If you chat to enough vinyl fanatics about why they choose to invest their hard-earned cash on physical copies of albums – copies that are wildly impractical compared to having the sum-total of the officially released music in human history available on a smartphone – they’ll likely give you two answers.
The first is that there’s still something special about physical music; the pleasure a listener gets from the ceremony of putting on an album and letting it play may be intangible, but it’s undoubtable, too.
The second is much simpler: the quality. While the fact that much of today’s music is recorded with digital software complicated things, vinyl is lossless compared to digital renderings of music – it essentially plays the record back as it’s intended to be played, without the cutting of corners that necessarily occurs when music is converted into a digital signal during the recording process.
It’s for both of these reasons that, according to The Vinyl Factory, the vinyl revolution shows no signs of slowing down, with 4.2 million records sold in the UK in 2018. And if you’ve invested in – or inherited, as I did – a vinyl player, it’s worth investing in an amplifier that’ll play it in all its warm, rounded and rich glory. Enter the Audiolab 6000A, a product that’s built for just that, but that has enough features to make it an essential buy for both modern and retro music fans.
The first thing to say about the Audiolab 6000A’s capability with vinyl is that it’s got a built-in phono stage. Before the 6000A, I was using a bog-standard (and quite old) Cambridge Audio amp with a cheap-ish external phono stage – it works, technically, but I was essentially relying on two pieces of unspectacular equipment to amplify and transpose the sound, and it showed.
On replacing with the 6000A, the different was immediately obvious: the sound was richer and much more rounded, with the mid-range frequencies sounding much more expressive, the bass warmer but without intruding, and the awkward hum that came with the former set-up – especially at high volume – all but gone, with only a little natural crackle and hiss (a joyful sound to most vinyl heads) still evident.
There’s something to be said about the power, too: I’m connecting to a pair of decent enough Mordaunt Short M20 speakers, with a Dual belt-driven vinyl player bought in the 1970s and restored, and through a phono stage the 50-watt amplifier fills a room with warm sound at about -30DB or just above, and sounds loud at -15DB. That leaves plenty of room for more volume if needed, even with just these speakers. It's versatile, too: I tested it with everything from Innervisions by Stevie Wonder to Malibu by Anderson .Paak and Kind of Blue by Miles Davis – all sounded balanced, rounded and with enough depth to pick up elements of the recordings I hadn't noticed before on streaming services via headphones.
While the 6000A comes into its own when playing vinyl, it’s by no means a one-trick pony. There are three other line inputs that’ll take RCA cables, for a radio or CD player (like Audiolab's accompanying 6000CDT), but there’s also two optical inputs, so you can easily plug in the TV – a more versatile, more classically stylish solution and better-sounding solution, in my opinion, than spending the same kind of money on a home cinema system. For films, videogames and even just channel-surfing, sound is livelier, more detailed, warmer and richer.
Its interface is stripped-back and simple – three dials, for volume, input selection and mode selection – adorn the sleek frontage with not a lot else to get in the way; the amp is much easier and more convenient to really open up with the accompanying remote. Volume is shown in pleasingly unpatronising DB, rather than an arbitrary 1-20 scale.
Finally, although there are certainly more features we could go into, the best feature is in many ways the opposite to the one I’ve waxed lyrical about earlier: Bluetooth. The ability to pair a smartphone or tablet directly to it via Bluetooth (using just a small aerial on the back) is incredibly convenient, and begs the question: why do more modern amplifiers offer this functionality? Because, after all, while vinyl may be king in many people’s eyes, there probably aren’t many buyers of consumer technology left on the planet who don’t subscribe to a streaming service. It might not sound as rounded and rich as vinyl, but it’s incredibly useful nonetheless.
In simple terms, this is a fantastic piece of equipment for the price. A price of £599 won’t put off people looking to upgrade their home audio setup to get the best out of vinyl and to offer the kind of versatility that’ll render cheap portable speakers and home cinema systems alike all but useless; but it’s enough to suggest, as is the case, a high level of engineering and an aspirational bit of kit. For the punch, power, clarity and richness of sound it provides, even with merely decent speakers, it’s a steal.
The Audiolab 6000A is available to buy at Richer Sounds in Black and Silver for £599; richersounds.com