first published in April 1997
Dimensions: 445,74,335 mm
Outputs: standard, coaxial BNC
Price (April 1997): 5.195 PLN
Test set 1: LFD PA2 + Penny&Giles potentiometer, Mission Cyrus 3, LFD LS0/PA2M, Zoller Design Metropolis Imagination
Test set 2: LFD LS0/PA2M, Rogers Studio 7
Tested together with: Audiolab 8000 CD, Denon DCD-825, Myryad MC 100, Pioneer PD-F905, Rotel RCD 950, Sony CDP-XA3 ES
8000CD is the first integrated CD player manufactured by Cambridge Systems Technology Ltd. We are talking about the Audiolab brand from Huntingdon (only in Germany the distributor Pullmanns calls these products Camtech).
So far Audiolab has offered two digital products: CD transport and a DA converter. The DAC has already had several Mk. x versions. Integrated 8000CD is less than half the price of the 8000 CDM/DAC combination. Still 8000CD will be be probably considered to be a high-end player by most customers.
The promotional literature from Audiolab tells us that 8000CD combines the technologies used in transport/DAC combination. In reality 8000CD does not comprise two more expensive components squeezed into one box. The main difference concerns converters.
The stand alone 8000DAC converter employs DAC7 module (this consists of two SAA 7350 integrated circuits working as a digital filter and a TDA 1547 converter). This technology is sourced from Philips.
Integrated 8000CD is fitted with the 4329 delta-sigma converter from Crystal. It is the successor of the popular 4328 chip, well known from many applications in British CD players over the last couple of years. 4329 converter has 20-bit resolution. 128-times oversampling is performed before conversion.
Series 12 Philips CD-ROM drive with linear tracking and three-beam laser is used in 8000CD. According to manufacturers literature special software had been prepared to control the mechanism. It is intended to speed up track and index access. This model of transport requires control software, other manufacturers using it in their CD players also have to prepare it. Series 12 CD-ROMs don't see indexes, this feature must by implemented with adequate software. The CDM-9 (Pro) series transports were factory programmed for index access, as they were designed specifically for audio. At present CDM-9 transports are no longer manufactured, so CD player manufacturers have limited choice and they have to pick something that is available from component manufacturers. Many high-end companies considered the CDM-9 Pro to be the best transport because it had solid construction with many metal parts. New transports are very lightweight as they are made mainly of plastics. Series 12 transports are also available in the so called 'industrial' version for more high-end applications.
From the outside 8000CD is basically the same as 8000CDM transport. There is no doubt that both machines utilize the same case - which helps to minimize manufacturing costs. Only the most basic functions are available on the front panel. Fairly big LCD display is backlit with three small light bulbs. Yu can turn the display of from remote control, then only a small red LED by the drawer tells you that the unit is turned on. At this point I would like to express some criticism toward Audiolab and Mission (to be specific, I mean the Cyrus DiscMaster transport). Whenever the display is in off mode, pressing any function turns the display on again. So you listen to music in a dark room, you press the pause or stop button and the display is on. Shouldn't it be turned on with a button whenever the user relly wants it? I use the track skip quite often, and that requires pressing two buttons (the second being display off). Both the Audiolab and the Mission have bright displays and quite often I prefered them to be turned off. Mission claims that display should be off in order to optimize sound quality - the power supply has one circiut less to serve. Audiolab doesn't offer any information on that subject. Myryad solved the 'display problem' in a perfect way (read the Myryad MC100 review).
The remote control which comes with 8000CD is also able to control 8000S and 8000Q amplifiers (volume control, source selection). By the way - this RC unit controls almost every function of the Mission Cyrus 3 amp and DiscMaster transport.
Inspection of the inside reveals solid mechanical construction. Transport is fully screened, surely it is intended to minimize interference coming from the motor. All the electronic circuits reside on a big PCB shaped like a 'straightened up' letter Z. Power supply is on the right hand side. The toroidal transformer is surprisingly big. Elna smoothing capacitors are used, two 6.800 uF (35 V) and one 10.000 uF (16 V). Power supply voltages are stabilized by several three-legged chips fitted with small radiators.
Metal box (working as a screen) described as 'CD Engine' is situated in the middle. What is this? I suspect that the decoder, digital filter and servo control are housed here. Crystal CS 4329 KP DAC and output stages are situated on the left. One wonders why the DAC chip is outside the metal box labelled as 'single bit D-A conversion'. Four NE5534N op-amps manufactured by Philips work in the output stages (two in the analogue filter and two in the voltage gain stage). NE5534 are also used in output stages of DPA Enlightenment and cheaper Sony ES products. Output stage is desribed by Audiolab as Direct Coupled, which means that there are no capacitors in signal paths. The general impression is that 8000CD is very precisely and meticulously made. Special attention has been paid to minimizing the mutual interaction of various circuits just like in the Myryad MC100 and Sony CDP-XA3ES. Audiolab 8000CD was the most densly packed player in this batch, it was quite heavy despite its modestly sized case.
