Costing £3995 the AVM Inspiration CS2.2 packs a lot under the hood. It’s a streamer, a CD player, DAC, FM radio, Internet radio player, it has an on-board MM/MC phonostage and outputs a healthy amount of power. For those looking for a one box plus speakers solution it looks the business, but does it cut the mustard? Dominic Marsh finds out. 

The AVM Inspiration CS2.2 is one of many compact “all in one” units found on the market today.  The trend seems to be driven by a desire for people to be living in more and more cramped spaces in housing becoming less spacious, or people don’t want a heap of boxes sat in a rack and  cramping their lifestyle choices.  The word “compact” though conjures up images of cheap parts shoehorned into a small box, beset by a huge list of compromises to achieve that goal and with a sound quality ranking just above the standard of a portable transistor radio.

Just one look and touch of the AVM Inspiration CS2.2 tells you to take all your preconceptions about that word “compact” and erase them entirely from your mind.  AVM haven’t just helped you to get rid of that pile of boxes, they have redefined what “compact” should signify, with a price tag approaching four thousand pounds that forces you to treat it with some serious reverence.

Construction

You can tell instantly that this is a German designed product, with stunning attention to details, like the chassis and cover fitting together perfectly, the way the volume control glides rather than merely rotates, the buttons having a tactile presence to them.  As BMW are obsessive about shut lines on their vehicle’s doors, bonnets (hood) and boots (trunk), so too I would imagine someone on the AVM production line is checking the accuracy of fit and finish before it leaves the factory.

Within said compact box is a powerful Class D amplifier with a rating of 165 watts into an 4 ohm load, a slot loading CD player, an FM only tuner with RDS, a DAC, a phonostage with MM & MC input, a dedicated headphone amplifier, Bluetooth receiver and internet streaming facility.  There is no DAB radio fitted, but there is an internet radio streaming facility. There is full support for Qobuz and Tidal. Streaming-wise it will work with all the usual suspects (MP3 , WMA, AAC, OGG Vorbis, FLAC, WAV, AIFF) and upsamples these to 192/24.

With all that functionality on tap, the front panel controls are rather sparse, but don’t let that fool you for one moment, as the 5 push buttons beneath the display take you through a menu system that is pretty much comprehensive, but navigating down through the menu layers is logically arranged, something that can’t be said of some products.  This is one occasion where sitting in front of the unit with the user manual to hand helps to unravel the menu system easily.  Aside from the display and menu buttons, we find source selection, a power switch, rotary volume control, the slot entry for the CD player and a 3.5mm headphone socket.

Around the rear though is where the business end of this machine’s skills lie.  Reading from left to right, there is an FM antenna plug connection, then a pair of RCA sockets for phono connection, 3 pairs of RCA sockets for line level analogue inputs, then a pair of fixed line level analogue output RCA sockets, then a variable level pre-amplifier output pair, then a USB socket for firmware/software updating, then digital inputs consisting of an RCA socket and a TOSLINK connection and a matching set of digital outputs.  Back to the left and on the bottom row now we see a ground connection post for the phono connection,  then an RJ45 LAN connection, then a USB socket  so you can add a hard drive, then two buttons for Update and Reset accordingly, then the Bluetooth antenna.  Finally, we find two pairs of loudspeaker connections, but in a BFA type format only.  If your speaker cables are blessed with 4mm banana plugs then you have no worries, but those that have bare wire or spade connections will need to have new cables or existing cables reterminated.   At the far right hand of the rear panel there is the mains power switch and an IEC inlet. So, connectivity-wise AVM seem to have pretty much every area covered and whether you are looking to stream from a NAS or a hard drive, or use more conventional media you are well catered for. The line level inputs allow you to add other external sources should you wish and I would imagine many will use one of these pairs for improving the sound of their televisions.

AVM have also created an app you can download from their website onto your mobile device to control all the functions of the Inspiration CS2.2.  A remote control handset and charging dock is an optional extra.

Sound Quality

Being the very busy Hifi Pig Reviewer that I am these days, I unpacked the CS2.2 from it’s box and connected some mains to it, discovered that my speaker spade connections are not suitable, so a dig around in the trusty spares drawer and produced a pair of Tellurium Q Ultra Blue cables with 4mm banana plugs fitted that I keep for eventualities such as this.  All connected up I pressed the power button but simply ignored what it was doing because my mind was concentrating on other things at the time and that included reading the user manual, or indeed studying the specifications.

