AVM C8 CD RECIEVER
First, many thinks to Charlie Harrison, the sole distributor of AVM in North America.
Let’s face it, not all of us have a dedicated 2-channel listening room. Others must tip-toe around the ubiquitous Wife Acceptance Factor. And some audiophiles want excellent sound, but simply can’t live with a 4 foot stack of various black boxes and the associated wiring maze. Judging by our mail, whether for financial reasons or moving to smaller digs, many of you just want to downsize your systems but don't want to sacrifice that high-end audio quality you love. The options for those who demand engaging sound but only if it doesn’t dominate their space have been few, but with German manufacturer AVM coming to America, and specifically with the release of the C8 Inspiration all-in-one, there is a new and compelling option.
So what is it exactly? I guess the simplest answer would be a CD Receiver. Unfortunately the word “receiver” brings with it negative connotations to the typical audiophile. Think again. The AVM C8 isn’t at all a receiver in the common and outmoded sense of the word. Yes it packs a lot of functionality into a small box, but the C8 looks and feels German in every way, it oozes quality unlike your big box store receiver. The casework and controls are stylish and simple, not a rough edge of less than perfect fitment to be found. And the remote control, with a little honing on the wet stone, could be made into a lethal weapon and you aren’t going to lose it behind a seat cushion. Sturdy, baby!
The AVM C8 is really the digital and analog nerve center of a contemporary stereo system. But still that doesn’t answer exactly what the C8 is, take a careful look at this feature list:
So basically we have an Integrated Amp with 150 wpc, a built in slot load CD player, a DAC that supports USB input, a tuner, MM and MC phono inputs, and upcoming streaming capability with some luxury features usually found in more expensive components; things like being able to adjust the level of individual inputs so that they are all the same volume when you switch between them, as well as the ability to name those inputs with your own ideas.… all in a 13” square box that stands 3” tall and weighs less than 20 pounds. Quite a technological feat in itself, but also a challenge in how to properly evaluate the performance.
My initial C8 setup was exceedingly straightforward; power cord (upgradeable, unlike mid-fi stuff) to the wall, speaker cables to a pair of Vapor Audio Cirrus, and a CD in the slot. A kid could set this up. Upon reclining back into my listening position, the sparseness of this setup was almost unnerving. How could just that one box replace so many?
The C8, like any component at any price, has its strengths and its weaknesses.
Logical comparisons to the C8 are few, so to evaluate the individual moving parts would take a modular approach. To get closer to the prior setup of my Eastern Electric MiniMax DAC Plus (fed by a music server) into the Ekco EV55SE, I ran the DAC Plus into the C8. It is important to note that the price of the EE DAC Plus is $1,100 and even at that price is an audiophile steal, so this comparison from a price standpoint is not exactly “fair”, but that’s why we have reference components so we can compare performance levels. The DAC Plus also incorporates a tube in the circuit, so that’s going to make a difference, too. And then there’s the music server. Another piece of the now larger and pricier puzzle.
This went a long way towards leveling the playing field, the C8 now had much greater low-level detail retrieval and was overall more fleshed out. The soundstage dimensionality also grew somewhat, but was still lagging behind the all-tube Ekco that, when James Darby and I reviewed it, revealed it to be a soundstaging phenom. Here again, the Ekco costs $2,500 and is a tube amp that only generates 55 wpc at best and does not have near the features of the C8, so bear that in mind as well.
Le Chatiment du Traitre from Rome’s “Nos Chants Perdus” is a huge recording with layers of information all across the soundstage. Through the Ekco it’s utterly engaging, delivered in a way that’s impossible not to listen. The C8 does the same track in more relaxed, less lively manner. It’s less phenomenal tube-like soundstage was still eminently enjoyable and not as strident and aggressive as many solid-state components can be.
The C8 though is a chameleon, able to blend with any hi-fi setup. My next configuration would test the C8 as a pre-amp, and compared to the Eastern Electric Avant pre which goes for about $1,700; it is another “unfair” but noteworthy comparison. The C8 has the ability to turn off the internal Hypex amplifier boards and route signal through a pair of analog outputs. Amplification used both with the C8 and Avant was a pair of Electrocompaniet AW220 monoblocks which alone cost far more than the C8. This setup proved an interesting comparison, as it was now the C8 which was more lively. On Steven Stills’ Treetop Flier from “Stills Alone”, leading edges of notes now had more jump through the C8, and it felt a hair more dynamic. The Avant was more fleshed out, with more layering of tonality, but was also the more relaxed of the two. Soundstaging was similar between the two, with the Avant having a bit more sparkle around the edges and the C8 having a deeper center focus. The C8 proved to be a very capable pre-amp, even compared to more expensive fare.
Quite the assortment of Class D amps have moved through my doors over the years, familiarity with the sound they deliver is extensive. I couldn’t help thinking that the C8 amplification was similar in a lot of ways to other Class D offerings I’ve lived with. Class D amps are another area that has improved greatly over the last couple of years. To test the theory I used the C8 as a preamp driving a D-Sonic Magnum 1000 that has been modded by BPT. This is an Ice Power 1000ASP based amp, the C8 used newer Hypex UcD180 modules. Results did go a long way to confirming my suspicions, the C8/D-Sonic combination was very similar to the C8 alone. With the D-Sonic in play, the music flowed with more ease and drive, but the resemblance was obvious in soundstage dimensionality and again the center focus was obvious. Again, the one-box C8 came off very impressively when faced off against a more expensive unit.
So what conclusion to draw thus far is a head scratcher; the amplification is relaxed and not as dimensional as more expensive, less powerful tube equipment, the pre section is more engaging and lively. On a bang-for-buck scale, the C8 wins.
