Review: Anthem MRX-700 Surround Pre
In attempting to research a replacement AVR for one of my rooms, I have noted there are not very many real reviews out there on the Anthem MRX series of AVRs. With so much hype about the release of the MRX-700, MRX-500 and MRX-300, you would think someone would be doing lots of reviews, but they just haven’t surfaced yet. Being an AVM30, Statement A5 owner, I’ve come to expect great sounds from the Anthem products. So I bit the bullet and bought the Anthem MRX-700.
I listen to almost anything but hip-hop and rap. Most of my taste tends to run towards Diana Krall and light jazz. But in this case, the system in question was being used mostly for home theater applications.
I have two rooms in my house, the current Anthem setup is powering B&W 804S, 805S (rear) and a HTM3 with DD-12 Sub while the new MRX-700 went into a room with the old standard M&K S-150THX system, consisting of (3) S-150THX units up front, two SW-95’s in the ceiling as surrounds and the THX350 Sub. I love my B&W system, and once use to love my M&K system.
The M&K room had been powered by a Denon AVR-5800 and recently the AVR-4306. I changed to the AVR-4306 for the newer processing capabilities a few years ago. In the past the room sounded real good with the AVR-5800. But it has never really thrilled me with the AVR-4306. The AVR-4306 had real good reviews, but for me, it could never be tweaked to sound much better than "dull" sounding in the room, this despite the Audyssey MultEQ XT Auto-Setup/Room EQ, which the AVR-5800 did not have.
So given my recent mission of trying to find a better processor for this room, I thought I would offer some insight on the Anthem MRX-700 for those trying to make a decision based upon the various offerings out there in the market.
My background is in the design and production of audio electronics for recording studios. For me it’s all about the sound. If I allow myself to listen critically, I’m often not very satisfied. So these days, I want to be entertained and not have to think about the sound. With the AVR-4306, I was always focused on the poor sound quality. So, I am not coming at this from a point of absolute purity or in an esoteric way. I'm talking just pure enjoyment for enjoyments sake.
First – regarding control of the Anthem MRX-700. It comes with two remotes. The main remote is just OK, and does not give as much control over Zone 2 as one would think. Anthem seems to have relied upon the second smaller remote to provide that control. My rooms used the Universal MX850 with the MRF-300 Base. Even with the recent updates from UR, no universal remote codes are available, nor are they available on any site I could find. So given I have a AVM30 and was familiar with UR programming…I thought I would offer files with the codes suitable for the MRX300, 500 and 700 AVRs to the site www.remotecentral.com in 2 versions. I do not know if they are posted in the file section as of this date, but you can look if you are seeking such codes for the Universal Remotes – MX Editor mxf/mxd files.
The radio section is ok, not great. Seems to lock in ok to most signals, but for the HD, it takes a second or two to capture the HD band and then the radio brightens up. In my market everything is so compressed, it’s just background for me anyway. Have not used the networked portion as of this date – so I cannot comment.
Regarding ARC – I have not dug really deep into the manual control of the ARC portion, but have used it and gone through it several times in the automatic setup modes and will give you my impressions compared to other methods.
Using ARC was about as time consuming as using Audyssey MultEQ, but with a few advantages, and a couple of disadvantages:
1. As you may have read, the mic and stand it comes with are without peer – very impressive. The USB cable for the mic is a bit shorter than the serial cable that is required to be hooked up during the process. If you want to record a position where you might be standing rather than sitting in the room, the mic stand will not go to that height – its geared for sitting situations.
2. The MRX-700 can assign two curves that ARC calculates based upon source. One curve is for MOVIE mode, the other for MUSIC. This is nice in that you can select the mode based upon the source mode. Inherently in the Anthem ARC automatic algorithm is a modest bump in the low end for the MOVIE mode, less so in the music mode. The system does not look at anything over 5K, and appears to drop off ever so slightly from 5K and up.
3. The resulting curve after calibration for either mode make most source material reasonably easy to listen once complete and to my ear, is a better - smoother curve than what I had in past with Audyssey EQ results - especially in the lower mid bass registers. It takes about 15 minutes to record 5 positions (you can record up to 10). With a pretty good laptop, it takes about another 6 minutes to upload the data and reset the AVR. All told, setup and calibration for both the Movie and Music mode could take about 30 minutes. Each mode allows you to pick the qualtiy of speakers you wish to use in each mode - for example - I use just L, R and Sub in MUSIC mode. You can manually adjust portions of the outcome, but I found little need to do so. For a sophisticated ear the results are OK, but not spectacular in automatic mode. Hence the Manual mode.
