Review: AVM Inspiration CS 2:3- In terms of sound, the device moves on a fairly neutral line, without deterring "pleasure listeners"
The trend towards puristically furnished living rooms continues – there is often no room for hi-fi towers or expansive amplifiers. How good that the relevant manufacturers also find an answer to this. Just like the German manufacturer AVM, which conjures up an all-rounder with the Inspiration CS 2.3 (4,990 euros): The chic, small all-in-one box with a width measuring just 34 centimeters is an amplifier, CD player, D/A converter and network player in one housing. Let’s hear how much sound is possible in so little space.
AVM managing director and owner Udo Besser attaches great importance to personal contacts: he insisted on bringing the brand new Inspiration CS 2.3 streaming CD receiver in person and telling me about the focal points of development, the equipment, the philosophy and much more to enlighten more. What particularly stuck in my memory was that the device was made by hand in Germany with parts from Germany, namely in 76316 Malsch. There, more precisely on Daimlerstraße, there are also several suppliers – yes, actually on the same street!
The processing quality of the CS 2.3, which replaces the outdated AVM Inspiration CS 2.2 after around seven years, is excellent: noble materials, small gaps, everything fits tightly – like a safe. With dimensions of 34 x 9.2 x 32.5 centimeters (WxHxD) and a weight of 7.1 kilograms, the streaming CD receiver is smaller and lighter than conventional components in rack format, which makes it even more modern furnished living room predestined. It is available in black, silver or a particularly elegant chrome version, which, however, costs an extra 500 euros. A comprehensive operating manual written entirely in German is included – exemplary. Also on board: a power cable, two screw-on WLAN/Bluetooth antennas, white gloves,
Phono Graduation? Yes, actually: The AVM Inspiration CS 2.3 (by the way, the CS stands for Compact Streamer) also offers space for turntables with MC or MM cartridges . The input can be adapted to the MC system that may be used using the supplied impedance plugs for the load sockets (100, 200 and 1k ohms).
Deep down, however, the AVM Inspiration CS 2.3 is more of a digital contemporary that also has a CD player on board that is now considered almost old-fashioned. This is a visually unobtrusive slot-in drive from Teac that pulls in the silver discs. After eating the CD, the device automatically switches to CD mode. It also does shuffle and offers a repeat mode. The signal is converted by an ESS Saber chip, the 9038 Q2M. The sound test, to which we will come, shows what it can do.
Of course, a Bluetooth function (version 4.2) should not be missing, which enables the wireless transmission of music signals from a smartphone, tablet or PC. Another interface with which the AVM device collects plus points is not quite so self-evident: HDMI with ARC (Audio Return Channel). This allows the TV to be integrated into the compact stereo system, which means that the TV sound reaches a much higher level. There is also a headphone jack on the front that accepts a 3.5 mm jack – a 6.35 jack can only be connected using an adapter.
There are, of course, other interfaces: we have Toslink and S/PDIF coaxial digital inputs, a LAN input and a USB-A socket for connecting USB sticks or hard drives. The latter must be formatted with one of the file formats FAT16, FAT 32 or NTFS, otherwise the device does not recognize the stick or the hard disk, as I found out. A notebook/computer cannot dock to the AVM. Two analog high-level inputs are also available. The all-rounder offers a stereo cinch line-out and pre-out on analog outputs, for example to be able to connect an external power amplifier or a subwoofer. There are also two digital outputs (Toslink, S/PDIF coaxial).
Control via app
The newly developed “AVM RCX” app serves as the control center, with which the device can be controlled in combination with the AVM X Stream engine, which was also developed in-house (development costs according to AVM: three quarters of a million euros). The latter can stream all relevant high-resolution audio formats (including DSD128) and is already used in AVM reference devices such as the two large all-in-one CD receivers, the Ovation CS 6.3 and CS 8.3. The in-house development makes AVM completely independent of external providers, which means that the company can design and develop the app and streaming module one hundred percent as it sees fit. Tidal, Qobuz and Highresaudio are currently available as integrated streaming services, and according to Better other providers and a Roon option will soon be added.
Using the “AVM RCX” app, which is available free of charge for iOS and Android, the user determines which source, which streaming provider, podcast or digital radio station he would like to listen to. In addition to the volume, the sound can also be influenced via the app: In “Settings”, under the “Audio” heading, there are some parameters such as “Bass”, “Treble”, “Balance” or “Loudness” available, but the tone control can also be completely adjusted switch off. There are also two different digital filters: “Steep” (steep filtering at the end of the band with a flat amplitude frequency response, but strong phase rotation) and “Smooth” (less steep, small amplitude drop, small phase rotation), whereby the differences in sound are rather small.
