If it has been a while since you last shopped for A/V equipment, then you may not yet be familiar with Anthem. Anthem’s beginnings date back to the early 90’s when Sonic Frontiers International first began producing high end A/V equipment under the brand name Anthem. In 1998, Sonic Frontiers International was purchased by speaker maker Paradigm and a partnership between the two entities was born. Later in 2001, Anthem gained significant notoriety when they released the AVM 20, a high-end pre-amp and processor that drew praise from critics for being highly musical and surprisingly affordable. Today, Anthem’s preamp/processors and amplifiers continue to earn them a reputation as a top choice for budget oriented audiophiles, but it is their recent entry into the receiver market that has the industry buzzing. Here, we take a listen to Anthem’s flagship MRX-700 A/V receiver, chart its place amongst the competition and determine if Anthem has been able to pass their legendary sound along to their line of A/V receivers.
Typically, our out of the box segment deals with our first impressions of the receiver itself-and we’ll get to that, but what struck us as we opened the MRX-700’s box was not the receiver, but the unusually large box that was packed along-side it. Anthem’s proprietary room-calibration system, known as ARC, isn’t just a 2-inch high mini-microphone with a long cord that gets tucked away with the remote control and batteries. In fact, it is a full-on arsenal of room measurement gear. Inside the ARC box we found a boom-style microphone stand, custom microphone clip, a USB mic, USB mic cable, a serial data cable and a CD with room correction/speaker calibration software. Apparently Anthem means business when it comes to dialing things in just right. Next to the ARC box was the MRX-700 receiver packed with a standard size, full function remote control, a compact, zone 2 remote, radio antennae, some batteries and a user manual.
The MRX-700 weighs in at a beefy 35.4 pounds, measures 6.5×17.25×15.25 inches and is designed so that it can be rack mounted with a separate kit. Its facade is somewhat utilitarian. While most receiver manufacturers have been working hard to keep the front face of their products button free and their corners rounded, Anthem has decidedly included a comprehensive set of control buttons all across the front face. It may not be a “clean” look, but the MRX-700 certainly isn’t unattractive.
The MRX-700 is rated at 120 watts per channel (2-channels driven) or 90 WPC (5 channels driven) and offers four HDMI inputs and one HDMI output.
[Out of the box, our review sample did not support 3D pass-through, but an update of the unit’s firmware is available at Anthem’s website right now. We’ll get into the update process in our performance section.]
There is also support for coax and optical digital audio, component video and composite video but no S-video support. Sure, S-Video is old-school, but a lot of folks still like convenient connections for their camcorders and other S-Video devices. We’re not sure why the industry seems to be ready to abandon S-Video entirely, but it might be a premature move.
The MRX-700, in addition to support for HD radio, also offers an Ethernet port for accessing internet radio and two USB inputs (one front, one rear) for those with storage devices loaded with music. For those who may wish to use external amplifiers, 7.1 analog outputs are provided but conspicuously absent is a set of 7.1 analog inputs, a feature we expect to see in a product of this class and price point. This means no SACD or DVD-Audio playback unless your player can decode it and output it via multi-channel PCM via HDMI and even then, results rarely sound as good as a premium player’s d/a converters.
The MRX-700 offers amplified output for 7 speakers and one subwoofer. The sixth and seventh output channels play triple duty as either surround-back channels, front height channels (for PLIIz) or zone 2 output. Unlike much of Anthem’s competition, the MRX-700 doesn’t offer a separate set of outputs that will help it accommodate more than one of these options at a time nor does it appear that it will support bi-amplification of the front left and right speakers. For the purposes of our audition we chose to operate these “aux” channels for surround-back output.
Anthem offers most of the usual digital surround processors. DTS HD-Master, Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Prologic IIx and IIz, DTS NEO:6 and so forth. For those surround formats that don’t support a 6th and 7th channel of sound, the Anthem will co-process the signal with either Dolby EX or DTS Neo:6 to provide some backfill. Dolby Volume is also built in. No THX processing is included but we didn’t miss it. We usually don’t.
Finally, the MRX-700 does provide video scaling and conversion to 1080p via HDMI. Though we didn’t spend much time dissecting Anthem’s choice in video scaling chips, we felt that images that accompanied our audition pieces looked excellent.
Set-up and performance:
To evaluate the MRX-700 we connected an LG BD-370 Blu-Ray player, an Xbox 360, a Nintendo Wii, a VIP722 Dish Network receiver, Pioneer turntable with Ortofon OM5E cartridge a USB flash drive and an iPhone 3G. We used speakers and subwoofers from Aperion Audio.
The MRX-700’s setup menu is output via HDMI (as well as the other supported video outputs) and is a pleasure to look at. Many manufacturers tend to phone it in when it comes to the user interface, but Anthem’s colorful, high resolution GUI was very easy on the eyes. However, we did experience a bit of a learning curve as we dug into the menu, perhaps because we’ve spent so much time with most Japanese brands of receivers that we’ve begun to speak their language. That said, Anthem offers a great deal of customization and flexibility. For instance, each input allows the user to select between two different EQ, crossover, LFE and sound mode settings. For the audio tweaker, this is gold. Taking some time to learn the ins and outs of Anthem’s menus proved very useful.