- Written by Bill Blackwell
- Published on 08 October 2009
When unpacking the Audiolab 8000AP, the first thing I noticed was its size. This is not a receiver masquerading as a preamp, but instead, it is something that seems more balanced against traditional audio and video components. For those whose equipment racks are space constrained, the 2U size will be a welcome relief versus some of the bigger bruisers in its price class. However, that does not mean that this is a lightweight design. Quite the contrary. The 8000AP is surprisingly heavy in the hands, owing to a large and highly visible toroidal power supply that peaks out underneath the cooling vents on the top. A critical requirement for any pre/pro is ensuring that the various DSPs and other ICs have lots of clean power on-hand so that the resulting signal is as free from noise as is possible, and that typically means a fair bit of copper in the power supply, which means a fair bit of weight in the unit. While I wasn't able to measure the unit's noise levels, the overall heft of the unit getting it out of the box was very promising.
Once the unit was out of its box, the next thing I noticed was the anodized, brushed aluminum faceplate with various LEDs embedded throughout indicating which input was currently active and how many channels were being driven. This is the best looking faceplate I've seen on a pre/pro or receiver in this price category in quite some time, and it is a great match for my Oppo Digital BDP-83 Blu-ray Player. Between the diminutive size and the front faceplate, the 8000AP is a unit that will be high on "spousal approval factor" (SAF) and may even short-circuit some of the typical questions I tend to get (e.g., "how long is that going to be here?" "Can't you stick it in a closet?" "Does it have to be there?").
The front panel also includes a small, dimmable VFD to provide more dynamic information about what's currently happening "under the hood". If you choose to bypass using the on-screen display, then this will be what you will be looking at to configure the unit. While not the most informative of displays, the unit gives comparable amounts of text when compared to other receivers and preamps I have had over the years, though it does so using a bit smaller of a font. Do not think that this will be something you read from across the room, especially if you have less-than-perfect vision. However, the purpose of setting the unit up is to get it set-up, and then to largely leave it alone!
The rear panel shows where many of the compromises have been made to keep the unit at a manageable size. There are two HDMI v1.2 inputs, one HDMI v1.2 output and a handful of other various digital and analog audio inputs, including a 5.1 analog bypass that is an actual bypass (no A/D or D/A conversion at all!). Missing from this list are space-eating balanced connections (input or output), methods for handling multiple zones, and any type of analog video handling (aside from the composite output for the OSD), none of which are very useful in most small, single-room digital home theaters. Also missing are 12V triggers, which are handy for turning power amps on and off. What the rear panel shows is a fairly tight focus on what the 8000AP does best: audio. What it also indicates is that this is a unit that generally works best in a relatively limited home theater, especially one with other relatively modern components. If you have a Blu-ray player that can decode audio onboard and pass that digitally over HDMI as PCM data (e.g., Oppo BDP-83, Sony Playstation 3), then you are set.
From an audio perspective, the major limitation that the 8000AP places on users is that it won't accept native DSD (Direct Stream Digital) from an SACD player over HDMI, which might otherwise be expected from a component featuring HDMI v1.2 connections (handling of DSD is the major difference between HDMI v1.2 and HDMI v1.1). As a result, the SACD player will have to unpack the DSD data stream into PCM, and then send that to the 8000AP for D/A conversion. While some people with extremely revealing (i.e., low distortion) systems may be able to tell the difference between native DSD and PCM, I was not able to do so with my extremely limited SACD collection. That being said, from a technical perspective, there is some legitimacy to the concern about using HDMI to carry PCM signals since HDMI can introduce more jitter into an audio signal than traditional connections, but whether this is audible or not has a lot to do with the playback system and environment. Of course, there is always the option of using the analog bypass and skipping the use of a digital connection altogether.
From a video perspective, I am generally a firm believer that an audio engineer makes about as good of a video engineer as a video engineer makes as an audio engineer. In other words, I consider the two completely separate disciplines, and while I applaud the concept of the all-in-one video and audio processor/hub, the ones that seem to do this well (e.g., Anthem D2/D2v) tend to be significantly higher priced than the 8000AP. I have owned a first generation preamp with a Reon HQV implementation, and I currently own a second generation unit, and neither works as well as a good, dedicated video processor for content that needs it (i.e., not Blu-ray or HD-DVD). Instead, for most of my critical viewing, I paired the 8000AP with a DVDO Edge video processor, reviewed in December 2008 by Ofer LaOr, with the Edge handling the HDMI and video switching duties and the 8000AP connected to the Edge via its audio-only HDMI output.