2023 has already been a busy year for Audiolab. The company has decided to replace its long running 8300 range of components (so numbered because they followed in the path of the 8000 Series which put Audiolab on the map in the first place) with two new ranges that launched almost at the same time earlier this year. The 9000 models sit above the outgoing units, taking the company into new price points while the 7000 range is priced a little lower than the outgoing models to give more clear air between the 7000 and 9000 Series.
This clear air has been achieved without doing much to pare back the specification of the 7000A, which is very comprehensive indeed. The headline numbers are solid if not especially remarkable. The 7000A is able to deliver 70 watts from its class AB amplifier and Audiolab has worked to beef up the ability to drive demanding speakers at the same time. You can certainly buy more powerful amps at this sort of price though but most domestic situations won’t need that sort of power.
What you will find harder to do though is find one that matches the connectivity of the Audiolab. Things start traditionally enough with a moving magnet phono stage and three RCA analogue inputs supported by a power amp in to allow the 7000A to play nice with an AV system and a pre out. This is joined by a digital board that has two optical, two coaxial, one USB-B and an HDMI ARC connection with Bluetooth available too. This digital board is not markedly different to the one in the 9000A; and actually has the HDMI connection over and above the bigger amp (which gets an XLR balanced input instead).
The 7000CDT by contrast, can read CDs and USB sticks and output the data over optical or coaxial to the 7000A or indeed anything else with a digital input and that’s your lot. In specification terms, the ability to read USB sticks, is the only additional feature over the more affordable 6000CDT but the 7000 features a tray mechanism which feels more pleasant to use over the, push in the CD and hope for the best, 'inhaler' type device in the less expensive unit.
In recent years, Audiolab products have struck a balance in their performance that makes them formidable all rounders. The 7000s do nothing to upset this balance and in fact they hone and refine the process even further. The digital decoding in the 7000A is undertaken by an ESS DAC chip from which Audiolab has been adept at securing superb results. The 7000A is able to consistently produce a sound that is detailed and punchy but that rarely tips over into sounding bright or hard edged.
This isn’t the hardest hitting set of components you can buy there’s a flow and musicality that’s hard not to be very taken by. The 7000CDT is also a reminder that, while it’s positively old hat in a technical sense, CD can produce sublime results when you treat it well. The combination it forms with the matching amp is one that’ll have you pushing back any ideas of ripping your collection. Something that has worked especially is the on board upsampling function of the 7000A which can dig out more detail and space from recordings. The USB input on the amp also offers sensational performance. With sample rate handling to 24/768kHz and DSD512, there’s precious few files the 7000A won’t handle and that same beautifully judged combination of attack and refinement remains.
Move away from optical disc and streaming and thing are no less impressive. The HDMI ARC connection handles a variety of TV content in a wholly convincing way, making sure that dialogue is clear and easy to follow and helping to lock your attention on the screen. The phono stage is also very effective. Noise levels are low and this helps detail on records that can be missed to come to the forefront while making good on the same energy and drive that the digital board has. This is perhaps the one area where the Audiolab might be found to be a little low on gain for some would be owners but, if you choose your speakers with any care, this won’t be an issue.
For the most part, the 7000 Series is simple to use but not everything about the Audiolabs is perfect though. The remote handset supplied with each unit can control both devices but must be switched between amp and transport mode each time which is annoying. The display on the transport matches the amp but doesn’t actually have that much info to show so you often wind up turning it off. The HDMI ARC connection also sometimes didn’t lock with the TV and won’t turn the amp on or off with the screen (it will adjust volume from the TV remote though). None of these issues are deal breakers; most rivals have variations on the same theme themselves, but given how talented they are to listen to, it is a slight annoyance that the user experience isn’t as perfect.
Unlike the 9000A models which are bigger than before, the 7000s keep the distinctive slimline Audiolab casework with the trademark right hand power buttons. Combined with the central displays, the result is two very handsome devices that look excellent as a pair. Build is superb and the cosmetic finish is the equal of anything you can buy for the same price. Whisper it, but these are the best looking Audiolab components you can currently buy.
The 7000 Series thunders into its price point looking like astonishing value for money. Behind the handsome looks is a duo that offer exceptional functionality that can handle pretty much any real world setup without breaking sweat and that goes on to sound sublime with all of it.
Charlotte Gainsbourg Rest
The ability of the Audiolabs to deliver Gainsbourg’s delicate vocals distinct from the rumbling electronica and expansive soundscapes is an elegant demonstration of their ability to balance refinement and attack.
Shakespeare’s Sister Hormonally Yours
One of the first CDs I ever bought is a glossy nineties production that the Audiolab prises open to reveal the outstanding songwriting and superb contrasting vocal style that Siobahn Fahey and Marcella Detroit use to great effect
Tunng Tunng Presents… Dead Club
The Audiolab is utterly unperturbed by this peculiar but enchanting album about, well… dying. It finds the beauty, sadness and weirdness in this suite of songs, drawing you in to the wonderful musicianship on show.
If you have the modern spread of TV, turntable and streaming source, the 7000A is right at the top of its price point in handling everything brilliantly. If you’re a CD user, the 7000CDT offers the ability to add a slick and well engineered CD spinner without doubling up on decoding.