Stereo Amplifier

Review: Audiolab 8000CD CD-player

Audiolab's two-box CD system, the 8000CDM transport and the 8000DAC converter, has been among the best-known and highly regarded CD players for some time, and has led to a widespread desire among those with more modest budgets to see that expertise applied to a single-box player. That wish has now been granted in the form of the 8000CD, Audiolab's first integrated player, designed to incorporate as much of the two-box system's technology as possible or appropriate.

Any CD player from Audiolab would attract attention, and part of the achievement that represents lies in the fact that the machine itself does not go out of its way to do so. Audiolab's styling is rooted in 1970s simplicity. It's not anonymous and neither is it unattractive, but it resists any temptation to stand out with a determination bordering on willfulness. The finish is excellent, the print neat if functional, and everything you need to know about the player is there, but the 8000CD is not the first object your eye would light upon on the shelves of equipment vying for your attention in a dealer's display. Unless of course you were looking for Audiolab and knew that this is what constitutes Audiolab's house style.

The plain satin black front panel is slim and very square at the corners, and carries a fairly conventional inventory: transport drawer at the left, display in the middle and small control panel at the right. The biggest control is the Power switch, which sits beside a group of six transport control buttons. These provide the basic functions of Start, Stop, Pause, Track Skip and Drawer open/close, but more functions are hidden beneath them as we shall see.

The display - a custom component - is comprehensive and shows transport status, track numbers and timing information, all in a commendably simple and readable form in line with the overall image. Its tinted front and black background allow it to blend into the machine's line particularly well, and the drawer front and remote control receiver window are almost invisibly integrated with the rest of the panel. The sum of all these parts is an appearance which takes modesty and unobtrusiveness to unusual lengths. Even mechanical noise is unusually restrained, despite the fact that track access is remarkably quick.

Equally straightforward the back panel carries two parallel pairs of analogue outputs on good gold-plated phono connectors and a digital output on a BNC, also gold-plated. Mains connection is via a two-pin IEC socket.

In side lie the principal differences between this machine and the two-box original. The digital-to-analogue conversion can afford to be much simpler, since the only source is the CD itself; an outboard converter needs to be more versatile in order to synchronize with a variety of input signals and sampling rates. At the same time, great emphasis has been placed on careful design: the filter and DAC are a Crystal Semiconductor 20-bit chip which is locked to a very pure and very stable master reference c lock. The impression is not that the spec has been scaled to bring the price down, but rather that any features rendered redundant by this integration have been left out, allowing all the effort and expense to go into optimizing what is left. It would be surprising if Audiolab had compromised its standards in any way, and that certainly does not appear to have happened.

There is a remote control handset, the 8000RC, which as usual adds considerably to the features available via the fascia buttons. Direct track access, programming and time display functions are provided together with buttons for controlling an Audiolab amplifier, for which source selection and volume adjustment are available.

The 8000CD deviates from the norm, however, in that some of the handset's functions can be implemented on the player itself. This is particularly surprising on such a simply equipped player, giving it a flexibility often not found on apparently more complex units. Holding down the Stop button for a couple of seconds puts the logic into programming mode, where tracks can be selected using the Skip buttons and placed in the programmed sequence with the Play button. Where most machines clear the programmed memories when Stop is pressed, the 8000CD retains them until the drawer is opened or the power switched off; in the meantime it is possible to return to normal mode by holding the Stop button down for another two seconds, getting back to the programmed tracks in the same way if required. Whether the programming has been carried out using this method or from the hand set, the remote's Table of Contents button brings up a display of the number of tracks and total running time of the programmed selection. The memory is unusually large, accommodating 60 items and allowing for the repeating of individual tracks.


Yet all of this is in a way incidental. Audiolab didn't set out to play the facilities card with the 8000CD. Audiolab sells on sound quality based on painstaking design and good engineering, and here too the apparent anonymity is deceptive. There is real immediacy here; percussive sounds can be felt as well as heard, and no detail is missing. At the same time everything integrates smoothly, so that the sharp focus doesn't come across as excessively revealing. There is an honesty in the sound, a reluctance to flatter and gloss, but it is coupled with a sympathy and musicality which stop it being clinical and pointing up deficiencies disproportionately. It seems to encourage pleasurable listening without itself imposing any character which artificially adds to that pleasure. The sense of depth and space is very impressive, with the focus extending to the stereo placement as well as the individual sounds.

In short, the 8000CD delivers musical as well as sonic detail (not as easy a combination as one might think), offering a very enjoyable result which seems to draw one into the music and bring it a step closer - surely the aim of all good hi-fi. I liked the 8000CD very much, and the fact that it is not as uncompromisingly stark as it would at first appear makes it particularly attractive. There is little doubt that Audiolab has succeeded in bringing the qualities of it s established 8000CDM/8000DAC two-box system into this integrated player, and we can expect it to acquire a similar status in a very short time.