Our test bench for the Anthem Integrated 225 review involved the Oppo BDP-95 audiophile universal 3D Blu-ray disc player, Aperion Verus Grand speakers, Paradigm 9se MKII speakers, a Pioneer pl-61 turntable with Ortofon OM-5E cartridge and an iPhone.
The Anthem Integrated 225 floored us with the very first note it produced. Our Telarc SACD sampler disc is a staple in our review-media collection and the cut of Tierney Sutton singing I’ve Grown Accustomed to His Face gets more than its fair share of attention as we evaluate speakers and electronics. The very first second we heard the Integrated 225 doing its work, we knew we had a winner on our hands. In all the time we’ve spent reviewing A/V receivers, pre-amps, amplifiers and integrated amps we’ve never heard this track reproduced with such purity and pinpoint precision.
Of course, the Oppo BDP-95 and Aperion Verus Grand speakers had a lot to do with what we heard and we’ll discuss each component’s performance in its own review, but we’ve used the same source and speakers with other receivers and integrated amps, none of which were able to match the Integrated 225’s authority, truth and pure muscle.
On the aforementioned track, Sutton’s organically honest and pure vocal came across completely unveiled, uncongested and uncolored. We found the Integrated 225 was able to serve up even the most minute, recessed details. The slow decay of the reverb effect added to Sutton’s vocal in the recording studio, was as smooth as we’ve ever heard and maintained its character from start to finish. The drummer’s brushwork was so lush with detail that it seemed as if we could hear each brush wire as it was swept across the coated head of the snare drum.
The Integrated 225’s muscle proved useful whether we were listening to delicate, acoustic music or raw, highly energized rock. On Kevin Mahogany and Monty Alexander’s collaboration on Hallelujah I Love Her So, the track opens with Alexander’s uniquely light touch on the Piano then later incorporates a punchy bass drum and understated, yet deep electric bass guitar. The Integrated 225 exposed every harmonic of the solo grand piano passage and effortlessly maintained its composure as the kick drum and bass busted in to provide a second-line groove that felt so tight we just couldn’t help but bob our heads in unison with the beat. Equally impressive was the treatment of Mahogany’s voice, which is, by nature, pretty chesty and robust and, therefore, can come across as muddled when not properly cleanly amplified. The Integrated 225 effortlessly reproduced the vocal with such realism that it sounded as if Mahogany himself were singing just 5 feet away from us.
Later, we cranked the Integrated 225 up to eleven with AC/DC’s Thunderstruck. What a ride that turned out to be! The infamous guitar lick that is sustained throughout the entire song starts out on its own and can be a very telling clip. Good amps won’t just reproduce the notes, but expose sympathetic string noise and the subtle harmonics that go with it. Great amps will do all of that, then smack you right in the face when the rest of the band comes in. The Integrated 225 just about blew us out of our chair.
While the Aperion Verus Grand speakers are not difficult to drive, they still benefit from excellent amplification. 225 watts may sound like overkill, but having headroom in spades comes with significant advantages. The Integrated 225 handles music reproduction like a masterful sculptor who at one moment pounds clay into submission then turns around and exposes fine details with precision and finesse.
After hours of SACD and CD listening, we turned our attention to our vinyl collection. The phono pre-amps built into most hi-fi equipment (even high end pieces) are little more than a courtesy input. Anthem insists in its product literature that a great deal of thought and care was put into the Integrated 225’s phono pre-amp. Based on our listening tests, we’d have to agree.
While we currently have just one stand-alone phono pre-amp handy for reference, we think our Bellari VP129 (which goes for about $250) is one of the best bang-for-your-buck phono stages available. The phono stage in the Integrated 225, while characteristically different due to its solid state design, was every bit as enjoyable as our Bellari and, in some cases, more so. Anthem’s equalization work (which complies with RIAA standards) does as promised by bringing richness to the low frequencies that is often missing with many phono rigs. We listened to Dire Straits’ Love Over Gold LP and Steely Dan’s Aja several times over during our audition and found something new to enjoy every time we put needle to wax. The Integrated 225 worked with our turntable to provide a big, warm, highly detailed sound with powerful bass and wonderfully liquid midrange. We particularly enjoyed the big dynamic swings on the Dire Straits cuts while the guitar effects on the Steely Dan selections showered us with analog goodness.
We had to work hard to find fault with the Integrated 225 but we did dig up a singular issue. When adjusting the volume with the remote control, we found it impossible to make small adjustments. Just a tap on the remote’s volume up or down button resulted in really large swings on the volume control itself. For fine adjustment, you must turn the knob manually. That’s it, though. Were it not for that one rather minor issue, the Integrated 225 would score a perfect 10, which we don’t dish out lightly.
We think that musicians tend to make the pickiest of audiophiles. This is probably because not only are we obsessed with excellent sound, we also have the great fortune to work in live sound and recording studio situations on a regular basis which gives us a uniquely qualified viewpoint on matters of faithful music reproduction. We’ve heard $15,000/pair single ended tube amps that sounded glorious, but left us wanting a sound that was a little more “authentic”, if you will. The fact that Anthem’s entirely solid state Integrated 225 is able to take listeners to that magical place for $1500 is not just a testament to its value, but also to the brilliant engineering involved in its design and construction. Whether this integrated amp will turn the heads of those currently on course for a high-end A/V receiver will probably come down to a matter of exposure because once you hear what this remarkable integrated amp can do, you will be forever spoiled. We enthusiastically offer our Editor’s Choice Award to this fine piece of gear from Anthem.
- Pure, accurate and engaging sound
- Extremely powerful
- Clean, attractive design
- Outstanding phono input
- Balanced XLR inputs
- Overly sensitive volume control