REVIEW: AVM EVOLUTION A3.2 INTEGRATED AMPLIFIER
For a brand that has been around for over 30 years, you could be forgiven for either never having heard the name AVM Audio, or even getting it confused with any number of other brands sporting three letter names or acronyms.
Head over to Europe and it’s a different story. At the 2017 High End Show in Munich, Germany, the AVM brand was well represented and their electronics are the choice of many speaker manufacturers.
You see, AVM are an audio manufacturer born within the land of chocolate. The land of chocolate you ask?
Cue a short clip of a Homer fantasy courtesy of a classic Simpsons episode and of course the country I am referring to, is Germany.
AVM Audio is headed up by Udo Besser, an Electrical Engineer who took over the company in 2010 after being the Managing Director at luxury audio brand, Burmester.
Opting for a more purist approach to sound, AVM are all about keeping things simple in their designs by maintaining a short, straight signal path.
While AVM are pitched at the higher end of the audio market, they have three core ranges: Inspiration, Evolution and Ovation.
These ranges cover a broad price range from $1,499 for their Inspiration Phono Stage right up to $44,000 for their Ovation Series Monoblock Amplifier (which are incidentally the reference amplifiers of choice for StereoNET's Publisher, Marc Rushton).
The subject of this review, the Evolution A3.2 Integrated Amplifier sits at a not unreasonable $6,290 (Silver or Black finish, and for those wanting the most premium look, Chrome is also available for $7990).
Like every other AVM Hi-Fi product, the A3.2 is designed, manufactured, and assembled in Germany with locally sourced parts and components.
Like all AVM amplifiers, the A3.2 is a class AB design.
It features a power output of 100 watts into 8 ohms and solid output into 4 ohms of 175 watts, indicating it can drive a good majority of speakers with ease.
Damping factor is specified reasonably high too at > 200. The A3.2 also boasts quite a high signal to noise ratio of 101dB (Line Input).
Props have to go to AVM for forward thinking too, by building the A3.2 as a modular design. For those that don’t know, modular designs allow for a manufacturer to leave ‘blank plates’ if you will, on the rear panel of a component. These blank plates can be filled with a ‘module’ that can offer a variety of different features.
One of the key benefits of this design is typically future-proofing, as you can add modules as they are required, or as technology is further developed.
In the case of the A3.2, it is equipped with three slots for optional upgrades such as a USB DAC, Phono Stage or FM Tuner allowing you to flavor it to taste.
Each separate module will set you back an additional $999; likely much less than the cost of purchasing an additional, separate component.
Special mention must also be given for the supplied AVM remote. While the buttons are quite small, the machining of the remote is excellent and it certainly looks and feels like you would expect at this price point.
To my surprise, the A3.2 didn’t have much heft to it, weighing in at a relatively meager 9kg.
The review unit appeared to be a repack / display model, but came meticulously well packaged in its original box. The supplied unit was already fitted with the optional phono and DAC modules.
While the Phono Module is able to handle both MM and MC phono cartridges, the grounding terminal appears to have been made specifically for a banana plug type connection only. You’ll likely need to source a banana plug to attach to the end of your turntable’s grounding wire.
Typically, in my own system I would connect a MacBook Pro with an AudioQuest Jitterbug in line with a WireWorld Platinum Starlight USB cable, terminating at my Vincent CD-S7 DAC.
I seemed to be experiencing digital noise alongside the music, and after using a process of elimination, I discovered that the DAC module on the A3.2 appeared to be sensitive to the Jitterbug. Once removed, the noise disappeared so in this case I finished the review without the Jitterbug.
Even from early listening I could tell that the A3.2 was something special.
It seemed to be analytic without sounding clinical, and musical without seeming lush, striking a good balance.
The A3.2 immediately offered up noticeably greater depth than my usual Vincent SV-237 and projected an obviously wider soundstage too.
Perhaps the only place it felt slightly short was in the expressiveness in the lower registers. The Vincent seems to have more weight down there, albeit being a touch looser and less controlled.
