The new kind of streaming systems with just add-on speakers are slowly but surely gaining popularity, but Audiolab has a trick up its sleeve with its Omnia version: it can play CDs.
While names like Naim, Cambridge Audio and NAD combine the old and the new by offering physical inputs and a phono stage alongside the latest hi-res streaming facilities, Audiolab Omnia has them all, but also remembers that not everyone threw away their CD collection when streaming took the world by storm.
We’ve seen the 2022 award-winning Technics SA-C600 take the same approach with the addition of CD replay to its one-box streaming capabilities, but Audiolab was technically first there: the Omnia made its official debut in November 2021.
The price of the Audiolab Omnia is £1599 / $2299 / AU$2999, nearly double that of the Technics SA-C600 (£899 / $999 / AU$1749), but competitive with Cambridge’s Audio Evo 75 (£1999 / $2499 / AU$3299).
You have to double the price for the next step up to the Naim Uniti Atom (£2499 / $3799 / AU$4800), which makes the Omnia seem like pretty good value considering the wealth of features you get with the one box.
The Audiolab Omnia takes the award for being the best specified and most versatile streaming product of its kind we’ve seen to date. Whether you like streamed music or still prefer physical formats, the Omnia can play it.
Let’s start on the streaming side: you get wired Ethernet and dual-band Wi-Fi, as well as Bluetooth. Yes, the three antennas attached to the rear can look a little crowded, but the trade-off is more stability – which is always preferable if you’re going to be streaming wirelessly on a regular basis.
The network streaming portion of the Omnia is powered by DTS Play-Fi technology, similarly used by Audiolab’s 6000A Play and the award-winning 6000N Play. Thanks to this software and the Play-Fi app, you also get access to a wealth of music services, including Spotify, Tidal, Amazon Music, Deezer, Qobuz and various internet radio stations.
The Play-Fi app (available for iOS and Android) also serves as a music butler of sorts, connecting to and playing music from your audio library stored on a DLNA-compatible NAS drive or media server. You can even group any other Play-Fi supported products you have into a multi-room system within the app.
The third-party app is stable and works fine, although we sometimes miss the personal touch given by the dedicated apps used by Audiolab’s rivals, which serve to further streamline the user experience.
If you’re playing hi-res streams, make sure you enable “Critical Listening Mode” in the app, as this will ensure music is played at 24-bit/192kHz quality over Wi-Fi or Ethernet, without any downsampling. Standard mode only reaches a top speed of 16 bit/48 kHz as it is more optimized for multiroom bandwidths.
Sticking to the Omnia’s streaming prowess: Spotify Connect is also on board, while Bluetooth 5 is paired with support for aptX, aptX LL, AAC and SBC codes. It can fully decrypt Tidal MQA files and also has Roon Ready certification.
On the physical connections side, there are two inputs each for optical and coaxial (and a single output for each), USB type B for connecting to laptops and a USB type A port for hard drives. It is through this PC USB Type B input that you can achieve the Omnia’s maximum file support, up to 32-bit/786kHz PCM and DSD512.
Audiolab Omnia technical specifications
Sources CD, Bluetooth, Phono MM, network streaming
Headphone output 6.3mm
Network Wi-Fi and Ethernet
Inputs Line Level x4, Phono MM, USB Type A, USB Type B, Optical x2, Coaxial x2
Hi-res support 32-bit/768kHz (PCM), DSD512, MQA
Assets 50 watts per channel
Dimensions (hwd)15.6 x 44 x 32.7 cm
Weight 9.1 kg
There are four line level analog inputs and vinyl fans are further served by the inclusion of a moving magnet phono stage. You can even split the Omnia’s amp stages to connect an external preamp or power amp. A true multitasker.
And finally there’s a dedicated headphone amp that plugs into the 6.3mm jack on the front panel.
Rival systems from Cambridge Audio, Naim and NAD vary in the connections and integrated sources they offer, with CD playback being the major exception. The NAD M10 adds an HDMI input, which is a useful addition.
There’s a lot of well-designed circuitry and advanced technology under the hood that informs all connections. Inside the Omnia is a class A/B amplifier, constructed from high-quality components that are said to be equivalent to the Audiolab 6000 Series separate pre- and power amplifiers. That’s critically acclaimed, and the Omnia’s proprietary preamp and power amp stages use short, direct signal paths to ensure the purest possible signal.
