In most cases, I use this opening sentence of an integrated amplifier review to tell you why I love integrated amplifiers. I can’t quite do that with the AVM Ovation CS 6.3 streaming CD receiver because it’s part of a growing trend of “all-in-one” products that combine everything you need—outside of loudspeakers, of course—in one single chassis.
The idea of a one-box solution isn’t new to consumer electronics, but usually that’s reserved for home theater products that have supremely busy front and back panels. It’s certainly not the norm for high-end audio, where we’re constantly separating everything into smaller and more specialized boxes, each with dedicated power supplies.
But we’re seeing plenty of these “all-in-ones” in high-end audio right now. Grover Neville gave the Naim Uniti Nova his highest praise (and a Reviewer’s Choice Award), something he does far less frequently than the rest of us, and I spent considerable time with an older Uniti model, the second generation of the Atom, and I was surprised by its technical sophistication, friendly user interface and great sound, all in one very solid and compact chassis.
I didn’t hesitate when the AVM Ovation CS 6.3 all-in-one was offered for review from Bluebird Music, the US and Canadian distributor. I really enjoyed the AVM Ovation A 6.2 ME integrated amplifier when I reviewed it last year, and I found myself looking forward to more products. While there was a time when I would have avoided a Swiss Army knife type of product (or in this case, German), the selling point here was that it comes from AVM—a brand I didn’t discover until last year, even though they’ve been big outside of the US for a long time. They’ve made an impression on me, to say the least.
All Right, What Does This Thing Do?
Let’s start with the obvious. The AVM Ovation CS 6.3 is, at its core, an integrated amplifier with a lot of those added options you find these days with more mainstream brands. You get Bluetooth, a built-in DAC and a headphone amplifier, for starters. No phono stage is available, but AVM will sell you one of their outboard phono preamps, along with something from their own line of turntables.
What pushes the CS 6.3 into all-in-one territory—what it calls a CD streaming receiver, or “All-in-One Audiophile Masterpiece”—is its network streamer which is set up to handle Qobuz, Tidal, UPnP, internet radio and more. That DAC isn’t just a conveniently adequate module for the space allotted—we’re talking a quad DAC configuration that streams everything including DSD128, with a 384kHz/32-bit sampling rate. Plus, it’s modular for future upgrades, and AVM is very active about upgrading software through the network.
Oh yes, there’s also a built-in CD player. I know, it’s kind of cool in a product at this level. But more on that in a bit.
The AVM Ovation CS 6.3 has all those amazing features in one box. Do you know what else you get? 500 watts per channel.
In fact, the only difference between the CS 6.3 and the CS 8.3 is that the latter has a tube line stage. They both have 500 watts per channel. They both cost the same. They both look the same. At first, I assumed the 8.3 had more power. Nope, it’s tubes. My first thought wasn’t about comparing the two, especially since I lean toward tube amplification. My first thought was, after lifting the AVM out of its awesome (and heavy) AVM flight case, was “wow, this is much lighter than I thought.” It was about the same size as the AVM Ovation A 6.2 ME integrated, but far lighter.
That’s when it hit me—not the first time in the last year—that the AVM Ovation CS 6.3 power section is Class D.
That makes the AVM the third installment of Class D Amps That Have Won Over the PTA Staff trilogy. I wrote the first installment, my review of the Jeff Rowland Design Group Model 125 power amplifier. Dave McNair just followed up with his recent review of the TIDAL Audio Intra power amplifier. We’ve had some interesting discussions in the PTA War Room since then, with many conclusions revolving around the same point Jeff Rowland made to me after I reviewed the 125—a Class D module is merely a tool in the designer’s tool box. It’s how you integrate it into the rest of the amplifier that matters.
It’s clear that a few designers and engineers in the high-end audio industry have unlocked some of Class D’s secrets.
The AVM Ovation CS 6.3 Remote Control
There isn’t one. Well, there is, but it’s optional. When I unpacked the AVM Ovation CS 6.3, I instantly noticed there was no remote control. The AVM integrated certainly had one, a particularly nice one if I recall. I was all set to send an email saying guys, you forgot the remote. I was examining the owners’ manual, line by line, and then it hit me.
You do everything from your smart phone on the AVM app. Doi.
I thought about it for a few moments and suddenly realized yes, this is the future. Physical remote controls will go the way of physical music formats. While it does take me a few tries to accept these improvements to technology, I’m trying to be better about not grumbling and complaining when I have to learn a new task. This moment, however, was enlightening and I plunged into the AVM Ovation CS 6.3 and started to make everything work.
Once you navigate through the AVM app and learn how it operates, you’ll quickly realize the need to hook the CS 6.3 into your network. It features, after all, a network streamer. Once the AVM is connected, its many features crystallize.
The AVM Ovation CS 6.3 Built-In CD Player
I’ll admit it right now. My favorite single thing about this multi-talented box jam-packed with amazing tech is its built-in CD player. I’m not kidding. At first I thought this was a novel feature, something thrown into the mix because there was still a little more room inside that metal box. Then, before I figured out all the other features of the AVM Ovation CS 6.3, I just hooked up a pair of speakers and listened to CDs.
