McGary Audio

Friday, February 24, 2017

Home Theater Receiver Review!
Anthem MRX 720 7-Channel Receiver
“Nets AKM DAC/140 WPC Amp Section"

Price: $2,499
Likes: high-end sound, easy setup
Dislikes: DSD converted to PCM
Wow Factor: a step-up HT receiver
More info: Anthem MRX 720

by John Gatski
  I have always liked the multi-channel Anthem receivers and preamp processors. The  previous generation MRX 710 was a good receiver, and the AVM-50 pre-pro was quite capable, handling high-end, multi-channel duties with Anthem and other user-selected amps.
  From my lengthy review tenure, I will tell you that the new MRX 720 (and through extrapolation, the big brother MRX 1120) is a fantastic receiver that combines a significant step up in audio quality, thanks to implementation of the AKM 4458 DAC chip and an  internal amp design that features 140 wpc Class A/B bipolar amp channels for the five main channels and a Class D amp section for two additional channels, such as height or used in a zone setup.
  If you combine its upper-echelon receiver sound quality withs its ease of use and the plethora of bells and whistles that keep it modern, the MRX 720 is as good as a receiver as any at twice the price. I normally don’t do this so early in the review, but my opinion is that the MRX 720 is an award-garnering receiver — and it only costs $2,499.

  The MRX 720 is a full-featured, multichannel receiver that includes such features as Dolby Atmos, AKM 4458 D/A converters. 140 Class AB watts per channel x 5 main channels (and 100 Class D watts per channel for either two additional surround channels or in a zone), 11.2 channels preamp output, DTS-X-capability, DTS Play-Fi wireless streaming, High Dynamic Range/4K HDMI 2.0a video output, and Anthem Room Correction. There are also various DSP sound settings including DTS Neo.
  The welcome, uncluttered front panels sports a center panel-located, LED display, large volume control, function/navigation buttons that duplicate essential remote functions, various mode buttons — including setup, mode, display brightness, level set, zone and input. Behind a removable cover on the left side is an extra HDMI input, USB input for software upgrades, and a headphone jack.

 If you are in the market for a new surround receiver that is not that expensive, but sounds like it is comprised of better separates, the Anthem MRX 720 should be on your buy list.

  The receiver features five line inputs, seven HDMI inputs/two HDMI outputs, zone I/O, two SPDIF coax inputs, three TOSlink inputs, one TOSlink output, Ethernet port, RS-232 port, an IR receiver port, 12-volt trigger and a USB input.
  The unit comes with a remote control, which is lightweight plastic, but exhibits a solid feel and not so many buttons to overwhelm the user. The included Anthem Room Correction (ARC) is contained in a smaller box and includes a plastic mic stand, the measurement mic, a USB cable and the downloadable software. Older versions of the ARC used to include a real metal mic stand with a heavy base. This new one sports a combo plastic leg/metal tube mic stand, which can be knocked over easier as the old one, but it gets the job done.

Lots of connections, but easy to connect

   Unlike many other receivers and pre/pros out in the surround world, the MRX 720 is a breeze to set up with easy-to-read, marked input/output jacks on the back panels and a logical, minimized setup menu function. I had this receiver up and running in 20 minutes, including the ARC setup process and a subsequent manual set up. It is indeed that easy. The ease of use is the result of fewer menus, plus the menu adjustment windows and parameters are easy to understand.
  The main Setup menu includes the sub menus, including Speaker Setup, Bass Management, Listener Position, Level Calibration, Input Setup, Preferences/Line Input, Network/Remote Control, General Configuration, Save/Load Systems. Even a newbie can figure out what the adjustments do.
  The MRX includes the acclaimed Anthem Room Correction (ARC), which automatically measures and corrects room boundary anomalies through equalization. It can also be run manually as well as through an automated software process. The ARC process works through a calibrated mic that measures the rooms response and sends, the results to the host Windows OS computer (still no Mac software — boo-hoo), which then provides the software-adjusted EQ curves that “flattens” the sound to optimize its listenability. The new EQ settings are than transmitted to the MRX’s internal CPU and, voila, you get a cleaner sounding system.

