It says something about the size of the German market that AVM, a brand with a substantial range of high end hardware, was virtually unknown on these shores until it started working with PMC. AVM’s products have so much consistency of industrial design that it’s difficult to tell them apart at a glance, it’s hard to see what differentiates them unless you look at the numbers. But this means that you will always have matching components if you stick with the brand.
There are three ranges on the website with another, the entry level 30 series, waiting to join them. The same types of product seem to exist in each range but the feature counts, power ratings and component quality increases as you move from Inspiration to Evolution and finally to Ovation models. There’s an easy way to tell how far up the aspirational tree a particular AVM component is, look at the suffix, the higher the number the more ambitious the product. And as things stand 8.2 is the highest they go. The letters indicate the type of product, A for integrated amplifer, SA for power amplifier, MP for media player/streamer etc. CS is less obvious but it stands for all in one system (maybe Complete System?), it contains an integrated amplifier combined with a CD player, network streamer, FM-RDS tuner and digital to analogue converter.
The amplifier in the CS 8.2 has a tube line stage, you can see the AVM803 double triodes through a glass panel in the top, although it’s unclear what this tube is as an 803 is a pentode, presumably a rebadged ECC83 or similar. The power amplifier stage is a class D design with a specified 500 Watts/channel into four Ohms, which usually equates to half that figure into an eight Ohm load. It’s still plenty of power but a more realistic output and technology to squeeze into a one box system than would be the case with regular class A/B. It also doesn’t pull your arms off when lifted, in fact it weighs a very tolerable 13 kilos.
There isn't the plethora of inputs you might expect on the back of the CS 8.2, there's only one conventional analogue input (plus a home theatre bypass), but theoretically you don’t need more as the majority of sources that aren’t already onboard have a digital output, eg TVs, Chromecast, satellite receivers. The only omission would appear to be a Bluetooth receiver, it’s not a hi-fi source but BT is popular and would be useful on cover-all-bases product like this.
System control can be achieved with a very attractive remote handset finished in the same brushed aluminium as the CS 8.2, however if you want to use the network streaming potential you’ll need a smartphone or tablet which takes over all the functions. That said it’s great to have the instant access to volume control that you get with buttons on a handset, it would also be good to have play/pause functionality with streaming that some offer. The handset also gives you half decibel volume changes which touch screens rarely offer. The AVM control app runs in portrait mode only but is pretty intuitive to use, just point it at the server and it will load the titles in your library ready for playback. With a wired connection there is no need for passwords but wireless operation is also an option. Interestingly while the DAC is good for up to 32-bit/384kHz the only way to take advantage of this is via the USB input, streaming is limited to 32/192. But given that there is nothing worth listening to recorded at a higher sampling rate than 192kHz this is largely academic. DSD is also catered for but presumably only in its standard DSD64 form as no alternatives are mentioned. AVM is not trying to surf the bleeding edge of digital technology, it’s putting everything together in an easy to use and highly capable single box device. But they do accept that digital technology has a tendency to move relentlessly on; the DAC modules that can be upgraded in future as and when genuine steps have been made.
Most of my listening was done with the onboard streamer and the CS 8.2 driving Bowers & Wilkins 802 D3 speakers. I tried the steep or smooth filter settings and chose the native version of the latter, that is without upsampling. This delivered a very refined, open and airy sound that allowed high level listening without a hint of discomfort, this amplifier clearly reduces some of the distortions that you come to take for granted in class A/B designs which makes it seem unusually effortless. Saxophone has a velvet tone that’s totally devoid of the grain usually associated with brass, there is also loads of image depth thanks to bass that is exceptionally well controlled and devoid of thickness, which makes it seem a bit lean but I suspect that this is just a lack of overhang. In other words it exerts a vice like grip over the bass cone so there is less smearing of notes but there is none of the transistor grain usually associated with grip. It’s a sound that while very appealing is so different to the norm that it takes a bit of getting used to, in a good way that is. I was very impressed with the level of detail retrieval on offer especially when it came to low level sounds, the cymbal on ‘Too Many Misses’ (Doug McLeod, Exactly Like This) rose out of the noise floor to reveal itself for the first time that I can remember.
Then I put on ‘Inspection Check One’ (Leftfield, Leftfield) and found that my neck was getting tired with all the head bobbing, infectious rhythms can be dangerous but also a lot of fun. As was Lorde’s ‘Royals’ which proved that this AVM goes down as far as you like/speakers and room will allow, and retains the reverberant character of the recording in full effect. Switching to the USB input direct from the Melco server produced a more solid and muscular bass sound that contrasted with a relatively rounded and 3D result via Ethernet/streaming. This was not a level playing field however because the cables involved are different, Vertere HB USB and Chord Sarum Super ARAY Ethernet, but both are very good examples of their kind.
I contrasted the filter settings at this point and found that the steep option adds some leading edge bite but lacks the depth of image produced by the smooth filter, so I stuck with the latter. I also tried the analogue input by connecting a Tom Evans Groove+ SRX MkII phono stage and Rega RP10 with Audio Technica ART1000 cartridge. This fabulous record playing combo produced immense amounts of space, impressive dynamics and excellent separation of instruments and voices via the AVM . I also tried a mains conditioner in the form of the Puritan PSM136 , a relatively inexpensive device at £995 but one that had a notably positive effect on the CS 8.2. It produced a more complete sound with better timing and a greater sense of refinement without loss of dynamics, that’s usually the weakness of conditioners, they undermine dynamics but not here. Possibly it’s to do with the nature of current requirements in class D amplifiers and their sensitivity to mains pollution, but either way the combination raised the stakes to a whole new level.
I also contrasted the AVM with a Marantz PM10 that likewise has a class D output stage, this has a softer, sweeter and more relaxed character that is also marginally stronger in terms of timing. It makes the CS 8.2 sound solid, definite and precise with more detail. It’s worth bearing in mind that the Marantz is only an integrated amplifier with none of the onboard sources and DACs offered on the AVM. I also brought in a different loudspeaker to try out, the PMC twenty5.26 is probably an easier load to manage than the 802 D3. It proved to be a well matched partner, you can easily hear why PMC decided to distribute AVM in the UK. The pairing producing excellent timing, class leading intelligibility and effortless resolution. Tom Waits’ Swordfishtrombones album of jazz inflected blues is full of beautiful instrumental and vocal timbres, powerful atmosphere and the phenomenal ‘16 Shells from a Thirty Ought Six’, a stonking track that I knew was great but never realised just how great until this moment. The aforementioned record player certainly helped but it wouldn’t have happened without the AVM and PMCs.
I managed to tear myself away from vinyl fun for long enough to try out the CD player as well, this starts to play automatically when the disc goes in (if autoplay is on) and gives you lots of info on the display. It sounds not dissimilar to the streamed sound but with a more direct and forthright presentation. Which means it lacks a little in finesse but makes up for it with energy, a result that I have encountered in most of my streamer/CD player comparisons. If you want a more lively and raw sound go with CD, if you want fine detail stick with streaming. Or have your cake and eat it by mixing and matching to taste. I wasn’t able to try the tuner for lack of a decent aerial and being FM only this seems a little restrictive when you have the world of internet radio at your fingertips.
The AVM CS 8.2 is a remarkable piece of kit, it manages to do nearly everything you can ask of a single box unit with considerable skill. Usually putting everything in one chassis means compromise, and as a rule it’s the amplifier that suffers. Not here, the way that AVM have combined tubes and transistors is very impressive indeed, using the one to bring finesse and subtlety to the power of the other. If class D can be this good then the future does indeed look bright.