Certain 'interface' aspects were a little disapponiting. The drawer (standard grey unit from Philips) slides very slowly. When it is fully opened you find out that it is not possible to put the disc with a vertical movement. The drawer doesn't reach out far enough (its just a matter of a few mm). So you have to move the disc horizontally just above the drawer before you put it down. After five discs I got used to this little nuisance.
Transport meets Audiolabs claims, it is very fast indeed, track skip is performed very quickly and is almost inaudible. The transport used in DiscMaster is slower and more noisy. The drawer closes automatically after 3 minutes.
The rear panel hosts a BNC socket (75 ohm) with digital SPDIF signal. Manufacturer ensures that the quality of sound improves with 8000DAC standalone converter, but such a combination doesn't seem to be the most efficient way of spending money. Nevertheless I should admit I haven't tried 8000CD as a transport with mbl1511, as I had no BNC cable at hand during the review period. Two pairs of gold plated Cinch (RCA) sockets provide analogue signal. In my opinion these sockets are spaced too closely. (MS)
Audiolab 8000CD stayed in my room for almost two weeks - longer than any other player from this batch. It was carried inside from cold (+5 deg. Celsius), and after it warmed up a little bit it was connected to mains at 13 hours. Around 19 hours sound became acceptable for a product of this caliber.
I do not know how long this player had been used by the distributor before it was shipped to our magazine. Over the two weeks of the test I noted subtle but constant improvement of sound quality. Let me remind you of DPA Enlightenment. DPA claims the sound may improve even after six months. For those who look at hi-fi through scientific glasses such a suggestion is pure voodoo. Audiolab 8000CD and DPA Enlightenment utilize NE 5534 op-amps. I am not able to tell you if they are so sensitive as far as break in period is concerned. The treble changed most during the test period.
Over the first six hours of use Audiolab's treble was too bright. It was a rather serious deficiency for such an expensive component. Over the next few days the problem started to diappear, but it didn't disappear completly. After three days of warm up I commenced some serious listening.
I enjoyed my time with 8000CD no matter whether it was connected after the MBL 1511/Cyrus DiscMaster or one of the cheaper players tested in this batch. Sound was substantially superior in comparison with the more 'budget' players and at the same time not that distant from the four times more expensive (20.000 PLN) reference system.
Cynics have called the Audiolab sound 'Cambridge sterile'. Not the 8000CD! This player's sound does not fit into this stereotype attributed to the company from Huntingdon. Recently I wrote a positive (well, that was my intention) review of 8000S amplifier. This time I have to tell you that I just liked the 8000S sound, but as far as 8000CD is concerned... I almost love it.
8000CD's sonic character is similar to MBL1511. Crystal DACs are used in both cases. I don't know if the Meridians - using the same Crystal chip - are also from the same school. 8000CD sounds warm and cohesive, without the 'CD deatail'. Just like 1511.
I used to associate CD with 'inevitable' sharpness, with poor emotional involvment. But 8000CD sounds smooth, somewhat valvy, sweet and harmonically rich. The sound is a cohesive whole, it is not split into a million pieces. MM desribed acoustic instruments as sounding creamy, but also very varied.
Audiolab claims in its catalogue that 8000CD is intended to compete with more costly components. I agree with this statement. 8000CD has got very smooth midrange, it is not as sharp as the earlier Meridians (508, 563). The performance offered by Audiolab is equivalent to performance of other twice more expensive components two years ago.
Bass and midband from 8000CD are classy. Bass has got a lot of substance it is liquid, dense. Vocals from Manhattan Transfer record were wonderfully alive.
8000CD is very open. At first I was surprised. The instruments were focused rather close and were very tactile. Putting emotions aside I would say that 8000CD has got a slightly upfront soundstage. MBL1511 gives you more 'there', 8000CD gives you more 'here'. MM also noted that the soundstage was somewhat closer (in comparison with Myryad). 8000CD sounded very spacious, soundstage was wide, but not quite as deep as with the other units available at hand. In comparison with Myryad MC 100, Audiolab generated sound which is more in the listening room. MC 100 offered more distant presentation, rather behind the loudspeakers. Which one do I prefer? I like both. The instruments' edges were somewhat softer. MM even wrote that the focus was not particularely precise. Such are our expectations after listening to CD for a couple of years. 8000CD (and the MBL1511) has the kind of focus which reminds me of valve amps.
