A with the 6000N network streamer and speakers Monitor Audio Bronze 2 and it sounds amazing for me. Highly recommended if you are like me and do not have a lot of money for spending in hi-end equipment. 🙂

    • Reply
      Paul Rigby
      7th July 2019 at 10:02 am

      Thanks for your kind word Gustavo and for your thoughts on the amp.

  • Reply
    Michael Tartaglia-Kershaw
    8th July 2019 at 5:48 am

    HI Paul,

    I have just read your interesting review of the Audiolab 600A amp and I wanted to pick up on one comment you made, as extracted below:

    ”Before I began the review of this box, I was comforted to know that the designer of the 6000A was also the same designer of the older 8300A. Jan Ertner took the basis of the latter to create the former which meant that hard won knowledge was now being refined and improved upon.”

    I attach a 1995 review (pdf) of the Quad 77 amp (which I still have in daily use) which states that this was one of Jan Ertner’s first circuit deigns for Quad. So his ‘hard won knowledge’ has been at Quad for more than 20 years, and now of course is available at Audiolab. (PS I always read reviews before I buy. I read the Ivor Humphries 1995 review years before I bought the Quad 77 – and then bought it at a greatly reduced ‘clearance’ price some years later when Quad went through a bad patch and only survived thanks to IAG. Link to 1995 Quad 77 review here, courtesy of Meridian Audio – http://www.meridian-audio.info/public/77int%5B1729%5D.pdf)

    Over the years I have purchased several Audiolab items, Q-DAC, M-DAC+, 8300CD, all still in daily use in various systems around the house. I am 67 and I have also been a life long lover of Quad, from the 33/303/ESL63/77CD/77amp, to my current raves, the Vena 1 (used as a pre-amp with) the Artera power amp, and the truly wonderful (for their size) Quad S2 speakers.

    I have always thought Audiolab are good at ‘sources’ and Quad are good at ‘amps’. Now that they are in the same group with the same designer I can’t help but wonder how much Quad Vena there is in the Audiolab 6000A?

    I also wonder how much Quad 77 DNA is in the Vena? Because the Quad 77 became the Quad 99 and then the Quad Elite. Is it now the basis for the Vena and Vena 2, and even the Audiolab 6000A?

    • Reply
      Paul Rigby
      8th July 2019 at 10:05 am

      Thanks for the great detective work, Mike!

  • Reply
    Michael Tartaglia-Kershaw
    9th July 2019 at 6:16 am

    The link below is Jan Ertner discussing the design of the 8300A, and he says it is new from the ground up.

    http://www.audiolab.co.uk/about.php?id=28

    • Reply
      Paul Rigby
      9th July 2019 at 11:00 am

      Good stuff – thanks for the link, Mike.

  • Reply
    Vlad
    14th July 2019 at 12:15 am

    Hi Paul,

    I really enjoyed reading this review… and a lot of other reviews of yours. Thank you for those!
    For last 3 years I own Monitor Audio Silver 2 bookshelf speakers so I am planning an upgrade from my good 15 years old NAD C320BEE that is not getting maximum out of them for sure. 6000A is on the top of my list but I am also considering Creek Evolution 50A v2 (that also has the look of traditional integrated amp 🙂 and Cyrus One. Lets say that DAC is not important to me since I am happy with one in Bluesound Node 2i that I use as a source 95% of the time, so please tell me how they do compare sound quality wise? Is Creek step up or they stand close? Is Cyrus even in a same league with 6000A?
    Thank you!

    • Reply
      Paul Rigby
      14th July 2019 at 10:55 am

      Thanks for your kind comments, Vlad. Creek offers generally excellent products and has done for many years. The Cyrus One is also excellent – I have a review of it on my site here, have you seen that? I feel that the 6000A scores because of the way it offers tonal balance (bringing in bass as well as high frequencies) but without damaging detail and clarity.

      • Reply
        Vlad
        14th July 2019 at 11:54 pm

        Thanks Paul!
        Yes, I did read your Cyrus One review.. that’s why I took it in to consideration.
        Actually Naim Nait 5si and Rega Elex-R, or even Audiolab 8300A are on the top of my wish list but out of my budget at the moment.. so wanted to know your opinion about these 3 I mentioned.. actually Rega Brio was also on my list but you already gave your comment about how it is compared with 6000A..
        Thanks!

  • Reply
    Ulf
    15th July 2019 at 6:02 pm

    Hi Paul!
    Thanks for a great review, as always 🙂
    I’m currently listening through my Q Acoustics Concept 20, and I’m having a hard time deciding which amp to get.
    I’ve been running a Marantz SR5011, but since I’m only going for stereo from now on I’m getting a smaller amp.
    The trio on top is Audiolab 6000A, Rega Brio or Cambridge CXA60.

    Could you help shine a light on this?

    • Reply
      Paul Rigby
      16th July 2019 at 12:59 pm

      Thanks for your kind words, Ulf. Both the Cambridge and the Rega are excellent so if you ultimately decided to go with one of those then you won’t be disappointed. I would plump for the 6000A though because of its tonal balance and because it offers low frequency performance without skimping on midrange insight and detail.

      • Reply
        Ulf
        16th July 2019 at 8:29 pm

        Thank you so much for the reply.
        I’m going for the Audiolab then, it sounds like a winner to med.
        I’m assuming that it will work well with my Concept 20’s?

        • Reply
          Paul Rigby
          17th July 2019 at 10:39 am

          Hi Ulf – yep, you won’t have an issue there.

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