Sometimes the app responds with a delay. It can’t be due to the WLAN in my listening room, because the “BluOS” app of my music server NAD M50.2 runs quickly and stably. But as I said: This only happens occasionally, the AVM app usually works very quickly. Alternatively, the device can also be controlled with the optionally available remote control with color display (model name: RC9), for which an additional 395 euros are due. My package included the slimmed-down, cheaper RC3 aluminum remote control without a display for 190 euros.
A positive aspect of the app is that it splits the screen (in my case an iPad) vertically in the middle, which improves clarity. In this way, the user can, for example, keep an eye on the album that is currently playing and at the same time search for new music or change the settings. Oh yes: the AVM also masters multiroom by setting up several zones for several devices via app.
The output power of 2 x 140 watts at 4 ohms, with which you can drive the vast majority of loudspeakers, is also great – no: really strong. According to AVM, the Class D amplifiers have been completely renewed and are based on those of their big brother, the AVM CS 8.3. So now it’s time for the listening test.
AVM Inspiration CS 2.3: sound character and comparisons
My partially active Martin Logan Impression 11A electrostatic speakers (14,000 euros) and the recently tested two-way compact speakers Audio Note AN-J/LX HEMP (6,750 euros) serve as loudspeakers. It looks pretty fun with the little box hanging from the 5-foot-tall Logans (David vs. Goliath?), and the price differential raises slight doubts as to whether this combination is a good idea. But it is: AVM’s streaming amp easily drives the large electrostatics. The combination with the Audio Note also fits, as the British compact loudspeakers only need little power to get going.
The comparison partner is the massive Mcintosh MA8900 AC transistor integrated amplifier (9,780 euros), which has more power but fewer features – it “only” has an integrated D/A converter, but no streaming module. The not entirely fair comparison of both competitors (34 against seven kilograms, almost twice the price) quickly reveals differences in sound: while the American sounds slightly warm, earthy and dark, AVM’s streaming receiver is on the fast and a little lighter side . It sounds fairly neutral, transparent, agile and exceptionally detailed – so much in advance for the curious.
Impetuous from the USB stick
But first things first: Where do you start listening to a device that offers so many possibilities and ways to enjoy music? Well, I started with the USB interface. The stick contains the brand new album Strength (WAV files in CD quality) by Unto Others, which is on everyone’s lips, especially among metal, gothic rock and alternative fans: a varied, atmospheric mixture of Killing Joke, Paradise Lost, Sisters Of Mercy, Fields Of The Nephilim and Iron Maiden. With the single “When Will Gods Work Be Done”, the Americans have a driving number in their program that oscillates between aggression and a wave atmosphere and is dynamically very demanding. No problem for the AVM Inspiration CS 2.3: It works out the level jumps flawlessly in terms of gross dynamics and convinces with an immediate, precise sound pattern in which the double bass mills into the pit of the stomach like surgical steel.
For comparison: If I listen to this piece via the NAD music server M50.2 (price tag: 4,750 euros), which is connected to the converter of the McIntosh integrated amplifier MA8900 AC, it sounds a bit more voluminous, richer and earthier. The bass is a touch deeper in the basement, the mids are more prominent, while the highs are slightly more reserved. With the AVM solution, which is three times cheaper, it sounds a bit slimmer, but a touch livelier and snappier. Sometimes it reminds me a little of the Devialet 400 (13,500 euros) that stood in my music room years ago, even if its brilliance, bass power and unbridled power are not quite reached – given the price difference for free. From the base alignment, both aim in the same direction.
Let’s try melancholic electro-pop. Curtain up on Future Islands and their latest album As Long As You Are (2020). The dark, velvety singing of Samuel T. Herring enchants women and men alike – the guy knows how to arouse emotions. For example in the wistful opening number “Glada”, in which the AVM plays Herring’s organ in an exemplary manner. In other words: the mids sound exemplary neutral and transparent, not exaggerated, but just right. This also applies to the bass, which does not reach quite as deep into the frequency range, but is very precise, dry and contoured. How nimble the German all-rounder presents bass runs is evident on “Facory Of Faith”.Red Hot Chili Peppers especially: The crisp, extremely agile bass from Michael “Flea” Balzary comes into its own and can be followed perfectly. The AVM never plays music softened or thickened, but wiry, present and clear. Like a person with charisma and charisma when he enters a room and draws everyone’s attention.
