Thanks to those four filters to choose from, the Audiolab 8200CD has a somewhat chameleon-like character, able blend into most surroundings.
‘Which filter is best?’ is a question best answered though your own trials and experiments, as the answer will depend on the balance of your hi-fi system, your tastes in music and the sound that you really want in your room. We conducted some double-blind listening tests to see what worked for us.
The Audiolab 8200CD's first filter, Fast Rolloff, is almost a stooge of a filter, put there to make the others look good. It made music sound overly damped, flat and uninteresting. On the plus side, if you have a particularly badly produced CD that’s viciously bright when played elsewhere, try it with Fast Rolloff. Then see if you can stay awake to the end of its soporific rendering of your music.
Slow Rolloff gave a good tonal balance, certainly with a enticingly extended top end of the frequency range, yet without sounding too sharp. It also brought out the benefit of a wide and deep soundstage; we found this nicely evident in the live version of Pink Floyd’s ‘Another Brick in the Wall Part I’. Where appropriate to the music, it will nicely separate the layers of musical lines. With some music, such as orchestral pieces with mass strings, it could get a little too husky and reedy though. And it certainly let brass sections show their mettle. Low-level bass was rendered most deeply but it could get a little wayward and underdamped at times.
Optimal Spectrum was for most music our preferred choice. It could bring an immediacy to music unheard elsewhere. Stereo placement of instruments in classical pieces was the most precise; and with this filter, we found it easiest to mentally separate music from extraneous off-stage noises in a live recording of Shostakovich 8th Symphony. This filter could at times be almost too revealing, too intimate, and may be a little wearing in the high frequencies in systems that already lean in that direction. But in sheer revelation and the dragging out of low-level detail, this is the filter that came closest to the sound of our reference dCS three-box CD player.
Optimal Transient had great focus, like the Optimal Spectrum, but lacked some of the colour and enthusiasm for showing-off we heard of that filter. Bass could sometimes be quite enveloping here, almost to a fault. This was certainly one dynamic-sounding filter that will appeal to musicians’ ears. More so than even the Optimal Spectrum, beware of a little too much effervescence on treble-centric recordings. Otherwise, this filter was judged accurate in timing and quite compelling in its articulacy and musical expression.
A sin crown us audio
We then compared the sound of the Audiolab 8200CD playing CDs from its own disc drive, versus the same tracks ripped as AIFF files and played directly from the computer via the USB connection.
While a similar essential character was heard, the USB version had less of the silk and sophistication of the Audiolab 8200CD playing a compact disc directly.
The soundstage width seemed conrived, with loudspeakers staking out the boundaries of sound yet without filling the space between them so seamlessly. This was the gauche country-cousin coming to visit, carrying just as much dynamism and energy but somehow a little misplaced in its direction. Overall, subtly but simply cruder sounding.
The USB input is a most useful option, and while its presence is very welcome, it also served to show that computer audio does not automatically equal ‘CD sound’, even when the source files are of the same uncompressed format as the original CD.
NEXT PAGE: Our expert verdict >>
More audio reviews at PC Advisor