Whilst statement products like Anthem's D2v processor will get you dribbling with lust, the £8750 price tag will bar many from entering such realms, especially when you have to spend that again to match it with some power amplification to make it audible. Fortunately, such product showcases are seldom developed to standalone and the core technologies will trickle down, distilled in one way or another, to lower price points. With the introduction of the MRX Series AV Receivers, Anthem has entered the mass market with three products; The MRX 300 (£1099), the MRX 500 (£1599) and the range topping MRX 700 (£2099) which is the subject of this review.
These three AVRs cover some very competitive price points, with not only the established far eastern brands to compete with, but home grown products from the UK too. If they're to compete, then it's going to be the strengths of the Anthem core technologies that are going to have to mark them out as something different and desirable.
So, what does your £2099 buy you? Well, it's as much about what you don't get - but more on that later - because that issue is central to the performance on offer. Cracking open the box reveals the MRX 700, power cables, two remote controls (one is for Zone 2) and another, large sub carton. This contains everything required to implement Anthem's proprietary ARC room correction, including a microphone, stand and cabling.
The MRX 700 itself is, I feel, a fine looking beast. This is very much in line with the style of the leviathan Statement D2v, that style being one dictated by its functionality rather than this years must have look. In that regard, it's a bit like buying a Billingham camera bag - definitely not bling but it will still look good five years from now. The fascia is a good chunk of aluminium extrusion, the contours of which zone the display and controls and is in turn capped with a couple of extruded end caps that carry on the family look. The controls themselves are positive in operation but don't exude the silky smooth, hewn from solid, feel the Japanese find easy with their economies of scale at lower price points. To be fair, it wasn't until I started writing the review that I actually operated any of the buttons for the first time, just so I could write the preceding sentence. Everything they do is duplicated on the main remote and I haven't pressed them since.
The central blue dot matrix display initially seems a little parlous in terms of information offered, but as a result, it's easily readable from a distance which is far more useful. Source, video input resolution, audio input format and volume are all concurrently displayed, with additional information cycled through via the 'Info' button on the fascia or remote. I find it next to impossible to setup and operate any receiver from the front panel alone, with the on screen display having long since usurped this need. As such, it displays exactly what you need to know, although I would probably prefer to know the audio output format as the default information. Being a blue display (as are the on/off lights for zone 1 & 2), it can thankfully be dimmed, or set to turn off altogether a few seconds after the last button push.
The remaining fascia feature of note, is a rather neat sliding panel to the bottom left. This conceals the 1/4" headphone jack, USB socket and a component video input with associated stereo RCA phono connections. As an HD camcorder owner, I would have expected to see an HDMI input in this day and age, especially as this is the top of the receiver lineup, but it was ample for Wii usage.
The main chassis, itself, is clad in a crackle black finish, pressed and folded steel wrap. It's solid enough, if not a dead as some of the composite structures offered in the price equivalent competition. Turning to the rear reveals a sight that is mana from heaven to my eyes, but possibly not for others, because it's refreshingly clean and uncluttered. The bare minimum of four HDMI (v1.4a) inputs and one output, are partnered by three Component and Composite inputs, plus a single output of each and that's it. Anthem have finally done away with the S-video inputs that still festoon receivers to this day. I stand to be corrected, probably by someone hanging onto their S-VHS VCRs, but I'd have been happy to see most, if not all of the other analogue video connections consigned to the bin as well. After all, does anybody really still have three composite sources?
Moving to the audio inputs and outputs, we are met with eight pre-outs, matching the seven pairs of speaker binding posts, this being a 7.1 channel receiver. Channels six and seven can be configured as the rear surrounds in a 'traditional' 7.1 setup, to provide a stereo output to Zone 2, or as the height channels for Dolby Pro-Logic IIz. Those looking for either channels of amplification, or pre-outputs to enable simultaneous height, width and rear channels are not catered for. Given the four HDMI inputs, the five S/PDIF (two co-axial, three optical) digital inputs, plus an output of each type, is ample, as indeed are six stereo RCA inputs and their matching fixed level record outputs. There is a connection for an optional iPod dock, plus an ethernet port for the vTuner Internet Radio. iPods and iPhones don't actually need the dock as the standard iDevice to USB cable will suffice. The ethernet port does not support streaming audio over a network but the USB port will play music files from a suitably formatted thumb drive, or some such. Before I forget, there are aerial connections for MW and FM radio, whilst we still have them!
