Audiolab 9000N Network Streamer/DAC Page 2

For example, Led Zeppelin's 'Since I've Been Loving You' [Led Zeppelin III (Deluxe Edition); Atlantic Records 96kHz/24-bit] was delivered with succinct detail to the opening guitar, followed by an impressive dynamic surge as Jimmy Page flicks his amp to overdrive, but also an inviting, supple side to the track's organ playing. Add in John Bonham's drumming and Robert Plant's anguished vocals and there's a lot going on – all of it presented with a flourish as the 9000N spread out the performers.

'We All Die Young', from American glam metal also-rans Steelheart [Wait; Z Records 44.1kHz/16-bit], is less complicated, and more obviously 'studio-bound' in its production. Gone was the as-live, reverberant feel of the Zeppelin piece, replaced by a sharper, more aggressive sound. Here the 9000N put focus on singer Miljenko Matijevic's throaty (but highly impressive) vocals and showed no interest in tempering the snarling drive of the chorus. This is theatrical, heart-on-sleeve rock, and it sounded like it.


Wired and wireless Ethernet, USB-B (computer) and USB-A (external drive)inputs are good to 768kHz/DSD512 and are joined by optical/coaxial digital outputs (192kHz/24-bit) plus single-ended (RCA) and balanced (XLR) analogue outputs

Filter Finesse
The streamer's digital filter selection brings with it the usual caveat – your time is arguably better spent enjoying your music than used on A/B comparisons – but I did form a preference for the DAC's Linear Phase (Slow Roll-Off) setting, as this added a soupçon more bass weight and body to some tracks. For example, the rhythm section on The Allman Brothers' 'Ramblin' Man', streamed in 192kHz/24-bit via Tidal [Brothers And Sisters; Capricorn Records], felt that bit more robust. Note that this is actually the 9000N's default filter (but second on its scrollable list), whereas PCM upsampling (located in the unit's MQA Decoding menu) is switched off. The latter brought marginal gains to playback of CD-resolution files, but direct comparisons are made more awkward by a pause in output once a change is executed, and the track reverting to its beginning.

Crowd Pleaser
On the subject of bass, I'm annoyed I've only recently discovered the work of Serbian bassist Nenad Vasilić, and specifically his 2019 album Bass Room [Galileo Music; 44.1kHz/16-bit], where the tracks feature his playing (analogue or electric) and nothing else. It's weird stuff, but mesmerising with it, and gave the 9000N the opportunity to show off its transient ability and deft handling of low octaves. 'Bass Drops', where Vasilić uses his double bass to conjure images of falling rain (I think), enjoyed a wonderful tone and life-like attack and decay.

Another sparse piece, Ry Cooder's 'Theme From Southern Comfort' [The Ry Cooder Anthology…; Rhino Records 44.1kHz/16-bit], was equally inviting, the 9000N again shining a light on small details, such as the background hand percussion, and Cooder's slightly off-beat playing.


Audiolab's system remote caters for the 9000N's input, volume and configuration menu alongside all the functions of the partnering 9000CDT and 9000A CD/amp

But just as this streaming DAC has a performance that suits attentive listening, it's not adverse to more 'crowd-pleasing' material. 'Back To December', from Taylor Swift's Speak Now (Taylor's Version) re-release [Republic Records 44.1kHz/24-bit], carried tremendous weight to its keyboard backing and sparkle to the acoustic guitar and vocals. There's nothing particularly adventurous about the staging or presentation, but that left the 9000N to just get on with ensuring it sounded poppy and polished.

Meanwhile, Ella Mai's 'Trip' from the album of the same name [Interscope 44.1kHz/24-bit], which begins with just her vocal and piano chords, but then morphs into glitzy R&B with deep, electronic bass, sounded as clean as a whistle despite the overwrought production. Each of these pieces got my foot – both feet – firmly tapping.

Pull Factor
At the other end of the spectrum, the 9000N's open, crystal-clear rendition of Lionel Ritchie and Diana Ross's 24 Carat ballad 'Endless Love' from the compilation album Back To Front [Motown 192kHz/24-bit] sent my heart racing, such was the emotional pull of their soaring harmonies. Audiolab's range-topping network player/DAC lets the music fly, unfettered, whichever genre.

Hi-Fi News Verdict
Audiolab has rounded out its premium 9000 series with a streamer/DAC of real charm. The modern-looking hardware design, plus excellent display and app, appeal from the off, and its performance is assured – music of any flavour is in its wheelhouse thanks to a clear, detailed and unfussy presentation. A minor niggle? Stack the 9000N with its amp and CD siblings and you'll end up with two 'identical' DACs!

International Audio Group
Supplied by: IAG Ltd, Cambs
01480 447700