Feature Articles & Reviews
It seems to me that most owners of Anthem’s prior lineup of audio/video receivers -- the MRX 300, 500, and 700 models -- were a confident and optimistic lot, secure in their knowledge that they had one of the finest AVRs ever made, supported by a company that cares about delivering value and service to its customers. They knew that their receiver would have a long service life for one simple reason: Anthem bases its upgrades on real improvements, not the calendar, and their new line of Performance MRX models -- the 310, 510, and 710 -- constitute a substantial advance.
You’d be amazed at how many companies decide to update a model based on an impending CEDIA Expo or Consumer Electronics Show. Imagine the marketing director in his or her lavish office, calling in the poor R&D minions from their meager laboratory: “Sales of our ZJ382 receiver have slowed. We need something new. Have it ready for the CEDIA Expo. Dismissed.” Back in the lab, the engineers try to decide what this year’s big new feature should be. “Well, we could offer Internet Radio,” one says. “We should save that for next year,” says another. “How about we hire some Apple guy to make an app for us?” “OK, but don’t make it too good. We’re going to have to have another innovation next year.”
Anthem’s first priority is high-quality sound. Despite the fact that there have been multiple updates to Dolby, DTS, 3D, and other systems since Anthem last revamped their model line, the company waited, did its research, and came up with upgrades only when it knew they sounded better. And they do. If your No.1 priority is sound quality and you want an AVR rather than a preamplifier-processor, then the MRX 710 is your puppy.
Unpacking the tank
The Performance MRX 710 ($1999 USD) weighs 31 pounds -- pretty darn svelte, compared to the receivers I’ve used recently. The Marantz SR7008 ($1999), with nine channels of amplification, weighs a bit less (28 pounds), but the Onkyo TX-NR5010 ($2999) comes in at 55 pounds, and the NAD T 787 ($3999) 56 pounds. Despite the Anthem’s reasonable weight, the MRX 710 still feels like the proverbial brick outhouse, and its packaging is equal to your most brutish UPS person. Everything is packed tight, with no room left for anything to roll around and damage something else.
Two things you’ll notice right away are the good-quality calibration microphone and its stable plastic stand. Anthem individually calibrates each mike, and provides you with a correction file on a CD-ROM. Store that disc in a safe place -- your mike will work only with the calibration file on that CD, and vice versa. The beauty of this system is that, instead of having to include an outrageously expensive mike of close to perfectly flat response, Anthem can offer a reasonably priced model that, with its calibration file, can accurately communicate with the Anthem Room Correction (ARC) software built into the MRX 710. If you’re used to the cheap mikes offered with the consumer versions of Audyssey’s software, using the Anthem system is like moving from a Subaru Impreza 2.0i to a WRX STI Limited. (If that automotive simile means nothing to you, you haven’t been watching enough of The Fast and the Furious -- on Blu-ray, with the volume cranked, those films are wonderful showpieces for a big-gun home theater.)
Anthem’s installation procedure is a model for the industry. It’s lightning fast if you use their recommended settings, but deep enough that even the most anal-retentive installation maven will find everything he or she needs.
On the rear panel are -- hallelujah -- seven HDMI inputs, up from just four on the MRX 700. Not only that, but every one of them is individually addressable -- you can put them in any order you wish -- and all seven support 3D (though who knows if the software providers will continue to do so). HDMI input 1 even supports 4K resolution. I just worked my way from top to bottom of my equipment rack: Oppo Blu-ray player in HDMI 1, Dish DVR in HDMI 2, etc. Since the MRX 710 is so easily configurable, it makes sense to write down where everything is during the install process so you don't have to pull out the receiver to check what device goes to which input. If you still have non-HDMI gear, there are five stereo pairs of analog audio inputs via RCA plugs, two coax and three optical digital inputs (which, unlike in the MRX 700, can be sent to Zone 2), two component-video inputs, a composite-video (!) input, and digital and analog audio outputs. The MRX 710 also has two HDMI outputs, both with Audio Return Channel. Thankfully, Anthem no longer makes you use the RS-232 input for updates -- instead, you use the MRX 710’s USB port. Conspicuous by their absence are balanced inputs and outputs, HD radio, and video output for Zone 2.
