Let’s be honest - the writing’s been on the wall for quite some time now. Audio enthusiasts still value performance and sound quality, of course, but they’re unwilling to put up with complexity or inconvenience in order to get it. And because Audiolab has never been dogmatic for the sake of it, it’s taken steps to address this shift in power where customers and manufacturers are concerned - this Omnia all-in-one is all the evidence you need.
As an example of squeezing a quart’s-worth of functionality into a pint’s-worth of casework, the Omnia takes some beating. 50 watts per channel of amplification, numerous physical and wireless digital connections leading to an overspecified ESS Sabre 32bit DAC, a moving-magnet phono-stage alongside a trio of line-level analogue inputs… there’s even a CD drive for those of us with legacy compact disc collections. Add a big, bold LCD display, networking ability powered by DTS Play-Fi and a 6.3mm headphone socket, and we’re tempted to ask what else you could reasonably expect. Apart from sound quality that does some justice to the ‘Audiolab’ logo, of course…
There’s a definite Audiolab ‘sound’, which anyone who’s heard any of the company’s very well-regarded products from any point in the 21st century will recognise. It calls for a wide and well-defined presentation, impressive timing and integration, a tasteful amount of low-frequency wallop and detail levels easily described as ‘ample’. And it’s safe to say the Omnia doesn’t stray far from this template at all.
And what’s equally impressive is the sheer consistency of tonality and overall sonic attitude across all of the Omnia’s many inputs. No matter if you’re listening to vinyl via the phono stage, to high-resolution digital audio via Ethernet or USB, or to a compact disc via the integrated drive, the results are, broadly speaking, the same. The Omnia establishes a broad, believable soundstage, keeps recordings on the front foot thanks to proper alacrity at the bottom end, and freights a vocalist with all the character their performance requires. Despite the modest power output, the Ombia has no difficulty dealing with the most considerable dynamic shifts, and its attention to detail is deeply impressive too.
It’s possible to nudge the Audiolab just slightly out of its comfort zone by playing music that’s either very compressed, cheaply recorded or both - it wants to be both in charge of a recording and to serve it up in a mature manner, which isn’t always compatible with self-consciously juvenile or ropey recordings. But in every other respect, it’s an endlessly listenable device.
The rear panel of the robust, nicely finished Omnia is necessarily crowded, and if you make use of each of its many input options you’ll be needing quite a number of interconnects. Other than that, though, the Omnia is fairly painless to live with.
Or, at least, it is if you choose to control it using the DTS Play-Fi control app as much as possible. This is a stable, clean and logical example of the type, and it makes full-function control, as well as the wider stuff like setting up a multi-room system, about as straightforward as these things ever get.
There are a few controls on the fascia, and they could conceivably be more responsive. And the full-function remote control, while reasonably logical, isn’t blessed with the most legible or high-contrast labelling you ever saw. At least the 4.3in LCD display on the fascia is easy to operate too - and the option to have it display analogue VU meters is a straightforward delight.
It can be done: you can have performance and convenience without absolutely minimal compromise. Pragmatists have known this for a while, of course - but the Audiolab Omnia will go a long way to convincing the more dogmatic too.
Bob Dylan Tangled Up in Blue
An open, spare and immediate recording like this one doesn’t give a system much hiding-place - not that the Omnia needs it. It extracts a very gratifying amount of detail from the acoustic guitar and the typically laboured vocal
Apart from the absence of a vocalist, this is an absolutely ideal recording to allow the Omnia to strut its stuff. Low, rapid and lavishly textured low frequencies are complemented by a politely attack top end, and the whole thing is delivered with unstoppable momentum
Saint Etienne Cant Sleep
The spades and silences are often as important as the sounds - and the Audiolab demonstrates an admirably low noise-floor during this tune, even as it allows the airy, close-mic’d vocal to take centre
If you’re one of those consumers who knows full well you can have your cake and eat it too, here’s the product for you. Full-on proper ‘hi-fi’ sound, an absolute stack of functionality… all a box the size of a single component from ‘back in the day’. And a touch more affordable than you might expect, too.