The evocative, comprehensive AVM inspiration CS2.2 receiver is reviewed by Howard Milstein.
In recent years, some of the most formidable ‘high end” audio manufacturers have seen the indelible benefits of producing many more integrated amplifiers, CD/dac transports as well as “all in one” digital front ends. Some of these also include streaming capabilities and computer file access for audiophiles that have left the separate CD market in exchange for HD downloads. This has turned out to be a great choice for the majority of music lovers and audiophiles as many people are now committed to downloading their music files instead of purchasing CDs. The AVM Inspiration CS2.2 combines the best of all of this within one enviable basket.
Quite personally, I really appreciate the ability to be able to transfer some music downloads to CD-Rs. In this sense, The AVM product line also includes some first-rate CD transport options which are included in their streamer/DAC’s as well as integrated amplifiers making a one box solution an obvious alternative for a great many audio devotees. Additionally, some people might be becoming a bit weary of acquiring individual and costly separates for each stage of their personal music reproduction systems.
This “trend”, is not so much a need to entertain peoples cramped living spaces but the understanding that today’s technology does not necessarily demand SEPARATE COMPONENTS for every aspect of the audiophile component reproduction chain. In contrast to years past, most of us all believed that if you did not have a separate preamp, power amp, phono stage, CD transport and DAC you may be missing out on the ultimate in sound hierarchy.
On the other hand, having separate components will allow one to easily upgrade different parts of ones system. If you browse over the many model’s AVM manufactures, you will eagerly notice that the beauty of AVM is that at the same time, they offer a bevy of separate components as well, thereby covering every audiophiles’ personal needs and wants.
The AVM Inspiration CS2.2 being reviewed here is one of a few prominent compact “all in one” units now available in the US and European hi-fi market today. To this, I adamantly applaud AVM Germany and their American Sales Manager Mr. Peder Baeckman, whom I have had extensive contact with as of late. Peder gave The Sound Advocate the opportunity to explore and listen to a sample of AVM’s value packed Inspiration CS2/2 Compact Streaming Receiver. (AVM has recently added an updated model; namely the CS2.2 4T -a higher performance version, which offers numerous additional functions, special features and sound-enhancing circuit solutions.)
I really hate to call this unit a “receiver” as such, as this unit will do just about everything any audiophile could ask for, being an All-In-One High-Resolution Streamer/ DAC, Phono Preamp, CD Player, and Headphone Amp. It’s all wrapped up in a highly compact, beautifully made aluminum chassis. It is, to say the least, an extremely competent “high end” audiophile component.!
As you look and admire the AVM Inspiration CS2.2 you automatically can throw away any presumptions you may have about this sleek audiophile front end player. AVM is doing great service to audiophiles by combining almost everything one might need in a single chassis box while offering prodigious levels of the highest sound quality quite admiringly. From the caliber of the Inspiration CS2.2, they appear to have done this with an outstanding amount of technical precision. Add to this a price tag (under $5,000) and we have a digital/analogue streaming front end that is particularly monumental considering everything this piece of equipment contains and does!
For those who aren’t familiar with AVM, (Audio Video Manufaktur) is a German hi-fi brand AVM, which stands for Audio Video Manufactory. The company designs and builds all of its electronic components in Germany. These components are all produced by local companies, which means that AVM products are 100% Made in Germany and include three separate ranges of product lines: Inspiration, Evolution, and Ovation.
THE INSPIRATION CS 2.2 IN ACTION!
The Inspiration CS 2.2 is Rated at 2x 165W into a 4ohm load and 110 watts into 8 ohms. The unit truly has loads of powerful headroom available for driving just about any speaker system; even those that are somewhat less efficient. I was able to test this compact little gem with 3 loudspeaker speaker systems and the 2.2 never lacked for power; being able to unleash an abundance in reserve! One of the high spots of the CS 2.2, is its support for all the best music streaming services, an exceptionally noteworthy cd disk player as well as having the use of wired and/or wireless connectivity.
The AVM has a direct, wired Ethernet connection to make sure you get the fastest and best streaming response from your preferred music streaming sites as well as to your computer files. Yes, there is a debate going on now about WIFI vs a direct internet hub hookup but at this stage of the game, it should be mandatory that all streamers have (at least optionally), an ethernet hookup. (My router/internet hub is upstairs from my listening room and consequently, I have installed a direct ethernet plug in my listening room wall outlet in to go directly to the internet).
The CS 2.2 is additionally fitted with 3x analogue RCA inputs and a switchable MM and MC phono stage. FM RDS tuner, internet radio and Qobuz, Tidal and the praiseworthy Spotify streaming services are supported. iOS and Android apps are available for system control as well. AVM offers an optional RC 9 Remote Control (not included in our sample) which allows for easy and comprehensive control of the CS 2.2.
Cutting edge technologies have been applied when it comes to digital signal processing with up sampling to 192kHz/24bit and a dual DAC converting to analog signals from this format. Special focus was put on achieving the most authentic reproduction from CD and as we’ll see later on, the CD drive on the CS 2.2 along with its onboard DAC delivered a quality of sound reproduction that virtually equal to separate units at considerably higher price points.
