When I was an impressionable teenager, lusting after pretty much everything Bang & Olufsen produced, my parents’ rather more prosaic aspirations leant towards a music centre. For readers who don’t have roots in the seventies or before, these were all-in-one boxes containing a turntable, tuner, and compact cassette player, with a built-in amplifier and, like as not, bundled loudspeakers hard-wired with bell-wire. More upmarket versions had spring-loaded loudspeaker terminals and thus catered for separate loudspeakers, for that almost-but-not-quite budget hi-fi experience. Since those days, boxes that do everything have got a bit of a bad rap, but there’s been something of a resurgence of late and, having heard a fair few of today’s offerings, it’s high time to set aside any prejudices.
AVM is a relative newcomer to the UK, but can claim 30 years of history in its native Germany. The current owner, Udo Besser worked for Burmester for 15 years and the AVM products do have a similar luxuriant air about them. That goes for the immaculate fit and finish, but the sound also seems to share a certain generosity: a lush and expansive air that is immediately attractive.
The Evolution range is the middle of three offerings, flanked by the entry-level Inspiration, and the high-end Ovation ranges, and includes CD players, integrated amplifiers, pre-amps, and stereo or monobloc power amps. The £5,750 do‑everything CS 5.2 is either none of these, or most of them, depending on your outlook. In point of fact, it is even more, because it also offers an FM tuner and inbuilt phono stage, alongside its CD player and integrated (220W into 8Ω) amplifier. The CS 5.2 also has network connectivity, wireless streaming, and an asynchronous USB input. Its 192/24 upsampling DAC can accept optical or S/PDIF external signals, and pretty much all established streaming and music file formats are supported. Internet radio is a given. Three analogue inputs, two digital outputs (optical and coaxial, as for the inputs), a 75Ω FM aerial socket and two sets of loudspeaker terminals complete a pretty comprehensive back panel compliment.
The front panel has five soft keys below the display, whose functions vary depending on which source is chosen via the large rotary selector switch. There’s an optional remote control, but I used the front panel soft key controls and the app (available for iOS or Android). The app is neat, easy to use, and very flexible, so it’s likely most users won’t need the remote control and it makes sense not to bundle something in that users can do without, and would doubtless prefer not to pay for. One minor gripe, perhaps, is that the app doesn’t show track number or title during playback. The volume control is a light, but nicely-weighted rotary knob, coupled to a digital numeric display of level, or you can drag a finger over a slider on the app, though I found it harder to precisely control the level this way and it only moves in one-unit increments where the rotary knob allows finer control in 0.5 unit steps.
If you think of this as a conventional piece of kit, set up is a doddle. Unpack the box, plonk it on your support shelf, connect the mains (and VHF aerial if used), and hook up your loudspeakers to the sturdy binding posts. Then slot in a CD and play some music. The last sentence is a fair summary of the basic installation instructions, but in truth, most of the manual is taken up with the details of how to connect to your LAN, how to set up your Wi-Fi connection, and how to configure the app, plus the user-adjustable options you can get at via the menu. These include tone controls, adjustable input sensitivity, tuner presets and FM de-emphasis, gain-fixing, display options, and various other facilities. When you’ve played with these to the point of ruining everything, a factory-settings reset option is thankfully also available.
