CD Players

Audiolab 8200CDQ CD Player with Built-In Preamplifier


Audiolab 8200CDQ CD Player Setup

There are so many features on the 8200CDQ it's best to address them by function. I'll break the review into the following sections; CD/DAC (digital pre-amp), Analog Pre-Amp, Headphone amp, and the remote.

The digital section of the CDQ encompasses the CD transport and digital inputs, with the DAC (using selectable filters) driving the single ended RCA and balanced XLR outputs. There's also a pair of digital outputs, one coax, one optical (analog signals are not passed through to the digital outputs). You have the option to use the CDQ as either an all digital pre-amp or an analog one. The signal sent to the XLR and RCA outputs (only one should be used at a time) can be attenuated in either the analog or digital domain. This is true for either the CD, or digital inputs, analog inputs remain analog the entire way and must use the analog volume control.

In the past, the obvious choice was to use the analog volume control to preserve the resolution of the digital signal. This is was due to old digital volume controls utilizing truncation. In the CDQ, a dithered digital volume control combined with noise shaping actually outperforms the analog volume control. There are distinct advantages to using a properly implemented digital volume control. A digital volume control in most cases offers better left to right channel linearity at low volumes, better channel separation and finer control over volume.

If you do choose to use the analog volume control, the DAC output is routed via relays to the analog volume control. From my own listening sessions (especially with active studio monitors) the digital pre-amp won out for transparency, and resolution. The analog volume control is not far behind. You just can't switch in additional circuitry without some effect. Considering how much cleaner the signal path is with the digital pre-amp, I doubt many people would prefer the analog route.

The selection of digital inputs is accomplished by pressing one of two input selection buttons which rotate through the 5 digital inputs. Two optical, two coaxial, one USB. It's worth noting that the USB input supports 88.2khz which is quite rare in USB equipped DACs. When selecting a digital source, lock is immediate, and the display provides both word length and sample rate information. The display incidentally is small and doesn't have sufficient contrast to be easily read from further than 6 feet.

In CD mode the following set-up options are available; Preamp mode, Digital Filter (applies to all digital sources), CD-Text, and Display Brightness. Preamp mode allows you to select between digital or analog volume control. CD-Text, whether or not to show the artist and track information on discs with CD-Text data. Display brightness is fairly obvious. Digital filters, that's where the magic of this player lies. It allows you to select from the seven available filter types which I'll cover after explaining the DAC options. The filter types are; Sharp Rolloff, Slow Rolloff, Minimum Phase, Optimal Spectrum, Optimal Transient, Optimal Transient XD, Optimal Transient DD. The manual makes very little mention to the differences in sound quality or technical approach to each filter. More information would be welcome.

DAC mode has several options: Preamp mode, Digital Filter, Digital Input PLL (Phase Locked Loop), Display Brightness, USB Audio Mode. The only different parameters from CD mode are the USB Audio Mode and Digital Input PLL. USB Audio allows you to select between 24/96 asynchronous mode and compatibility mode. Compatibility mode reverts the USB interface to adaptive operation. This should only be used if your computer set up does not function with asynchronous data transfer mode. The difference in sound quality is audible.

Digital Input PLL is for the optical and coax connections only and sets the sensitivity to jitter from a source. Options are; low, medium, high, and auto. Digital Input PLL is adjusted for each specific input. Auto is default and most recommended if you don't know the specific jitter levels of a source (according to the manual). High bandwidth offers the most tolerance of high jitter sources but does have some reduced performance. Low bandwidth is for low jitter sources, the lowest tolerance and also the best audible performance. Medium splits the difference. In theory using the low setting can cause pops or clicks with high jitter sources. In real world use I could hear audible differences between Low, Medium and High. Low offering the best detail and soundstage. I never once experience an audible pop or drop out using low with any of my sources.

The analog input section has three inputs, all of which are completely handled in the analog domain. The three inputs are named, Tuner, Aux, and Video. Each input has a direct access button on the remote, but must be cycled through the use of the up and down buttons on the front panel. The single ended inputs are converted to true dual-differential balanced audio signals internally. The options per input are; Input Level Trim, Home Theater Mode, and Display Brightness. Input level trim is only available if the input is not in Home Theater bypass mode. The level of adjustment is +/-24db. Home Theater Mode is adjustable for each of the three inputs, it's not likely to be used with more than one input, yet the flexibility is appreciated. The Display Brightness functions the same regardless of input.

The Headphone amp operates in class A and sounds fantastic. There are no options to the headphone amp other than plugging in your desired set of cans. Inserting a 1/4" headphone cable to the input automatically mutes the main outputs. The volume remains the same when you plug in headphones as when listening to speakers. It would be nice if there could be two different volume settings to prevent over driving headphones, or the speakers when you unplug headphones.

The remote control is especially good in both ergonomics and build quality. Buttons are very logically laid out, well spaced, with exceptionally good resistance when pressed. Two AAA batteries power the remote. The remote operates both the 8200CDQ and the matching 8200 series Tuner. Which unit is controlled is defined by pressing the mode button, a light at the top left corner indicates CD or Tuner selection.The remote has a mute button but there is no way to turn off the 8200CDQ from the remote. The only way to turn off the 8200CDQ is by pressing the front panel power button.