British Audiolab has a few product lines that have one thing in common: affordable and good. For example, we tested the 6000 series amplifier and CD player and both products perform just fine. This M-Dac+ (Sabre 9018) also seems to be such a product. At 1100 euros an affordable device; especially if you look at what it all offers: AES input, two times coaxial and optical in, optical and coax out, USB and also XLR and single ended out. And a headphone output. That’s a lot. Not to mention the countless settings you can change. Our advice: choose Optimal Transient as a filter and leave it at that.
What is immediately noticeable when switching to the Audiolab M-Dac(+) is that the stereo image is higher than with the others. Very weird… where Beth Gibbons’ voice is just above the Sopras on the other four candidates, the Audiolab projects it about 20 or 30 cm higher. That may be due to the filtering; it certainly affects the projection. Just switch from a sharp-rolloff to a slow-rolloff. This is clearly audible in both the s-sounds and the projection.
The Audiolab otherwise has a fairly relaxed and neutral character. Slightly thinner in mid-bass and bass than the RME and Metrum, but just as tight and detail-rich in the bass. The detailing is average. On the RME, the piano in Moby’s “Why does my heart feel so bad” is easier to follow than on this Audiolab. Then again: the RME is also more analytical than this Audiolab and that should suit you.
The Audiolab really measures up nicely. Great dynamic range, linear character and neat noise performance and extremely good channel separation. Jitter performance is slightly less good compared to the IFI and certainly the RME ADI-2. What is funny to map with the Audiolab are the effects of the different filters. We put the impulse behavior on the scope so you can see that (post / pre-ringing) and also mapped the filters as well as the frequency response.
Overall, the Audiolab is a product that is broadly applicable, measures very well, and delivers solid performance. The image is large and the reproduction is smooth and fluent without harshness (in slow roll and optimal transient). The sound is slightly thinner in the bass than the other candidates. That’s taste…
|Brand / model||Audiolab M-Dac+|
|Inputs||AES, 2x coax, 2x optical, USB|
|Outputs||Coax, optisch, XLR, cinch, hoofdtelefon|
|Max bit- / samplerate||32 bit / 384 (USB), 24 bit / 192 kHz spdif – DSD|
|Dimensions||11,4 x 24,7 x 29,2 cm|