Anthem Room Correction (ARC) hardware

  According to Anthem, “ARC corrects the effects of reflective surfaces and room boundaries on sound quality by measuring the response of each speaker relative to the listening area and equalizing it. ARC equalizes response without stressing the amplifier or speakers and does not downsample the source material to process it. ARC’s filters are neither graphic nor parametric – ARC is a sophisticated system that flattens response using its ability to create practically any suitable function, inherently correcting phase effects created by the room.”
  I have reviewed a number of Anthem surround products over the years, and the ARC works splendidly. Unlike other room correction systems I have used from other brands, the ARC does not add additional mid bass in my room. My room is pretty flat in its bass response at the listener position any EQ, and does not need much correcting.
  But I always run self-correcting EQ system, such as ARC, during the review to see if these software based tools can read the room correctly. ARC and a few others do a good job; lesser correction software that comes with many budget priced surround gear always overcompensate the bass, adding a woofy, thick, mid bass, which is not accurate. It is nice to know that ARC can correctly read a room, and, if necessary, apply EQ to reduce the  aberrant response to make it more listenable.

  The MRX 720 is a breeze to set up — with easy-to-read, marked input/output jacks on the back panels and logical, minimized menu functions/GUI. I had this receiver up and running in 20 minutes, including the ARC setup process and a subsequent manual set up.

  Besides the ARC, you can also do the old fashioned manual speaker setup through the MRX 720’s own set up parameters for distance and level, as well as set the crossover frequencies for each speaker and activate the number of desired channels. The manual set up is so darn easy that any neophyte with a reasonably accurate handheld decibel meter can do it. I set up the MRX’s manual mode with a professional Real Time Analyzer, but you can do it with a tablet/phone decibel meter.
  From a feature standpoint, I really like the Anthem MRX line’s simpler-is-better design. Sure it has the new wireless, stereo streaming option via the DTS Play-Fi feature and a pretty good sounding headphone circuit derived from the main L and R amp channels, but this receiver is optimized for multichannel sound quality and useful, flexible, connectivity.
  For example, it has a full set of 11.2 preamp outputs so you can use those wonderful converters with bigger amps in a bigger room for a full Dolby Atmos system. Many receivers no longer have preamp outputs (none have preamp inputs since the receivers have such good converters). The pre-outs’ inclusion on the MRX 720 shows Anthem's commitment to the true multichannel audio enthusiast.

MRX remote: not so many buttons

  For music, the MRX 720 decodes up to 24/192 in PCM. However, its only omissive flaw, in the otherwise excellent design, is no direct DSD decoding. Multichannel or stereo DSD via HDMI is converted to 24/88.2 PCM. A number of competitors do have direct DSD decoding from the HDMI bitstream to at least the standard 2.8 MHz DSD. And we know that the AKM chips can certainly decode DSD.
  Since the receiver does not have multichannel analog input, you also cannot use a SACD player to output its multichannel DSD analog to the MRX either. You can, however, play DSD stereo music via your player’s analog output when connected to a pair of the stereo inputs of the MRX 720.
  I bring the DSD compatibility up because the receiver sounds so good on PCM, for even high-end audiophiles, that inclusion of DSD decoding would make it even better. The DSD-to-24/88 PCM is okay, but not as good as straight DSD decoding. Anthem engineers say that DSD cannot be processed in its native form for EQ, etc. and must be converted to PCM to enables various MRX features.

The set up
  In my room, I ran the MRX 720 in a 5.1 set up with the three Westlake LC Series professional cinema speakers (two LC 8.1 for L-R and one center-channel LC 2.65) set to full size — with no crossover. Rear channels were NHT One surrounds set to 80 Hz. The Paradigm Sub 15 subwoofer crossover was bypassed to enable the MRX 80 Hz crossover. The MRX 720 was connected to a Sony full array backlight 60-inch LED, and the source was a new Oppo BDP-203, an excellent universal player with impressive picture quality and multichannel/stereo output, thanks to the same AKM chip set used in the Anthem.
   I connected the speakers to the receiver using MIT cables; all HDMI cables including the 12 ft. long run to the Sony LED were provided by the Wireworld’s Platinum series. Speaking of LED and video, unlike previous Anthem receivers this one has no video scaler circuitry for the video path. You basically are running your video directly to the video screen, which I always did anyway. And that feature also helps to simplify the setup process.
  I have reviewed numerous receivers and pre-pros with an overabundance of video adjustment parameters that often confused the end user. Not the MRX. For example, the only HDMI video adjustment parameter is assigning the audio and video from the HDMI input to the correct overall input. No scaler, or video parameters, such as sharpness, contrast and chroma, to adjust on the receiver. The HDMI 2.0a does meet the spec for High Dynamic Range and 4K video, so if you have those sources it gets passed on untouched by the receiver.

