Audiolab 6000a, 7000a and 9000a Comparison REVIEW
This is a review summary written by Terry Ellis July 2023
For the full review please see my YouTube video linked here .
If you are trying to decide which Audiolab amplifier is right for you between the 6000a, and the new 7000a and 9000a, this comparison should hopefully help you, because Audiolab are asking for quite a bit more money for the 7 and 9000a. Maybe you are unsure if they are really worth the extra over the legendary 6000a. I have been testing and comparing all three and there is a huge amount to cover.
Pricing and Differences
If you are buying purely based on price then, of course, the decision of what amplifier to buy is made easy for you given the substantial price differences. The 6000a costs £649, the 7000a, £1,099 and the 9000a, £1,999, and so we are looking at almost the “rule of doubles” here between each model, which makes sense to me. That does mean we should expect quite significant improvements between them. Is that what we get?
At first glance it is very difficult to tell the 6000a and 7000a amplifiers apart, especially as they look almost identical from the front and very similar from the rear too.
However, power them on and you can see the much nicer screen of the 7000a, which I like, Its very nice to use for accessing the more comprehensive menu managing a richer feature set than the 6000a offers. There is also more visual coolness from the screen in the form of different VU meters and other things. I do really like this, who doesn’t like having VU meters on their amp, but the screen wasn’t big enough for me to see them sat back at my listening position of twelve or so feet away and, in a way, the larger characters of the 6000a screen was a little easier to see but I think most will prefer the fancier screen of 7000a.
Interestingly, if you are familiar with the 6000a you will find a 7000a very easy to use as everything is the same in terms of what the controls do when you rotate them or push them in. The remote controls are also the same, but there are two important features that I think could make someone choose the 7 over the 6 and we see these on the rear. First, is the USB input which is not an option on the 6000a, and that means connections to computers or computer based music servers are more straightforward with the 7000a and it means the internal DAC can support MQA and high resolutions music via this input. If either of those features are important to you this could make your decision easy.
The second, and very widely appreciated feature will be the HDMI digital input with ARC as this means you can connect your TV or a similar source to use the 7000a and your HiFi system for your TV sound too. A much better solution I’m pretty sure than 99.9% of sound bars and it means you don’t need both. The build quality of both amps is identical and very good with no complaints from me. The 7000a felt a tad heavier to me and with amplifiers heavier is normally a good sign.
The 9000a, I’ll call it just ‘9’ from here, has about the same build quality as the 6 and 7, which again is great, but it looks and feels that bit better still. Its design and layout are different, with the large and very attractive screen on the front left that shows us the same information as the smaller screen in the 7 in terms of the menu and all the different options, but being presented larger is much better for me. That also meant I could just about see the VU meters from my listening position. I am a big fan of the screen and I think its a nice addition, especially when you press in the selector knob a couple of times and it gives you a more focused choice of inputs, for some reason, I’m not sure why, I just liked that.
On the rear the 9 looks very similar to the 6 and 7, and it retains the USB input for connecting to a computer source for MQA and high-res music, but there is no HDMI, which is a shame but not unexpected as Audiolab told me the 9000a is meant purely at high-end HiFi integrated amplifier. Therefore this is something very important as a difference between the 7 and 9 and something you need to know and be mindful of.
There are two other important differences. One is the use of a better quality and more heavy-duty speaker cable connections or terminals. These are a bit larger and so the banana plugs on my speaker cables fitted more snugly into them and I just much prefer them to what’s used in the 6 and 7. More interestingly, for me anyway, is the use of balanced XLR inputs. This could be huge for those of you with balanced phono stages or who already have very good digital setups that work better with a balanced connection. That includes me and anyone running an R2R DAC from the likes of Denafrips and Musician Audio etc.
The balanced inputs is reason enough on its own for some of you to choose the 9 as the right amp over the other two. It would be for me, especially when we get into everything else.
