In a way, reviewing the SD 5.2 is four reviews in one; as a preamp, as a DAC, as a streamer, and as a complete entity. But, equally, it should be considered as just the one device, because that’s what you are paying for. If you end up with a great DAC, but a lousy preamp, or a great preamp and a clunky streaming section, the device is significantly hobbled as a result. Fortunately, whether viewed as a series of sections, or as a complete whole, the SD 5.2 acquits itself extremely well.
What comes across quickly when listening to the SD 5.2 is a sense of consistency across all the inputs, whether digital or analogue. There’s AVM’s signature ‘warm, yet fast’ sound common to all; whether this suggests a good analogue stage bringing diverse sources into line or just good, solid engineering smarts across the board is ultimately academic; it’s the consistency that counts. It means no harsh, grating jumps as you move from internet radio to UPnP server, and it means no abrupt differences in quality between USB and S/PDIF.
This almost makes the choice of filter redundant, but for two things. First, the upsampling or filter choice seems to be a personal one on the part of the listener. Some will prefer ‘CNV’ or conversion (upsampling 44.1kHz files at 88.2kHz, 176.4kHz, or even 192kHz), others will prefer ‘NAT’ or ‘native’ sampling rate, with either a ‘smooth’ or ‘sharp’ filter, but the choice seems to come down to the tastes of the listener, rather than determined by the system itself. This choice also seems to vary according to source (up to a point; user preference appears uppermost), so you may find a sharp filter works for internet radio and upsampling for UPnP server sources. The choice is yours, driven by the multifunction buttons on the front panel. Fortunately, your choice on each digital input is remembered by the AVM.
AVMs sense of sophisticated, unflustered balance means the SD 5.2 is one of those devices that doesn’t put anything to shame, but wins out thanks to its broad spread of performance. The highlighting of specific aspects of a product’s presentation usually occurs because that product is emphasising the aspect you are highlighting. Sometimes, you could replace ‘emphasising’ with ‘shouting’. And sometimes, the aspect highlighted is all it does best. ‘Great imaging’ can mean ‘all it has is great imaging’.