Audiolab 8300cd review


Based on the 8300CD, the 8300CDQ Utilises the existing technology and of its predecessor offering all the same level of detail, transparency and dynamic range. It is both an exceptional CD player and a top-class external DAC/digital preamp, able to make the most of your CD collection. While delivering an enormous sonic boost to external digital audio sources, and the same as the 8300CD, it extends its resolution to 32-bit/384-kHz and DSD compatibility via USB.

Taking it to the next level the 8300CDQ now includes MQA technology, which enables you to play back MQA audio files and streams, delivering the sound of the original master recording. MQA (Master Quality Authenticated) is an award-winning British technology that delivers the sound of the original master recording. The master MQA file is fully authenticated and is small enough to stream or download.

Higher Resolution

The new 8300CDQ can accept and process data up to 32-bit/384kHz; this is a far higher specification than that required even by current hi-res music formats, ensuring the 8300CDQ is fully equipped for future advances in ultra-high-definition digital sound.

The USB input now also accepts DSD data, as well as PCM. This is a significant addition, as DSD has an important role to play in the developing high-res digital download scene. Accordingly, the filter section now includes four extra filters for DSD playback, allowing the user to optimise the noise floor to suit the performance of the source file and the bandwidth of associated equipment such as amplifiers and loudspeakers.

The uprated digital processing associated with the increased resolution at the USB input delivers additional sonic benefits, for both CD replay and other connected digital sources, whatever the resolution of the file. In advancing the capability of the USB input to include files of up to 32-bit/384kHz, the processing of data preceding and within the Sabre DAC has increased the subjective resolution of musical detail and dynamics, resulting in a more energetic and transparent performance that sets a new standard for CD players at this price level.

Slot-Loading CD Mechanism

Our extensive research and development found that previous tray-style mechanisms sometimes produced a rare weak spot. The 8300CDQ sports a new mechanism that includes slot loading – much quicker and neater than the old tray.

The new mechanism also reduces the occurrence of disc rejection, able to play CDs that other CD players may reject for being imperfect from dirt or damage. Its digital buffer circuit is a perfect mate to the asynchronous input of the DAC, improving even this area of performance. A final benefit is increased disc stability and reduced susceptibility to resonance, which additionally contributes to the overall improved sound quality.


Connectivity options have been further expanded on the 8300CDQ with the addition of an AES/EBU digital input and XLR digital output. These join a full complement of inputs/outputs retained from the 8200CD: 2x coaxial digital inputs; 2x optical digital inputs; 1x asynchronous USB input; 1x coaxial digital output; 1x optical digital output; single-ended RCA and balanced XLR analogue outputs.

On the 8300A Engineers have developed a new phono stage catering for the resurgence in vinyl records with MM and MC configurations accessible via the front panel controls.

12V remote trigger loop feature on all units so as one device is switched on, paired units are switched into or out of standby mode – working as one system for quick operation.


We're not surprised Audiolab's engineers have taken an evolutionary approach to the development of this new machine. There's much at stake here. The most obvious change is the softer, more rounded look, though we prefer the crisper lines of the original. There are the usual black and silver finish options.

We also prefer the earlier design's longer-travel button feel to the small movement clicks of the 8300CD.

It's not all negatives, though. The new machine's 2.7in OLED display is larger and clearer than before, making it easier to read from a distance. Overall build quality is good and solid, while finish is up with the class leaders. This is a smart unit.

There is also a new loading and transport mechanism. Some complained that the sliding drawer on the earlier model felt a little clunky, so the company has swapped it for a slot-loader. We're pleased to report it's quick to respond and not unduly noisy.

The transport mechanism has much more impact on sound than the loader, with the new one claimed to be a step-up, particularly when it comes to reading scratched or dirty discs.


Once up and running the 8300CD is a fine performer. Whether used with the built-in CD transport or the digital inputs, the player's sonic signature remains consistent and appealing.

Its presentation is certainly more refined than the old one, more tonally even and projected with a greater scale of sound. Sonic authority is improved too, particularly at low frequencies.

We start off with Jonny Cash's version of and are mostly impressed by what we hear. There's a pleasing degree of substance here, with Cash's vocals firmly planted and nicely focused. There's plenty of bite, but no sign of unduly hard edges. Instead, you find a more mature sonic character, which is beautifully judged to avoid dulling the attack of notes.

We're pleased with the resolution too. This player digs up a lot of detail and is capable of organising it into a cohesive musical whole.

These qualities come to the fore with more complex music such as Hans Zimmer's from the OST, where the Audiolab's composure and sonic stability pays dividends. Its stereo imaging is also good, being nicely layered and sharply focused.

It's not all plain sailing though. The 8300CD isn't quite as entertaining as we'd like. The best of its rivals, the Cyrus CDi and Naim CD5si, are more involving to listen to.

Its dynamics are less expressive than the likes of the CDi, and changes of pace in music as diverse as a CD-rip of Kate Bush's The Coral Room and Stevie Wonder's on DSD aren't communicated with the level of verve we'd like.

We pull out an early 8200CD, curious to see how it compares. Despite the newer player's obvious superiority in bass solidity and tonal evenness, the old-timer proved a more entertaining listen.

Of course, it has to be noted that neither the old player nor the Cyrus can play DSD files.


One of the 8200CD's aces was always the inclusion of digital inputs. The new machine keeps these but moves the game on with 32-bit/384kHz and DSD compatibility through the USB input.

The old one didn't do DSD and was limited to 24-bit/96kHz data streams. There's now also an AES/EBU digital input alongside the usual co-ax and optical connections. All these can accept sampling rates of up to 192kHz

Audiolab has been careful not to mess too much with the 8200CD formula internally. The number-crunching is still done by the highly regarded ESS Sabre32 9018 DAC. This chip is more usually seen on more upmarket products and comes with a mighty reputation for fine sound quality.

While not changing the circuit massively, the engineers have taken the opportunity to tweak the sound with component changes in the power supply and signal path.

MORE: High-resolution audio: everything you need to know

Alongside the digital inputs – useful for upgrading the performance of most suitably equipped digital sources – the 8300CD will perform as a digital preamp too.

It has a built-in volume control that can be enabled when using the player directly into a power amplifier – Audiolab, naturally, makes a suitable partner – or into a pair of active speakers. There's the choice of single-ended and balanced XLR analogue outputs

As with its predecessor, this machine offers selectable filter options. There are seven choices when playing CD (or PCM music streams) with this new player adding a further four for DSD replay. It's worth playing around with these as they can make a notable difference.

Our long running favourite filter with the older machine was Optimal Transient XD, but with the 8300CD we found Optimal Spectrum had a purer, cleaner presentation with some recordings.

MORE: Best CD players 2020

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