The circuit diagram reveals a few more interesting items. The DSP, HDMI, and video sections are all completely new. For those few brave souls who biamp their speakers, Anthem offers the ability to set aside four channels of amplification. The power supply, transformers, and amp circuits are the same -- new is Anthem’s Advanced Load Monitoring, which they describe as keeping “a constant eye on output. Voltage and current are monitored to keep output transistors within their safe operating area. A unique heatsink tunnel helps maintains cool operation. Inside the tunnel, temperature is also monitored. During normal use, the tunnel’s temperature is below the threshold at which its fan needs to turn on. In demanding situations, where the temperature rises above an initial threshold, the fan comes on at low speed. If the temperature rises above the second threshold, the fan moves into high speed. . . . This proprietary design allows MRX amplifiers not only to work harder, but work harder for longer periods without shutting down. Only in extreme situations, where speaker impedance is very low and the music level excessive, will the amplifier shut down to protect itself.” Here’s the bottom line: I couldn’t hear any fan noise, no matter how hard I pushed the MRX 710. And even though the AVR’s power rating is only 90Wpc, all channels driven, I couldn’t get it to shut down. All in all, Advanced Load Monitoring is a very nice thing to have: Cooler operating temperatures equal longer life.
Rather than use one of Audyssey’s room-optimization softwares, as do most of its competitors, Anthem’s Advanced Research Center developed Anthem Room Correction, which they believe comes closer to providing realistic sound. The MRX 710 includes the new version, ARC 1M, which allows you to save two different profiles. Regular readers of the SoundStage! Network publications often wish they could have separate systems for music and movies, even though owning two distinct systems and the real estate required can be pretty expensive. Anthem neatly solves the problem by allowing you to create a profile for each use. Techies will appreciate the fact that ARC 1M uses your computer to update its software and do the heavy number crunching to create your profiles. Installers will appreciate the fact that almost everything is configurable.
I appreciated ARC 1M’s ease and quickness, but most of all, I loved the sound. It was involving, transparent, and energetic, and the sweet spot is now big enough to give me that wonderful sound all the way across our huge sectional sofa. The days of head-in-a-vise listening from a single upright spot are gone.
I have one small quibble: Compared to the rest of the MRX 710 package, Anthem’s remote control is a letdown. There’s really nothing wrong with it; it’s just boring and bland. I wish every electronics company would buy one of NAD’s remotes to see how it’s done. I was sent one of the earliest production units of the MRX 710, and during my time with it Anthem had still not got the iOS remote-control app into production. Hopefully, that will solve the problem.
I have a general disdain for films whose raison d’être seems to be the noises of explosions and crashes. Still, there is the occasional psychological masterpiece that includes a few earsplitting scenes. Super 8 (2011) is the story of a group of teenage amateur film auteurs who gather at a location for their low-priced (i.e., Super 8) production. Early on, they talk Alice (Elle Fanning) into doing a test take, and she melts our hearts with quiet dignity. Without giving away too much, what follows is a major test of anyone’s home-theater system. J.J. Abrams directs -- as he did Mission: Impossible III (2006), the much-lauded Star Trek (2009), and Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013) -- and Steven Spielberg produces, so you can imagine the way they might use an extremely wide dynamic range to jolt us out of our seats. Another very loud section of film comes at the ending of Melancholia (2011). I won’t tell you how it ends, but suffice to say, given what director Lars von Trier is trying to evoke, deafening sound levels are definitely required. I played both of these scenes several times, trying to get the MRX 710’s Advanced Load Monitoring to kick in, but I don’t know if it did. I know I couldn’t push the receiver hard enough to get it to shut itself down. Not a single one of its other self-protective steps was ever audible -- which is exactly what we want.