But there is one glaring connection omission and to my mind, it's an odd one in an AVR with such audiophile pretentions. There are no multichannel analogue inputs. This is probably a non- issue for most, but as the MRX 700 can't accept a native DSD stream from SA-CD, it leaves devotees of the format converting in player, to PCM over HDMI. It also leaves owners of the original battleship build, reference quality, SACD/DVD-A players out in the cold too as they were pre-HDMI. You decide if it's any more or less important than the omission of S-Video connections, but as someone with an SACD spinner with distinctly average analogue outputs (OPPO BD-P83), it's a shame that this admittedly less than mainstream format isn't better served.
Custom installers will certainly feel well catered for with a plethora of remote control facilities. An infra-red input is matched by an infra- red emitter output, plus four 12v triggers and RS232 control for integration with full house/system control. There is also an optional rack mount kit. This, along with the remarkable customization of inputs noted below, make the MRX 700 a strong CI component. For more normal users like myself, there is also (defeatable CEC control, that allows suitably equipped components to 'talk' over HDMI. As per usual, with standards developed for the good of all, not all manufacturers are singing from quite the same hymn sheet (UPnP anybody?) and the results are variable. Turning off my LG plasma, turns off the MRX 700, but the reverse is not true. This is handy at the end of a night with a one button switch off, but a pain if you've just turned the TV on to access a Blu-ray, DVD-A or SACD menu. Turn it off with the best of green intentions and the MRX shuts down too. Turning on the OPPO switches inputs, but turning the MRX off doesn't turn the OPPO off, or visa versa. This is not a criticism of the Anthem, more of the half baked way in which the AV industry continually pulls in opposite directions.
It is beholden to the user to set channel distances (in increments of 30cm), but all else is handled by the proprietary ARC (Anthem Room Correction) automated setup. Depending on your degree of technical understanding, ARC allows considerably more user input than any other system I've yet to meet in a AV Receiver. Not only can you dictate the crossover frequencies you wish to use in advance of running the routine, you can set entirely different configurations for movie and music use. Furthermore, you can set the maximum frequency to which you wish the equalization to be applied, the upper limit being 5kHz, with a minimum of 200Hz. It also means that if you insist on using a pair of floorstanders full range, sans subwoofer for music listening, you can choose to only EQ the bass end of the speakers, but more on what that sort of flexibility delivers later. If this all sounds a bit involved, then you can set ARC to 'Auto Detect' and let it fly in auto. Once, that is you have attached the MRX-700 to your PC's serial RS232 port and the measurement mic to a USB input. The calculations and number crunching is performed in your PC and then uploaded to the receiver. This may seem a little more of a faff than the norm, but it does mean that you can store different settings on your PC and then, if you decide to re-run the routine and cock it up, you can always reload the original settings. Those prone to swapping speakers about can equally re-load the profile for each set, a use that was not lost on this speaker reviewer!
So mic and PC connected, mount the mic on the supplied, most excellent, microphone stand (it's just like a real one, but only large enough to reach a seated ear height) and run through the usual set of "whoopeeeps" for a minimum of five and a maximum of ten different measurement positions. Only the first should be in the main listening position, with the rest spread around the listening area to allow ARC to build up a picture of the room. The PC displays a measured, target and resultant response curve with the EQ applied. If you like the look of it, hit upload and go make a cup of tea, because it takes a while.
Once done, you can delve into the ultra-configurable input/output setup. The permutations are too massive to cover here, but there are some really excellent touches. If we take the HDMI input from a Blu-ray player, it is possible to configure it to apply different processing, depending on the signal being received. 2.0 PCM from a CD can be set to play as stereo, whilst a Dolby Digital 2.0 signal can be set to have Pro Logic IIz applied with DD-HD 5.1 being left alone, if you so desire. Equally, if you choose to fire your 2.0 PCM from CD out of the S/PDIF digital output of the same player into a separate input, you can set the Music EQ to be applied to this, whilst the more bombastic Movie EQ can be applied to HDMI version .