IMPLEMENTATION AND SOUND
After warming up The AVM and installing the Audio Art power1 e (R)15A AC Cable w/ Furutech FI-11 Rhodium Plated power cord, I inserted some familiar and excellent sounding CD’s and ripped HD CD-Rs from my music file. Having just come off of reviewing the excellent Wyred4sound mINT integrated amplifier, I was anxious to see how the AVM would initially perform.
As it is quite common for most people, (audiophiles included), our short-term audible memory is just that – short. I say this because music and audio aficionados, particularly good reviewers who are blessed with very discerning ears and memory skills will always notice and/or remember something a bit different when first inserting a new component into his system. As the review process moves forward, these differences may become abundantly apparent with time or may eventually just turn out to be a psychological (hearing) situation as to acclimating oneself to the change when first inserting a new component into the listening chain.
I bring this up because after having lived with the Wyred4Sound mINT for a few months and then hooking up the Inspiration CS 2.2, there was indeed a change in sound and that change was consistent throughout my time with the AVM amplifier/receiver. I have come to the conclusion that this not only involved the sound of the CS 2.2’s amplifier but possibly even more importantly, its truly excellent DAC.
Upon putting on my first Flac CD-r ripped recording into the AVM disc transport/DAC, I was ingratiatingly surprised at the overt and truly huge sound stage that the AVM produced. Full orchestral recordings and piano concertos displayed a magnificent stage expanson with an amount of deep sound stage depth that was simply shocking; as I did not expect such superb sound reproduction. I played my ripped CD-r of a personally produced WAV file live recording from my you tube channel of Andras Schiff playing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto # 1 with the Frexinet Symphony Orchestra.
The CS 2.2 immediately and expertly broke out this performance from my Quad ESL with an airy, expressively ‘light’ (initially observed as a touch less deep bass response, although quite minute compared to its expansive ethereal and wonderfully open sound.) What was even more intriguing was the way the “acoustic” of the concert stage was reproduced in conjunction with the superb intonation of Schiff’s piano (Bechstein); this being the icing on the cake! Piano reproduction exhibited the instruments superlative, realistic tonal ‘clarity’ with each hit of the keyboard. As this recording was well engineered for this live performance, the CS2.2 was able to accentuate the laser focus imaging of the centrally located piano remarkably well. Immediately, I knew that this amplifier and particularly the DAC of the AVM was something that left little to be desired.!
I next retrieved my downloaded 24 bit FLAC musicfile of Carlos Kleiber conducting Beethoven’s Symphony # 5 and 7 with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra from the 1970’s using AVM’s handily installed RC S App for iOS which worked quite splendidly. Let’s just say that this remastered recording (96kHz/24bit) was magnificently recorded for its time in a “live” concert hall setting and that you may not find a finer performance of these works even today than from the great master himself.! The Inspiration CS 2.2 with its marvelous DAC displayed a quality of sound from my Quad ESLs and particularly the Spendor SP1 that was totally resounding with a large and spatially convincing depth and stage focus.
The reproduced neutrality from the orchestra in this recording opened up beyond the loudspeakers and back–maybe 8 feet beyond the wall behind the speakers. The depth resolution and concert hall reverb was truly beyond reproach! Majestic detail, smooth definitive orchestral strings and accurate tonality of horn and wind instruments sections set a foreground for this performances enchanting sound quality while at the same time retaining discrete and exact image locations of the full orchestra. This was most engaging and heroically reproduced in a grand manner! (My loudspeakers deserve a bow, thank you!!)
The phono stage gain of the AVM is about 45dB, with an input impedance of 47k ohms and 10pF of capacitive loading. As with the other inputs, the phono stage’s gain is adjustable by –10dB to +9.5dB. Having been using much more digital program material in the last few years I eagerly put on some older vintage EMI and DECCA pressings of Tchaikovsky, Elgar, and the incomparable Sir John Barbirolli, with Dame Janet Baker singing Sea Pictures. (24-bit remastered.) Here in conjunction with my Linn/Naim Aro Tonearm along with the delectable Lyra Delos cartridge the AVM continued to show off its fine prowess.
In the case of the Barbirolli, we have one of the LAST and most acclaimed BLUMLIEN cross pair microphone recordings done by EMI. This truthful, coincident microphone stereo recording of Janet Bakers young, mezzo-soprano voice is just breathtaking and the CS.2.2 takes the imaging, depth and overall sense of “being there” to another dimension. (The late Jacqueline du Pré also performs her inimitable recording of Elgars Cello Concerto as on this disc well.)
WHAT ABOUT THIS DAC?
As they say, the proof is in the pudding and so my next step was to comparatively investigate just what this terrific unit was doing with its internal DAC along with its full power Class D output stage; the latter design technology which has now been proven incontrovertibly, to be able to produce reference quality, exceptionally neutral and accurate sound reproduction! Being a bit apprehensive, I dove into this experience not knowing what to expect as compared to my reference Marantz SA10s1 CDP!
