In our article, “Receivers vs. separates: Solving the audiophile’s dilemma” we discuss the differences between two approaches to home audio and the pros and cons of each. At one point during our not-so-brief historical account of the progression of home audio components we do a fly-by on the integrated amp (you know, that overachieving yet oft overlooked “middle child” of the consumer audio world) then, rather abruptly, move right past it.
We did this because the vast majority of consumers purchasing audio equipment today are smitten with surround sound, and why shouldn’t they be? Today’s home theater experience is very accessible and higher quality than ever before. Plus, it’s a lot of fun. All those bone rattling explosions, whizzing movie effects and multi-channel music mixes are impressive and just plain good times.
Until recently, it seems the integrated amp has remained the darling of a slim segment of an already sparsely populated 2-channel music enthusiast community. But with vinyl records making resurgence, high-end media streamers becoming more affordable and iPod/iPhone owners demanding better sounding gear, the integrated amp has an opportunity to attract a new fan base.
Anthem A/V’s Integrated 225 appears to be just the sort of unpretentious stereo-based solution a new crowd of music fans could get into. It offers a high-quality phono input, a headphone output, a bunch of power, and a sleek, clean design. It costs around $1500 which, compared to some audiophile components, is chump change. But, to those who balk at a $600 iPod speaker dock, $1500 may seem a little far-fetched; especially considering you still need speakers to go with such an amp. Never mind that you can get 7 channels of powerful amplification, built-in media streaming, video upconversion and a whole bunch of other bells and whistles from an A/V receiver at that price.
In our Anthem Integrated 225 review, we take a closer look at this stereo amp’s guts, analyze its performance and discuss whether the Integrated 225 brings enough musical wow factor to the table to convert would-be A/V receiver owners to a purer form of audio religion.
Out of the box
42.6 pounds may not sound like a lot, but when you cram that much weight into a space that measures 5-7/8 x 17-1/4 x 18-inches, it has a way of feeling like a box of bricks. We’ve always contended that, when it comes to class A/B amplifiers (in other words: not digital), the heavier it is, the better it will probably sound. By that logic, the Anthem Integrated 225 should sound like a million bucks. To put this kind of weight in perspective, the 2-channel Integrated 225 weighs 4.4 pounds more than the 7-channel Denon 4311ci A/V receiver which, by the way, is nearly twice the size and houses a lot more circuitry. In short, Anthem puts a generous serving of its money into the Integrated 225 where it counts most: the power supply.
In the box with the Integrated 225 we found a thick, grounded AC cable, a remote control and some batteries.
Features and design
Anthem appears to have stuck close to the K.I.S.S. (Keep it Stupid Simple) principle when it came to designing the Integrated 225. Both the appearance of the front face and component layout inside the case are kept incredibly simple and straightforward.
The front face is made of a thick slab of solid metal. Into it are mounted 11 small silver buttons with LEDs for each, a 3.5mm input jack, 6.35mm headphone jack and four control dials.
The Integrated 225 offers 8 stereo inputs, including balanced XLR, Phono and what is marketed as a “mobile device” input, though it’s labeled as AUX 4 and good for anything that can be connected with a small headphone cable (which is a LOT). Bass, Treble and Balance controls are available, but for purists (yours truly included) a tone defeat switch will take the bass and treble dials out of the loop. A mute button and volume control round out on-board controls.
The Integrated 225’s connection bay on the back couldn’t be better laid out either. Of course, it helps that Anthem didn’t have to try to cram in a truck-load of HDMI, optical, component, composite and surround speaker jacks. There are a few surprises lurking back there, though. We didn’t expect to see 12v triggers or an RS-232 port, either.
Inside, the Integrated 225 is one badass looking power supply accompanied by two very serious looking capacitors. The two combine to help deliver 225 watts of continuous power to each the left and right channels at 8 ohms and a stable 310 watts per channel to 4 ohm speakers.
The Integrated 225’s phono input can handle moving magnet and moving coil cartridges and was specially designed by Anthem to incorporate both passive and active EQ to maximize the vinyl audio reproduction. According to Anthem’s website, active EQ is used with 50 Hz and 500 Hz roll off points, while equalization at the 2122 Hz mark is passive. If our engineering translator is working correctly, that means the phono stage will improve low and low-mid frequency output while leaving the high frequencies alone.
The volume control is something special as well. Not only is it motorized (for use with the provided remote control or via RS-232) it also feels spectacularly solid and smooth as you turn it by hand. Anthem says the analog potentiometer it uses tracks “exceptionally well”.
The only time Anthem seems to have deviated from its aim of simplicity is with the provided remote and that seems to have been motivated by the desire to make the remote as versatile as possible. Here you’ll find cursor controls for satellite boxes and DVD or Blu-ray players. More impressive to us is the fact that the remote is actually backlit! We can think of several A/V receiver models that can’t say the same.
Unlike, say, the Outlaw RR2150 stereo receiver, the Anthem Integrated 225 lacks any digital processing. That means no digital inputs, no bass management and subwoofer output, no streaming media files via USB. That’s part of the beauty of this piece, though. There’s an absolute minimum of components generating noise and surplus heat. Maybe it’s a purist thing, but we like it and, as we’re about to discuss, we think it makes a pretty significant difference.