Emotions? LSD? Lots of it! Claire Martin tracks were really explosive. Vocal very clean and dynamic. Bass form 'Nardis' - from Mike Stern's record Standards (and other songs) - was breathtaking. 'Paint the World' from Chick Corea Elektric Band 2 sounded very well on 8000CD. There is a lot of rythmic meaty bass. I recommend tracks 6 and 10. At the moment Paint the World is my reference disc for testing of sub-100 Hz regions.
Finally I arrived at the most troublesome point, the feature of 8000CD's sound I was least enthusiastic about. Despite the long warm up, Audiolab's treble wasn't perfectly clean. It sounded a little synthetic. The 'micro' resolution was limited. Although it may seem strange, the treble's quality was more objectionable when I listened to music for pleasure (Dire Straits - Communique). When I took my notebook and played the discs used for testing, treble was quite acceptable. The treble quality is responsible for reduced clarity (in comparison to MBL 1511) of violins and brass. The sound of cymblas seemed to consists of a few separate pieces (Chick Corea - Paint The World). The treble was also accompanied by some kind of mysterious high frequency noise noticeable on all CDs. 'The best of' Manhattan Transfer through MBL1511 sounded as if it was coming from an analogue tape reproduced by an open-reel Revox machine. 8000CD brightened up and split the upper registers into pieces. The phenomena described above were audible both through PA2/Penny&Giles and Cyrus 3.
8000CD deserves warm recommendation. Those who buy cheaper products should listen to 8000CD, so that they learn what they are missing. Those who buy more expensive players could possibly overpay. 8000CD is one of the best players in its class. If you have 5.000 PLN for your new CD player don't spend it on some boring hi-fi. Better listen to Audiolab 8000CD before you part with your mony. (MS)
Judgement of tonal character of 8000CD turned out to be a controversial issue. Not that there were any serious deviations from neutral balance or nasty colorations. But unfortunately our judgements were not fully unanimous. KK described bass as 'full', although my impressions were somewhat different. I percieved the bass intensity as a dynamic - and not tonal - phenomenon. Indeed I could feel the energy in lower registers, but I did not think there was any additional warmth. Midband was neither too sharp nor too soft. I looked through my own and KK's notes. I found many descriptive terms. But when I tried to add them up, no particular pattern emerged. Theoretically you could argue that this was just proof of good neutrality. Nevertheless we think there was some element missing, something hard to identify that would make the sound even more natural. Maybe it wasn't the CD player but the speakers that revealed their limitations? Comments concerning good quality of vocals featured very strongly in our notes. The treble had the right brightness, but its character was slightly dry and schematic.
8000CD had good dynamic capabilities. I thought this was the Audiolab's strongest point, but KK agreed only partly and judged Sony CDP-XA3ES to be almost as good in this respect. I have to admit that the results were rather conventional with more simple and gentle music (but the subjective liveliness of such tracks depends mainly on good timbre and reproduction of transients). Tracks such as 'Nevermind' proved 8000CD could create sound with wide dynamic range. But fast paced and loud rock pieces were most impressive, they had a sense of scale and speed.
Audiolab was an analitycal machine. All the sounds were clearly separated, acoustic recording were nicely layered, we could here all the accompanying sounds from the recording venue, even in dense rock pieces the dry studio acoustics surrounding vocals could be heard. Multi instrumental electric recordings were reproduced well, with every note clearly separated. There was no chaos, the player provided a sense of good overall control of the material.
In general we rated stereophony pretty well. Although projection of changes of acoutics in different recording venues wasn't fully satisfactory, I have to tell you frankly that I doubt if the Rogers Studio 7 loudspeakers (which we used for the tests) are really able to show all such details. Focus was sharp enough, soundstage was rather wide than deep, but witout any excessive change of proportions. Despite the slight censoring of acoustics, sources were firmly and believeably placed in space. Scores were consistently good regardless of the music played, its dynamic range or complexity.
Our overall impressions were good, although we think that Sony 3ES is not quite as far behind Audiolab as the price difference would suggest. There are many respectable CD players in Audiolab's price range (e.g. Sony CDP-XA5ES, Meridian 506). 8000CD is certainly good enough to face the competition, which means it deserves to be called a successful design. I think it is rather hard to pick the leader of the pack, there are several accomplished players to choose from. The differences which set them apart concern character, not quality. Certainly you should not forget about 8000CD if you look for a CD player from this price range. (GS)
Just after we finished our tests news from Audiolab's distributor came in. It said that Audiolab 8000CD would undergo a modification. Some of the 8000CD players had mechanical problems caused by the clamping system of Philips CD transport. Imperfections of the clamping assembly could result in deterioration of sound quality or track skipping. The troublesome transport version has already been discontinued by Philips. Future 8000CD's will be equipped with another version of transport from the same manufacturer.
The above mentioned problem does not concern 8000 CDM, which employs different components.