The manual is comprehensive enough, but given the complexity of the options, and the myriad ways the CS 5.2 can be used, it might be thought slightly lacking in detail in some areas; Luddites need not apply. An example: the manual explains that setting up the Wi-Fi requires that the CS 5.2 is first connected to the network via the LAN port, and after that has been achieved, the Wi-Fi connection can be established. This worked fine, and I rigged up a temporary length of Cat6 cable to my router in another part of the house, for the express purpose of establishing a Wi-Fi link. Having done all this, and got my iPhone talking nicely to the CS 5.2, I disconnected the LAN cable whereupon the Wi-Fi connection was dropped, and couldn’t be restored. The manual implies, without explicitly saying so, that once a Wi-Fi connection has been achieved, communication with the network will be by Wi-Fi. Not so, apparently. Checking with the importer, they confirmed that the LAN cable needs to remain connected. That temporary length of Cat6 cable became permanent for the duration of the review period, something my wife rather pointedly didn’t comment about…
The big question then is how does this £5,750 do-everything box actually perform? Connected to my Russell K Red 150 floorstanders, via Audiomica Genimedes loudspeaker cables, the AVM CS 5.2 replaced a dCS Puccini/U-Clock combination and Albarry pre/monobloc amps, which collectively cost over four times the price of the AVM so direct comparisons would be a tad unfair, but my first impressions were entirely favourable. Using its internal CD mechanism instrumental tone was luxuriant, without being fat or overblown; there was scale and weight aplenty and soundstaging was generous. On Ariel Ramirez’ ‘Missa Criolla’ [Naxos] the staging was broad, with good depth but not the cavernous depth and acoustic space that something like the dCS can render. The amp had no problem generating my preferred neighbour-baiting levels without apparent strain, but could play quietly without smothering the dynamics or killing the rhythmic flow.
The presentation leans more toward the full, lush, and slightly soft-focus end of the spectrum. Compared to the dCS it lacks a layer of subtlety, granular detail, and microdynamics – in the ‘Missa Criolla’ it was less clear whether struck tambourines were also being shaken or held still, for example – but there are perhaps as many people out there who don’t appreciate the dCS’ particular suite of virtues as there are those who do, and I can well understand why such people might gravitate to the AVM’s side in that case. Given the cost differential between the dCS and the AVM, I’d also be interested to see how much the equivalent model in AVM’s high-end Ovation series, the £11,695 Ovation CS 8.2, might close the gap. It would certainly be a fairer comparison, albeit the dCS system would still be some way ahead on cost, even with a budget amplifier downstream.
Taking it in its own terms, more realistic competition would be with CD players and integrated amps in the £2,000–£2,500 bracket, which puts us into territory occupied by many more mainstream brands. Of these, I suspect the stiffest challenge might come from the likes of AstinTrew, or the new Roksan Blak series, but when you factor in the cost of interconnects, aftermarket mains cables, and additional supports, it would be relatively easy to bust the AVM CS 5.2’s £5,750 retail price and not gain any discernible sonic benefit, losing functionality and flexibility in the process.
The internal slot-loading CD mechanism is a tad slow to load, but can be set to autoplay, so you can load the disc then get on with other stuff in the knowledge that it will start when ready. There is a small amount of mechanical noise, but not something that would intrude unless the unit was sat next to your ear. Playing ‘Miel et Cendres’ from Dhafer Youssef’s album Divine Shadows[Jazzland] the characteristic richness of Youssef’s Oud was well-portrayed, though the percussion’s impact was slightly softened. It’s a piece which builds from a subtle and atmospheric opening, adding complexity and rhythmic intrigue while a simple melody repeats, then fades to a simple restatement of the melody at the close. It’s lovely, but oddly unsatisfying; it dwindles away just at the point when you hope the band is going to move up a gear. It therefore relies on beauty and atmosphere for effect, rather than drama and excitement. In that, then, paradoxically the AVM scored over the dCS because the dCS always leaves me wanting more, there’s a sense of a destination not reached, whereas the AVM was sufficient in itself.
There is a clear hierarchy to the internal elements of the CS 5.2; in a nutshell, my lasting impression is of a good amplifier, a decent DAC and an okay CD transport. Playing the same piece on the dCS Puccini through its S/PDIF output into the CS 5.2, the AVM resolves more of the subtle timing cues, the leading edges of the percussion are more clearly depicted so there is more tension, that build-up which goes nowhere is more effectively conveyed. Better still is the dCS via its analogue outputs into the CS 5.2, timing and dynamics stepping up a further notch or two, the musicians are simply better; the overall impression is still of a warm and lush presentation compared to my Albarrys, but it’s not overdone. The more expensive offerings in AVM’s ranges have tube line stages and while the CS 5.2 doesn’t, I think the voicing could appeal to valve users, while not alienating valve haters.