A very interesting feature is that the bass management treats the subwoofer channel and the LFE soundtrack as two distinct entities. This is excellent. It means you can turn the wick right up for LFE effects, but leave the level of the subwoofer untouched at the same time. Thus, bass redirected from the main channels can be set to reproduce music and voices naturally, but explosions can be set to shake the room. Perfect.
Any audio input can be matched up to a video input, with the MRX700 able to upconvert composite and component signals to HDMI and upscale signals to 1080p60, with a 1080p24 mode to protect your Blu-ray sourced material. Further video processing can be applied to each input, but even to this video ludite, the scope looked limited. Only basic brightness, contrast, colour, MPEG Noise Suppression, Cross Colour Suppression and a Film Mode detection controls are provided. This may be of use to legacy sources with limited video controls, but it's beyond my expertise and so I set the video inputs to pass through. Incidentally, once you put the MRX-700 into standby, the video and audio signal are still available to your display, which tends to suggest to me the video board is, at least in part, still active.
For the record, sources used were my OPPO BDP-83 for disk spinning duties, a Squeezebox Duet and Virgin V+HD, whilst speakers and subs were variously Tannoy in-walls, XTZ standmounts, Elipson Planet L, KEF Q700AV package, Q Acoustics Q7000 package, a Velodyne DD10+ and my own, home brewed subwoofers. A wide variety in other words.
There are two points that were very clear to me after my first, extended, thrashing of the MRX 700. The first is that if this is 'only' a 7x120W of amplifier, then somebody should tell Anthem their Watts are larger than the competitions. Okay, I only run 5.1, but as any visitors to Williams towers will confirm, the listening room is quite large and I'm prepared to fill it to the corners with sound and the MRX-700 was well up to the task, without losing it's composure. There was a very brief period where its stay overlapped the mighty Tannoy DC10T/DC8T/DC8 system, a price mis-match if ever there was one. Whilst the big Tannoys are quite efficient, they offset this with a resolutely 4 Ohm load and the Anthem drove them to remarkable levels, without getting particularly hot. So, whilst I do appreciate more continuous watts can be had for the money, there seems to be little shortage in terms of short term, dynamic power and that's actually more important.
So, I'll take the hit in the spec sheet, because whilst the notionally more powerful Jap amps may have the grunt of a heavyweight, the Anthem possesses, to extend the metaphor, the physique, poise and accuracy of a mid 80s Russian gymnast. This is shown most clearly with music, where its grip and control of real world loudspeakers manifests itself in a very taught, textured delivery that has real - as in hi-fi levels of - detail and refinement. It really is musically satisfying. It's not going to convert a £2k stereo amp user, but it provides a convincing argument against using a cheaper amp of each kind to affect a stereo-with-multi-channel-attached-so-music-survives, setup.
It was during one of my music sessions that the second revelation hit me. For the first time ever, I preferred music with the EQ switched ON and I still can't believe I've just written that. Turn ARC on and the stereo soundstage increases slightly in size, tightens up in terms of focus, but because most of its doings are focused toward the bottom end of the range (I tended to set the EQ to an upper limit of 1kHz) the natural life and sparkle survived untouched. This 1kHz limit wasn't set by accident - I ran the ARC process a few times, each time reducing the upper limit, until noticeably large differences were noted in the frequency response. If raising the limit makes no difference, it makes sense to lower it, so all of the EQ filters are applied to a range where they have more effect and it was an approach that was rewarded. Up to now I've found that AVR EQ tends to work well in terms of expanding the soundstage, or surround sound sphere, plugging the gaps and ironing out the sonic discontinuities. However, as soon as you turn to music, you're left with a soulless, rhythmically void rendition that loses your attention in seconds flat. It always sounds like a processed sound. With the Anthem this effect was absent whilst all of the benefits, particularly in the bass, just opened the sound up, freeing the background of clutter. Of course, your mileage may vary, as my room is quite benign in the upper frequencies anyway, but with ARC, you have the choice. It's not going to tame overly harsh room/speaker combinations, but if you require EQ to do that you should be looking at different solutions before relying on the sticking plaster of full frequency spectrum EQ anyway...
