When I perused the internet in December 2010 and found Anthem released an affordable receiver “for the rest of us” I went giddy with excitement. Especially because of the inclusion of ARC (Anthem Room Correction), Anthem’s proprietary and highly regarded room correction system I previously experienced in the company’s $9,000-ish Statement D2v pre-pro. My excitement went a step higher learning at CES 2011 that the price for MRX-700, the highest priced receiver in its line up is merely around $2,000… a lot lower than my current reference receiver. Imagine how overjoyed I become when I heard that the ARC on the receivers (MRX-300/500/700 priced streets approximately at $1,000, $1,500 and $2,000 respectively) is not crippled by any means. NOTE: since D2v (and AVM 50v) have twice the DSP power than what is typical in the industry, it allows closer matching of corrected response to target response, and can be set to full range correction vs 5 kHz which is the ceiling for MRX. Still, the difference in practice between D2v-ARC and MRX-ARC is negligible. This is a very refreshing and such an honest approach unlike multi-tiered room correction systems offered by many other manufacturers.
To my knowledge, all consumer-level room calibration use multi-band graphic or parametric EQ (or both). Some of them are crippled to the point that the EQ is completely removed from the process. I don’t know which is worse… some of them there is not even an option to do semi-auto calibration or manual calibration where the user can actually input the speaker polarity, distance, size and crossover points (which close to 100% of the time, in full-auto mode, measured wrongly), it’s full-auto or nothing at all. As far as I know, the only system that gives the option of full-auto, semi-auto and manual is only Pioneer’s Advanced MCACC… which I love since its introduction more than a decade ago. As much as I love Audyssey, the versions I’ve encountered only gave me the option of full-automatic adjustment or nothing at all, no further tweaking can be done.
Enter Anthem Room Correction. Let’s start with the most basic but also being the most important part of any room correction system. The microphone. No two microphones will have 100% identical frequency response. With the ARC system, Anthem plotted the frequency response of every single microphone they manufactured (and a very high quality in both built and feel to boot) and put the corresponding frequency response with its own serial number. This way, the ARC system will be able to compensate the individual microphone’s frequency response resulting in a laboratory-grade performance from each included microphone. No “Dollar Store” nubbin-type generic microphone here. Heck, even the ARC system comes with its own professional quality microphone stand and clip plus a long enough cable to calibrate a decent sized 12-seat dedicated home theatre! Of course, there is no point in using a lab-grade microphone if the system’s functionality and computational prowess do not support its quality.
Unlike other room correction system that requires no more than a tiny chip built into a receiver, ARC requires a laptop-power computation system. Since the serial number of the microphone corresponds to the supplied software, the best way to do install the ARC software is to use the included disc and only after that you go to Anthem’s website and update the PC software, if and when it’s necessary.
The ARC process demands a higher degree of user involvement than other competing room correction designs. It took me about an hour to install the software, update it, do the manual distance measurements, and let the ARC do its thing before I can start enjoying the fruits of ARC’s labour.
Comparing the end-result sound between my reference Pioneer Elite SC-25 and Anthem MRX-700 is an easy task. I have to start by saying that I absolutely love what Advanced MCACC did to my dedicated room (W x D x H = 10’ x 16’ x 9’). Previously compared to DCAC, YPAO and Audyssey, I find Advanced MCACC to be the most natural-sounding one. Even when I switched to ARC, although I found some improvements, I originally didn’t hear that much of a difference. Oh boy I was proven wrong.
Going from Advanced MCACC to ARC maybe not as earth-shattering as I hoped for… but going from ARC (after being used to the ARC calibrated sound for merely hours) back to Advanced MCACC… that’s when I can REALLY missed the superiority and finesse of ARC. ARC gives a much smoother response, better vocal intelligibility, and no bass-bloat at any frequency. After taking notes of the improvements ARC made in my dedicated listening/viewing room, I looked and compared the graphs between Pioneer’s SC-25 post-Advanced MCACC vs. ARC and they truly explained the reasoning why I love ARC. Although the overall corrected room frequency response appears to be the same in general, ARC produces silky smooth frequency response unlike its competitor’s jagged frequency response with more-often-than-I-like occasional peaks and troughs (which explained the bass bloat before I used ARC). I wish Anthem sells the ARC system as a standalone unit. On the other hand, since anybody can get the same ARC functionality even from the entry level MRX-300 (streets around $1,100); maybe there is no point in selling ARC separately.
The MRX-700 comes with a plethora of useful features and forgoes most useless ones. 7-channel amplification with a beefy toroidal transformer rated at approximately 80 Watts per channel when tested using my 5.1 configuration. The obligatory Dolby TrueHD, DTS-MA, DPL-IIz, the proprietary Anthem Logic Music and Movie, USB input, 4 HDMI 1.4 inputs and 1 HDMI output. Furthermore, the inclusion of Dolby Headphone to get the “centre channel” out of the listeners’ heads and Dolby Volume to tame aggressive (read: badly mixed) soundtrack are also a welcome addition. I especially welcome Dolby Volume because unlike its competition, it’s not only an on/off function but the user can manually choose the level of dynamic compression needed for any given content.
The receiver is also packaged with two remotes. One is a regular sized remote which I find to be very comfortable in my hand and a credit-card sized one with the intention to control 2nd zone. Video upscaling utilizing Genesis Torino chip is also available not only for analog input but also for HDMI with more than decent upscaling capability.
What I find to be very refreshing is the lack of useless DSP modes such as “Cathedral” or “Rock Concert” etc. No recording was mastered dry and putting additional reverb, echo, etc on top of pre-recorded, finalized music or movie is just plain wrong. Kudos to Anthem in preventing the above abomination from occurring.