At the far other end of the noise/quality ratio is The Fast and the Furious franchise -- they sure put some pressure on your amps. If you haven’t seen any of the films, start with Fast Five (2011) or Fast & Furious (2009), both directed by the exceptional Justin Lin. Some of the dialog will make you groan, but I guarantee you’ll be surprised at the quality of the action scenes. The mayhem as the stunt drivers destroy 107 cars is a staggering load on any receiver, but the MRX 710 never buckled -- in fact, its amplifier section seemed to have infinite headroom.
Given Anthem’s reputation for remarkable sound, I had high hopes for its ability with two-channel music. Sometimes it’s OK to be late to a party, and I took a long time to try out the amazing recordings from Water Lily Acoustics, the label of engineer and producer Kavichandran Alexander. For me, the breakthrough was Tabula Rasa, by Béla Fleck, V.M. Bhatt, and Jie-Bing Chen. Even via Spotify, the sound was stunning. But it made me want more, so I went searching for the CD. Sadly, it’s out of print, and the only copy I could find on Amazon was going for $130. I called Alexander to ask where I could find a copy, and he told me that he now has an agreement with Acoustic Sounds to release some of his recordings, including Tabula Rasa, as ultra-high-resolution downloads. Given that he records all Water Lily releases with the almost infinite resolution of a completely analog recording chain, I had high hopes for great sound. My favorite track on Tabula Rasa is “The Dancing Girl.” At 3:41, P. Srinivasan’s tablas pop onto the center of the soundstage, with Fleck’s banjo in the right channel and Bhatt’s mohan vina in the left. The triode tube electronics and hand-made microphones feeding 1” analog tape recorders (all designed by audio éminence grise Tim de Paravicini) with absolutely zero compression offer a wildly dynamic ride with sound that astounds. The Anthem MRX 710 presented a crystal-clear view into these amazing performances.
I tried both disc and 24-bit/192kHz download versions of Corelli’s Violin Sonatas, Op.5, by the Avison Ensemble (SACD/CD, Linn CKD-412). Linn’s legendary recording abilities really shine here. The Sonata in D Minor, No.12, “Folia,” comprises three short and lovely Adagios interspersed among an equal number of sprightly Allegros. The final Allegro offers wonderful sound, with vivid dynamics and the resinous sound of period strings. Again, the Anthem receiver was equally at home providing accurate sound for the audiophile, and the necessary switching, decoding, and picture quality demanded by the home-theater enthusiast.
Over the last two years, we’ve tried several of the finest AVRs: the Marantz 7008 ($1999), the Onkyo NR5010 ($2999), and the NAD T 787 ($3999). While each offered its own take on room correction, none impressed me as much as did Anthem’s ARC 1M. If sound quality is your primary purchasing criterion, then the Performance MRX 710 should be at the top of your list. Even if you have an MRX 700, the MRX 710’s “1M” improvements in ARC and the Advanced Load Monitoring are enough reasons to upgrade.
But sound quality isn’t most people’s sole deciding factor, and Anthem’s full-court press on all things sonic comes at a cost. I wish it had the ability to use my network for streaming services like Spotify or YouTube or Pandora. Plus, where I live, some of the best-quality and best-sounding radio comes from the digital HD stations. The MRX 710 won’t play those. I also would have been happier with a nicer remote control. Finally, I really wish Anthem had offered a video output -- preferably HDMI -- for Zone 2.
Those quibbles aside, I think that Anthem, with the Performance MRX 710, has achieved its goal of offering the finest possible sound quality.
. . . Wes Marshall
Anthem Performance MRX 710 A/V Receiver
Price: $1999 USD.
Warranty: Three years parts and labor.
205 Annagem Blvd.
Mississauga, Ontario L5T 2V1
Phone: (905) 564-1994