AVM Ovation PH 8.3 Review
You can always get what you want – With the brand new Ovation PH 8.3, AVM launches a phono preamplifier of the highest class, which can also be configured according to your personal wishes.
The (re-)growing vinyl market provides the basis: an unprecedented number of devices are currently being created that are specifically designed to amplify the tiny phono signals coming from MM and MC cartridges. If you don't want your creation to get lost in the crowd, but rather stand out from it, you have to come up with something special.
Udo Besser, Günter Mania and Thomas Pohl – the source of ideas, driving forces and implementers at AVM –, however, seem to have an almost inexhaustible reservoir of ideas in them. Otherwise, the constant flood of new products coming from the company headquarters in southern Germany cannot be explained.
This creation we are discussing here once again contains some remarkable ideas. When we take a close look at the PH 8.3, we immediately notice the flawless and screwless aluminum case as well as the rear panel with its plug-in options.
Space for up to four Modules
This versatile artist from Germany's Black Forest can be equipped with up to four plug-in modules for inputs, which can be selected as desired. You can choose between Phono MM with RCA and Phono MC with RCA or XLR inputs. The amplification factor of all variants can be adjusted in five stages; the capacity for MM as well as the terminating impedance for MC in six stages each.
On the output section, equipped with tubes, high-quality RCA and XLR jacks are featured to provide the correct connection for every constellation.
This is not the end of what can be said about the PH 8.3, however. On the one hand, all functions can be comfortably controlled from your listening position via the remote; on the other hand, we still have to mention some further and somewhat absolutely unusual details: one of them being that this AVM phono-pre has a steep subsonic filter, which starts at 30 Hertz. A muting and a mono switch including phase inversion are also to be found. Speaking of phase: an LED on the back lights up when the power plug is not in the correct position in the mains.
For the sake of completion, it should also be mentioned that all selected settings are displayed easy to read in the blue display and are retained even in the event of a power outage.
For owners of an AVM turntable – but probably also for most models from Clearaudio, Pro-ject and EAT – the PH-8.3 has another highlight to offer: a very elaborately made and powerful PSU; which is, by the way, one of a total of five power supplies found in the device.
Switch between Six different Equalizations
Then, finally, the lover of vinyl records should discover something with which the AVM finally excites all possible amazement: a suitable equalization for pretty much every standard ever used – be it the usual RIAA, Columbia, Decca or Teldec, or even the very rare EMI and NARTB equalization standards.
A contemporary reader interested in records and their playback under the normal circumstances will now perhaps ask: what's the point of all that? For this, one must know that before agreeing on the RIAA standard, with which almost all records are produced today, wild confusion was reigning supreme. Almost every major record company did their own thing, and accordingly the records sounded quite strange with unadjusted equalization. Especially today, where record collectors hunt on marketplaces all over the world for old first pressings, this can be considered a very valuable feature for maximum enjoyment of vinyl records....
The fact that the basic device is built as clean as can be, and that the modules are in no way inferior to it, is something one has long been accustomed to when looking at AVM. It is also obvious that this has its price. Many of us will now have to take a deep breath, because before you could connect a turntable and listen to the reproduced sounds, at least 7700 Euros will have to be exchanged. However, if you belong to the majority of those who scan their black gold with an MC pickup, the entry-level price rises to 8000 Euros. Further MC modules are priced at 1000 Euros each, the MM modules at 700 Euros. The nice thing about it: The modules can be purchased at any time afterwards.
20,000 Hours of Enjoyment
You might still be skeptical about tubes and their longevity because you've heard that they are rather vulnerable. To counteract that, AVM expects an approximate lifespan of 15,000 to 20,000 hours for the matched pairs and therefore also gives a three-year warranty on the tubes. AVM also offers something special when it comes to driving them. They are heated with their own stabilized power supply, and the high voltage generated by it is completely independent of the mains voltage.
The part of the PH 8.3 that relies on transistors also has what it takes to impress: therein, the signal supplied by the pickup is first amplified by a factor of 10 to make it less sensitive to interferences of any kind. Only then is it equalized through a purely passive circuitry – this makes it much more difficult for noise and hum to make themselves heard. Another advantage resulting from this is that the equalization circuit is free of negative feedback.
To sum up: highest flexibility due to individual configurability; highest comfort due to remote control of all functions and settings, independent circuit technology and first-class quality of workmanship. In addition, the informative, easy-to-read display comes along with a very nice idea to make the waiting time after switching on more enjoyable. The sentence "waiting for tube warmup", which can initially be read in lowercase letters, turns into capitals letter by letter. When finished, it is ready for playback. Certainly not a decisive factor for a purchase, but nevertheless a sign of how lovingly and attentively the developers go about their work.
