Nineteen ninety four was pretty much the high watermark for Audiolab in its original incarnation. It seemed like the company could do no wrong. The 8000A integrated amplifier had been repeatedly refined, and was now a seriously good sounding device – able to mix it with the highly respected Naim Nait 3 and Mission Cyrus 2 in terms of sonics, if not quite better them. The build quality of Audiolab products was excellent, they were very well reviewed and there seemed to be a never ending stream of customers eager to buy them…
What Audiolab co-founder and Managing Director Philip Swift needed was to reproduce this happy state of affairs on a wider scale. And so it was no surprise that, along with a preamplifier (the 8000C) and matching monoblock power amplifiers (the 8000M), the company started work on a CD transport and DAC. The 8000CDM was the result, and sported the excellent Philips CDM9 Pro mechanism, fitted into the standard Audiolab 450x320x75mm box. The CDM9 was the last of the classic line of swing arm, single-beam Philips mechs, thought by many to offer better sound than the three-beam linear tracking designs which followed.
This weighed 6kg, thanks in no small part to a good quality, and unexpectedly large, toroidal transformer. A visco-elastic polymer suspension system was used to isolate the mech from the outside world, and a low noise master clock was fitted. The unit came with optical, coaxial (S/PDIF 75 ohm) and AES/EBU (110 ohm balanced) digital outputs, with a BNC to BNC coaxial interconnect supplied, along with BNC to phono and phono to BNC adapters supplied. The 8000CDM had the company’s usual high standards of build and finish, making it one of the best British CD transports in this respect.
I used one as a digital front end for years. In truth it wasn’t the very best sounding product of its type, but it was extremely good all the same, and just kept going on and on. It read discs faultlessly, was far less fussy about the discs it was asked to play, and gave continuous glitch-free service year in, year out. High end Japanese designs such as the Esoteric P30 – admittedly three or four times the £850 price of the Audiolab – had a slightly more powerful bass and a whisker more detail and depth – but for what the Audiolab was, at the price it was extremely hard to fault.
All of which makes it such a fine used buy today, for around £200. The CDM9 Pro laser is no longer made, although there are still a good number of new old stock items on sale for around £150, so if the laser fails the transport isn’t rendered obsolete. The rest is ultra reliable and should spin discs for a great many years to come; it’s likely to outlast CD itself! The Audiolab 8000CDM may not be the personification of audiophile cool, but it’s an excellent high quality workhorse, now on sale at giveaway prices.