Of course, the highs also play their part, which fit well into the overall sound. Yes, they sound fresh, but not sharp or unpleasant. Despite all the transparency and clarity, my ears never had the feeling of being overwhelmed or annoyed. Everything is simply there, naturally served on a silver platter. This also applies to the fine dynamics: Attack and flow are in balance, without one or the other being criticized as “emphasized”. The accuracy of the detail reproduction is convincing, even small dynamic jumps are accurately represented by the AVM.
CD sound and streaming services
If “Glada” is played on the integrated CD player for comparison, there are hardly any differences. I think I hear a little more drive and urge forward, but really only in homeopathic doses. But what happens when the song is played externally via my McIntosh MCD301 CD player (around 5,650 euros at the time), which is no longer brand new and docks to the AVM Inspiration CS 2.3 via a cinch connection? Then it sounds slightly darker and velvety – not lifeless or temperamental, but just a touch more withdrawn. You can’t speak of better or worse here, it falls into the category of taste. And as far as the subject of streaming services is concerned: With my Tidal HiFi account, the music examples mentioned seem a bit softer and less lively,
A few more words about the width and depth of the stage: The spatial representation of the AVM is not particularly large – anyone who demands a stage that protrudes far beyond the loudspeakers on the left and right is rather wrong here, and those who prefer a compact, concrete stage reproduction will be happy on the other hand. The mapping starts pretty much right on the speaker baseline, doesn’t extend much backwards – but does in front of it. Some instruments appear closer, others further away, so there is a depth of field. The instruments and individual sounds float precisely defined, beautifully three-dimensional and very, very clean in space. You want to reach in with your hands, it sometimes seems so plastic.
Conclusion: AVM Inspiration CS 2.3
With the Inspiration CS 2.3 streaming CD receiver, AVM has a universal genius in its range that can be combined with almost any speaker thanks to the powerful Class D amplifiers and is built like a small safe. It is controlled directly via the OLED display on the device, via an optionally available remote control or via the in-house app, which still has some room for improvement when it comes to speed.
In terms of sound, the device moves on a fairly neutral line, without deterring “pleasure listeners”. It reminds me – caution: hackneyed nature metaphor – of a crystal-clear mountain stream with clean drinking water. The stage is a bit more compact and impresses with a clean instrument separation and high plasticity. The all-in-one device also impresses with high dynamic reserves and good resolution.
5,000 euros may seem a lot at first glance, but in view of the wealth of functions, the workmanship and, above all, the sound, the price is more than okay. If I hadn’t recently made some urgently needed new purchases outside of the hi-fi hobby, I would seriously consider the purchase.
The AVM Inspiration CS 2.3 …
- With its 2 x 140 watts at 4 ohms, it drives most loudspeakers without any problems.
- has an overall transparent, neutral, tonally minimally lighter sound pattern.
- has a high resolution without ever having to put up with the accusation of nitpicking.
- offers an extremely clean, neutral bass that doesn’t come down super deep, but sounds very nicely contoured and rich in detail.
- scores with exemplary balanced mids and excellent, clear voice reproduction.
- also owes its character to the somewhat fresher highs, which are never sharp or unpleasant.
- cuts an excellent figure in terms of coarse and fine dynamics and does not have to hide from more expensive integrated amplifier specialists in this respect.
- does not have a particularly spacious stage to the side and to the rear – the stage looks much more expansive to the front – and depicts the individual instruments precisely separated from one another and three-dimensionally.
- Model: AVM Inspiration CS 2.3
- Concept: all-in-one amplifier (including CD player, streaming, Bluetooth)
- Price: 4,990 euros (chrome version: 5,490 euros)
- Dimensions & Weight: 34cm x 9.2cm x 32.5cm (WxHxD); 7.1 kilograms
- Finishes: aluminum silver, aluminum black, cellini chrome
- Output power: 2 x 140 watts at 4 ohms
- Inputs: USB (for storage media), HDMI (ARC), WLAN and LAN interface, Bluetooth 4.2, S/PDIF electrical, Toslink, phono (MC and MM), two analog high-level inputs
- Outputs: S/PDIF electrical, Toslink, preamp output (RCA), line out (RCA), terminal for a pair of speakers, headphone output (3.5 mm jack)
- Miscellaneous: free app, remote control available at extra cost; Supported WLAN/WiFi standards: 2.4 / 5GHz / 802.11a/b/g/n/ac; Streaming Services: Airplay 2, Qobuz, Highresaudio, Tidal, Streaming Formats: WAV, MP3, WM, AAC, FLAC, ALAC, DSD, Ogg, AIFF
- Guarantee: 2 years