First Look: Anthem MRX 700 A/V Receiver

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Anthem AV Solutions MRX 700A/V Receiver
First Look: Anthem MRX 700 A/V Receiver

I’ve begun work on a project for The Perfect Vision where I’ll be reviewing one of Anthem’s two new flagship A/V receivers, in this case, the 7.1-channel MRX 700 ($1,999). Ostensibly, a 9.1-channel sibling model called the MRX 900 will eventually join the MRX 700 in the lineup, but to the best of my knowledge the MRX 700 is the top model presently shipping (I also observed that the manual that comes with MRX 700 pointedly references the lower-priced MRX 500 and MRX 300 models, but make no mention of the MRX 900 at all—what’s up with that?).

In a big picture sense, Anthem’s AVRs are designed to appeal to home theater enthusiasts who may have long admired the firm’s high-end separates, such as the Statement D2v A/V controller and Statement P5 and P2 power amplifiers, but perhaps could not afford them. So, the intent is to make Anthem sound quality (and build quality) accessible at a lower price point and in an arguably more convenient AVR format (recognizing that not everyone has the space or inclination to go with full-on separates).

Since TPV uses the Statement D2v and P5 as its long-term reference components, we can help give readers a sense for which aspects of Anthem’s big-boy separates trickle down into the receivers, and which do not. And, since I’ve just finished unboxing the MRX 700 and installing it in my home reference system, at least on a preliminary basis, I’m also in a position to offer some initial impressions on sound quality.

The Big Picture: Anthem MRX 700 Highlights

General Overview

•7.1 channels, 90 Wpc at 8 ohms with all channels driven, 20 Hz – 20 kHz at < 0.1% THD
•AM/FM/HD Radio tuner
•Internet radio via built-in Ethernet connection
•Ability to play digital music files from a flash drive or USB disk drive via front or rear panel USB ports
•Coming soon: Anthem MDX 1 iPod/iPhone dock with onscreen GUI
•Proprietary ARC (Anthem Room Correction) automated speaker setup/room EQ system. Note: a complete ARC kit, including software disk, calibrated mic, mic stand, and all necessary cables is provided with the MRX 700.
•Dual-processor 64-bit audio DSP onboard.
•3D ready (via software upgrade)
•USB: 2 ports
•Analog video: component 3 in/1 out, 4 composite/3 out
•Digital audio: 5 in (2 coax/3 optical), 2 out (1 coax/1 optical)
•Analog audio: 7 stereo inputs, 2 stereo record outputs, 1 stereo Zone 2 output, 1 7,1-channel pre-amp out.
•HDMI 4 in/1 out
•HDMI onscreen display
•Video conversion: composite and component video to HDMI
•Upscaling to 1080p60
•Supports 1080p24 mode
•Dolby Volume
•Comes with two remotes: main remote with full controls and simplified remote for Zone 2 use

Decoding

Dolby: True HD, Digital Plus, Digital EX, ProLogic IIs, ProLogic IIz, Virtual Speaker, Headphone
DTS: HD Master Audio, DTS ES, DTS 96/24, DTS Neo:6
AnthemLogic: Music, Cinema
All Channel Stereo

Custom Install Features

•IR input/emitter
•Trigger output
•Zone 2 support
•RS-232 interface

Interesting Features/Curious Omissions

Music/Movie Modes: True to its audiophile roots, the MRX 700 allows users to define separate Music and Movie setup modes (for example, to provide different subwoofer profiles for movie watching and music listening) that can be applied at will.
ARC provides Standard and Advanced setup procedures: users can do a standardized ARC room EQ setup, or can—if they wish—climb into an advanced settings menu that allow a significant degree of customization for various ARC setup functions.
An excellent, user-friendly, backlit remote: the MRX-series receivers introduce a delightful remote that provides most of the key functions of the (very) elaborate remote provided with Anthem’s Statement D2v controller, but in a vastly simpler, more compact, and more user-friendly format. Most users will, I think, regard the new remote as a significant step forward.
No multichannel analog audio inputs: Multichannel music enthusiasts and owners of high-quality universal players will be saddened to learn that the MRX 700 provides no multichannel analog audio inputs. True, the MRX 700 can accept multichannel PCM inputs, but this is to assume that the receiver’s DACs and analog audio sections are as good as or better than those that a good universal player would provide, which may not be not the case.
No DSD bitstream decoding: Again, music enthusiasts who enjoy multichannel SACD recordings will be saddened to learn the MRX 700 cannot decode DSD bitstreams via HDMI (a feature many competing Onkyo and Integra AVRs do support). This means that if you enjoy SACD material, you A) can’t use your disc player’s analog audio outputs, and B) also can’t export DSD bitstreams to the Anthem. Thus, you’ll need a player that converts DSD to PCM format (which many SACD purists consider a big no-no).

First Impressions

My usual approach with Anthem’s ARC-equipped components is to first do a traditional manual setup and to listen to the component that way, and then later to apply ARC equalization and to compare. So, the comments I’ll offer below are, for the moment, based on a few initial cursory listening sessions and without ARC engaged.

Right off the bat, I found the MRX sounded noticeably cleaner, better defined, and more muscular than many of the AVRs I’ve tried (including a number whose published specification would, at first glance, make them seem more powerful than the Anthem). This is where Anthem’s extremely conservative power ratings come into play. It’s this jump upward in observed sound quality that will either draw you to the Anthem receivers or not (meaning that, if you insist on trying to judge them purely on the basis of on-paper specifications, you’ll frankly miss what makes them desirable in the first place).

I found that, after just a very brief period of familiarization, I quickly became comfortable with Anthem’s new “simplified” remote, which—trust me on this one—is a whole lot less daunting and potentially confusing than the “full-function” remote that comes with Anthem’s Statement D2v.

And A Brief Word About Anthem’s ARC System

I have not, as mentioned above, run the ARC setup procedures for the MRX 700 just yet, so that there may be even higher levels of sonic potential on tap. But a couple of small caveats are worth mentioning vis-à-vis the ARC system. First, relative to other auto-setup/room EQ systems such as the various flavors of Audyssey, Yamaha’s YPAO system, Pioneer’s Advanced MCACC system, etc. Anthem’s ARC setup procedures do not run from a processor built in to the component. Instead, ARC is designed to run on an outboard PC (or MAC). That requirement is not, of itself, terribly daunting, although it can be a drag to, well, drag a PC into your listening/home theater room to do the setup. But there is also one further hurdle to overcome; the ARC system requires a PC with an old-school style serial port for its connection to the MRX 700 (though Anthem advises that you can use a USB-to-serial port adapter—note, not included—provided the adapter supports two stop bits). Suddenly, ARC starts to feel like a whole lot of work… Happily, TPV owns an older PC that A) has serial ports, and B) is reserved pretty much for the sole purpose of running ARC software for Anthem components, but you may not be so fortunate.

The bottom line is that ARC is a very powerful, flexible, and effective auto-setup/room EQ system (judging by experiences I’ve had in using ARC with Anthem’s Statement D2v), but from a logistical/ease-of-use standpoint it's simply not as convenient/user-friendly as other competing room EQ systems. Caveat emptor. In the future, I hope Anthem will find a way to offer an all-USB version of ARC.

Watch for our upcoming review of the Anthem MRX 700 in The Perfect Vision.

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