Before you get the impression I’m being too critical of the CD transport, I should say that its performance is quite well-judged. Listening to music via the USB input (FLAC or WAV files on a USB memory stick in this case, though you could equally connect an external hard drive) the CD makes a much better case for itself. Elbow’s ‘Puncture Repair’ from Leaders of the Free World[V2 Music] lacks a little of its pathos via USB, sounding slightly banal compared to the same track played through the CD. ‘Station Approach’ from the same album has a long middle section where Guy Garvey sings on the same note while the band builds around him. The anticipation this creates is much more effectively realised via the internal transport than off the USB stick; overall, performers are portrayed as better musicians via CD. Similarly, the same file streamed off my phone via Wi-Fi loses out to the USB input, being somewhat compressed and murky by comparison. So, to summarise, the usual hierarchy of source quality I’ve come to expect is preserved: CD beats USB, which beats Wi-Fi streaming.
The tuner is a nice addition, though aerial deficiencies at home prevented me giving it a thorough workout its performance seemed entirely in keeping with the rest of the unit, which is to say, thoroughly respectable. Mind you, given the superb quality of Radio 3 via the internet, the FM tuner didn’t get as much attention as the internet radio facility, which was a doddle to use via the app, though the lack of instructions meant I was reliant on intuition and experimentation at first. The in-built phono stage, which caters for moving magnet or medium-to-high output moving coils thanks to variable input sensitivity, offers even more flexibility and versatility, and while it won’t worry a decent standalone phono stage, it shows every sign of being capable of giving a good account of itself with the sort of turntables it is likely to be asked to partner.
As a complete system, the AVM CS 5.2 is a remarkably versatile unit, providing access to internet radio, streaming services (TIDAL and Qobuz are supported) and USB digital, together with the conventional gamut of hi-fi sources. As a one-box solution for a minimalist, the AVM CS 5.2 has few peers, and the flexibility of its back panel connections makes it equally valid as a core component in a separates system, where its DAC and amplifier performance cede little to rivals at the likely price points. Add in the cool, understated good looks and impeccable build quality and it’s hardly surprising that AVM have a winner on their hands.
Type: CD Receiver with streaming, asynchronous USB and onboard phono stage
- Input sensitivity: 12.5–125mV
- Sensitivity Phono: 40–400µV
- Input impedance line: 6.8kΩ
- Input impedance Phono: 47kΩ / 100pF
- Signal to Noise Ratio: 96dB(A)
- Signal to Noise Ratio Phono: 83dB(A)
- Crosstalk (Phono): 55dB
- Frequency range: <5Hz to >50kHz
- Distortion: ITM @25W / 4Ω <0,1 %
- Damping factor: >200
- Rated power into 8Ω: 2 ×220 Watt
- Rated power into in 4Ω: 2 ×330 Watt
- Supported radio formats: FM
- Frequency range: 87.5–108.0MHz
- Tuning steps: 50kHz
- Sensitivity (mono / stereo): 1.5µV / 50µV
CD, digital in/out
- Formats: CD-Audio, CD-R
- Upsampling: 192kHz / 24Bit
- Frequency range: <5Hz–20kHz
- Deemphasis: yes, automatic
- Digital inputs: 33–192kHz / 16-24Bit (S/PDIF, TOSLINK)
- USB-input: up to 48kHz / 16Bit
- Digital-outputs: 44.1kHz / 16Bit (S/PDIF, TOSLINK)
- Streaming Formats: MP3 , WMA, AAC, OGG Vorbis, FLAC (192 / 32 via LAN), WAV (192 / 32 via LAN), AIFF (192 / 32 via LAN), ALAC (96 / 24 via LAN)
- Supported HiFi streaming services: TIDAL, Qobuz
- Supported media servers: UPnP 1.1, UPnP-AV and DLNA-compatible Server, Microsoft Windows Media Connect Server (WMDRM 10)
- DLNA-compatible Server: NAS
- Dimensions (W×H×D): 430 × 130 × 370mm
- Weight: 12 kg
- Price: £5,750
Manufactured by: AVM Audio Video Manufaktur GmbH
Distributed in the UK by: PMC
Tel: +44 (0)1767 686300
Read Next From ReviewSee all
AVM Ovation CS 8.3 Black Edition integrated system
High end audio is at something of a crossroads today. […]
- Jason Kennedy
- Sep 2023