AMPS HEAD TO HEAD

Two su­perb stereo amplifiers at the same price, so how can you choose be­tween them? With our handy head-to-head com­par­i­son, that’s how

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Au­di­o­lab 6000A goes up against the Rega Brio for stereo amp supremacy

How do you de­cide be­tween two ter­rific-sound­ing stereo amplifiers? The Rega Brio is a two-time Award-win­ner and our reign­ing Prod­uct of the Year for stereo amps – but, with plenty of ap­peal­ing fea­tures, the Au­di­o­lab 6000A is a for­mi­da­ble threat.

Both stereo amplifiers cost £599, so any­one in the mar­ket for a new piece of hi-fi is spoiled for choice. But how do you make that se­lec­tion? Let us walk you through the pros and cons of these two ex­cel­lent amps…

Build

Nei­ther amp veers too far away from the sturdy me­tal box tem­plate: the Au­di­o­lab 6000A is a mod­ern min­i­mal­ist’s dream with clean lines and rounded corners, while the Rega Brio’s half-width de­sign is ideal for those short on space.

Build qual­ity on both amps is of a high stan­dard, with re­spon­sive con­trols that are in­tu­itive to use. The Rega may be com­pact, but its fully alu­minium case is 5kg of re­as­sur­ing heft. It looks smart with its swooped front-panel de­sign that’s rem­i­nis­cent of the early Brios dat­ing back to the 1990s.

The most prom­i­nent cos­metic flour­ish on the Brio is the vol­ume dial – a hol­lowed-out me­tal ring that makes the amp look a bit like a mon­o­cle-wear­ing dandy. It has a smooth ac­tion that’s lovely to use.

Un­like the black-only Rega, the 6000A is avail­able in sil­ver or black fin­ishes. Both op­tions look el­e­gant thanks to an un­clut­tered alu­minium front panel and crisp OLED dis­play screen.

As a nod to the orig­i­nal 8000A am­pli­fier from the 1980s, Au­di­o­lab has in­cluded the abil­ity to switch be­tween three modes: in­te­grated, pream­pli­fier and power am­pli­fier con­fig­u­ra­tions.

Fea­tures

If the amplifiers don’t look too ex­cit­ing on the out­side, it’s be­cause all the in­ter­est­ing work has hap­pened un­der the hood. The re­vamped Brio has an up­dated cir­cuit board lay­out and boasts two sep­a­rate power sup­plies: the big­ger for the power am­pli­fier sec­tion, the smaller for the phono stage and preamp.

Ev­ery tweak to cir­cuit and power sup­ply is made to help de­tail res­o­lu­tion and keep the main sig­nal path as clear as pos­si­ble, lead­ing to bet­ter over­all sound qual­ity. The head­phone out­put has been care­fully in­te­grated to en­sure it doesn’t in­ter­fere with the main speaker sig­nal.

Like­wise, on the 6000A, the preamp sec­tion is kept as sim­ple as pos­si­ble to main­tain sig­nal in­tegrity, and the lay­out aims to keep noise in­ter­fer­ence and dis­tor­tion down to a min­i­mum. There are also in­de­pen­dent power feeds for crit­i­cal stages of the cir­cuit, and a ded­i­cated head­phone am­pli­fier that uses cur­rent-feed­back cir­cuitry.

Au­di­o­lab has paid spe­cial at­ten­tion to the dig­i­tal cir­cuitry of the am­pli­fier. The 6000A uses tech­nol­ogy de­rived from the top-range 8300A se­ries. It even uses the same DAC chip (ES9018) as the Award-win­ning Au­di­o­lab M-DAC.

Con­nec­tions

So far, these two have been neck-and­neck, but this is where the splits start to ap­pear. Rega con­tin­ues its staunch ana­logue-only ap­proach with the Brio, while Au­di­o­lab casts its net wider by ad­ding dig­i­tal in­puts – even Blue­tooth – to its list of con­nec­tions.

The Brio has four line-level in­puts, a pair of phono con­nec­tors, a pair of out­puts for record­ing, and a 6.3mm head­phone port. And that’s it. It’s more than ad­e­quate if you have one or two sources such as a streamer and/or a turntable. Be­ing Rega, the mov­ing mag­net phono stage is de­signed to work har­mo­niously with the com­pany’s bril­liant line of Pla­nar turntables.

For those want­ing more choice, par­tic­u­larly for play­back from TVS, lap­tops and smart­phones, the ver­sa­tile 6000A caters well with four dig­i­tal

“The Au­di­o­lab 6000A has a sense of clar­ity and am­ple de­tail that keeps you lis­ten­ing com­fort­ably for hours”

in­puts – two apiece for op­ti­cal and coax­ial. All are ca­pa­ble of play­ing up to 24-bit/192khz hi-res au­dio files. The ad­di­tion of aptx Blue­tooth is def­i­nitely a bonus if you want to stream mu­sic eas­ily and quickly from a tablet or phone, too.

Au­di­o­lab ticks the ana­logue boxes with three line-level in­puts, a pair of mov­ing-mag­net phono in­puts and a 6.3mm head­phone jack. A bit of every­thing for ev­ery­one, then.

