Anthem’s ARC room calibration and correction system came in its own box, so we figured we’d give it its own paragraph in this review. ARC requires that you have a PC (Windows only, sorry Mac peeps), preferably a laptop with a serial port, to run its software (huh? Why a serial port?). After installing the software and connecting the provided serial cable to the back of the receiver, we set up the USB microphone, connected it and proceeded as directed by the software. Our computer recorded the results of individual speaker tests from 5 different positions in the room (it supports up to 10), did some number crunching, established the settings, then loaded them into the MRX 700. Now, to be frank, we initially felt that having to require a computer handy and in the same room as the receiver was a bit much to ask- especially considering that automated speaker calibration programs are usually used by folks that don’t necessarily have the time, tools or understanding to perform a proper manual calibration. So, the complexity of the whole operation could be off putting to novice users. But the more we dug into Anthem’s ARC, the more it became evident that ARC is a truly useful program. Not only were distances and channel levels set correctly, but crossover levels were right in line with what we would have chosen ourselves and the equalization work that the ARC implemented was top-notch. In our experience, auto-EQ often turns a natural sounding speaker into an overblown, depthless shadow of its former self. The sound we got with ARC engaged, on the other hand, was quiet, full of space and dimension and brought just the right kind of sparkle to the presentation to make movie watching more immersive. For music, we preferred to leave the ARC off, but other listeners are welcome to make their own choice. Since the ARC can be set on or off for each input, users should have no problem customizing their receiver for preferred results.
Once our calibration was completed, we began our listening tests. Our first exposure to the MRX-700’s sound came from “Yes We Can, Can” from Marc Broussard’s Save Our Soul recording. The tune opens with a simple drum pattern paired with picked electric bass, eventually culminating with Broussard’s vocal. In the first seconds of the recording we got slapped with the MRX-700’s rendering of the picked bass and kick drum. Both were punchy, clean and tight with smooth, well articulated transients. Later, as Broussard and his backing choir entered, we found the room filled a very live vocal presence. The backing choir sounded like they were set into the back of the room- as if they had been recorded with a single mic from a distance. In contrast, Broussard’s close microphone proximity played out as the MRX-700 put him dead center in the room, well forward of the band. We lingered on this recording for a while and, track after track, we found ourselves delighted with the depth and expanse of the soundstage.
After some extremely satisfying stereo listening, we moved on to our trusted multi-channel recording of Donald Fagen’s Nightfly album. Since the DVD-Audio version wasn’t playable we opted for the DTS tracks. Having used this recording in countless auditions in the past, we know exactly what to listen for. The most challenging aspect of this recording is the high frequency material and its tendency to sound compressed and overtly bright. Jeff Porcaro’s high hat, in particular, often sounds artificial, no matter how warm or balanced the associated equipment may be. In this case, though, we were treated to a sweet, airy and eerily live reproduction of all of the high frequencies. In fact, while we found the MRX-700’s work in the bass, mid-bass and midrange regions to be excellent, it was the MRX-700’s work in the upper midrange and high frequency bands that really struck us as uniquely well executed.
In addition to the Anthem’s super satisfying musicality, we found it to be remarkably powerful and balanced. The multi-channel Fagen tracks we use are highly demanding of the surround speakers. The mix benefits from larger surround speakers as they are programmed with full range information of specific instruments. Without enough power for larger surrounds, the horn section and backing vocals will often sound thin and under-represented, even at lower volumes. The MRX-700 had no problem providing robust support to the surround tracks. At both low and extremely high volume levels, all tracks were equally rich and highly textured. The performance we experienced was really close to what we’ve experienced from pre-amp and mono-block amplifier configurations. It would seem that the MRX-700 heartily backs up its manufacturers claims to deliver 90 watts to each channel with all channels driven.
This prodigious power translated well into Blu-Ray movie soundtrack playback. We dug out our copy of Michael Bay’s Transformers because, as poorly acted as the movie is, its surround tracks are an almost non-stop workout for every channel in a home-theater system. During every action sequence, robotic warbles, crashing demolition effects, shouting dialog and perpetual explosions vie for attention from any receiver’s power supply. Often, the resulting sound is distractingly muddled and not just a little bit annoying. The MRX-700 with ARC engaged made the otherwise maddening soundtrack palatable by lending distinction to each effect, clearly yielding dialogue, minimizing bass bloat and maximizing punch. Movement between the front and rear channels was smooth and uninterrupted, yielding a 360 degree soundfield that was immersive and engaging.
Anthem promises an iPod dock (the MDX1) with on-screen navigation soon. When available, the dock will add that final piece of functionality that rounds out an already considerable feature set. Sure, the MRX-700 doesn’t offer 3 zone output with bi-amplification and lacks 7.1 inputs so it may not be the ideal choice for those with massive theaters and whole house audio systems but those who favor musical performance over bells and whistles will find the MRX-700 an excellent match.
The Anthem MRX-700 is every bit an audiophile’s A/V receiver. It doesn’t cram in as many inputs, outputs and ancillary processors as its competition, but it fills the gaps with hardware that delivers musical, true-to-life sound with an authority and finesse that reels you in and refuses to let go. It’s price tag may seem a little steep when considering its feature set against the competition, but the ARC room correction setup, superior power and super quiet processing will be worth the added expense for those who seek the very best sound available in an A/V receiver.
- Spectacular Sound
- USB and Ethernet equipped
- Excellent GUI
- Excellent Room Calibration Results
- No 7.1 Analog inputs
- No S-Video Support
- No Bi-Amp capability