So, considering the MRX 700 an unmitigated musical success in its peer group and that it seemed to possess as much power as was practically required, it was unsurprising that I very much enjoyed movies of all genres, at all volumes. In fact, I'll start with the bottom end of the volume scale, because the innate clarity transferred very well to late night viewing. There was no need of Dolby Volume as to my ears, at least, the frequency extremes were just as clear. If you want thunderous bass, just turn it all up and when you do so, the MRX 700's refinement prevents its character from changing into a harsh, aggressive, fatiguing long term listening prospect. With the Subwoofer channel set flat, but LFE ramped up a notch (or three), dialogue was stunningly natural, music immersive, whilst dynamic impacts were a truly sofa troubling experience. You're left in no doubt that the MRX has considerable dynamic reserves that again belie it's modest power rating.
Sub bass is thunderous. I'm always surprised just how much the presentation of the one channel that requires no amplification, differs from manufacturer to manufacturer. It's not that it's overly loud, or emphasized for effects sake, but with a good subwoofer in tow the MRX seems to dig out extra, subterranean Hertz with a seriously profound grip. Coming from the same stable that produces some of the most barking subwoofers on the planet, this shouldn't come as a surprise. But it is noticeable even with more modest subs. The Q Acoustics Q7000S is a modest sub, albeit with a decidedly un-modest performance (review soon) for its price. With the MRX 700 supplying the signal, every last morsel of performance was wrung from it producing punch and depth in a way it had no right to, which shows how much of a bearing your AVR has on all aspects of surround performance, even when it's not supplying the Watts.
I'd also add that the Anthem seems to make a lot better use of the surround channels than average, with the rear of the room seeming to gain a lot more presence. Movie effects are thrown up and down the room with great aplomb, rather than just creating some noise from behind. Even post processing DD 2.0 with PLIIz off HD TV channels produces a - more than usual - engrossing surround experience. Things like audience noise during Strictly Come Dancing (Aliona, if you must ask!) really fill the rear of the room, rather than sounding like a faint smattering of applause from the rear corners.
- Sound Quality
- Superb room correction
- Discrete Look
- Custom Install and input configuration flexibility
- No 7.1 Analogue input
- No DSD over HDMI
- Build quality is solid, but unremarkable
Anthem MRX 700 AV Receiver
As far as the inputs and outputs go, it's a little bit of a mixed and sometimes lacking bag. However, no two users are the same and whilst some would like more HDMI in/outs, there is precisely as many as I would ever need - It's a subjective call, so I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions based on your own requirements. I personally fall into the camp that would happily dump all of the legacy video inputs and everything bar HDMI switching, especially if it releases budget to the audio side of things, so I'm hardly a 'normal' AVR buyer.
And lest we forget, an AV Receiver is an audio component. Regardless of the features, if it doesn't sound good then it falls flat on its face at the first hurdle and everything else is inconsequential. In this regard, the Anthem MRX 700 is an unqualified star performer. With enough real world power to shake the room with whatever speakers you choose; it polishes this with a subtle and nuanced performance which is both deft and vice like in its grip. This transfers well to music, with an open and transparent reproduction that propels music along with enthusiasm and insight, eschewing the superficially more impressive, but ultimately less communicative reproduction of its peers. That this ability is further heightened, rather than quashed by the use of the ARC room correction is, I feel, reason enough to push the MRX 700 to the top of your audition list. I've been continually impressed the subwoofer cousin of ARC (PBK) and hearing its effectiveness with all channels at such a low price point has only served to make me wonder why so many others get it so wrong.
Forget the spec sheets, get out and hear the MRX 700. There is no spec sheet for sheer class and the MRX 700 delivers it by the bucket.
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