Integrated amplifiers come in all shapes and sizes; you can easily spend anywhere between $350-$10,000 and the vast majority that make sense for most people work best with both bookshelf loudspeakers, digital streamers and turntables. Products like the Audiolab 6000A are the future of consumer audio in the home and what makes them more attractive is a comprehensive feature set and affordability. Consumers want fewer boxes.
The changes in digital music streaming have made integrated amplifiers that offer DACs that can support lossless and hi-res streaming that much more important and while some audiophiles will balk at products that don’t support MQA or DSD, the reality is neither format moves the needle for 99% of music listeners and one could always add an external DAC if the two formats are that important to them.
Hi-res music represents less than 10% of the available music on any current platform like Qobuz or Tidal and with Apple Music and Spotify HiFi offering lossless or 24-bit/48kHz – it’s rather silly to focus on such a small amount of music.
Support for wireless streaming has also become a standard feature on many integrated amplifiers, including Bluetooth aptX and aptX HD. Both formats are lossy but sound quality has taken a huge jump recently when streaming from your smart device to an integrated amplifier. Many integrated amplifiers now include USB and Ethernet connectivity for external digital streamers or if you use your desktop computer or laptop as your digital source.
The 6000A falls one level below Audiolab’s 8300A integrated amplifier ($1,299.99) and while it may not offer as much power as its more expensive sibling (50 watts/channel into 8 ohms vs 75 watts/channel into 8 ohms), the 6000A offers a moving magnet phono stage, headphone amplifier, and more impressive ES9018 Sabre32 Reference chip in its internal DAC section. The 6000A’s digital section accommodates 4 digital sources (2 x Toslink, 2 RCA coaxial) making it compatible with Audiolab’s 6000CDT CD transport, and other digital streamers and CD players.
Build quality is first-rate on the 6000A which is offered in matte black or bright silver finishes. The one-piece metal construction is very robust (the 6000A weighs 17.2 pounds) and there is no question that the unit is designed to last.
The front controls; which are also machined out of aluminum complete the rather minimalist look of the 6000A but also serve a multitude of purposes. The 6000A operates as an integrated amplifier out-of-the-box, but the Mode function allows you to use it as a dedicated pre-amplifier or power amplifier giving the user some long-term upgrade options.
The 6000A also allows you to adjust the channel balance, activate an Auto Turn-off timer so that the unit shuts itself down after not receiving a signal for 20 minutes, and the ability to play with 3 digital filters (Fast Roll-off, Slow Roll-off, and Minimum Phase) which do impact the sound.
The 6000A did not get overly warm during many hours of continuous playback and its robust build quality inspires confidence.
Looking though my listening notes, what stood out with almost every single recording was the 6000A’s remarkable transparency. The 6000A’s sense of drive, and detail retrieval is not what one normally expects at this price point and that it achieves such a high level of playback quality without ever sounding too strident or forward is a huge positive.
Horns, in particular, have a healthy degree of bite and tone making them a vibrant listen with great jazz recordings like Hank Mobley’s Workout (Tidal/MQA) and Donald’s Byrd A New Perspective (Tidal/16-bit/44.1 kHz). Byrd’s signature track “Cristo Redentor” can be a ruthlessly revealing track that exposes bright sounding amplifiers and loudspeakers – the 6000A would sail through this track better than a lot of amplifiers but it did confirm that the Audiolab sounds a lot better with warmer sounding loudspeakers.
The 6000A will never be confused with any tube amplifier and that isn’t a bad thing if you’re looking for a powerful and neutral sounding integrated amplifier that will be partnered with something like a pair of Wharfedale EVO4.2, PSB Alpha P5s, Harbeth P3ESR, or Q Acoustics 3050i loudspeakers.
Bass response is very tight and well defined; the 6000A is only held back by the loudspeaker in this scenario and proved capable of driving a wide range of loudspeakers and reproducing the bottom octaves with ease.
The 6000A does sacrifice midrange warmth and color for its remarkable clarity and detail; vocals will sound thin with the wrong pair of loudspeakers. As I switched back and forth between Wharfedale, Klipsch, PSB, Quad, and Q Acoustics bookshelf loudspeakers, it became obvious that long-term enjoyment with this amplifier requires warmer sounding sources and loudspeakers unless you are obsessed with having an overly neutral sounding tonal balance that will expose every poorly recorded album in your collection. I need a little more color with my music.
The phono stage on the 6000A proved to be a real surprise; it had more than enough gain to work with my Dynavector 10×5 high-output moving coil cartridge, but the real magic came from both a Grado Sonata2 and Nagaoka MP-200. The 6000A doesn’t change its tonal balance when switching from digital to analog, which worked just fine with the warmer sounding phono cartridges from Brooklyn and Japan.
There was nothing entry-level sounding about the headphone amplifier which had more than enough gain for my HiFIMan Sundara planar magnetic headphones which came alive with the 6000A. The Sundara are not the hardest load in the world, but they sounded more open and transparent with the 6000A than with other headphone sections I’ve tried recently.
There has never been a better time to look for an integrated amplifier; the competition below $2,000 is filled with a lot of great sounding products from NAD, Cambridge Audio, Rega, Marantz, Schiit Audio, Heed, Pro-Ject, and Audiolab. Figuring out which one to buy depends on your long-term needs and the type of loudspeaker you prefer. For its asking price, the Audiolab 6000A is a remarkable component that delivers excellent sound quality, build quality, functionality, and the composure to comfortably drive large floor-standing loudspeakers with any genre of music you might throw at it.
For more information: Audiolab 6000A Integrated Amplifier