The first order of business was to hook up the coax output from the Marantz to the AVM digital input. I used 2 cables for this listening session; the Audio Arts D-1SE Digital Cable (above) and my simple, but quite admirable Canare terminated L-5CFB coaxial 75-ohm digital audio cable. What emerged was the fact that the CS 2.2 DAC section was competitive not only with my Marantz CDP but fascinatingly, some other stand-alone DAC’s costing upwards of many thousands of dollars. It was certainly up to par with the excellent Chord Qtest ($2,000). Figure that out!!
The AVM was quite good at displaying a three dimensional sound picture and although having a “spec” less width than the both DAC’s mentioned above, it was eminently able to outline the sense of space and overall depth in the best of many finely recorded classical works. Image focus kept hanging in there without fear on all of my live digital flac and wav recording downloads.
(** I make no apologies in this evaluation for only using some of the best ‘non manipulatively’ engineered recordings of classical and operatic works. If one dares to truly evaluate the potential of a components above attributes (or lack thereof), do yourself a favor and grab some HD flac ,DSD or WAV recordings of any of the great composers and classical artists available— even if you’re not ‘thrilled’ with classical and/or operatic music. This program material can truly exploit the potential abilities of great hi-fi, offering some of the highest quality sound reproduction available, no less the enjoyment and amazing power of the music itself!!** )
One example may be Helene Grimaud playing Beethoven; this being my personal revised WAV music file/ video of Grimaud playing the Emporer Concerto with Pavlo Jarvi conducting. With the AVM CS 2.2 DAC at work, you’ll hear a candidly supreme performer that will be hard to equal in its subjective sound quality at its given price point.
THE CD DRIVE
The CS 2.2 does not use the usual off-the-shelf DVD ROM mechanism found in the average systems and it was undeniably noticeable when playing CD’s and ripped CD-R’s. The CS2.2’s ‘pure CD’ drive is custom-made by TEAC for AVM and is damped with a felt ‘jacket’ as well as being spring-mounted for vibration isolation. This CD section is no superficial drive. It delivers an open, easy, natural presentation giving the music an authoritative grounding that is somewhat startling for an all in one player such as this. Particularly satisfying is it’s easy to access front panel slot that performed immaculately.
If I dare be a bit picky, the only small limitation to the AVM may be its use of BFA-type speaker sockets. This may not be to much of a problem as these sockets are used a lot in the UK and Europe, where banana plugs are deemed ‘King’. However, other countries, particularly here in America, use spade lugs as standard, and although multi-way sockets are featured in the larger Evolution CS 5.2, there is no provision for their use here. Having said that, I have delightfully gotten used to using high quality banana plugs on most of my amplifiers output terminals while using spades on speaker connectors. For reviews, it is so much more convenient and has become totally rewarding for me personally.
The definition of Satisfaction > noun: “The fulfillment of one’s wishes, expectations, or needs, or the pleasure derived from this”. This, in a nutshell, has been my full experience while listening and evaluating The AVM Inspiration CS 2.2. It is an all in one integrated digital amplifier, CD player, streaming receiver and one of the finest pieces of equipment I have used in many years.
In fact, in the last year, I have tested at least 3 Class D amplifiers. Every one of them delivered a sound quality that was truly beyond reproach. The AVM CS 2.2 is without doubt among these three! Adding to that, it contains a variety of well needed and affirmatively executed functions. It is a player that makes you think, “This is just about all I can ask for, and maybe all I need”.
The AVM CS 2.2 is a welcome, minimalist design. Even while acknowledging its exquisite amplifier, if need be, you can deactivate the output stage to use the pre-out outputs, giving it the ability to use an external power amplifier of your choice. (Although I do not think you will have the desire to want one!).
Its sublime slot-in CD player is a joy to use, while giving discs a ‘floating’, airy sound quality as is the simple, yet first rate digital internet streaming capabilities. The units digital inputs include everything the most discerning audio devotee could ever want, and both are compatible with PCM audio streams of up to 24 bit/192 kHz. In addition to the amplifiers huge power rating and a DAC that sounds like it cost about $3,000 itself, the CS2.2 is quite plainly a striking piece of equipment and one that any prospective user should take great pride in owning. TOTAL SATISFACTION!
Equipment utilized and compared for this review: ANALOGUE: Linn LP12/Naim Aro/Lyra Delos Cartridge DIGITAL: Marantz SA10s1 SACD AMPLIFICATION: Wyred4Sound mINT, Peachtree Audio Nova 300 2019 edition (review coming), LOUDSPEAKERS: Quad ESL 63 USA, Spendor BC1, Spendor Sp1. INTERCONNECT CABLES: Stager Silver Solids, Audio Arts IC-3e Rhodium plated, POWER CORD: Audio Art power1 e) rhodium plated DIGITAL CABLES: Audio Art D-1SE Digital Cable, Canare L-5CFB coaxial 75-ohm digital LOUDSPEAKER CABLES: Analysis Plus ‘Black Mesh’ Oval 9, Tellurium Q Black II. (review coming)
AVM AUDIO : https://avm.audio/ firstname.lastname@example.org
AVM Audio Video Manufaktur GmbH
WHERE the AUDIOPHILE BEAT MEETS THE MUSICAL ELITE! !
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