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AVM Evolution MP 5.2 Media Player

AVM Evolution MP 5.2 Media Player

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.


As I listened to the AVM, I moved back and forth between CDs and the identical material stored on my Synology NAS drive. Throughout, the MP 5.2’s sonic performance was excellent. Tonally, it had a glassy-smooth character with intimations of midrange and top-end warmth that were very appealing to my ear. Low-level and background details were well resolved. The rattles of the tambourine during Holly Cole’s “The Heart of Saturday Night” from Temptation were concise and cleanly represented, as was the ring of octave strings from the 12-string guitar during k.d. Lang’s version of Jane Siberry’s “Love is Everything” on Hymns of the 49th Parallel. With its high-output trumpet excursions, The Manhattan Jazz Quintet’s cover of “Autumn Leaves” continues to leave me breathless. This version features a slow, low-key buildup that turns into an ambush of house-on-fire dynamic intensity. This track has a level of transparency that challenges the transient and dynamic alacrity of every component in a system. The MP 5.2 traversed it with brio, imparting a vivid soundstage, nice depth cues, and a deep pocket of air for the piano. And as I turned to high-resolution Reference Recordings 24-bit/176kHz material, the MP 5.2 reached into the furthest recesses of an acoustic soundstage and furnished all levels of clues regarding venue scale and dimension.

The more I listened to orchestral string sections, the more I appreciated the denser timbre of the AVM. And by this I’m not referring to colorations per se, rather something more related to the physical, fleshy presence of musicians in performance. Similarly, string instruments such as cello and bass violin exuded the full-bodied, weighted voices and appropriately stout resonant foundations that I expect them to have. I can’t say with any certainty to what extent my sonic impressions can be attributed to the AVM tube stage, but I can state that over the years I’ve found that tubes illuminate the soundstage a bit differently—as in a shift in color temperature from, let’s say, a bluer “digital” cast to a slightly redder one. And this was the case here.

With the Esoteric K-03X SACD player/DAC still in-house (Issue 261), I was a little startled by just how closely the AVM approached the Big K’s overall performance and resolving power. The AVM couldn’t quite match the heavy and deeply rooted foundation that the K-03X establishes, but its timing and tonality didn’t take much of a backseat. As I discovered during Diana Krall’s cover of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You” from Live in Paris, the AVM’s personality was a little brighter overall, a trait that allowed transients to really pop and heightened immediacy. Although both players offered solid dimensional cues, the Esoteric was a bit chestier and darker on vocals, and my ears perceived a more convincing degree of felt padding on the piano hammers. The AVM only ceded ground to the Esoteric when attempting to resolve some lower-level imaging detail, such as those found in the background singers’ shimmering vocals during Leonard Cohen’s “Darkness” from Old Ideas. In this instance, their seductive voices were rendered a little less distinctly from one another and were not as palpably present.

When the Beatles’ Paul McCartney sang in Penny Lane “…it’s a clean machine,” the line could easily have applied to AVM’s neatly executed, smartly appointed, and musically virtuous MP 5.2. Call it the streaming future and the CD past rolled into one. AVM’s small-footprint integrated solution offers the best of all digital worlds in a single, trim package. Easy on the eyes, easy on the ears, AVM’s MP 5.2 is a very strong contender in the youthful media-player segment. Enthusiastically recommended.


Digital inputs: Two coaxial, two optical, one AES/EBU, one USB input (up to 24-bit/192kHz)
Outputs: One stereo XLR, one stereo RCA, one coaxial, one optical
Dimensions: 16.9″ x 5.12″ x 14.6″
Weight: 20.25 lbs.
Price: $8450

17800 S Main St #109
Gardena, CA 90248
(508) 446-5028

Neil Gader

By Neil Gader

My love of music largely predates my enthusiasm for audio. I grew up Los Angeles in a house where music was constantly playing on the stereo (Altecs, if you’re interested). It ranged from my mom listening to hit Broadway musicals to my sister’s early Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Beatles, and Stones LPs, and dad’s constant companions, Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett. With the British Invasion, I immediately picked up a guitar and took piano lessons and have been playing ever since. Following graduation from UCLA I became a writing member of the Lehman Engel’s BMI Musical Theater Workshops in New York–working in advertising to pay the bills. I’ve co-written bunches of songs, some published, some recorded. In 1995 I co-produced an award-winning short fiction movie that did well on the international film-festival circuit. I was introduced to Harry Pearson in the early 70s by a mutual friend. At that time Harry was still working full-time for Long Island’s Newsday even as he was writing Issue 1 of TAS during his off hours. We struck up a decades-long friendship that ultimately turned into a writing gig that has proved both stimulating and rewarding. In terms of music reproduction, I find myself listening more than ever for the “little” things. Low-level resolving power, dynamic gradients, shadings, timbral color and contrasts. Listening to a lot of vocals and solo piano has always helped me recalibrate and nail down what I’m hearing. Tonal neutrality and presence are important to me but small deviations are not disqualifying. But I am quite sensitive to treble over-reach, and find dry, hyper-detailed systems intriguing but inauthentic compared with the concert-going experience. For me, true musicality conveys the cozy warmth of a room with a fireplace not the icy cold of an igloo. Currently I split my time between Santa Fe, New Mexico and Studio City, California with my wife Judi Dickerson, an acting, voice, and dialect coach, along with border collies Ivy and Alfie.

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