Still, the question remains whether all the efforts put into the development will be reflected in a corresponding audible result.
Don't just Listen, Experience!
The PH 8.3 does not take long to provide us with an unmistakable answer. There are those rare moments when, as a listener, you already feel that you are witnessing something special after only a few moments. This is exactly the category into which the AVM Ovation fell, at the moment when Neil Diamond sang "Canta Libre" from the album "Hot August Night" live, revealing himself not only to be a singer that can carry emotions, but also as a guitarist of far above average skill. This phono preamp not only clearly shows that the voice is positioned quite a bit above the body of the guitar, but also reveals how delicately Diamond goes to work on the strings. The performance is thus spatially widely fanned out without letting the main actor out of the clearly outlined point of focus.
Let's move from the hot and humid atmosphere of August to the cool realms of the Atlantis Studio in Stockholm, Sweden. There, completely analog with a classic tape recorder, the Esbjörn Svensson Trio was recorded. The result is available as a double LP record named "From Gagarin's Point of View" and illustrates in an impressive way why this trio – centered around its namesake who died way too early – is appreciated worldwide. The PH 8.3 is able to precisely and with a certain touch reproduce the intensity, even obsession, with which the musicians play together here. These, despite all their drive for perfection, succeed in displaying a tremendous lightness. It is striking how controlled and tight the sound extends into the lowest frequencies without robbing the bass and its resonating body of its momentum and life. Dan Berglund's focused attention on his bass is almost physically palpable thanks to our test subject. Everything Mr. Svensson puts into the piano in terms of emotion is also realistically reproduced by the PH 8.3.
Are you looking for natural timbres with a tiny touch of tube charm? Then you should certainly stop at Sonny Rollins and listen to the "Moritat" on his LP "Saxophone Colossus". This will almost certainly mean that you arrived at a place of ultimate satisfaction. The skills of the now 90-year-old jazz legend Sonny Rollins are presented in an exemplary and authentic way here and make the heart of every music lover beat faster. The full-scale representation of the size of the saxophone also contributes to this. The dimensions of the room in which the sound engineer has inserted the saxophone are excellent in width and also very well represented in depth.
The Full Beethoven
There is an almost infinite number of recordings of Beethoven's symphonies. Many of them are also sometimes hotly debated among fans of this genius because of their widely differing interpretations. From a series featuring all nine symphonies, we have chosen the 5th Symphony, performed by the Berlin Philharmonic under Herbert von Karajan in 1968.
The responsible record label Deutsche Grammophon enjoyed an excellent reputation for its productions at the time, and Karajan as well as the musicians stepped in front of the microphones as a tight-knit community. Through the AVM Ovation PH 8.3, the recording awakens in a way that can only be found in conjunction with very few devices. Nothing is smeared, everything is clearly ordered, Karajan is in control and the artists he conducts carry out his instructions with dreamlike certainty. This could easily lead to what we might call a formally correct, but emotionless disaster. But this phono-preamp lets the listener feel that accuracy and attention to detail need by no means stifle the joy of playing. The large orchestra, with all its power, plays highly dynamic, as well as open and audible in the mids, and the staggering in all dimensions of the room also succeeds excellently.
In classical music, we are used to having only one movement on one side of the record; in pop music, on the other hand, this is rather rare, nowadays even almost extinct. Standing against that, the German cult band Kraftwerk, pioneers of electronic music, made the song "Autobahn" in 1974, found on the album of the same name. It reaches an almost "record"-breaking 22 minutes and 46 seconds – and thus also was a nightmare for every radio station...
The nonchalance with which the PH 8.3 processes these almost 23 minutes into a celebrated ecstasy of sound is something you should experience yourself. If you are looking for a great-sounding and extremely flexible phono preamplifier and stop by your local AVM dealer, ask him about this record; preferably even in the form of one of the new releases on colored vinyl, which in our case was blue. I am sure that this device will tempt you to let yourself be embraced by the song, even if you wouldn't call yourself a Kraftwerk fan.
The PH 8.3 has the ability to introduce you to music that previously didn't seem to fit into your musical world, even making it enjoyable. Instead of now describing how that succeeded in our case, we give you the unrestricted recommendation to listen to this masterpiece of German engineering with its heart for music extensively. And who knows: Maybe its almost unlimited possibilities will, at some point, make you realize that life is too short to spend it only with one turntable...
Versatile and comfortable phono preamplifier that plays right at the top in terms of sound. Dynamic, unwavering in the bass, with a hint of tube feeling. Modular design.