Specifications and Sound Differences – As Integrated Amps
I want to make this review mostly about the sound quality differences between these Audiolab amplifiers, especially as all of them offer a very similar feature set. They are all integrated amplifiers with built in DACs and phono stages. I am going to break this comparison down into different sections because I know some of you will want to use them for everything and maybe some won’t and, given what I have experienced, this might affect your buying decision. I am going to start looking at them purely as integrated amplifiers so not using the built in DAC or phono stage. So, what are the integrated amplifier specification differences.
As you might expect, as you spend more money you get more power and more maximum current delivery, which will be better for more demanding speakers, or especially for 4ohm speakers where this difference could be huge for some of you. The 6 has 50w per channel at 8ohms and 75watts per channel into 4 ohms , The 7 has 70W / 110 Watts , and the 9, 100w / 160 . There is a slightly bigger transformer in the 7 compared to the 6, which probably explains why it’s a little heavier, the 9 has a larger sized transformer again and is heavier still. They are all class A/B amplifier designs and the 7 has a different design in terms of how feedback is applied, compared to the 6. For me the more interesting difference is with the 9, as it’s a dual mono class A/B design with a different feedback circuit again. Audiolab call this Triple Cascade which is said to offer improved linearity at higher loads and so again better for more demanding speakers or louder listebning. But what do these amplifiers sound like and how do they compare.
It has been a long time since I listened to a 6000a and so I needed a big refresher. I was pleasantly surprised as it’s a much better amp than I remembered. It sounds clean and clear with an organised open soundstage that’s precise without sounding analytical. There is pleasant tone and warmth to the sound, with good timing, and a soundstage that’s satisfyingly three dimensional. The bass is tight and quite punchy, and the treble, whilst not the most resolving or clear, is smooth and actually quite sweet sounding. Listening to the 6 through the Mission 770s, just as an integrated, you need nothing more than that really, it delivers very good sound in all areas.
Criticisms of the 6 would be that it’s a very polite sounding amplifier and there are no great energy shifts or real enthusiasm to the music. The dynamics of the music don’t have great contrast, good contrast yes just not great. Also, there is a bit of a smoothed-over presentation of how music sounds, which can be good in some instances for making all music sound pleasing, but it is also a limiting factor. However, I was very surprised with the overall quality of sound. It’s a great performer for the money and set the bar very high for bang for buck.
So, what does the 7000a sound like. There is a lot that is similar which is good, so a nice clean, clear, open sound that is precise, again without sounding analytical. For me, the individual elements of the soundstage were all a little bolder and surer footed, or solid sounding compared to the 6, which is a nice improvement, a subtle but an important one.
The bass was tight and noticeably a bit punchier and more substantial or ‘voluptuous’ than from the 6, which I liked as well and there was a pleasing tone to the sound.
The first big difference I noticed was in the high frequencies. They were clearer, more present with more ‘pop’, they sounded freer in their space and less suffocated by the rest of the sound. This is really important as it created a greater sense of height, sound stage dimensionality, sparkle and energy to the music, and I think this gives a greater sense of listener engagement because of the increased specificity and detail.
The second big difference was in the vocals, they sounded clearer with a crisper and more defined edge and more resolution to them, so they sounded more free in their space and again less suffocated by the rest of the music. They separated from the background better. The big difference here is that the smoothed over, very polite, always level aspect to the 6 has now gone and the 7 is getting out of the way of the music more and its giving the a listener a greater experience.
My criticism of the 7 is that at the same time it is getting more out of the way it is not as outright smooth to listen to listen compared to the 6, which is always smooth regardless of what you are listening to. I found the 7 to be a more analytical listen because it was pushing details at me more, so I found it more of an active pay-attention listen, than a laid-back pipe and slippers listen. This difference matters, and we will get into why further on in the review.
Did I find the 7000a to be night and day better than the 6000a purely as an integrated amplifier? Yes and no. To me it was a bit better here, a bit better there, quite a lot better here and quite better there and so, individually maybe not huge differences, but when you add them up the total or complete difference was very noticeable. I think that it is important to stress it is not just a diminishing returns difference, here it’s a more significant one.
Listening to the 9000a you might expect just the same improvement again and that would have been fine by me but that is not what I experienced. The 9 was a totally different animal.
