To Diego Estan,
I just read your detailed and informative review of the Audiolab 6000A integrated amplifier. I have an NAD C 316BEE, which I was about to replace/upgrade with the 6000A, but after reading your review, I am not so sure anymore whether this is money well spent. Based on your review, it seems that the 6000A can easily hold its own versus some high-end equipment, but since the sound of the NAD and the Audiolab are virtually identical, by extension this would then also apply to the C 316BEE, correct? Just to be clear, I am only talking about sound, not appearance, build quality, or features like DAC, etc. If I connect a Bluesound Node 2i to either amp, using the Bluesound DAC, there should be no noticeable difference. Perhaps I should save more money and buy a truly high-end unit, such as the Hegel H90. What do you think? My speakers are Wharfedale Evo 4.2 stand-mounts, my room is approximately 250 square feet, and I sit approximately 10’ from the speakers. I listen to music at moderate levels (3 to 4 on scale from 1 to 10).
If it wasn’t already obvious from my review, I’m quite objectively minded. I do not believe that two competently designed solid-state amps, operated well within their limits, playing level-matched under blind conditions, should sound different from one another. If real differences do emerge, they would be of the very subtle variety. Although I cannot speak to the Hegel directly (I haven’t heard it), I believe this generally holds true, regardless of price point.
It’s important to consider, however, what I mean by “well within their limits.” Amps can definitely sound different when operated close to the margins of their limits. In the case of the NAD and Audiolab, both have similar power output into 8 ohms (40Wpc for the NAD vs. 50Wpc for the Audiolab), but the Audiolab can deliver quite a bit more into 4 ohms (75Wpc versus 45Wpc for the original C 316BEE, and 60Wpc if you have the C 316BEE V2).
Your speakers have a moderate sensitivity (87dB), and, according to Wharfedale, don’t dip below 4 ohms (they say 8-ohms nominal, but I couldn’t find an impedance curve online). With 40Wpc, 10’ away, and assuming your speakers are placed within 2’-4’ from the walls, you should be able to achieve almost 100dB SPL at the listening position. Considering your claim of moderate listening levels, 40Wpc into 8 ohms should be plenty. Of course, you may have other considerations I’m not aware of, such as upgrading to more power-hungry speakers in the future, moving to a bigger room, or listening habits changing.
So, in terms of sound in your current set-up, your NAD integrated amp is fine, and you shouldn’t expect a real upgrade in sound quality with a new amp. Of course, if you go in expecting an upgrade, you may in fact hear one -- that is how expectation bias works.
Surprisingly, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t buy the Audiolab 6000A. I really enjoyed my time with it. Its build quality is superb and belies the relatively modest price, the buttons and volume control have a great feel and inspire confidence, plus there’s a quality built-in DAC with Bluetooth connectivity, while the C 316BEE doesn’t have at DAC at all. And don’t forget the most important reason of all: do you want the Audiolab 6000A? If you do, and you can afford it, then you should buy it!
In summary, my general advice if shopping for an integrated amplifier is to figure out how much power you need based on your loudest preferred listening levels (you can use an online calculator like this one at myhometheater.homestead.com/splcalculator.html), then consider your speaker’s impedance (if 4 ohms or less, look for an amp that can handle lower impedances easily), and, finally, choose based on features, build quality, looks, feel, reputation, warranty, etc.
If you’re looking to improve or change the sound of your system significantly, look to the electronics last and focus first on speakers, subwoofers, and their placements, as well as room treatment and room EQ. Thanks for reading my review. . . . Diego Estan