AVM Evolution A5.2 integrated amplifier
AVM may not be a household name in the US, but this German audio company has been around for a while (established in 1986) and its audio products have been well recognized in Europe. In the US, Bluebird Music has picked up the distribution of the AVM products since last year.
The object of the review here is the Evolution A5.2 integrated amplifier, which has an MSRP of $6,995 in the US. In its basic configuration, this product serves as a conventional line-level stereo integrated amplifier. However, it is modularly upgradeable, so more functions can be added; more on this later. Definitely, the A5.2 falls in the higher end of the spectrum price-wise, and that leads to the question of what it can offer to justify its price tag. With higher price comes higher expectations. This is a fact of life, and my review below will dwell more on whether the A5.2 has what it takes to meet this high expectation.
AVM Evolution A5.2 – front panel
AVM Evolution A5.2 Integrated Amplifier
- An integrated amplifier that is modularly upgradeable.
- Elegant-looking product.
- Excellent craftsmanship.
- Excellent sonic performance to back up its price tag.
If you visit the AVM audio website, you will see that AVM makes mostly audio electronics, such as preamplifiers, amplifiers, media players, DACs, and turntables, in various price ranges. The company’s mission is to develop and manufacture products that deliver the highest quality of musical reproduction. To achieve this mission, AVM keeps the design and development of its products in-house. The company also manufactures most of the components used in its products in-house too, except for the parts that are not within its production capabilities, such as PC boards and transformers.
As mentioned, the AVM product reviewed here is the Evolution A5.2 integrated amplifier, which has an MSRP of $6,995 in its basic configuration. Unlike a conventional integrated amplifier, the A5.2 can be configured to have added functions with the provision of three upgrade slots that can accommodate optional phono, tuner, or USB DAC modular circuit-boards. The review sample does not come with any of these optional upgrades, and thus this review will focus on how this unit performs in its basic configuration.
5 line-level stereo RCA inputs, 1 XLR
1 processor input/output
2 stereo preamp outputs (1 RCA, 1 XLR)
1 headphone output, switchable as front-in
14 kOhms (XLR), 6.8 kOhms (RCA)
Output impedance pre out:
150 Ohms (XLR), 100 Ohms (RCA)
pre out: 103 dB (A)
Speakers out: >95 dB (A)
pre out: 0 Hz – > 100 kHz
speakers out: <5 Hz - > 40 kHz
THD (25 W/4 Ohm):
2×185 W (8 Ohms) / 2×350 W (4 Ohms)
0.5 W (stand by) / max 900 W
aluminium silver or aluminium black
(W x D x H)
16.9 in x 14.6 in x 5.1 in /
430 mm x 370 mm x 130 mm
16.5 lbs / 7.5 kg
avm, amplifier, integrated, amplifier, evolution a5.2 integrated amplifier
The AVM Evolution A5.2 has a simple yet elegant appearance. Its aluminum body and faceplate come in two finishes, silver or black. The review sample has the black finish. Regardless of the finish, the buttons and knobs on the front panel are in silver, and thus, the black finish one sports a two-tone front panel appearance, which fits my taste better. Your mileage may vary. Overall, the front panel of the A5.2 looks clean and uncluttered featuring two large round source-selector and volume-control knobs flanking a display in the middle, five small selector buttons underneath the display, a power on/standby button to the lower left side (viewed from the front), and a 1/4” headphone jack on the right. This headphone jack can also function as a front input. Note that this front input is parallel to the rear input labeled IN 5, so signals from both inputs (if they are both present) will be mixed and sent to the outputs.
The craftsmanship that goes into the construction of the A5.2 is impeccable. You can get a sense of meticulous and tight craftsmanship when lifting the product. Speaking about lifting the product, I was a bit surprised by how light the A5.2 was. In the integrated amplifier world, the A5.2 should fall on the lower extreme of the weight spectrum. To give you a perspective, the A5.2 is even lighter than the slim integrated amplifiers that I recently reviewed such as the Rotel A14 and the PS Audio Stellar Strata. The relatively light weight of the A5.2, which is attributed to its power supply design and the class D amplification type, can be a good thing actually, as it makes the product easy to move around and to accommodate (no special support shelf is needed).