Listening to 9 purely as an integrated amplifier I seemed to lose a fair amount of the always pleasing factor found especially with the 6, and instead I heard a more grown-up sophisticated sound, a more serious sound that became more about the music and the performance of the music rather than just something that was pleasing to sit and listen to.
I noticed this mostly with vocals – they command their own space in the sound stage and are delivered with more clarity again, but they also come at you with more of a headline attention grabbing enthusiasm or dynamism and this can be super captivating depending on who is singing, of course.
I felt like the 9 allowed me more insight into the emotion of music but also to the good and less good parts of the music production. You could say that’s just better transparency, but I don’t think its just as simple as that. The bass was a little leaner than I was expecting but I was also getting a greater sense of sound stage expansion, and the bass felt more of an underpinning to the music rather than something the mid-range was sitting in. I also learned later that the 9 seems to take quite a bit longer to warm up and settle than the 6 and 7 to produce its optimum sound. This may be partly why the bass was leaner than I was expecting as the full tone and richness of 9 takes a fair bit longer to fully switch on.
At this stage I was very impressed with the 9 but I was also finding it a little dry and analytical and so I changed over, perhaps too quickly in hindsight, to the balanced inputs, which meant I could use my DACs full potential and I could also use better cables. I am sure this was influential to what came next. The sound from the 9 grew up a lot with more solidity in the bass, maybe still a little lighter than I wanted, but it was better balanced now with the energy of the vocals and combined this was now really something to listen to.
I was hearing more of the music’s ambience, subtleties and small detail specifics, content depending. I found myself enjoying the 9 like this a little too much and I ended up listening much longer than I should have done, well into the next scheduled testing day!
To conclude this stage of my testing of just the performance as integrated amplifiers, the 6 was a real surprise for just how good it is for the money, and it offers great bang for the buck. The 9 was technically excellent, giving me much more of what I would want sonically, and it would be the one I would buy, but the 7 probably offered the best compromise between outright performance and price so in a way a nice and simple comparison at this stage.
Sound Differences – With Internal DACs and Phono Stages
Next, I tested the Audiolabs in their entirety, listening to them using their internal DACs and phono stages. I was expecting just more of the same, but the full story was only just beginning to present itself to me.
This time, because the 9 was already set up, I tested in reverse order. It made sense at the time but, in hindsight, I probably should have started with the 6 and worked up as coming down in sound quality always feels more extreme than going up. So do take that into account for what comes next. Also take into account that I connected to each of the amplifiers using a toslink optical connection (Audioquest Carbon) with all CD quality music, this seemed the fairest way to compare all 3 amplifiers, but it meant I didn’t test and compare the full MQA and high-res capabilities of the 7 and 9.
With the 9 you get an ESS Sabre 9038 Pro DAC chip which is one of ESS’s top of the range DAC chips, not the very top, but its still an 8 channel 32-bit DAC with very good specs when used for two channel. The 7 gets a chip from the same ESS 9038 range but it is not as good with inferior specs. Both the 7 and 9 offer more DAC sound mode options and also up-sampling. The 6 DAC has a lesser quality DAC again and, as you would expect for the price difference, has less sound mode options and no up-sampling. The 7 and 9 also have a different single stage Class A post DAC filter, the 6 has a two-stage filter and so I assume less is more here. There are some Bluetooth specification differences between them with the 9 offering the highest quality of the three with Bluetooth 5.1 with LDAC. Being honest it is not something I am interested in and didn’t test, but these are important differences for those who use Bluetooth a lot so here you do get more for your money.
All three amplifiers have moving magnet phono stages. These are all at the same set value and so no adjustment controls for different cartridges. Both the 7 and 9 use a new low-noise BjT phono stage said to be improved over the JFET phono stage built into the 6.
I started with the 9 listening to digital music. Straight away the amplifier’s sound made more sense because it balanced so very well with the digital side of its sound. Now the 9 sounded much more like the bigger brother to the 6 and 7. However, being honest, I was not getting as much musical insight, or as much outright clarity as from my reference DAC setup, which is not surprising, as it is over ten times the cost of the whole 9000a. I think I should be honest about this but I can say that the balance of sound from the 9 with the Mission 770 was absolutely spot on. The boldness and richness of tone I want and expect from an Audiolab was now there in abundance, vocals while not as well resolved and crisp, were resolved and crisp enough to be very enjoyable and engaging.
