Awards 2012 Product of the Year - CD players. The Audiolab 8200CD is a seriously special bit of kitWrite your own review
- Immense detail and precision without losing fluidity
- superb built-in DAC
- No need for the four digital filters
You'll probably already be aware that the Audiolab 8200CD is brilliant as it took the Product of the Year gong in the CD players category, in the 2010 and 2011 Awards. If even that high praise falls short of convincing you of the Audiolab's quality, its performance against its fiercest rivals should seal the deal.
Since then it's been subject to a price hike of £30 and some running changes. The tweaks amount to a clearer, higher contrast display, extra digital filter options and an improved power supply arrangement.
For some companies this would be enough to merit official Mk2 status. Not Audiolab; the product name remains the same.
Organised but never clinical
In many ways the 8200CD has a similar sonic character to the Cyrus CD6 SE. Both players master in detail and neutrality, ensuring you hear your music as it was intended to be heard, but the Audiolab stretches ahead of its most well-respected of rivals in fluidity and dynamics, which adds up in the long run to greater musicality.
When playing our evergreen test favourite, Hans Zimmer's The Dark Knight original soundtrack, the detail on offer is nothing short of stunning. Every note is perfectly, precisely placed – both in terms of timing and soundstage – creating an overall presentation that's flawlessly organised, even during the busiest, most cacophonous sections.
That's amazing in itself, but what's even more incredible is that it manages to combine this precision with natural, organic note degradation, brilliant, dramatic dynamics and a smooth flow.
The best of both worlds
That means that when you play Aggressive Expansion, the drums hit with serious force, but there's nothing clinical about the delivery; instead it ebbs and flows with effortless drama. You get the best of both worlds.
Get into the spec list of the 8200CD and it proves to be the gift that keeps on giving.
Alongside the traditional RCA and balanced outputs (use the balanced ones if you have a compatible amp, as they'll result in even greater punch and dynamics) are coaxial and optical inputs and outputs, and even a USB input, making this a seriously useful bit of kit for those who use a computer as an audio source.
In fact, the product's designer describes the 8200CD as a high-quality DAC with a built-in disc drive, and while that might sound like an odd way of looking at it, the player's performance bears the claim out: a WAV file fed from a laptop sounds very close to the same track played from CD.
Indeed, you'd have to spend a good few hundred pounds on a standalone DAC of similar quality.
There are a couple of things to remember if you decide to buy one. First, as with many quality CD players, there's an option to turn off the display – and as with those other players you should do that to maximise sound quality.
The second is more unique: the Audiolab has four digital filter options, but only the ‘optimal transient' setting truly lets it realise its potential. In fact, set to ‘sharp rolloff' this would be a four-star player.
We haven't even discussed price yet, but the fact that it costs £200 less than a Cyrus CD6 SE really is the icing on the cake. With this level of sonic performance and its full array of digital inputs and outputs, the 8200CD really is a seriously special bit of kit.