AVM Evolution A5.2 rear panel
A look at the rear panel of the A5.2 reveals the standard connectivity of a conventional integrated amplifier. Besides the main power on/off switch, the rear panel features one line-level stereo balanced (XLR) and 5 RCA inputs. The XLR and RCA input labeled IN 1 are internally paralleled and thus should only be used alternatively. A pair of XLR and RCA pre-outs (variable volume level) are provided for connection to an external amplifier. A fixed-level set of output (labeled as ‘line out’) is available for connection to a sound recorder. There is also a set of processor input and output connectors that can be used for connecting an external processor/equalizer. Initially, I thought that this processor input/output loop is the same as the home-theater processor input/output connection found in many modern preamplifiers or modern integrated amplifiers. But it turns out, this is not the case. Unlike the conventional home-theater processor input/output, this is not a unity gain connection. To use it, one needs to activate the processor loop from the menu system, and once it is activated, the signals coming from the selected input going to the speaker outputs will be affected. The volume control of the A5.2 is still active in such a setting, hence it differs from the typical home-theater bypass function. It is intended for a sound processor/equalizer that is to be used all the time. In the case where the processor loop is not activated, the processor output is the same as the line-level output from the pre-outs. As many users have an integrated setup combining their stereo and home-theater systems in one setup, I wish that the processor loop in the A5.2 could be configured as a home-theater bypass function for easy home-theater system integration.
The A5.2 has two sets of speaker outputs (five-way binding post variety), and hence, it can be used for bi-wiring. The placement of these speaker outputs is a bit unusual, which is on the upper part of the rear panel, as opposed to the typical location on the lower part of the panel. I am not a fan of this arrangement, as the connected speaker cables may interfere with the running of the interconnects from the source components, which are typically placed on the higher shelves above the amplifier. But this is just a minor ergonomic quibble that should not affect the thing that really matters, which is the sonic performance.
AVM optional slot upgrade cards
The A5.2 employs a hybrid fully-balanced design utilizing tube line stage coupled with internal dual-mono Hypex-based Class D amplifier rated at 2 x 200 W (8-ohm loads) or 2 x 350 W (4-ohm loads). A regulated voltage generator independent from the main AC line is utilized to supply power to two ECC83 (12ax7a) tubes, which are visible from the glass window on the top cover. The amplifier also utilizes a modular design, which allows for the insertion of compatible modular circuit boards to upgrade its functionalities. Up to three modular circuit boards can be inserted into the slots that are accessible from the rear panel. Currently, three such modular upgrade cards are available: phono (MM and MC), tuner, and USB DAC modules. At the moment of this writing, each module has a retail price of $630 in the US.
AVM Evolution A5.2 in operation
The A5.2 integrated amplifier is supplied with a fancy-looking silver aluminum infra-red remote control. The button arrangement on the remote is simple and these buttons are clearly labeled. There are only six rows of buttons with only two on each row. Clearly, this type of remote control is also used for controlling some other AVM components too as some of the buttons on the remote that are not relevant for the operation of the A5.2 (such as ‘play’, ‘stop’, and ‘station +/-‘ buttons). The supplied remote covers sufficiently the basic operation of the A5.2, including powering the unit on/off, cycling through the input sources, and control of the volume.
AVM Evolution A5.2 remote
The A5.2 is not loaded with features like most modern integrated amplifiers are. The focus of the design seems squarely directed on achieving the best sonic performance possible, rather than equipping the unit with bells and whistles. Only basic necessary control features are included in the product. These include balance adjustment, engagement of tone control, active speaker outputs (A or B or both), and input attenuation activation. All these controls need to be accessed and navigated from its menu system using the front panel buttons underneath the display. During the review, I did not encounter any situation that required me to make adjustments of these control parameters and thus I left them in their default settings (balance in the middle, tone control bypass, active speaker output A, and no input attenuation).
When the A5.2 is connected to the main power source and switched on from the main rear power switch, a small blue LED on the corner of the display will light up. This LED is off when the unit is activated from standby, and after a 45-seconds or so of tube warm-up time, the display will show the status of the operation. During the operation of the unit, the blue digits on the display show the active input source, the volume level, and the tone control status. The input source and volume-level digits are shown in larger fonts in the display, although they are still too small to read comfortably from an 8-9 ft distance. A larger display with larger digits would be nice. This display cannot be dimmed or turned off during operation, but that was not too big a deal for me as the display brightness is not at the level that is distracting even for use in a dimly lit room.
In this review, the A5.2 is used to drive my Revel Ultima Studio tower speakers. Occasionally, I connected the Rythmik F12SE subwoofer to the pre-outs of the amplifier for bass augmentation. The PS Audio DirecStream DAC, fed by the digital signals from the Auralic Aries G1 streamer and the PS Audio PerfectWave CD Transport, was the main signal source to the A5.2. The line-level output of the Music Hall Classic turntable is another analog signal source used during the review. No tone control was used during the evaluation.
With the relatively high price tag of the A5.2, I would be lying if I said that I had only modest expectations for its sonic performance. In fact, my expectation was stratospherically high. The first few hours listening to it (practically still in break-in period) suggested that I might be led to disappointment with that high expectation. But knowing that tubes were involved here, I rested my critical ears and gave the unit more break-in time. A long break-in time seemed to be what the product really needed as I got a totally different listening impression after the sufficiently long break-in time. Gone was the cast of doubt of whether or not the A5.2 would be able to churn out commensurate performance. Instead, the A5.2 comfortably displayed a sonic performance that met my high expectation with its high-quality sonic delivery.