The bass was now bolder too, perhaps a little bit more bloomed but not too much, and I don’t mind that sound trait anyway. This was a listen-to-me-all-day very happy, lively, rich, and engaging sound across all musical styles with that lovely Audiolab forgiveness to the music quality.
There are five different DAC filter modes available in the 9 and I preferred ‘linear fast’ for the most immediacy, clarity, and less soft and squidgy sound. There is also up-sampling which I preferred ‘on’, as it helped to bring just a bit more clarity without changing much else.
I wrote down in my notes ‘Audiolab excellence’ as that is how I was feeling, very content and very happy. Of course I could nit-pick the sound, the treble was maybe a little polite and was perhaps getting lost a little bit in the rest of the music, but it wasn’t bothering me too much and was very much song dependent, but I think the 9 certainly has that Audiolab polite character that the 6 does so well, but not in the same way as the 6 delivers it but there is an obvious similarity there.
Next up was the 7000a using the built in DAC. I need to be honest here, the step down from the 9 to the 7 seemed massive to me, it was much bigger than I expected, and I wasn’t sure how to take this, was it that the 9 is so good so the difference is being over exaggerated, or was it something else.
I listened to the 7 a lot to make sure I gave it time to warm up, and I just wasn’t feeling it, I couldn’t adjust to it after listening to the 9. There was less bass and a less well controlled bass. There was a lot less refinement to the overall sound, by that I mean a rougher edge to everything. There was seemingly more space to the sound stage and more higher frequency energy, which I liked, but the vocals were sounding a bit too hollow for me in the upper-bass, lower-mid region and that meant the upper vocals were lacking composure at times when they were peaking, I am thinking Lady Black Bird Black Acid Soul Deluxe Edition streamed from Tidal . As I said, I just wasn’t feeling it and I could really put my finger on why.
I switched to the 6 and the good old 6 sound was there. That infinitely smooth, easy going easy listen, very play it safe and very level sound. Of course, the sound from the 6 wasn’t reaching the same level as when using my reference DAC setup, but it was very balanced, and I was more okay with that balance than I was with the 7. I put the 7 back in to test this again just in case I made a mistake, and it was the same again.
I then spun up some vinyl, the 9 super impressed me with a big rich lively engaging sound, very much akin to the sound from using the internal DAC although, of course, not the same, but at the same kind of quality level, I would be very happy to listen to records all day using the phono stage in the 9.
The 6 sounded like I expected for vinyl, pleasing and smooth nothing more, nothing less. The 7 sounded much closer to the 9 from its phono stage, which was impressive, but without the same boldness, refinement, and solidity and so there were similarities to the digital presentation, but I preferred the overall sonic balance of the 7 with vinyl.
My conclusion to this stage of testing was the 9000a really impressed me for just how good it is overall. It performs to a very high level in all areas and again it would be the one I would buy. The 6 is always the 6 and it doesn’t disappoint, but it has a very obvious ceiling for its performance regardless how you use it.
The 7000a was the curve ball for me, because I could very clearly hear how its offering more performance than the 6 in every regard, but in doing so its exposed something that you just don’t hear from the 6. Some of this I think is probably just my personal preference for what I like showing through here but I think the 9 did set the bar high and I was missing it a lot. This is, of course, unfair given the price difference, but I can’t help my own impressions and it’s important to be honest.
At this point I had only tested with the same speakers, my reference speakers the Mission 770. To remind you I first tested all three amplifiers as just integrated to prove to myself all three amps could drive the Missions well enough. They all could and so I was confident to use the Missions for the testing but the 770 are politely, brutally honest speakers, which is why I like them, but maybe they were asking a bit too much of the 6 and 7, which is more than reasonable given their price tag of three times that of the 7 and six times that of the 6. I therefore changed to the Mission 700 which, at £1299, are much more price appropriate for the Audiolab 7000a. I spent a lot of time listening to this combo and straight away it made much more sense to me.
