AVM Ovation CS 8.2 All-in-One System

Master of All Trades

Equipment report
Categories:
Disc players,
Digital-to-analog converters,
Music servers and computer audio
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Products:
AVM Ovation CS 8.2
AVM Ovation CS 8.2 All-in-One System

As you would expect from an all-in-one-box solution, the AVM accepts a wide variety of inputs including one stereo pair of balanced XLR analog, one stereo pair of unbalanced analog RCA, FM tuner (if the FM tuner module is installed), USB-B, two TosLink optical, one SPDIF coaxial, and an external USB drive connector, in addition to built-in CD drive and NAS, Internet radio, Bluetooth, and Internet streaming capability. Outputs include one stereo pair of five-way binding posts, one pair of variable analog single-ended RCA and one pair of balanced XLR, one pair of fixed-level analog RCA, one SPDIF coaxial, one TosLink digital, and the standard ¼" headphone jack on the front panel. The headphone output is driven by a dedicated Class A amplifier. There’s also an Ethernet connector, antenna connector (for the FM section, if you choose to install one), as well as a pair of 12-volt triggers on the back panel.

What does the AVM CS 8.2 lack in the way of inputs? There is no internal phono section; this being the flagship, AVM didn’t want to compromise phono performance by putting the phono circuit in the same chassis as the digital circuits. For vinyl spinners, AVM suggests its P30 stand-alone phonostage to augment the CS 8.2. Either of the two analog inputs will accept the line-level output of an external phonostage. In addition, any line input can be configured as a theater pass-through, fixing the gain at unity for using the CS 8.2 in a combined two-channel music and multichannel theater system. In one of the three systems, I used my Vendetta SCP-2B phono preamplifier via the single-ended input with excellent results—no low-level hum issues and plenty of gain. Other source deficiencies with the CS 8.2 are that it will not play SACDs, DVD-As, or anything except Red Book CDs and CDRs in its built-in drive. The CS 8.2 will decode DSD over USB up to DSD128. If you are a Roon user, the AVM does not currently support Roon or have the option to be a Roon endpoint. If you want to stream via Bluetooth from your phone, the CS 8.2 will not oblige. Finally, the current version of the 8.2 does not support MQA decoding. While higher-speed DSD playback is not something that any current or prospective AVM CS 8.2 owner should expect in the immediate future, MQA decoding (and possibly the Roon endpoint feature) could be added if enough users request it, according to AVM’s president and owner Udo Besser. I would also request a Bluetooth option. AVM’s modular design makes adding MQA or changing the entire DAC module a simple matter compared to most all-in-one components.

Ergonomics
As I mentioned earlier you have three ways to control the AVM CS 8.2. After a week of having it in the system I put the AVM remote away and used the iOS app exclusively. But don’t assume that the two large knobs and buttons on the AVM 8.2 front panel are vestigial remnants of an earlier age; when I used the 8.2 in a nearfield setup, where the unit was within hand’s reach, manual became my primary method of control. The feel of the volume knob and its smooth response were so alluring that even when I put the CS 8.2 back into a room-based system I occasionally got up off my chair to use the volume control knob just so I could turn it. That balanced flywheel motion is so slick.

The AVM 8.2 has a small, centrally located display window. It is a one-color blue typeface that can be read easily as long as you aren’t more than three feet away. If you move closer you will see that in addition to the volume level (which goes from 0 to 99 in ½dB increments), the display tells you the current bit rate of digital sources, whether they are being upsampled, and your current input source. The five buttons below the display let you select the digital filter, choose between native and upsampling, and give you access to deeper menu options. I found AVM menu choices were logical and well designed.

Sound
The first time I turned on the AVM CS 8.2 in my upstairs “real-world” room I was aware that it sounded different from the system that had previously been in residence. My wife commented that the sound was “fuller.” The system that had been in place consisted of the Sony HAP Z1ES media player ($2000) and Moon by Simaudio HD230 DAC ($1500) connected to the Parasound P7 ($2000) feeding two Bel Canto M300 monoblock amplifiers ($2000) and an Aperion subwoofer ($399). The speakers in the system were a pair of V123 X-Statix heavily modified by Skiing Ninja. I also immediately noticed the increase in harmonic complexity in the lower midrange that the CS 8.2 brought to music. In comparison, the earlier setup sounded more mechanical and not as harmonically rich or as musically involving. I wondered if it was the tube front end that had added “juice” to the sonic picture.

Because this is a real-world room, with multiple uses, it can’t be optimized for sonics. So, after a couple of weeks of learning the CS 8.2’s controls, and giving the unit an opportunity to settle in, I moved it into my main reference-system room, which has been optimized. But before I detail my reference system and compare performance, here’s a note about cost: When I first looked at the price of the CS 8.2 I thought, “Ouch.” Then I compared this all-in-one’s price to the sum of sources and electronics in my current reference system and found that the two systems were within $300 of each other! The PS Audio DSD Jr. ($3999) tethered to the Parasound P7 ($2000) along with the Oppo BD-205 ($1295) connected to the Pass Labs X150.8 power amplifier ($5999) puts my reference system’s total cost without speakers or cables at $13,293, which is pretty darn close to $12,995. So in reality the AVM 8.2 was very much on a par pricewise with my regular reference system, and it was a lot easier to install.

The sonic differences between my reference system and the AVM 8.2 were subtler than in the real-world room, probably because the system and the room were capable of a higher level of overall performance. In many categories the CS 8.2 and my reference system shared similar traits. Both produced a large image that filled the space between the two loudspeakers with in-phase information (out-of-phase content, such as crowd noise on live recordings, extended past the outside of the speakers). Image height between the CS 8.2 and my reference system was also similar. In stage depth, I felt that the AVM CS 8.2 was on par with the Parasound/Pass. Both did a good job of delineating the space between front-row violins and mid-row woodwinds.

Although the CS 8.2 does have tubes in its preamplifier linestage, it does not have a “tubey” harmonic balance or other tip-off to its circuit’s thermionic character. It did not sound too warm or prominent in the lower midrange, and I did not notice any treble roll-off or excessive upper-midrange emphasis. Harmonically, the CS 8.2 sounded right.