To put it mildly, this is a time of turmoil in the high end. The growing demand for state-of-the-art analog LP and tape components is one side of that turmoil. The other side is the shift away from discs to streaming and high resolution.
It would be nice if audiophiles could hope for some island of stability that would make the high end a safe refuge, but digital is in an age of audio Darwinism: Higher sampling rates (with or without MQA), streaming vs. stored files, and accessing music via software such as Roon or JRiver or via traditional music storage. On top of this, a wide range of surround-sound music titles presents a challenge to stereo, and may yet become a major part of the high end.
Ironically, all of this high-end survival of the fittest is also occurring just as the high end is becoming increasingly isolated from the rest of the audio jungle. High-end manufacturers and audiophiles may fight over the finer details of digital, but the general public largely doesn’t care. In fact, the public seems to be trending towards a form of zombie apocalypse—a world where humans go through ordinary life tied to fashion-statement earphones and portable players, and then wander blankly into oncoming traffic.
And audio is only part of this new zombie apocalypse. Popular surround videos seem more and more decoupled from an interest in music and audio quality, and more focused on sound effects and “immersion.” The world is also increasingly dominated by computer gaming and now has virtual reality on its immediate horizon—a development that seems likely to open a whole new way of becoming the living dead.
Fortunately, high-end Darwinism is evolving some real successes, and ones that do not present any risk of creating audio zombies. The AVM Ovation SD 6.2 is a serious new entrant in this neo-Darwinian struggle. It combines an analog preamp with a DAC that can handle virtually any current digital music format from 32-bit/352kHz PCM to DSD128. It can also decode virtually any streaming format such as MP3, WMA, AAC, OGG Vorbis, FLAC, WAV, AIFF, and ALAC, as well as DSD.
This makes the Ovation SD 6.2 extraordinarily versatile, although it does have a few neo-Darwinian limits. It does not have a phono preamp but you can always add an outboard phonostage. The Ovation can be connected to your network via Ethernet or Wi-Fi, playing files from a NAS, USB stick, or other sources on the network. The supplied music-management software, however, is limited; it won’t display album art and isn’t ideal for managing a large music library. The Ovation SD 6.2 does not offer MQA decoding, although the manufacturer hasn’t commented on whether this will be a future option.
I have no better idea of where this puts the AVM Ovation SD 6.2 in the sonic evolutionary chain than you do. Audio evolution never stops, and we are years away from the perfect “everything-included” digital playback unit. Still, the Ovation SD 6.2 appears to be flexible and advanced enough to justify a serious investment. Today’s buyer should demand a broad, well-chosen range of contemporary features and capabilities, and the Ovation SD 6.2 provides them. Moreover, it is designed to make upgrading its firmware easy, and it has modular circuit boards that are simple to swap and upgrade. No product available today or in the foreseeable future can guarantee cutting-edge features in this age of constantly evolving digital options, but the Ovation’s combination of upgradable software and modular hardware goes a long way toward realizing that ideal.
Most importantly, the AVM Ovation SD 6.2 is one of the best-sounding digital units I’ve heard. Assuming that what you really care about is the music, the Ovation SD 6.2 is an exceptional state-of-the-art product right now, in the area where it really counts.
Before I focus on the sound, however, I should address the AVM’s technology and some of its other features. As you might expect in an $8995 unit of German origin, it is beautifully manufactured. If you look inside, it has one of the cleanest modular layouts I’ve seen, and as I noted earlier these modules are designed to allow easy future swaps and upgrades.
I have found layout and construction to be key indicators of audio quality, and the Ovation SD 6.2 has a housing made of 6mm-thick aluminum with a front plate that is 15mm thick. Another slab of aluminum divides the housing in the middle, separating all the power supplies in the front from the audio circuits in the back. Moving the audio circuits to the back shortens the signal paths, and the layout guides the airflow through the case to cool relevant parts while maintaining a temperature that ensures the circuit will perform at its best.