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Monday, April 9, 2012

Home Cinema Review!
Anthem MRX 700 7.1 Channel Receiver





Brevis...
Retail Price: $1,999
Likes: price, operation, overall quality
Dislikes: no analog multichannel input
More info: Anthem MRX 700


by John Gatski

I may sound like a broken record, but today’s high-end receivers are really good. Most of those I have recently sampled offer features of the best separate preamps and separate amp sections, yet incorporate everything in one box. On my list of top receivers is the Anthem MRX 700.
The Canadian-designed, manufactured-in-China MRX 700, priced at a quite reasonable $2,000, is the latest evolution of Anthem’s top model, featuring full decoding of the high-res surround formats (Dolby Tru-HD, DTS Master HD), 3-D compatibility, onboard HD Radio, a handy USB Flash player, and 120 watts of Class A/B power. Other goodies include the Anthem Room Correction (ARC), optional MDX iPod dock and Dolby Volume.


Features
The thoroughly modern looking MRX 700 fits right into the Anthem family tree, in terms of outward appearance, with its combination of hi-fi and home theater aesthetics. Just enough buttons and knobs on the front to shows its feature palette, but not too intimidating to scare away the newbie operator. Front panel buttons include info screen, setup, menu and selection of eight sources. There are also front panel stereo audio RCA inputs, USB drive input and composite video inputs, hidden by a removable, sliding strip panel. The master volume control and buttons for zone selection, power on/off, and channel status round out the front panel’s function controls.
As per any modern home cinema receiver, the MRX 700 back panel is where the action is. A cluster of connectors that include: four HDMI inputs, seven analog video inputs (four composite and three component), five digital audio SPDIF inputs (two coaxial, three optical), seven stereo analog RCA inputs. The MRX also outputs 7.1 channels of preamp output for those who wish to provide signals to another zone or separate amplifiers. Curious, though, there is no analog multichannel input section for those who wish to use high-end sources, such as a Blu-ray player (alas, my BDP-09FD Pioneer Elite or BDP-95) with their built-in DACS. The MRX-700 does sport an extra USB input on the back panel.


Speaker output is via combo binding posts that are amply spaced for various connection options. The normal five channels are provided for — as are the center back and center front channels. Overall, the back panel is nicely laid out with plenty pf space for all the cable connections.
Inside the unit, the Anthem engineers spec’d good quality parts including Cirrus Logic audio DACs, and an advanced video DAC; the power supply features a quality toroidal transformer and high-spec PS components. With all this processing and signal flow, the Anthem is bound to produce some heat, which is handled by ample heat sinks and a low-noise fan, which I never heard kick on during the review.
Unlike many of its competitors, the MRX 700 does not have Wi-Fi connectivity, but the receiver's Internet Radio feature is enabled through the Ethernet input. For custom installations, the 700 features IR input, IR emitter output, trigger output, a second zone and RS-232 control.
The set up and operation of the MRX is easy. I do a lot of receiver reviews, and this Anthem ranks up there as being one of the easiest to setup. The GUI, as transmitted to the monitor, is easy to read and follow, including the ARC room correction analysis. It took me all of 15 minutes to be up and running.
Setup parameters such as speaker selection, bass management, delay and level were quick and easy. The same with video setup (HDMI output resolution) and assigning the inputs and outputs. I particularly liked the resolution adjustments that could be done on the fly while watching the movie via a source.
Other setup functions allow user adjustment of lip sync, Dolby Volume and selection of multichannel and stereo audio choices (Dolby Pro Logic II, the various DTS’s and Anthem’s own DSP soundfields. The video adjustments have several parameters that allow you to correct for less than stellar video sources. They include MPEG noise reduction and cross color suppression. Along with the brightness, contrast and color controls, MPEG and Cross Color adjustment allowed for tweaking my laserdisc movies, which frankly look awful when run native or scaled to 1080.
All in all, the Anthem MRX 700 is fully featured and quite a good price in this class of receivers. $2,000 in the $3,000 category ain’t too shabby in my book.

The setup
I installed the Anthem in my home cinema Per Madsen equipment rack, which is on wheels. My home cinema consists of Sony Bravia 929 55-inch LED monitor (the best LED I have ever used), Westlake Audio professional cinema speakers (LC8.1 x 2 for L and R front, LC2.65 for the center) and NHT Ones for the rear surround L and R. The subwoofer is the magnificent, sealed-box design Paradigm Reference Sub 15 (reviewed last year) that can hit just under 20 Hz at measurably loud levels.