Another piece in play is that the C8 upsamples all incoming digital signals to 24/192. For some that’s a carved in stone no-no, non-defeatable upsampling. In the recent past, there was reason for that with upsampling leaving the music dry and less involving. But digital has come a long, long way in just the past two years and one can’t lump all upsamplers together as before. Broad strokes generalizations rarely apply, and here you could conclude that the C8 was doing a fine and unobtrusive job of upsampling. I never heard any added edge or sizzle. Technology is moving forward fast!
Let’s not forget the USB DAC. Spec’d at 16 bit 48 kHz decoding, it seems on paper to be aimed more for iPod input, clearly not for the next generation of high-resolution decoding. Of course, hi-res brings with a high price tag as well with and album costing around $30 or more and large amounts of disc space and long download times. A lot of audiophiles just aren’t going there.
To evaluate it’s performance I compared it to a Xindak DAC-5, which is a very well regarded upsampling DAC. It has a tube or solid state output option. I used the tube. Since it lacks a USB input, I also used a MHDT USBridge to output a SPDIF stream. Note: more expense and fussiness. The Xindak was set to upsample to 24/192, same as the C8 does by default. I expected the standalone Xindak to show an edge here, but it never did. In fact this was as close to a dead heat as I’ve heard between DAC’s. But when you consider that the C8 puts everything together in one high-quality box for $4,100, including tuners and phono inputs, the value proposition is amazing. Noteworthy too is the fact that the C8 here fared well against a tubed product.
The C8 is an evolutionary product, possibly even revolutionary to the right customer. And as such it required a serious commitment of time to assess. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to give the phono input a run, my Linn Sondek setup wasn’t made ready in time for the review. So I can only speculate that it would turn in a solid performance as the rest of the C8 does. Europeans in general are more vinyl-centric and would never tolerate a less than pristine phono section. Note that the C8 accommodates not only moving magnet carts as usually found on such one-box systems, but also moving coils. Very impressive at this level. A decent separate MM/MC would go for around $1,000, more or less.
The tuner section did an excellent job however, easily bettering my Onkyo TS-SR805 receiver at it’s station retrieving ability, and slightly better than that of my Harman Kardon HK3490.
At $4,100, the AVM C8 packs some serious hardware and functionality into a tiny, beautifully German crafted piece. A stack of assorted gear: AC, preamp, amplification, CD player, separate tuner and MM and MC phono inputs, etc, can probably convey a more fulfilling musical experience for the most advanced audiophiles, but at a much more expensive price tag, even when using high-value separate components like those featured here at Stereomojo. The money you would save in various connecting cables alone is a small fortune.
The C8 also doesn’t need a lot of expensive audiophile equipment racks to hold all those various boxes, More money saved.
Perhaps the best aspect of the C8 is that it eliminates the biggest bugaboo that plagues many, many audiophiles; the secret disease affecting countless systems, even those with high-dollar pricetags. And that friends, is component matching. Whether it’s pre-amp to amp, CD player to pre-amp, amp to speaker or cables to anywhere, so many patched together systems are mismatched and delivering subpar sound that it is a true tragedy. A great preamp matched to a power amp with incompatible input voltage is going to suffer. A great tube power amp or integrated matched to a pair of low-sensitivity speakers will make the amp work way too hard, generating distortion and shortening its life.
You can even have a system that matches on paper well, but just doesn’t have that elusive, unmeasurable quality we label “synergy”.
The C8 eliminates all of that. At 150 wpc, it is capable of driving almost any speaker to distortion-free levels. I’d still make sure my speakers didn’t drop below 2 Ohms or have an otherwise wild impedance curve, but that’s true of pretty much any system. Especially tubes.
Also, I’m lucky enough to have a wife that doesn’t nag me about the towers of multiple components sitting around. Yet. Speaking of wives, this is a system that she can easily use. It’s not the least bit intimidating. And you don’t have to worry about her screwing anything up!
The trend around the world right now is “downsizing”. More people are renting because home loans are hard to get. Retirees are selling their big homes formerly needed to raise their kids and going for smaller homes or condos with less maintenance. In warmer climates. Other audiophiles are just getting tired of the complexity and multiple remotes needed for their multi-box stereo systems. But many don’t want to descend to the level of the Pioneers, Denons and Kenwoods of the world. We know this because we get tons of emails asking us for recommendations for an “audiophile one box solution”. In the past, we’ve steered them to Peachtree. But now there’s another major player whose one-box is even more functional – AVM.
The AVM C8 offers better than high-end entry level performance at a mid-fi, Best Buy price. One could easily spend more for a mid-fi system and get far less sound quality and functionality.
The same could be said for those who might have a super system in their main room but want something high quality for a second system for a bedroom, office or even a vacation or motorhome.
Then there are those of you who have tried the “computer as audio source” route. Find the right drivers, deal with the noise, software updates, cables everywhere and cross-your-fingers reliability. You know who you are. Frustrated? Try the C8.
The C8 in black or silver will look at home in even the most upscale setting, and will reward the owner with excellent sound. I can envision the C8 in a multi-million-dollar New York loft apartment under a wall mounted flat screen.
Lastly, with its multiple digital ins and outs in every current format, the AVM C8 stands ready for anything that may face it in the digital age, yet it accommodates important ongoing formats such as FM and vinyl.
Warranty? Three years!
Based on its high build and sound quality, versatility, features and moderate price,
the AVM Inspiration C8 receives our rare
MAXIMUM MOJO AWARD.
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