The 700 are similar to the 770 in presentation character and so it made the change easy for me, but they are a bit bolder and thicker sounding, and not as clear or transparent as their bigger brother. They seem a little less amplifier demanding too and they proved to be a much better pairing for the 7000a, Now the Audiolab sound I expected was back. There was now boldness and richness to the vocals, more bloomed bass, yes, but better balanced overall and so the lively energetic upper vocals and higher frequencies stayed better in balance with the rest. This was just a much more enjoyable overall sound to listen to even if not at the same quality level in some areas.
Being ultra nit-picking the 7, using the built in DAC would still lose some composure for more complex music pieces, or more heavily layered and compressed music. The sound could tense up some, but this is a minor nit-pick compared to all the good I was now hearing. There was some very impressive dynamism to the music, the 7000a / Mission 7000a pairing I think a lot of people would really enjoy.
I didn’t bother testing the 6 because I already knew what to expect. I did try the 9 with the Mission 700s and there was noticeably better sound than from the 7, richer more composed, more refined, more dynamic, again with tighter bass, but I wasn’t getting the same difference as from the Mission 770. The 9 seemed to be able to deliver beyond the limit of what the 700 can do.
I had planned to test the Audiolabs with other speakers but, by now, I felt I had learned enough about the 6000a, 7000a and 9000a to be able to draw some informed conclusions.
The 6000a is an easy conclusion. It is perfect for what it is. That doesn’t mean it’s perfect of course, but it is has a perfect balance of strengths to weaknesses for what it’s trying to offer based against what it costs. That must be why it has been so popular. Its sound character is quite universal, and you could play it on nearly any reasonable demand speakers leading to the same safe, but very good, sonic result. But there is a limit to what the 6000a can do and it wont have enough power for every speaker so do bear that in mind
Interestingly, I feel the 9000a is offering something similar to this, especially using the internal DAC but to a much, much, higher level in every regard. It has the same easy-going nature to it that I think would make it a great match for many speakers, but those speakers would need to be very good quality and setup well in order to get the most from the 9000a.
The 7000a is seemingly the curve ball. It seems a bit fussier with the speakers you pair it with, using the internal DAC at least. I am sure Audiolab have tried to push what is capable from a circa £1k integrated amplifier and tried to load it with as much good quality tech and performance as possible for the money. I don’t doubt that it is one of the better performers at this price level but it also has more of a limit to what it can do. That doesn’t make it a bad amplifier – far from it, it just means you will want to use it with the right speakers, and I can think of a whole bunch I have reviewed in the past that sounded like they would benefit a kick up their ass to liven them up and the 7000a would be great with them. However, it is maybe not ideal for speakers that sound more on the edge or thin or bright. With those speakers the 6 and or 9 I think would be a better fit.
I do want to say that all these of these Audiolab amplifiers exceeded my expectations as purely integrated amplifiers, they are all punching right up there for what they cost, but it’s the 9000a that has done the number on me. It’s a brilliant sounding amplifier that even holds its own when powering the £22k Sonus Faber Serafino I presently have for review. That’s bloody impressive for a sub £2K amp. If you have good speakers and a good overall HiFi system set up well, the 9 will clearly show you its better performance over the 6 and 7 and will be worth the extra in the long term.
I think the 6000a offers exceptional bang for buck and is all you really need for great sounding music but it’s important to know it can only take you so far, but that might be far enough. I wouldn’t feel bad if I owned a 6000a.
But should you buy the 7 instead of a 6? With the right speakers, yes, if you want a clearer more lively and upfront sound, yes. If you listen to a lot of vinyl and want to use the built in phono, definitely. If you already have a good DAC setup probably and if you want to stream high-res and MQA and connect to a TV its a no brainer or if you just prefer the screen and how that all is, well then yes, of course.
I know that this has been a pretty long comparison review, but I hope you have found it useful and helpful.
For the full Specification of the Audiolab amplifiers
See the website here