AVM Ovation MP 8.2 CD player-D/A processor

For all its faults—complex grammar, inconsistent rules of pronunciation, burdensomely endless vocabulary—English has proven itself a commendably plastic language. This is good for audio enthusiasts, in the US and elsewhere, whose choices in playback gear continue to evolve not only in substance and function but in name: Unlike many of the people who speak it, English can keep pace with the changes.

Consider: Less than three years ago, when I began working full-time as one of Stereophile's editors, product descriptions were still simple things, even in the world of digital audio. Seldom would I have to write a product-review heading more complex than CD player or D/A converter. But, as you may have noticed, particularly in the last year, things have taken off: The last 12 issues of this magazine have included such headings as D/A Processor & Digital Hub, Caching Network Music Player/Server, and the granddaddy of them all, CD/Network Player & Word-Clock Generator. William Safire, were he alive today, would surely cheer Stereophile as a liberator of syntax if not of audio itself, and as a guarantor of democracy.

Which brings us to the Ovation MP 8.2. Its manufacturer, AVM Audio, describes it as a media player, but it is in fact a CD player, a streamer, a file player, and a DAC with multiple inputs, including asynchronous USB. Because in the last six issues I've already reached for the worn-out metaphor of a Swiss Army knife to describe a product, I will instead compare the German-made MP 8.2 to that finest all fishermen's accessories, the Zebco De-Liar: a tape measure, scale, and hook disgorger, all in one compact tool. And that's a compliment.

The Ovation MP 8.2 ($10,995) measures 16.9" wide by 5.1" high by 14.6" deep, weighs a hefty but not excessive 24.25 lbs, and is built into an aluminum enclosure that exudes higher-than-average build quality but is otherwise nondescript. Its front panel is home to a digital display, a CD slot, a Power button—to wake the unit from standby mode, after the mains toggle on the rear panel has been thrown—and a row of 11 additional buttons. No sense wasting ink to name them all when you can just look at the photo, but neither the front panel nor the standard remote handset contains all the controls you need to operate the MP 8.2. For that, you can choose between the optional RC 9 handset ($699) or AVM's free RC S app, for iOS and Android. The RC 9 was not supplied with my review sample, so I downloaded the app to my iPhone 6-plus.


In addition to single-ended (RCA) and balanced (XLR) analog outputs, and an IEC socket for the power cord, the MP 8.2's rear panel offers: an Ethernet port; a USB Type B port for connection to a computer; one USB Type A port for use with memory sticks and the like, and a second for firmware updates; one AES/EBU digital-input socket; four S/PDIF digital-input sockets (two coaxial, two TosLink); two S/PDIF digital-output jacks (one coaxial, one TosLink); and a removable WiFi antenna.

The case was not only nondescript, it was impenetrable. Thus, regarding the MP 8.2's innards, you'll learn little more from me than you would from the company's website, which tells us that inside is a TEAC Pure Audio CD drive, and that its media player supports the streaming services Tidal and Qobuz. The MP 8.2 also uses two, proprietary dual-triode tubes in its output-stage filter. According to AVM's sales manager for North America, Peder Bäckman, the AVM803 tube is manufactured in Slovakia by JJ & Company, and while it runs on a higher plate voltage than, say, the typical ECC83 tube, it has a considerable lifespan of about 10,000 hours. Also according to Bäckman, the MP 8.2 offers signal processing up to 32 bits and 384kHz.

On a related note, the AVM website suggests that the MP 8.2 offers "selectable up- or downsampling," yet the manual doesn't explain how to make such selections. (I consulted the online instruction manual for the unsupplied RC 9 remote handset, in case there might have been a clue there. There was not.) The manual does, however, describe how the front-panel Prog button can be used to toggle between Hi Res and Lo Res modes, the practical effects of which I describe below. When I asked Bäckman in an e-mail if that had to do with the selectable sampling, he replied that it had to do with the USB-B input.

Altogether less mysterious is a front-panel button labeled Filter, which toggles between two filter choices, described in the manual—and, during use, on the MP 8.2's front-panel display—as Steep and Smooth, the former having a steep rolloff characteristic at the top of the frequency range, the latter being . . . well, less steep.