Through all the sonic intensity, I noted a welcome smoothness in the Anthem’s audio delivery that belied how loud the SPL meter indicated — which is just what you want out of a serious home theater receiver.

Players included the Oppo BDP-95 and Yamaha BD1000 universal players, and the brilliant Pioneer BDP-09FD Elite Blu-ray player. All components were connected to the receiver via Wireworks ribbon-style HDMI cables. Digital audio and analog sources were connected via Alpha-Core Goertz solid-silver interconnects. Components were plugged into the AC using an Essential Sound Products Essence power strip with ESP Essence power cords.
Having previously used the ARC DSP-setup software, I let it do its auto measurement magic and setup using the included mic and software run on the Windows side of my Macbook Pro. The ARC is one of the few receiver auto-setup, audio software packages that accurately sees how flat my room is, especially in the bass, and applies its EQ compensation sparingly. After the ARC setup, I confirmed the channel levels with my Audio Control 3050 RTA/SPL monitor and calibrated test microphone. It revealed that the ARC did a fine job analyzing my room because there was very little EQ applied. I have tweaked and treated this listening room over its nearly 20 years of use to where it sounds really good and does not need much electronic compensation.

The audition
The MRX 700 test sample was brand new, thus, I let it run for several days for general purpose audio tasks and video to allow it to break in a bit. My first test disc was the Monsters vs. Aliens 3-D Blu-ray. The opening sequence (when the main character is getting married then gets smacked by an alien ship ) has great video resolution and nifty 3-D animation that jumps off the screen. The soundtrack is really top-notch as well — with lots of surround panning and steering, as well as deep subwoofer bass.
The MRX delivered impressive results from the Avatar BD — with a deep and wide soundstage, localized and detailed effects panning, and abundant use of the LFE channel. Other Blu-rays of note were Tron — Legacy 3-D, Thor — 3-D and Harry Potter — Deathly Hallows Part II. The latter disc’s epic final battle scene’s audio was relentless with aggressive scoring, tons of sound effects and a pounding subwoofer. Through all the sonic intensity, I noted a welcome smoothness in the Anthem’s audio delivery that belied how loud the SPL meter indicated — which is just what you want out of a serious home theater receiver.
BTW, I should mention that the MRX locks very quickly to the source BD players I used. As soon as I unpaused from a scene the audio immediately resumed with no clipping or stuttering of the sound. I have tested other receivers that mute as long as four seconds after the video resumes, which is quite annoying. I also listened to numerous music-only software via the MRX 700 — USB Flash drives from the onboard drive, as well as DVD-Audio discs and SACD from the Oppo. On the HD Tracks download of Cary SimonNo Secrets, in all its 24-bit/192 kHz glory via USB Flash drive, the MRX delivered audiophile-like detail from this well recorded early 1970s gem. The studio reverb effect really pops out via the high-res playback.
Via the analog inputs, the Anthony Wilson TrioOur Gang SACD jazz recording sounded aces through the MRX. This superb direct-to-DSD features a churning Hammond B3, Mr. Wilson’s Gibson jazz guitar’s velvety tones and warmly recorded drums. Audiophiles, who like using receivers, will appreciate the Anthem’s sonic finesse.


Via the analog inputs, the Anthony Wilson Trio — Our Gang SACD jazz recording sounded aces through the MRX. This superb direct-to-DSD features a churning Hammond B3, Mr. Wilson’s Gibson jazz guitar’s velvety tones and warmly recorded drums. Audiophiles, who like using receivers, will appreciate the Anthem’s sonic finesse.

I had no complaints with the Anthem MRX 700. No glitches or software bugs. The iPod interface is handy for those who use the ubiquitous music player, though I much more enjoyed the capability of its USB player, and its ability to play scores of my hundreds of high-resolution audio tracks.
As a zone receiver, I set up another set of stereo speakers in another room to provide more music coverage throughout my house. No problems there, either. It could easily drive the two extra speakers to massively loud levels.
We did not measure output for the MRX 700, but based on the rated 120-watt-per-channel output, I would guess it will output 80-90 watts with all seven channels driven simultaneously before it audibly clipped. Plenty of power for all but the largest rooms.

The verdict
The well-priced Anthem MRX 700 is a high-performance multichannel receiver with enough features to satisfy audio/video purists and the gizmo zealots as well. For my use, its A/V performance and ease of use is the key to my top rating, and it receives (no pun intended) an Everything Audio Network Stellar Sound Award!

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