Sound

What it all comes down to, as Ala­nis Moris­sette once war­bled, is sound qual­ity. Both amplifiers use class A/B am­pli­fi­ca­tion, with a claimed power of 50W per chan­nel into 8 ohms. But those num­bers don’t tell the whole story: these two amplifiers sound wildly dif­fer­ent.

The rhyth­mic Rega has su­perb dy­nam­ics and depth of tex­ture, while the ar­tic­u­late Au­di­o­lab is won­der­fully clear, re­fined and spa­cious. The new Brio takes every­thing we love about the Rega sound – its sense of tim­ing, punchy dy­nam­ics, agility, sub­tle de­tail and fun – and hones them more finely. It’s clearer, more de­tailed and more mus­cu­lar than the pre­vi­ous, lean-sound­ing Brio-r.

The new Brio sounds fuller and richer – no ex­citable treble here – with a gor­geous so­lid­ity run­ning through ev­ery single note. You have only to crank up A Per­fect Cir­cle’s Pet to feel the sheer force of wail­ing gui­tars, pow­er­ful vo­cals and thun­der­ous drums as if the band is phys­i­cally play­ing in the room you’re in.

It goes loud and it’s thrilling. But the Rega hasn’t trans­formed into some mus­cle-bound heavy­weight. De­spite the sat­is­fy­ing oomph that ac­com­pa­nies rum­bling basslines, the Brio’s nim­ble foot­ing and rhyth­mic prow­ess are the true high­lights.

It ducks and weaves its way around tricky com­po­si­tions, ty­ing all mu­si­cal strands to­gether in a way that’s au­thor­i­ta­tive and skil­ful with­out ever los­ing its sense of fun.

The sus­tained build up of ten­sion in Arvo Pärt’s Fra­tres is a real test of the Rega’s tal­ents: the strings are light but ur­gent, and the screechy tex­ture of the bow scrap­ing across them is tan­gi­ble. The lead­ing edges of notes are stun­ningly pre­cise, and there’s a depth to the qui­eter mo­ments that’s as im­pres­sive as the con­trolled yet pow­er­ful crescendo.

Voices are in­ti­mate and ex­pres­sive, let­ting you gauge the true in­tent and emo­tion be­hind each genre of song. You can lose your­self in the way the Rega han­dles what­ever song you throw at it, re­gard­less of the source.

Lis­ten­ing to the Au­di­o­lab 6000A, we are taken with how clean and ar­tic­u­late it sounds. It has a gor­geous sense of clar­ity and am­ple de­tail that keeps you lis­ten­ing com­fort­ably for hours on end.

The 6000A fol­lows the lilt­ing vo­cals and del­i­cate tone of The Un­thanks’ My

Lad­die Sits Ower Late Up ef­fort­lessly, glid­ing along the tracks with a deft touch. The edges of each note are crisp and punc­tual. Pi­ano notes land with sat­is­fy­ing weight, bass is pulled taut, and strings are bowed with con­vic­tion – it’s a won­der­fully con­fi­dent per­for­mance.

But the 6000A isn’t all about re­fine­ment. Give it some­thing with a charg­ing rhythm, such as Amanda Palmer’s Runs In The Fam­ily with its un­der­ly­ing stac­cato beat, and the amp doesn’t pause for breath. It keeps the mo­men­tum go­ing at a snappy pace.

The pre­sen­ta­tion is large and airy – more so than the Rega Brio – giv­ing in­stru­ments plenty of space. You can lis­ten to this amp loud, with very lit­tle hard­ness creep­ing in. The Au­di­o­lab’s crisp pre­sen­ta­tion comes through across ana­logue and dig­i­tal in­puts alike. The 6000A’s DAC is of a good stan­dard, and it’s im­pres­sive to hear such a ca­pa­ble and com­posed sound at this price.

Ver­dict

Both stereo amplifiers im­press with their dis­tinc­tive sonic char­ac­ter­is­tics at the same price, so it takes plenty of de­lib­er­a­tion to choose a win­ner.

The Au­di­o­lab has the up­per hand with the va­ri­ety and breadth of con­nec­tions it of­fers, but the Rega wears its ana­logueonly badge with pride. Both pre­sen­ta­tions are ap­peal­ing, and which one you pre­fer will be down to per­sonal taste.

But there’s a raw­ness to the Rega Brio, an abil­ity and will­ing­ness to dig deeper into the in­tent of a song that touches a nerve and tugs at our heart­strings in a way that the Au­di­o­lab – no mat­ter how un­de­ni­ably tal­ented it is – doesn’t. It’s a touch too poised to get tan­gled in with messy emo­tions and grit­tier tracks. The ex­pres­sive Rega – while per­haps not as re­fined – doesn’t hold back, and draws us into the mu­sic ev­ery single time.

It’s what keeps us play­ing song af­ter song through it. And ul­ti­mately, that’s all we want out of our hi-fi.

“The Brio’s vol­ume dial is a me­tal ring that makes the amp look a bit like a mon­o­cle-wear­ing dandy”

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