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Audiolab’s 9000N is a crisply-dressed flagship streaming DAC

  • “A streaming tour de force” is how Audiolab’s is framing its latest product: the 9000N streaming DAC is designed as a companion piece to the UK company’s 9000CDT CD transport and 9000A integrated amplifier (but it will of course function as intended with any loudspeaker amplifier).

    From the top: the 9000N’s Linux-based streaming system runs on an ARM Cortex-A53 processor to support Roon Ready, Spotify Connect, Tidal Connect, Apple AirPlay 2 as well as its own UPnP-based app, which rumour has it was developed in collaboration with high-end streaming pioneers Lumin. The multi-source playlist creation is a dead giveaway! Streaming can be executed over wi-fi or Ethernet.

    Hi-res support in the 9000N goes all the way out to 32bit/768kHz for PCM and DSD512 for DSD with options for 352.8kHz or 384kHz upsampling and five DAC filters (2x linear phase, 2x minimum phase, 1x hybrid). MQA is also supported despite its deprecated status on Tidal’s ‘Hifi Plus’ tier.

    The internal DAC is built around the higher-quality ESS 9030PRO chip (and not the Q2M) with its eight decoder channels split four per side. However, the press release quite rightly stresses how it’s not only the chip that makes or breaks the sound of a D/A converter but its implementation:

    “Although always technically excellent, Sabre DAC chips are challenging to implement to maximum effect and must be integrated into a product’s circuit design with care to extract their full sonic potential. The post-DAC active filter is a critical element and Audiolab has developed a new Class A circuit for its 9000 Series components that is perfectly tailored to make the most of the ES9038PRO.”

    One such tailoring is the DAC section’s dedicated power supply that uses “multiple discrete ultra-low-noise regulators to provide power separately to the left and right channels for each stage of the digital-to-analogue conversion process”.

    Audiolab’s engineering team has also paid attention to the post-DAC analogue stage which is a balanced design that aims to take down noise and distortion before exiting via XLR sockets on the rear panel. Single-ended RCA outputs are also available and both sets of analogue outputs can be attenuated by the front panel volume control.

    Whilst we’re talking connectivity, the 9000N sports a USB-A port to stream from a directly attached storage device (using the aforementioned supplied app) and a USB-B port for hooking up a Mac, PC or Pi. Coaxial and TOSLINK outputs present for those already in possession of an outboard DAC.

    Back on the front, two rotaries – ‘select’ and ‘volume’ – help control the settings displayed on the 9000N’s 4.3inch IPS LCD screen. That’s the same screen type we find on the 9000A and 9000CDT but here it is used to display, among other things, cover art, sample rate, bit rate, volume and a progress bar.

    The 9000N will be available via Audiolab’s dealer network later this month and will sell for £2499 in the UK, US$3499 in the USA and €2799 in the EU. Your choice of black or silver.

    Further information: Audiolab

    Written by John

    John currently lives in Berlin where he creates videos and podcasts for Darko.Audio. He has previously contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

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