AVM Ovation PH 8.3
Price: from 7700 € (Last check: 06.11.2020)
Dimensions WxHxD: 43 x 14 x 38 cm
Weight: 12 kg
Warranty: 3 years (Garantiezeit gilt auch für die Röhren)
Manufacturer: Audio Video Manufaktur
|Signal-to-noise ratio Phono MM (5 mV / 1 kHz):||81 dB(A)|
|Signal-to-noise ratio Phono MC (0.5 mV / 1 kHz):||75 dB(A)|
|Phono MM: Input sensitivity for 1 V U out:||5 mV|
|Phono MM: Gain factor:||46-66 dB|
|Phono MM: Overdrive resistance:||36 mV|
|Phono MM: Input resistance:||37 kOhm|
|Phono MC: Input sensitivity for 1 V U out:||0.52 mV|
|Phono MC: Gain factor:||65-85 dB|
|Phono MC: Overdrive resistance:||2.1/ 4.9 XLR mV|
|Phono MC: Input resistance:||29-957 Ohm|
|Output resistance at 1 kHz:||52/94 XLR Ohm|
|Stereo channel separation (5mV/1kHz/1kOhm):||72 dB|
|Distortion factor at 1 V:||0.05 %|
|Intermodulation 1 V:||0.015 %|
|Stereo channel separation at 10kHz:||72 dB|
|Power consumption Standby:||0.5 W|
|Power consumption Idling:||17.2 W|
|Measured at a mains voltage of:||224 Volt|
Sound Level Phono preamplifier: 97%
Frequency responses as straight as they can be, for both MM and MC; low noise and almost distortion-free.
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What We've Heard
Beethoven – Berlin Philharmonic / Karajan: The 9 Symphonies
Among the countless recordings certainly one of the most musically interesting, additionally in very good recording quality.
German cult classic and worthy of listening to not only for fans of electronic music. The current re-release on 180 grams of colored vinyl sounds excellent in addition.
In the following, developer Günther Mania explains the block diagram and the technical intricacies of the PH 8.3:
The PH 8.3 has four plug-in slots into which different input modules can be inserted as desired. The following modules are available: MC balanced, MC unbalanced, MM unbalanced.
The input signal is linearly amplified on these cards WITHOUT equalization by a factor of 100 (MM) or 1000 (MC). For the purpose of adjusting to the pickup, there is a piece of circuitry directly at the respective inputs which sets the input impedance (MC: 30 to 1000 Ohms / MM 50 to 400 pF). These adjustment values are stored by the device individually for each module.
At the output of each module a gold contact relay is set, which switches the signals (when the module is selected) through to the main board in the device itself. The signal processing is then done by the main board: this starts with the bass equalization. Since this is a passive equalization, the bass is not boosted as would be usual, but the range above is lowered. The signal now passes through an amplifier, raising the level by 20 dB.
This is followed by the treble equalization, which also works passively and therefore lowers the high frequencies. Due to the passive mode of operation, the frequency response above the high-frequency range continues steadily downward; there is no overshoot, as occurs with equalization using negative feedback. The time constants of the equalizer are realized via high-precision resistors (0.1%) and selected film capacitors. Thus, deviations from the ideal curve are realized to well below 0.2 dB. The individual time constants are realized via relay switched resistors. Therefore, the PA 8.3 can realize a total of six of the most common equalization curves for LP records with high precision: RIAA, TELDEC, NARTB, EMI-Electrola, COLUMBIA and DECCA. This is especially helpful when playing older LPs. In fact, before RIAA became the quasi-standard, many recording studios used their own pre-equalization curves.
After the equalizing section, a switchable amplifier stage handles the level adjustment. The gain is adjustable to the respective pickup in steps of 5 dB between 0 dB and + 20 dB. Furthermore, the owner of the PH 8.3 can switch the playback to mono (reduces noise when playing mono records and helps when adjusting the pickup) and even invert the phase if desired. The processed signal can now be passed to the tube stage either directly or via a switchable subsonic filter symmetrically. The tube stage is equipped with two ECC83 double triodes, which amplify the signal of the right and left channel symmetrically. It is fed by a very stable high-voltage PSU, which is designed as a switching power supply. The tube stage is then followed by a total of six Class A buffers with discrete transistors, which pass the signal to the outputs with low impedance.
Last but not least: The power supply of the PH 8.3 is located on a separate circuit board. Four wide range switching power supplies (100V to 250V) manage the production of the different operating voltages. These are then freed from unwanted interferences via a combination of chokes and capacitors and passed on to the main board. The processor switches off all unnecessary voltages in standby mode, so that the power consumption is reduced to less than 0.5 W.
(The original German explanation was translated into English by STEREO Magazine)