The audition
  Per my usual audition material, I popped in the 2008 animated Blu-ray, titled Bolt. The opening chase sequence, where pet owner Penny and cartoon doggie Bolt (voiced by John Travolta) are shooting a fantasy action show about the super hero dog, is an immersive DTS Master HD surround track with considerable dynamic range, steering effects (speeding motorcycles, helicopters, gun fire and more), a driving music presence and deep subwoofer sounds.

Great sonics equal a great DAC chip!

  Immediately, I noticed how good the Anthem MRX 720 relays a Blu-ray’s soundtrack. The MRX-delivered Bolt’s multichannel audio with a full range of effects, bass bombast and music. To my ears, the sonics of this $2,500 receiver exhibited the precision of an expensive pre-pro/multiple amplifier combo or a receiver that costs twice the price. Deep separation and depth embody the MRX’s big soundstage with a smoothness that can be attributed to the AKM converters. That tale-tale texture of the transient  sounds is an attribute of AKM that was clearly heard through the MRX 720.
  I then auditioned the fantasy BD movie John Carter, which has equally as good sound effects’ usage, proving that the the Bolt soundtrack’s A+ demo through the MRX was no fluke. The directional sounds moved from front-to-back and side-to-side in convincing fashion, especially the scenes where John Carter is battling the enemy Martians via various kinds of other worldly transport devices. With just five speakers, the sonic spread was immense
  The previous version, MRX 710 was a very good receiver, but I do not remember it having as vivid multichannel soundstage and width impression as the MRX 720. And the MRX 710’s smoothness quotient was not as high as the the 720 either. On every grade A+ soundtrack I ran through the 720, it sounded darn near as fleshed out as my reference AudioControl Maestro 6 receiver, which costs nearly $6,000.
  Another set of movies that really shined, as played through the Anthem MRX 720, was the Lord of The Rings trilogy, the unabridged director’s cut BD series. The battle scenes have hundreds of audio tracks mixed into the master and a really good home cinema surround processor, like the MRX 720, allows one to notice the distinct subtle effects tracks, even in the background, as much more separated.

Not only performs well; the look is high class

  The AKM DAC-equipped receiver is so easy to listen to. Effortless precision is an expression I use when someone asks me about the sonic signature of the AKM converters for audiophile listening. They do an equally beautiful job in multichannel home cinema
  Following numerous movie BIu-rays, I then switched over to some music BDs, such as The WhoLive At The Isle of Wight performance from 1970. The 5.1 DTS Master HD is a 24-bit/96 transfer that showcases The Who at their best. The remote-truck, multitrack recording shakes out nicely — with clearly delineated electric guitar, bass, drums and vocals.
  Pete Townsend’s Gibson SG guitar (with the older P90 single pickups) plugged into the Hi-Watt tube amplifiers is a signature sound that is clearly delivered with an organic accuracy and driving force that the guitarist is noted for. This is one of the best examples of Mr. Townsend’s classic, in-his-prime tone. The mix down 16/48 stereo track sounds good, but not nearly as involving as the multitrack 5.1.

  The 24/96 5.1 mix of  The Talking Heads — Little Creatures title track came through the MRX 7020 like it was playing through separates.

   Switching to other music, via the Oppo HDMI output and decoded by the MRX 720. I found the receiver to be equally as good at all sorts of music — without the video. In multichannel PCM, such as 2L classical BD’s, several DVD-Audio discs and on stereo discs and download tracks, the AKM converters, plus amp section, offer impressive accuracy  — without audible hardness of lower-class receivers I have tested.
  On the Ole Bull Violin Concerto BD  on 2L, the violin tone  (at 24/192) was complex with most of the vivid, string-to-bow textures that I hear in good audiophile systems. The full orchestra was lush and full of life, similar to me playing the album through the TEAC UD-503 standalone DAC, which uses the same chip
  I demo’d the Dual-Disc (remember those) of Talking HeadsLittle Creatures and proceeded to play the 24/96 5.1 mix, which really opens up an already good-sounding stereo recording. The title cut with its more country feel (pedal steel guitar and little bits of Fender Stratocaster fills) was relayed convincingly through this moderately priced Anthem receiver. It helps that the surround tracks for Little Creatures was mixed intelligently — with subtle ambiance sounds and no gimmicky effects rear-channel steering you often hear in Pop/Rock surround music.
  Of course, playing the music and movies through $20,000 worth of Westlake professional cinema speakers enhances the experience. The review also proves that receivers from just a few years ago are obsolete in terms of the sonic finesse and precision, compared to this new breed of receiver that use newer DAC chips. I also believe that using a higher-current Class A/B amplifiers also heightens the result.