I spent considerable time listening to this amazingly simple set-up, the AVM Ovation CS 6.3, a pair of speaker cables, a pair of speakers. The Harbeth C7ES-3 XD, Fern and Roby Raven III and Nola Champ3 loudspeakers were all evaluated in depth with this configuration. I kept marveling at the simplicity—all your digital needs are already met with the DAC and network streamer. But the inboard CD player? Why does it sound as good as it does?
Part of that, I’m sure, is due to the isolation of the entire CD mechanism—it’s from TEAC, but it’s been made custom for AVM. The stand-alone CD players from AVM are highly regarded, so it makes sense that they know how to make a streamlined version of one of their products, as well as putting it into one of their “Ovation Line housing” structures which is acoustically shielded and designed to control vibrations.
Dedicated Pure Class A Headphone Amplifier
I assume that this is the same unit used in the AVM Ovation A 6.2 ME—which was one of my favorite things about that amp. It sounds really superb and might be my favorite inboard headphone amp I’ve heard. The sound is warm and clear and intoxicating, very easy to use for long listening sessions.
When I reviewed the Ovation A 6.2 ME, I didn’t have a pair of the excellent Focal Clear MG headphones back then. I did for the CS 6.3. I couldn’t help but think that this was all I needed for my headphone rig.
See? You don’t even need a headphone amplifier anymore with this beast in your system.
AVM Ovation CS 6.3 Sound and Listening
While talking about the experience of using the AVM Ovation CS 6.3 over the course of a couple of months, it’s hard to describe the superb balance between the sheer amount of technology and ultimate sound quality. The two sides of this equation seem almost symbiotic in nature. The features will encourage you to experiment and try different things, different formats, different connections (digital inputs include asynchronous USB, SPDIF, and you can also attach a external hard drive or USB jump drive). The sound quality, in turn, will convince you to explore even deeper into various types of digital sources—with increased confidence, since the entire user interface is superb.
Going a bit deeper, I’ll say that digital streaming with Qobuz was so confident and precise and clear-cut, especially compared with some of the other digital gear I’ve had around here, that it added to my enjoyment of the music. I relaxed, and that contributed to the excellent sound.
I can’t quite say there was a signature sound that the AVM added to every source across the board. (For the record, I found the unbalanced inputs and the line stage in general to sound smooth and transparent.) This suggests neutrality, and perhaps that’s one more point in AVM’s favor. The Naim all-in-ones, as well as some of McIntosh big boxes I’ve used that do a lot of stuff, do still retain that Naim and Mac sound, respectively. The AVM didn’t draw such easy comparisons.
I had the feeling, especially while streaming, that the AVM had little to do with the music reaching my ears outside of pointing it in the right direction. That’s where I draw the line between a DAC that I like, and one that merely connects me to some new technology. With the AVM, I started to notice the vast differences between the best quality streaming formats and the ones with a bit less ambition, shall we say. Sometimes the mediocre was just unbearable, and nothing was smoothed over. But when I streamed the revelatory, such as The Beatles’ Let It Be Deluxe, I felt like I was listening to everything I needed to hear. It was exhilarating.
This was a strange review for me, because the AVM Ovation CS 6.3 seems so far away from my own amplifier preferences, or at least what I thought were my preferences. The power amplifier I’ve used as my reference for the last decade, the Pureaudio Duo2, is constantly switched to the 25wpc pure Class A mode. I imported and distributed Italian tube amplifiers during the same 10-year period. I still adore the sound of solid-state Brit-fi integrated amps with 50 watts per channel or so. I’ve found a sound that I love when it comes to amplifiers.
Now, I have to consider this AVM Ovation, a product that roughs up two of my biggest biases in high-end audio: keeping everything simple and as separate as possible, and still possessing my strong preferences for tube amplifiers and pure Class A solid-state and not a whole lot else—especially Class D. To me, those are two big hurdles that the AVM traversed with ease.
I would never recommend a product like this unless it had great sound. I don’t want to be reminded about the trade-off between cool features/functionality/convenience and ultimate sound quality. Half the time I don’t even use the remote—I still like to turn big knobs.
Quite frankly, I was stunned by the sound quality of the AVM Ovation CS 6.3. In fact, I was reminded of the first time I listened to the AVM Ovation A 6.2 ME. I knew nothing about AVM before that, and there was an immediate and clear feeling that this was amazing gear and I shouldn’t have waited so long to check it out. The AVM sound is solid, deep, textured and quiet. It has tremendous poise. It sounds like the big, expensive stuff. All in one box.
The price of the AVM Ovation CS 6.3, at $14,000, is substantial—until you break it all down. I’d pay a middling fraction of that for this CD player alone. The DAC and the network streamer are solid and fluid in function and I had no problem running everything though the phone app, which made me feel good about myself. The Ovation integrated was $8,200, and I deemed it a good value at the time—still do—so you can set that against the cost of the CS 6.3.
There’s an obvious difference in the power amp circuitry, but you get more power with the class D option. Plus, and I can’t be sure without A/B comparison, but this class D amp and that class AB amp sound remarkably alike. That suggests that AVM has a sound that they aspire to, and they have many different tools to achieve that. Highly recommended.