FOR Expansive soundstage; aptx Bluetooth; capable DAC AGAINST Lean balance; treble lacks refinement “By repurposing the successful formula of the M-DAC+, Audiolab has created a bold-sounding amp”
Anyone who’s ever tried cramming holiday clothes into a carry-on cabin suitcase will sympathise with the concept behind Audiolab’s latest integrated amplifier. How do you pack pre/power amplifier and aptx Bluetooth receiver into the same compact chassis as the company’s flagship digital-toanalogue converter, the MDAC+, without compromising performance?
Here’s how: the 40W-per-channel MONE. Physically, it’s very similar to the flagship MDAC+, with the same boxy aluminium case, central OLED display and double rotary dial creating a contemporary aesthetic. It’s significantly heavier than its DAC cousin, the inclusion of the power amp adding on the pounds.
Calling the MONE ‘the MDAC+ with amplification and Bluetooth’ would be misleading. It shares the DAC technology with Audiolab’s standalone models, but features the two-channel ESS9018 K2M chip, the ‘little brother’ of the eightchannel ESS9018 used in the MDAC+.
It nabs the headphone amp from the MDAC+ and its predecessor the MDAC, and you can take advantage of that via the 6.3mm jack. Two USB inputs – one type-b for PC and Mac compatibility and one type-a for Apple devices – support 32-bit/384khz and DSD256.
Single optical and coaxial inputs are 32-bit/192khz compatible, and there’s a pair of line-level inputs. Seven sound settings for PCM files in the MDAC+ are whittled down to three here, but join the same four settings for DSD files.
Predictably, the MONE bears a likeness to the MDAC+’S insightful and authoritative sound, crisply drawing instruments on a soundstage that is not only big and expansive, but also fastidiously well-staged. Beyond size and scale, it distinguishes itself with generous detail, particularly in the midrange.
Floating across keys
The Audiolab is fluent and focused with the melodic piano in Ludovico Einaudi’s Ancora, delivering its flowing nature while ensuring each note is punctual, well defined and harmonious. It signals both dynamic upheavals and less apparent variations with ease. The piece brims with variation, no key carrying the same burden. It conjures images of the pianist’s hands floating across the keys.
Rhythms are confidently rendered, if not as precisely or subtlely as through the Rega Elex-r or Heed Elixir. The collaboration between the vocal echo, snare drums, cymbals and synth riffs in Major Lazer’s Pon De Floor demands tip-top timing and, even in the most convoluted section, the MONE avoids being tongue-tied.
Instruments don’t just concern themselves with kicking in right on cue, but also with how they interplay with one another. There’s as much insight into the marching drum roll as the choppy synth hooks, which speaks volumes for the MONE’S democratic spread of detail.
While it’s backed with some weight and muscle, tonally the presentation is a little lean. It’s not quite as immediate as the Rega or Cyrus One, but thanks to its other talents it’s sure to grow on you. There is one criticism: the treble feels rawboned, the Audiolab snagging the edge of notes at the top of the frequency range where we’d like a little more warmth.
By repurposing the successful formula of the MDAC+ for the stereo amp world, and further strengthening its validity with the addition of Bluetooth streaming, Audiolab has created a bold-sounding amp. While it’s not quite class-leading, it is certainly worthy of its illustrious predecessors and demands a listen.
The aluminium case looks similar to that on the flagship M-DAC+ KEY FEATURES 32-bit/384khz DSD256 aptx Bluetooth
Two asynchronous USB inputs support 32-bit/384khz and DSD256