First of all, the A5.2 never lost its composure even when it was pushed to a high volume level, a testament to the quality of its onboard amplifier. The A5.2 always presented the music with a high degree of clarity and transparency. It was very resolving in its conveyance of details without being bright. I expected a bit of warmth in the sonic character of the A5.2 with the presence of the tubes in there, but I could not be more wrong in this case. The sonic character of the A5.2 was as neutral as it could be. As if it was a lean steak with no extraneous fat, the A5.2 did not churn out any unnecessary addition to the played-back music. Overall, the musical elements of the A5.2 sonic delivery sounded full-bodied and gave me the impression that the delivery was as true as it could be to the recording with no extra bass hump or midrange nasality or treble tizziness that might clutter the interwoven notes in the music. The A5.2 was also a standout in imaging. In my system, it was able to image effortlessly and portrayed a highly palpable musical stage. In fact, the palpability of its musical presentation was among the best that I had ever experienced in my system. For audiophiles who value this aspect of sound reproduction, this alone may be enough to justify its price of admission.
When I listened to the track Seven Years by Norah Jones from her Come Away With Me (2002) album through the A5.2, I was awestruck by how palpable the whole presentation was. Norah Jones’ vocal sounded very natural with just the right amount of sibilance. The spatial rendering of the musical soundstage was realistic and about the best I had listened to in my system. There was no smearing of the image of each instrument; everything was painted clearly and with the right focus in its own space in the musical stage. In my evaluation system, the A5.2 had no problem in creating a wide and deep image beyond the plane of the speakers.
The ability of the A5.2 to convey rhythm and pace with such realistic textures was exemplified by the track Dimming of the Day from Tom Jones’ Spirit In The Room (2012) album. The emotion in this slow-paced soulful song was brought to life by the A5.2’s excellent conveyance of rhythm, which made me tap my toes and hum along with it. The overall sonic balance in the A5.2 delivery was good, although if I want to nitpick, I felt the bass was a tad shy. The bass articulation and extension were all there, but just needed a bit more oomph for my taste. This is, however, more of a matter of the taste and as always, your mileage might vary.
The A5.2’s ability to handle dynamics as well as micro dynamics in the music was excellently displayed in the track Close Your Eyes and Listen from the jazz album Kind of Tango (2020) by Wolfgang Haffner (drums) featuring Sebastian Studnitzky (trumpet). The layer of softer and louder instruments in the track were resolved skillfully by the A5.2 with no ambiguity or even a hint of blurriness. The ability of the amplifier to navigate swiftly with unwavering quality through the soft and loud passages in the music was a delight to listen to.
The airiness of the A5.2 presentation was among the best I had ever encountered, creating a clear and spacious separation among various instruments in the music. Listening to the various tracks in this album further confirmed the rigor of the amplifier in conveying the rhythm and pace in the music, bringing more emotion into the whole listening experience.
If you are a headphone aficionado, you would be happy to know that the headphone function of the A5.2 is not just a feature of convenience. Listening to music through the Massdrop X Sennheiser HD6XX headphones connected to the headphone output of the A5.2, I was especially impressed by the spacious trait of its sonic character. Vocal naturalness was excellent with just the right amount of sibilance. Music sounded full-bodied and airy with great conveyance of details. The ability of the A5.2 to convey attacks as well as textures in the music through its headphone output was nothing short of excellent. In fact, I could say that the sound quality from its headphone output was among the best I have heard from the various components that have gone through my review bench.
The AVM EVOLUTION A5.2 INTEGRATED AMPLIFIER is not cheap by any stretch of the imagination, but it offers sonic performance traits that are unmistakably high-end.
- Elegant look.
- Excellent build quality.
- Modularly upgradeable.
- Sufficiently powerful onboard amplifier.
- Awesome sonic performance.
- Great headphone output sound quality.
- Home-theater bypass feature for easy home-theater integration.
Everything about the Evolution A5.2 integrated amplifier screams quality, from its elegant look to its excellent build quality and finish. But knowing that it was not packed with features and given its price tag, I approached the review with high expectations of its sonic performance. I was ready to accept the outcome either way, but I am glad to report that the sonic performance of the A5.2 convincingly exceeded my high expectations. The A5.2 produced natural and detailed sound, and its ability to present the musical stage with a high degree of palpability was second to none. It is very adept in expressing the musical rhythm and pace that could indulge listeners vividly in the emotion of the music. If the AVM 5.2 is within your budget, I highly recommend giving it a listen, especially if you are looking for a high-end integrated amplifier that can potentially offer you music listening bliss.