Installation and setup
Like every Ovation MP 8.2 that AVM produces, my review sample was shipped in a rugged, foam-lined flight case weighing nearly as much as the unit itself. I installed the MP 8.2 on the middle shelf of my Box Furniture D3S rack (the player ran warm, but not alarmingly so), pressed into service its stock AC cord, flipped on its rear-panel mains switch, and pressed the front-panel Power button.

A message appeared on the AVM's display, instructing me to wait for the player's tubes to warm up. While this was taking place, that message changed—one letter at a time, from left to right—from "waiting for tube warmup" to "WAITING FOR TUBE WARMUP." That took about 47 seconds, at the end of which a relay clicked and the MP 8.2 was ready to be configured for use.

The Ovation MP 8.2 is one of those products that must be connected, via an Ethernet cable, to a router before much of anything can be done with it. Once that's done, it can be set up for a wireless connection and the cable dispensed with. You can also use the MP 8.2 to play CDs without its being connected to the Internet—and I did, as detailed below.

I don't fear computers, nor do I dislike them per se. But I don't love computer hardware and software the way some people do. And I have nothing but contempt for computer-audio jargonistas, who like to dress up their knowledge in a Darth Vader costume to make it look big and dangerous and important and off-putting. So believe me when I tell you: The portions of the AVM's manual devoted to downloading and using the RC S app, getting the MP 8.2 up and running with a hardwired Ethernet connection, and setting it up for wireless use are all commendably clear and straightforward. The only setup snag I hit was of my own making: After making the wireless connection, the user must disconnect the Ethernet cable—a task the manual advises performing "right afterwards." On my first try, I apparently didn't remove the cable soon enough, and the MP 8.2 remained in hardwired mode; on my second try, I unplugged the Ethernet connection within seconds of making the wireless connection, and all was well (but see below).

Playing CDs
I began my listening by using the Ovation MP 8.2 as a CD player, my first selection being XTC's Skylarking (Geffen/Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab UDCD 615), chosen simply because I was in the mood to hear it. It was, in a way, a momentous selection: This Todd Rundgren–produced recording, though musically brilliant, doesn't sound terribly good, its greatest sin being edgy trebles. While the AVM didn't mask that edge, it made it no worse; more to the point, it did an exceptional job of allowing the songs as much flow and momentum, and consequent emotional impact, as I've ever heard from this disc.

Note that this quality of sound was had with the Smooth filter selected; with the Steep filter, the treble edge was indeed too . . . well, edgy. Unless otherwise noted below, I used the Smooth setting for the rest of my listening.

My reasons for reviewing the MP 8.2 had nothing to do with my series of reviews of ca-$10,000 CD players—but I made a mental note that, right out of the gate (footnote 1), and without regard for its talents as a DAC or a streamer or a whatever else, the MP 8.2 would have distinguished itself as one of that informal survey's higher achievers.

The next disc I felt like playing was Neko Case's Fox Confessor Brings the Flood (CD, Anti- 86777-2). That recording and mastering, too, has an edge—maybe even a worse edge than Skylarking—but is otherwise direct and palpable and colorful. More important, the music is brilliant, and its sound through the MP 8.2 was also as effective as I've heard. In "Margaret vs. Pauline," Garth Hudson's piano winnowed like incense smoke through the melody, and every one of Case's big, colorful, diminished chords gave me a chill. The much more civilized-sounding Jane Pickeringe's Lute Book, a solo recording by lutenist Jacob Heringman (CD, Avie AV0002), allowed the MP 8.2 to show off its skill in reproducing subtleties of instrumental tones—which it did with superb color and texture—and playing technique: another thoroughly engaging experience.

Streaming Tidal
Be kind: I'm new to Tidal, and to streaming in general, and had little idea what to expect in terms of sound or musical involvement. I was charmed. My streaming experiences with the MP 8.2 would, in the end, comprise the greatest single impediment to my saying goodbye to it.

Footnote 1: Because the review sample of the Ovation MP 8.2 was forwarded to Stereophile's offices immediately following its use at the 2017 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, I assumed it had been run in to at least some extent.
Audio Video Manufaktur GmbH
US distributor: AVM Audio USA
Buffalo, NY
(510) 901-9477

Ali's picture

Very strange, its the first time recently reading a review about a DAC or streamer that MQA has not been mentioned in it specially that reviewer has extensivly listened to Tidal! Purposely? Ignoring? Or new to streaming?! My guess is what Art was listening Monk in 24/96 throu Tidal was MQA file decoded by Tidal and not by AVM.