I then faced the prospect of inserting a CD into the slot loader and I will admit I had rather a nervous moment.  I do distrust, rightly or wrongly, slot loading CD mechanisms as two previous players (not from AVM I hasten to add) in for review had these things installed and both times my CD went in and didn’t come out voluntarily, plus car CD players have the same trick up their sleeve unfortunately, so they don’t have an unblemished reputation with me.  What the heck, it either makes the third instance for the hat trick or swallows and plays the CD, so it was gamble time.  Without even looking, I reached across to the CD rack and pulled one out at random from the bottom shelf – the same shelf were all the blind purchases should have remained blind, as in bought from charity shops for £0.99p, boot sales for £0.10p, or a token punt from someone’s ecstatic recommendation.  “Oooh, you MUST buy this CD Dominic, it’s superb” to find in reality it’s not to my tastes at all, not even close.  An ideal sacrificial candidate then for a potentially recalcitrant slot loading player.  In it went so gently and so smoothly, I ejected it and loaded it again with the same result, so I gave the AVM immediate absolution and it worked flawlessly for the duration.

The CD was called “Red Hot and Cool” a compilation CD given away free with some magazine or other, the first track being Moby’s ‘Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad’ no less.  Suddenly the AVM went from number four in the list of my priorities, straight up to number one instantly.  For such a “compact” unit, it produced a big, solid, powerful sound which got my attention, more biggerer, more soliderer and more powerfullerer than my resident system’s sound.  Dominic was more than impressed.  Well he was until he downloaded the app from the AVM website and despite many attempts I could not get the CS2.2 paired up to my mobile phone.  After a lot of head scratching I came to the conclusion that my phone didn’t have sufficient free memory to operate the app.  Great pity, as the app purportedly controls every single function of the Inspiration CS2.2, so I had to make do with getting up off my backside and operating it manually.

I then dug out the user manual and read it from cover to cover, where I discovered this isn’t a weedy little 30 watts per channel amplifier that sounds like banging a dustbin with a stick, this was a hefty 165 watts per channel of Class D amplifier throbbing away inside that compact box.  No wonder it sounded as powerful as it did.  It also didn’t suffer from the typical Class D sound either, which can sound dry and unpolished, lacking in warmth and emotion.  I couldn’t fault the sound I was hearing and very soon I had dropped from my mind that this was a Class D amplifier I was listening to.

Naturally, I had to play my reference recording of Fink’s “Wheels Beneath My Feet” album to see where if any shortfalls in performance were.  I was on a fruitless quest there, as the AVM gave a stunning performance that matched, if not eclipsed, many a big grown up separates system.  The floor tom whacks the drummer inflicts on his drum kit during the track “Sort of Revolution” was delivered with awesome power and control, fair made my listening room vibrate I can tell you.  Each one of my benchmark points in this album was passed with ease and I heaved a huge sigh of relief when the CD player ejected my CD without any fuss or drama.  I believe the drive unit is made by TEAC which is a good indicator of build quality.

The quality of sound emanating from this box of tricks was equally impressive and consistent whatever the source of the music and the inclusion of the very able phonostage is a boon for those already on, or looking to jump on, the vinyl bandwagon.

The Class A headphone amp is also a very neat feature for late night listening and sounds on a par with the rest of the system.

Conclusion

Well, after having initial mixed expectations from this small compact box, those perceptions quickly vanished.  It is a beautifully built, very well specified and great performing unit as befits the AVM label.

It isn’t cheap by anyone’s standards and asking people to shell out just short of four thousand pounds is up to AVM to justify.  If however you consider that buying the separate units to make up the equivalent functions and with this level of performance would be well in excess of four thousand pounds, plus you are back to a rack full with 17 inch units which you didn’t want to begin with.

For those looking for a great sounding, feature packed and pretty much future proof all-in-one then this one ticks all the relevant boxes.

AT A GLANCE

Build Quality:  Superb.

Sound Quality:  Sweep your preconceptions about “size” aside, this is a top performing device.

Value For Money:  If you can afford it, then don’t hesitate.

Pros:  Fine build, great sound and more than enough features built in as standard.

Cons:  No remote control handset as standard.

Price:  £3,995.00

Dominic Marsh

 

Technical Specifications

Analogue Inputs: 4x line (RCA), 1x phono (MM, MC)

Digital inputs: S/PDIF coaxial and optical, synchronous USB, LAN and WLAN Ethernet connection

Outputs: 1x pre (RCA), 1x line (RCA), 2x pair 4mm/BFA loudspeaker terminals

Digital outputs: S/PDIF coaxial and optical

Power output: 165W per channel into 8 ohms

Headphone output:  Class A amplifier, 3.5mm jack stereo input

CD drive: Slot drive, spring mounted., TEAC derived

Digital audio output: upsampled automatically
to 24-bit, 192kHz

Supported media server: UPnP 1.1, UPnP-AV and DLNA-compatible server, Microsoft Windows Media Connect Server (WMDRM 10), DLNA-compatible servers: NAS

Streaming formats: MP3, WMA, AAC, OGG Vorbis, FLAC (192/32 via LAN), WAV (192/32 via LAN), AIFF (192/32 via LAN), ALAC (96/24 via LAN)

Internet radio: vTuner Service, Auto network config., Internet Radio Station database (automatic updates)

FM radio with RDS

Dimensions (WxHxD): 34×9.2x35cm

Weight: 10kg

Finish: Aluminium silver or black, chrome front optional

 

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