Would you please comment on the slot loading feature? Top CD transports rarely include a slot.
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Had this for over a year now and still going strong, reads CD’s that are imperfect and sounds better than any CD player I've ever used. Slot loading units are also in autos and resist temperature extremes and massive vibrations and work for decades, so I don’t agree with the " Slot loading units are 99% usually cheap DVD Rom Drives"
It's funny, but some of these cheaper transports seem to last forever. I just met an old friend that I helped put together a system 20 years ago and he still has his Arcam DVD/CD player I recommended and it still works! As to your Audiolab, there are tons of those out in the field and I don't see many (if any) threads about bad sound or bad reliability, cheap transport not withstanding.
I also have the Audiolab 6000CDT running in to the Denafrips Ares II; it plays my old CDs from 30 years ago no problem, some of which are definitely not in mint condition 🙄.
I was concerned with the slot loading, but on my newer, flawless CDs, there has been no scratching of the discs whatsoever.
Regarding SQ, my findings match the OP's. At the price (£379 UK) for this transport, slotted in to a budget/mid level system, IMHO I don't think you can go far wrong.