Don’t count the compact disc player out just yet, folks. The CD format may have lost ground to computer-based audio, but as I’ve been positing for the last few issues, the venerable CD drive will not be joining the ranks of the electronic-homeless anytime soon. Audiophiles, music lovers, and millennials alike are reintroducing themselves to the pleasures of experiencing tactile, physical media versus the ephemera of digital “storage” —media that includes not only vinyl, but also CDs. Joining the newly minted segment known as “media players” is the AVM Evolution MP 5.2, a component that aggregates the best of all digital worlds in a single chassis.
Celebrating its 30th anniversary, AVM might not be a household name in North American consumer hi-fi, but its extensive range of electronics is well respected in high-end circles. In TAS, for instance, Wayne Garcia covered the AVM Inspiration C8 CD-receiver back in Issue 224. However, the $8400 Evolution MP 5.2 is an enitrely different kettle of fish. As AVM’s mid-tier media player, it features a tube linestage based on a pair of ECC83s—custom designed and built for AVM (which calls them AVM 83Ts)—and run in balanced mode. The plate-glass window in the top panel of the MP 5.2 offers users a nice interior view of the blood-red glow of those valves. (For the tube-averse, AVM offers an identical player in the $6600 MP 3.2, which has the same features only with solid-state circuitry.) The stylish, brushed-aluminum chassis reveals nary a screw or bolt to blemish its seamless look. On the front panel is a large blue-lit display centered above the disc slot. It shows source and track/time data, plus sampling and filter selection. (As for the small line of buttons, I’m not sure whether I’m more dismayed that its tiny and faintly lettered, or alarmed at my declining eyesight.) In any case, the clean, uncluttered look of the front panel disguises the fact that this player is bristling with capability. Foremost is the slot-loaded CD player, featuring a TEAC Pure-CD drive—supplied exclusively to AVM—that’s spring-mounted and equipped with a mono-focal lens. A glance at the back panel reveals a bundle of digital inputs: four SPDIF (two coax, two optical) plus an AES/EBU and an asynchronous, galvanically isolated USB input with DSD64 (2.8MHz) capability. Significantly, the MP 5.2 is also a network player with both wireless and LAN over Ethernet. Digital-to-analog conversion is provided courtesy of a Wolfson 8471 chip, which offers both 24-bit/192kHz PCM (coax and USB) and DSD resolution (USB only) in double-balanced architecture. There is selectable upsampling of all incoming signals from native to 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4, 192kHz. Plus, there are two digital filters, Smooth and Steep. Other welcome features include input renaming and auto-play when inserting a CD.
In an email exchange, AVM’s owner Udo Besser offered some insights about the tube linestage. Implemented in both his Ovation and Evolution products, the design uses the regulated DC heating of the tube to compensate for the tube’s aging process and to extend its life. This process required proprietary, custom alterations of the ECC 83 and 803. “Since we use our tube stages only as a linestage, we may run the tubes in the ideal area of its amplification curve; as a side effect this expands the [tube] life-expectancy very much. Overdriving the tubes is effectively avoided by adding a solid-state Class A output stage, which drives the connected cable and is tolerant to short circuits.”
Remote controls are rapidly becoming legacy devices in the face of control apps for smartphones and tablets. AVM is no exception, and offers the RC S remote app, which is available as a free download for iOS and Android. Operationally it’s a reasonably efficient interface but lacks the colorful pop and dashboard organization of today’s better control apps, such as the Lumin app I’m using to drive the Lumin A1 Network Music Player I reviewed in Issue 248. For those who remain wedded to a traditional handheld RC, there’s the optional RC 9 RF/IR controller that features a small color display and includes a nifty charging dock.
Network setup (an old nemesis) was an intuitive breeze—my network password was all that was required to get the player up and running. A distinct advantage of network players like the MP 5.2 is the ease with which the factory can update the unit. For example, toward the conclusion of the review process, I was alerted via the app that a free firmware upgrade was available with several features that are now bundled as standard equipment with current-production units, including variable output, pre-installed Tidal support, plus a new Internet radio service provider with additional features such as podcasts, favorites, and so forth. Very cool.