Meanwhile, the 50W per channel at 8 ohm output power should be more than enough to drive a wide range of speakers. We use KEF’s LS50 Meta standmounters as well as our reference ATC SCM50 with no problems.
The Omnia uses a 32-bit ESS Saber DAC and the Audiolab design team paid particular attention to the post-DAC active filter. This uses op-amps specially selected for their “synergy” with the ESS Saber DAC.
The Omnia has a sturdy, well-built body that feels every inch of its price tag. The aluminum housing is available in black or silver finishes and looks good too.
Our only gripe is with the CD tray, which feels flimsy compared to the rock solid build of the rest of the Omnia. Audiolab says the disc read mechanism is based on the one used in the 6000CDT transport, and uses a high-precision optical system and electronic data buffer that should minimize any disc read errors. We’re happy to report that tray thinness doesn’t affect playback performance – just our impression of the quality of the product.
Compared to the more lifestyle-oriented designs of the Technics, Cambridge Audio Evo and Naim Uniti systems, the look of the Omnia is decidedly reserved. The front panel keeps things simple with the slim CD tray slot and a handful of small, responsive buttons for power, source selection, playback and volume control.
That’s because the spotlight is given to the glorious 4.3-inch IPS color LCD display that dominates the front panel. It’s clear that Audiolab’s designers paid special attention to this screen: it’s large, easy to read from a distance, shows album artwork and lots of useful track information without ever looking crowded.
You can even choose different displays: select analog or digital VU meters that display real-time decibel levels for the left and right channels. It adds a nice touch of the old school to a modern hi-fi device and a sense of airiness to the Omnia.
While we wish there was a physical volume rocker with that screen, the included remote does the job well enough. It’s a solidly made handset that feels nice to hold and we found it intuitive to use and a better alternative to the Play-Fi app for adjusting the Omnia’s playback, source and volume.
The Omnia is heavy and easy to listen to from the moment we hit play. The sound is rooted with authority, clear and defined, with a decent grasp of rhythm and timing.
We’re playing A Perfect Circle’s Thirteenth step album on CD, and the Omnia shows off its power. It’s a grand and daring performance, with enough grunt and texture for the heavy guitars and ferocious drums. The vocals are focused and candid.
While we could use more outright attack and punch, we like how open and spacious it all sounds. There’s good dynamic contrast, with the Audiolab able to capture the charging intensity of the heavier chorus with as much skill as the quieter, more somber moments of Pet.
Switch to Chilly Gonzales’ piano compositions (played on CD and streamed via Tidal), and you can clearly hear the deep textures and resonances around each piano note struck, as well as the higher ringing notes that are crystal clear (but never clear). . It’s a skillful and smooth approach, with a balance that we can listen to for hours without getting tired.
This easygoing nature is replicated across all of Audiolab’s many sources and inputs, including the headphone port (which we tested with Focal’s excellent Clear Mg over-ears). However, we found that songs sounded weakest over Bluetooth; the Omnia has so many ways to play music, we’d use them all instead of Bluetooth.
It may be nearly half the price, but the talented Technics SA-C600 system has more in common with the Omnia than other rivals, especially the CD player. The Technics might not be as large-scale, open or revealing as many details as the Omnia, but it’s more adept at conveying enthusiasm, rhythmic precision and dynamic punch – all qualities the Omnia could do with a healthy dose.
The rapid-fire keys – which time with astonishing precision – and the exhilarating sense of momentum in Gonzales’ Blizzard in B flat minor are more direct and captivating due to the technology. The interplay of notes and precise edges in songs like Four Tet’s circling or mass attacks Tear is also more tangible. While Omnia is more capable in hi-fi terms, we just want a little more grit and drive in the proceedings.
However, as it stands the Omnia is extremely easy to listen to, and we can imagine many are more than happy with its smooth, authoritative presentation. If you’re looking for a powerful streaming system with all the bells and whistles you can think of, this Audiolab is worth considering.
Read our review of the Technics SA-C600
Also consider the Cambridge Audio Evo 75
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