While affordable DACs are ten-a-penny, there’s a relative scarcity of decent Compact Disc transports around. Given that – although new music sales are tumbling in this format – there are gazillions of CDs in circulation, you’d think that there would be a demand for new silver disc spinners. Enter the £379 6000CDT from Audiolab, built to partner the excellent 6000A integrated, which is the company’s starter amp. This silver disc spinner is slim, unobtrusive, slinky to use and sounds very good indeed. If you have a decent DAC of any brand, it’s well worth considering.
The 6000CDT is obviously built down to a price, but has been cost-cut very cleverly. Instead of the beautifully finished aluminium of the more expensive 8300CD, the cheaper range gets painted steel casework and a less expensive display. It’s still a standard size at 445 x 65.5 x 300mm, and weighs 5.4kg. Whether you choose the silver or black finish, it looks crisp, modern and purposeful. Better still, the slick slot-loading CD mechanism doesn’t sound like it is about to explode every time a disc is fed in or ejected. The display is crisp and informative, and the row of buttons control the transport functions. It’s all so simple and intuitive to use that the machine is a pleasure to operate.
The machine uses the same transport mechanism as Audiolab’s flagship 8300CD silver disc spinner, mounted inside its own electromagnetically shielded enclosure. It has a read-ahead digital buffer to reduce disc-reading failures, and the master clock is controlled by a temperature-compensated crystal oscillator, which makes for very low claimed jitter figures. The coaxial output is fed from a differential line driver for a high quality digital datastream. Round the back, it sports an optical TOSLINK and digital coaxial output, plus trigger sockets, an IEC power in and a main power switch. Audiolab says its power consumption is 15W in use, and less than 0.5W in standby mode.
There may still be some diehards who insist that “a bit is a bit” and therefore all CD transports sound the same, but this certainly has not been my experience. Jitter seems to affect the sound subtly, as does poor mechanical isolation and indeed the quality of the power supplies and digital outputs. The 6000CDT is not the best digital disc spinner that I have ever heard, but it is super for the money and turns in a really good performance. It loads discs smoothly, isn’t noisy while doing so, and then reads the CD’s Table of Contents speedily. This done, it offers swift track access – not quite up there with a nineteen eighties Sony for example, but way better than the wheezy, whiny DVD-ROM drives that you often see in many modern Compact Disc players.
I was most impressed by its focus. Scritti Politti’s Perfect Way is a classic slice of eighties pop and not the greatest hi-fi recording I have ever heard. Yet the Audiolab dug deep into what was on the disc – so to speak – to serve up a great big soundstage, with lots of detail inside. There was a sense of being able to hear all the various tracks in the mix play along simultaneously, especially via my high end reference dCS Debussy DAC. It seemed able to eke right down into the mix, and carry all the different strands forth without tripping over its own shadow.
Another impressive facet was its soundstaging. Change’s Lover’s Holiday – some lovely soul/funk from the late seventies – came over with impressive scale and space. Instruments were precisely located in the stereo mix, and there was a good deal of depth perspective too when I was using more high end DACs to partner it. The Audiolab seemed to have a lot of control, putting out an orderly recorded acoustic with everything in its correct place, separated out nicely from other strands of the mix. In absolute terms higher end transports do better, with a real ‘out of the box’ feeling, but this was still impressive.
Rhythmically and dynamically it’s a good performer too. With Rush’s Red Barchetta the 6000CDT delivered a lively and pacy sound, with lots going on within the broad three dimensional canvas. The driving bass guitar was particularly evident here, alongside the drummer’s memorable pan rolls and sweeps, all kept to perfectly metronomic timing. Indeed, this transport has a crisp, detailed sound with a controlled yet insightful character that proved great fun to listen to over the audition period. More expensive designs do better in the bass, with greater grip and power, but this is no slouch. At the other end of the frequency range, I enjoyed the crisp and delicate yet detailed hi-hat and ride cymbal work. The Audiolab 6000CDT is a CD transport bargain then – a true quality item at a price that often doesn’t buy you very much of anything.