We can just imagine the Audiolab team gathered together (back when gatherings were allowed), discussing the concept of the 6000A Play. After all, fusing together the company’s five-star midrange integrated amplifier and its What Hi-Fi? Award-winning budget streamer in one affordable, just-add-speakers streaming system seems to make perfect sense.

The old adage teaches us that two wrongs don’t make a right, but surely two rights make a right? Streaming amplifiers are indeed hot stuff in the marketplace today, with the likes of Marantz, Arcam, Bluesound and Quad all representatives around this price point. The competition is heating up, and Audiolab is bringing some heat of its own with the 6000A Play.

Features

Audiolab 6000A Play features

(Image credit: Audiolab)

The 6000A Play combines the 6000A’s amplifier circuitry with the 6000N Play’s streaming smarts, which is as good a starting point as any. The former delivers 50W of Class A/B power amplification into 8 ohms, while the latter is founded on the established DTS Play-Fi technology, a wireless, hi-res, multi-room platform that puts a whole world of music streaming at your fingertips.

The free Play-Fi app is a portal into music streaming services, including Spotify, Tidal, Amazon Music, Qobuz, Deezer, TuneIn radio and more – and also provides access to local files on your control device and networked files on NAS drives (up to 24-bit/192kHz). While wi-fi is an option, we would take advantage of the 6000A Play’s ethernet port for extra stability.

Favourite playlists and radio stations can be pinned as shortcut presets within the app, and multiple Play-Fi-supporting products (available from a range of brands) can be grouped together in various zones for multi-room playback and control.

Audiolab 6000A Play tech specs

(Image credit: Audiolab)

Ethernet Yes

Wi-fi Yes

MM phono input Yes

Inputs Coaxial x2, optical x2, line-level RCA x3

aptX Bluetooth Yes

DTS Play-Fi Yes

Finishes x2

Dimensions (hwd) 44.5 x 8 x 33cm

Weight 7.9kg

Thanks to Works With Alexa support, those who are now accustomed to shouting demands at their devices can use their voice to control the 6000A Play, providing it’s hooked up to an Amazon Alexa-equipped device.

Streaming may be taking the music (and hi-fi) industry by storm, but vinyl and other physical media aren’t going anywhere – as Audiolab knows. Traditionalists are well catered for through the 6000A Play’s MM phono input, while a further fine spread of three line-level, two optical and two coaxial inputs can collectively accommodate CD players, CD transports, TVs or practically any other analogue or digital source. Last but not least, aptX Bluetooth offers an easy offline way to stream from your phone or music player, too.

The digital inputs feed into the same family of ESS Sabre32 Reference DAC chips found in Audiolab’s celebrated M-DAC almost a decade ago. The company has been honing the implementation inside its digital products since, and here is no different. 

All sources, save for those hooked up to the legacy analogue sockets, are privy to Audiolab’s three user-selectable digital audio filters – ‘fast roll-off’, ‘slow roll-off’ (our favoured mode) and ‘minimum phase’ – offering some level of customisation based on your partnering equipment and preference.

Build

Audiolab 6000A Play build

(Image credit: Audiolab)

Two further pairs of line-level connections mean that the 6000A Play can operate solely as a power amplifier connected to an external preamp, or as a source and pre-amp feeding a separate power amplifier. This functionality is managed by one of the three control dials on the front. The other two knobs are for switching sources and adjusting volume.

While a small LED display might be acceptable on a stereo amplifier, it’s harder to justify on a streaming product, where you are more likely to want to see playback information. Alas, the 6000A Play displays input and volume over playback info, though at least that’s more than you get from the entirely screen-less 6000N Play dedicated music streamer. Audiolab might argue that all this information is displayed on your control device’s screen, via the DTS Play-Fi app or your music service, but we can imagine it being a bone of contention for some.

Sound

Audiolab 6000A Play sound

(Image credit: Audiolab)

The 6000A Play’s frontage isn’t the only similarity between it and the 6000A – the streaming amp also shares its sibling’s penchant for clarity, cleanliness and punch. It is startlingly smooth and articulate, while also being capable of spicing things up with a healthy dose of energetic drive.

Play Kanye West’s Blood On The Leaves and the Audiolab isn’t short of punch and attack, and it also has a copious and well-controlled low-end presence. It’s an arresting rendition, the assault of horns is authoritative, the raw synths are cutting, and both West’s auto-tuned rap and Nina Simone’s vocal samples are sharp and lucid. 

Similarly, as we play 65daysofstatic’s Unmake The Wild Light, the Audiolab’s performance is energising, as it rolls through melodic synths and charges through denser, more demanding sections.

It’s not the most spacious listen, but it organises each strand coherently. This all holds true through the digital connections too: the insight and character is well retained, evidence of the effort that Audiolab put into the digital stage paying off.

The 6000A Play is, in a word, fun. There’s certainly more than a suggestion of forwardness and its upbeat character brings benefits to tracks that demand it. At times, however, we’d readily swap some of that for more spaciousness and sincerity. Play Nick Cave’s beautiful Bright Horses and we find ourselves craving greater subtlety and dynamic attention from the heavy-handed piano and surging strings – the kind delivered by the class-leading Marantz PM7000N, for example.

The Audiolab communicates every element with the clarity and crispness you’d expect at this price and beyond, yet it struggles to truly get under each note’s sentiment, just missing the heart and soul of the piece. The Marantz is the pricier machine, but the extra spend is more than justified by its deeper insight and tighter rhythmic handling.

Verdict

On paper, the Audiolab 6000A Play shows plenty of promise and that mostly translates in practice. A well-featured streaming amplifier that is easy to use and entertaining to listen to, it offers a decent option for anyone looking for a simple just-add-speakers machine.

It may not quite reach the class-leading standard of the products in Audiolab’s 6000 Series with which it shares its DNA, but this is still an excellent idea well executed.

SCORES

  • Sound 4
  • Features 5
  • Build 4

MORE:

Best hi-fi systems 2020: micro, hi-fi, vinyl

Best music streamers 2020

Read our Audiolab 6000N Play review

Read our Audiolab 6000A review

Read our Marantz PM7000N review

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