When I was an impressionable teenager, lusting after pretty much everything Bang & Olufsen produced, my parents’ rather more prosaic aspirations leant towards a music centre. For readers who don’t have roots in the seventies or before, these were all-in-one boxes containing a turntable, tuner, and compact cassette player, with a built-in amplifier and, like as not, bundled loudspeakers hard-wired with bell-wire. More upmarket versions had spring-loaded loudspeaker terminals and thus catered for separate loudspeakers, for that almost-but-not-quite budget hi-fi experience. Since those days, boxes that do everything have got a bit of a bad rap, but there’s been something of a resurgence of late and, having heard a fair few of today’s offerings, it’s high time to set aside any prejudices.
AVM is a relative newcomer to the UK, but can claim 30 years of history in its native Germany. The current owner, Udo Besser worked for Burmester for 15 years and the AVM products do have a similar luxuriant air about them. That goes for the immaculate fit and finish, but the sound also seems to share a certain generosity: a lush and expansive air that is immediately attractive.
The Evolution range is the middle of three offerings, flanked by the entry-level Inspiration, and the high-end Ovation ranges, and includes CD players, integrated amplifiers, pre-amps, and stereo or monobloc power amps. The £5,750 do‑everything CS 5.2 is either none of these, or most of them, depending on your outlook. In point of fact, it is even more, because it also offers an FM tuner and inbuilt phono stage, alongside its CD player and integrated (220W into 8Ω) amplifier. The CS 5.2 also has network connectivity, wireless streaming, and an asynchronous USB input. Its 192/24 upsampling DAC can accept optical or S/PDIF external signals, and pretty much all established streaming and music file formats are supported. Internet radio is a given. Three analogue inputs, two digital outputs (optical and coaxial, as for the inputs), a 75Ω FM aerial socket and two sets of loudspeaker terminals complete a pretty comprehensive back panel compliment.
The front panel has five soft keys below the display, whose functions vary depending on which source is chosen via the large rotary selector switch. There’s an optional remote control, but I used the front panel soft key controls and the app (available for iOS or Android). The app is neat, easy to use, and very flexible, so it’s likely most users won’t need the remote control and it makes sense not to bundle something in that users can do without, and would doubtless prefer not to pay for. One minor gripe, perhaps, is that the app doesn’t show track number or title during playback. The volume control is a light, but nicely-weighted rotary knob, coupled to a digital numeric display of level, or you can drag a finger over a slider on the app, though I found it harder to precisely control the level this way and it only moves in one-unit increments where the rotary knob allows finer control in 0.5 unit steps.
If you think of this as a conventional piece of kit, set up is a doddle. Unpack the box, plonk it on your support shelf, connect the mains (and VHF aerial if used), and hook up your loudspeakers to the sturdy binding posts. Then slot in a CD and play some music. The last sentence is a fair summary of the basic installation instructions, but in truth, most of the manual is taken up with the details of how to connect to your LAN, how to set up your Wi-Fi connection, and how to configure the app, plus the user-adjustable options you can get at via the menu. These include tone controls, adjustable input sensitivity, tuner presets and FM de-emphasis, gain-fixing, display options, and various other facilities. When you’ve played with these to the point of ruining everything, a factory-settings reset option is thankfully also available.
The manual is comprehensive enough, but given the complexity of the options, and the myriad ways the CS 5.2 can be used, it might be thought slightly lacking in detail in some areas; Luddites need not apply. An example: the manual explains that setting up the Wi-Fi requires that the CS 5.2 is first connected to the network via the LAN port, and after that has been achieved, the Wi-Fi connection can be established. This worked fine, and I rigged up a temporary length of Cat6 cable to my router in another part of the house, for the express purpose of establishing a Wi-Fi link. Having done all this, and got my iPhone talking nicely to the CS 5.2, I disconnected the LAN cable whereupon the Wi-Fi connection was dropped, and couldn’t be restored. The manual implies, without explicitly saying so, that once a Wi-Fi connection has been achieved, communication with the network will be by Wi-Fi. Not so, apparently. Checking with the importer, they confirmed that the LAN cable needs to remain connected. That temporary length of Cat6 cable became permanent for the duration of the review period, something my wife rather pointedly didn’t comment about…