The Audiolab 8000AP has five line stereo inputs and one 5.1 channel input, all on phono sockets, plus a 7.1 channel analogue output.
It also has seven digital inputs (three electrical, four optical) and two HDMI inputs, plus one optical digital output and one HDMI to feed a projector or plasma screen.
Not surprisingly, all the signal switching and volume control stuff is done digitally, but Audiolab has gone one step further and digitised the analogue inputs, as is evident from their frequency response.
The 8000X7 is a much less high-tech affair. Its story begins with a monstrous toroidal transformer, which is obviously going to be needed for seven channels of 100 watts, and ends with a pair per channel of bipolar power transistors mounted on the heatsinks which make up the sides of the unit.
Eight of these (four channels'-worth) are on the left side, mounted so that they actually touch each other. Between the transformer and the output stages are seven channels of driver stages, implemented with a mixture of through-hole and surface-mount parts, mostly discrete transistors and decent-quality passive parts.
Audiolab has been careful with real estate planning and it's not a mad squeeze.
It seems that a multichannel system like this can indeed give musical satisfaction. Indeed - and this may ruffle some feathers - it was felt to be one of the most 'musical' systems in the test.
Starting on the rock'n'roll, the bass was felt to be big, bold and clear, though just a little loose compared with some of the others. The same applied in the jazz track, where the bass seemed somehow slower than the melody.
All the same, the higher frequencies in this track were clear and natural and the overall presentation encouraged musical, rather than technical thoughts in the listeners.
Classical music also showed off the Audiolabs to good advantage, with the relationship between instruments particularly admired. Against that, one listener pointed out that the clarity with which the individual voices in the opera chorus could be discerned was some way short of perfect and the depth of the stereo image fell short of that projected by the other amps.
Such limitations as this duo has are to do with resolution and analysis and in these areas it is not a match for the Bryston. But the latter is twice the price and doesn't include seven channels!
The DAC performance is impressive too, with notably fine high treble and very clear decay of notes into silence.