Controlled. That is actually a great word to describe the AVM A3.2. Tight, controlled, precise. Ultimately, exactly what I would expect from German engineering.
Using my MacBook Pro via Audirvana Plus as the source, I streamed Tidal’s “Classical Relaxation” playlist. I’m no classical buff, not by any means.
This playlist gets a workout in my place regularly as for some reason, it really helps knock my little toddler out and in turn gives me a couple of hours of peace and quiet. Priceless.
It features some great modern contemporary artists such as Olafur Arnalds, Ludovico Einaudi and Max Richter, and I have warmed to it greatly over the past year or so.
Verses (Olafur Arnalds & Alice Sara Ott) sounded lovely, displaying a full-bodied sound with a striking bite in the strings. Separation of instrumentation was excellent, particularly in crowded phrases of the song, not letting any one element drown out another.
Richter: Path 5 (delta) was bare and intimate. Hearing each sequence play out was a delight. As one instrument faded out, another would come to take its place. The serenity of this track certainly was not lost on the A3.2.
Everything I heard via the DAC module indicated to me that it is of excellent quality and could very easily pass the test for those looking for a high quality, single-box solution.
Dirty Projectors’ second, self-titled release is one of my picks for quality of production this year. I just recently picked myself up a vinyl copy and gave it a spin. Having heard how great the digital version of this album sounds, I had high hopes …
Playing via my Marantz TT-15s1 turntable equipped with an Ortofon Quintet Bronze and played back via my Phono Box RS/Power Box RS combination, the A3.2 never failed to deliver the dynamics I’ve come to expect.
I would go as far as to say that this is now my favorite version of this album.
The opening track ‘Keep Your Name’ offered up excellent imaging, a full bodied vocal and a huge bass hit.
Resorting to a typical hi-fi analogy, I feel as though it’s safe to say that the AVM simply got out of the way and let the music flow.
And flow it did.
‘Up In Hudson’ was another example where a lot of different instruments and different phrases were sequenced together and rather than sound confused, the AVM broke it all down, put each one in place, portraying it all beautifully.
Angus & Julia Stone’s ‘Down the Way’, a modern classic for production quality, played back via CD on my CDS7 DAC sounded as pretty as I’d ever heard it. The recording is already an intimate insight into the recording studio, and the A3.2 certainly didn’t take any missteps in its own portrayal of it.
The acoustic guitar on ‘Yellow Brick Road’ had just the right amount of twang and Angus’ own vocal, had a warm, full-bodied presence.
Of the two amplifiers I use regularly at home, the A3.2 falls closer in line price-wise with my NAD M2.
This amp of course is a very different beast from the AVM, being considered more a ‘Power-Dac’ using Class D amplification rather than a typical design.
Sonically however, I found that there are more similarities than not, with both offering up a clean, wide soundstage.
I dare say for digital sources, the NAD wins for ultimate transparency, however, the M2 has very limited connectivity for analog sources and unlike the AVM, cannot be upgraded with modules.
I would argue too that the AVM is a more engaging and musical too, with a hint more bite on instruments, for example, the ringing out of guitar strings had longer extension.
AVM is a brand that should certainly be considered more seriously in Australia.
The level of quality provided for the reasonably modest outlay is most impressive and with the A3.2, AVM have certainly hit the nail on the head.
In the world of high end audio, and that what this is, $6000 is not a lot of money for what the AVM delivers.
If the DAC module is anything to go by, the modular architecture and optional modules appear to be of excellent performance quality.
As the market is beginning to shift away from racks of components, purchasers would be very happy opting for something like this as a single box solution. Simply add the modules you need, and add more as necessary at a later date.
If you’re shopping for an all-in-one solution and this fits within the budget, I strongly urge you to audition the AVM A3.2. Like me, you’ll be pleasantly surprised and likely need to spend quite substantially more, for better.
For more information visit the AVM Audio brand page.
Lover of Hi-Fi, Music and Recording Engineering. I particularly like the affordable and value-packed products; finding that diamond in the rough.