  With the receiver’s DSD-to-PCM conversion of my SACDs, I was not as impressed with the decoding, as I was with the MRX 720's straight PCM; the converted 24/88 sounds hi-fi enough, but not as accurate as either discrete PCM decoding or playing DSD from the Oppo’s analog outputs. In my  stereo SACD listening sessions, I preferred using the Oppo BDP-203’s DSD stereo decode/analog output, connected to the MRX 720’s analog input jacks.
  I tested the DTS Play-Fi wireless playback function  with the MRX, downloading the app from the Google Play Store and playing several 24/192 HDtracks downloads via the onboard Android phone. You can play lossless FLACs and WAV files, as well as MP3 and AAC lossy music. From my Android phone, I enjoyed some Linda Ronstadt and Eagles classic album in 24 bit. You can play from phone or tablet storage, a network drive, or stream from Pandora or Spdify.

MRX 720 features DTS Play-Fi wireless streaming

  I listened through the main speakers and a zone speaker set up — one floor up using  my Legacy Studio HD stand speakers. The sound was as good as wired sources, especially with the receiver's brilliant amp section and 24-bit audio.

The verdict
  Out of the box, I was impressed with the MRX 720’s audio and video performance and a tight band of features and easy set up and operation. The longer I used it, the better I liked the MRX. The awesome audio quality for a moderately priced receiver is to be commended. I have not been excited about a surround receiver in some time. For movies and music, the MRX 720 will fill the needs of majority of its intended users. Even those with are inclined to buy separates will love this receiver.
  If you are in the market for a new surround receiver that is not that expensive, but sounds like it is comprised of better separates, this is your receiver. As stated early in the review we are bestowing a Everything Audio Network Stellar Sound Award and a nomination for  an 2017 EAN Product of The Year in the receiver category. I know it is early in the year, but the MRX 720 is a note-worthy, high-performance receiver.

   John Gatski has been evaluating consumer, audiophile, home cinema and professional audio gear since 1988. In 1995, he created Pro Audio Review, and he has written for Audio, Laserviews, Enjoy The Music, The Audiophile Voice, High Performance Review, Radio World and TV Technology. Everything Audio Network is based in Kensington, Md. Articles on this site are the copyright of the ©Everything Audio Network. Any unauthorized use, via print or Internet, without written permission is prohibited. John Gatski can be reached via email:


Phil T said...

I''m confused about the DSD conversion to PCM done by the Anthem. I have an Oppo also. I thought the Oppo converts DSD to PCM if it determines that the receiver doesn't decode DSD. So are you evaluating the PCM sent by the Oppo to the anthem or is the anthem taking a DSD stream from the Oppo and doing the pcm conversion? Is the result the same resolution?

John Gatski said...

Anthem MRX-720 converts DSD stream via HDMI to 24/88.1 kHz PCM in order to be able to apply the Anthem digital processing and EQ. You can send the Oppo DSD stream (selectable in the menu), but the receiver converts it to PCM. You can select PCM via HDMI from the Oppo, but it is just converting it before the receiver gets it. Same result. My point was that the Anthem cannot decode native DSD in multichannel or stereo. You can only play native DSD from an external player with stereo analog output connected to Anthem stereo input. Also, no Anthem multichannel inputs to get a multi-channel DSD via analog connection.

Hope this helps.


Anonymous said...

Hi John

In addition to the missing amplifiers for the overhead speakers is there any other differences between the mrx 720 and the mrx 1120? There is a $1k price difference betweeen the two. Is the price difference worth it to buy the 1120? Or should I buy the 720 and purchase a cheaper amp for the four overhead atmos speakers?