Mimicking its heritage models, the MRX-700 is equipped with the most gorgeous back panel I’ve ever encountered. It’s not about the “bling” but functionality and easy of use. An array of clearly marked inputs and outputs labelled in solid black on silk-screened white background makes installation very easy and be without mistake without the need of fumbling around and the need of a third hand to help holding the flashlight.
A small but important detail that I find to be extremely unique and ingenious is the sliding front-input panel. By utilizing this approach, when you are using the front-input, you won’t either accidentally lose the front-input cover (an approach used by about half of the manufacturers out there) or accidentally break the front-input panel fold (an approach used by the other half of the industry)
For my test, I use my reference recordings which consists of the self titled Charice (2010) North American release CD and, believe it or not, Glee 5 original soundtrack CD. For the 2-channel source listening test I go back and forth between pure stereo and Anthem Logic Music, a surround mode that mixes small amount of sound information to the rear channels.
I love using Charice track-8, All That I Need to Survive, because the recording makes it easy for me to distinguish qualities between 2-channel systems. There are so many subtleties that will get lost if the system is not adequate enough to reveal everything in the recording. It’s a very difficult recording to reproduce faithfully. This is not the case with the MRX-700. All the subtleties and nuances of the recording reproduced faithfully creating what it seems like almost-surround imaging from merely two speakers. In more than one occasion I had to check to ensure my centre channel and surrounds are disengaged due to the perfect localization and steering from a 2-channel setup. When Anthem Logic Music is engaged, the sound field opened that much more enveloping me in sonic bliss.
The same goes with Glee’s rendition of Michael Jackson’s Thriller. This is my newly found reference recording to test dynamics and how well a system can handle an extremely complex recording. On a lesser system, the details of this track will crumble into one pile of mush, unworthy of a second glance. However, using the MRX-500, listening to this song at reference level has never been this enjoyable. I use Naya Rivera’s voice as a starting point in getting the reference level (read: getting the voice to be as loud as someone belting the melodic line, performing live in front of me). The sound of snare drums of the marching band enveloped me without a hint of fatigue even after listening to this same track multiple times… and that’s even BEFORE Anthem Logic Music was engaged. Once it’s engaged, the sense of “being-there” in the middle of the marching band and the cast of Glee became almost holographic. The sonic quality produced by this receiver is so intense I pressed the repeat-one option on my CD player and I listened to the same track for what I think more than 20 times straight without a single hint of lowered excitement from the first listening to the last.
For steering, focusing, and timbre-matching tests I have been using the opening scene from The Box where the ticking sound of the typewriter pans smoothly from left to right. If the speakers are placed to far from each other, the audio level will fluctuate. If the speakers are not focused to the same height, a break in the lateral movement will be quite noticeable. If the centre-channel speaker of different timbre used, a noticeable difference in sound will be heard quite easily. For my front channels, my reference speakers are PSB Century 300i for the mains and PSB Image C5 for the centre. A 14+ years of manufacturing-date gap, size, and material differences were eliminated thanks to the accuracy of ARC. This movie is also filled with dialogue of varying timbres. There is no boxy post-EQ sound and as a result, all the characters’ emotions were reproduced extremely faithfully by this receiver.
To gauge any type of bloat in bass, I use End of Days; a movie filled with rumble from beginning to the end. With ARC turned-off, the dialogues are often difficult to comprehend… and that’s not because of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s thick accent; that’s because of the bass-bloat in most rooms. Once again ARC came to the rescue. After turning ARC back on, the dialogue became clear. In fact, I’ve never heard the dialogue to be this clear from any receiver’s room correction before.
Giddy from the steering, timbre-matching and bass-bloat tests, I moved on to multi-channel and dynamic test. As a Disney fanatic, no test is complete until I played the second chapter on Disney’s Bolt Blu-ray. The cacophony of surround action was impeccable. Gunshots, explosion, blaring orchestral soundtrack, synthesizer bass-line can be heard in the greatest detail all the while the dialogue being extremely clear but not jarring. It’s not everyday I can listen to an active soundtrack at THX reference level and not have my hearing feel overwhelmed with the bombardment of complex sonic projections.
Last but not least, on the final day of my review, I received a copy of Black Swan Blu-ray disc to be reviewed. What’s better than reviewing a new movie with a new receiver? (To know why this movie is my new reference benchmark, check out my accompanying review of Black Swan blu-ray following this article). The dialogue is full-bodied, solid and three-dimensional, sounding like the actors are talking right in front of me. The orchestral soundtrack is so detailed I can virtually hear every single instrument enveloping me with sonic imaging being distributed tastefully amongst all speakers creating a holographic sound effect making my 10’ x 16’ room-boundary disappear and made me feel like I’m sitting in a concert hall. This excellent audio presentation which transitions from being very dynamic to the subtle-whisper reproduced by the MRX-700 with exceedingly high precision while showcasing acoustic presence and aural dimension to the highest degree of precision of any receiver I’ve ever encountered.
If I only have one reservation, I use a BD player, an HD PVR, a DVR, AppleTV, WDTV Live, HD Camcorder, and a multi-region DVD player – a total of 7 HDMI sources – admittedly I’m on the extreme end of the spectrum of the average user, 4 HDMI inputs with none of them being at the front is not enough for my extreme application. However, the only true negative is the lack of dual HDMI output. Considering the people who use Anthem will be most likely be using front projection, a dual HDMI output is needed (usually one goes to the projector and the other for an LCD monitor to cue the movie or for doing small tasks such as programming an HD-PVR). Regardless, with heavy-heart, it’s now time for me to pack-up the MRX-700.
Oh, and a note to Anthem… can I keep this receiver… pretty please?
Manufacturer suggested retail price: 2,199$