4. ARC like Audyssey MultEQ can EQ the subwoofer and automatically set its cross over point. On my MK 150/350THX system, it moved this cross-over point higher than 80HZ so the subwoofer now has an element of directionality to it – meaning you can here its location in the 90Hz range – however, the overall sound in my room, despite this is smoother overall. To my ear I always thought the S-150THX speakers were challenged at 80Hz, I guess the ARC system thought so too.
Overall, ARC is a pretty simple/stupid/foolproof way for someone to make a poorly sounding room sound pretty darn good. Last spout I had with the Audyssey MultEQ did not provide as good a result. I actually liked Pioneers MCACC
method better than Audyssey, but ARC was superior for results and time to my ear. I imagine if I wanted to take the time to dig even deeper into ARC’s abilities it could be tweaked very well and remove the directionality of the sub.
One major advantage of ARC is an ability to record and save several iterations of curve plots and reload them at most any time if you want to invest about 30 minutes a pop to get out the laptop and tweak the system.
Bottom line – ARC is a good decent tool that gives a very smooth curve that has been preprogrammed to give you a slight bottom emphasis in your listening environment – it does not produce a so-called “flat” curve – which is what I am use to coming from the recording studio environment.
Overall, love the purchase, video switching is fast, up scaling and transitions between different TV show aspect ratios is fast and without any hiccups. On the Elite PRO1130 – 720p/1080i is the limit – so I cannot comment on the 1080p performance.
The Denon was very slow in this regard, even with component cable to the Denon and HDMI to the Elite, several drop outs occurred, especially between TV commercials or resolution changes.
Preamp/processor steering is exceptional compared to the Denon product it replaces – subtle difference in sound without ARC, major difference in sound between ARC and Audyssey MultEQ – advantage ARC.
I have 6 negatives about the product:
1. The software it ships with is not current and requires three uploads to bring up to current status – this takes about 25 minutes total. You are required to have a serial port from your computer, one that supports 2 stop bits. I could not get a USB to serial cable to work. Anthem lists two that should work, I did not have either – neither was available locally in my market. What I did have was a lap top with a true serial port and it worked flawlessly without any adjustments.
2. With a subwoofer plugged into the pre out position, a fairly predominant “pop” is heard upon turning the power on and often can be heard between source material changes and powering down. I have the MRX700 set as the last item to come on and the last item to be turned off. The sub was ARC’d without any filters employed, volume in the full on position (as directed in the manual). I don’t know if this is normal or not – I’m seeking an answer on this from Anthem. I cannot recall ever having an amp do this in the past – I see no other means of wiring the sub than to a line level output (part of the 8 pre puts).
3. No 7.1 Analog inputs.
4. Not all that attractive compared to other offerings (i.e. Marantz SR7005, or quite a few others to my eye).
5. The sliding door on the front to gain access to the front ports cannot be opened by hand, it requires a small screw driver because it sort of locks into the closed position – at least it does on mine.
6. Almost everything on the market in this price range has more I/O to utilize. The lack of 7.1 Analog Input may put a few off, but I found the lack of I/O somthing that was not as important as the amp quality and stability given the 4-ohm nominal impedance of these speakers.
The resulting change by adding the MRX-700 has been a pretty good upgrade for this M&K S-150THX system. I have read one review where they stated “the performance we experienced was really close to what we’ve experienced from pre-amp and mono-block amplifier configurations”. I think that’s a stretch from my experience. What it is - is a very strong sounding receiver, it’s not separates quality.
Evidence of this is that deep bass that was present with the much older AVR-5800 is a little lacking, but the mid bass is much smoother and improved over the AVR-4306 it replaces. I think much of the lack of bass is a result of the AVR-5800 have almost twice the available wattage. So one should be a little careful about what the efficiency rating is on their speakers. This is no A5, but it is a strong receiver, and it’s a little forward sounding on my system – but that’s what I wanted for home theater sound.
I have to admit I struggled a great deal with which AVR to purchase. I have read so many negative comments out there on all the various forums about recent vintage AVR’s and software bugs.
I narrowed it down to three – the Integra DTR-70.2, Marantz SR7005 and the Anthem MRX-700. I called the dealers (I’ve known for many years) and told them I would by any one of these they recommended. They steered me towards the Anthem mainly due to the reviews of ARC. The Integra’s were ruled out because in my limited space I was concerned about heat – the Anthem runs fairly cool – the Integra does not. Marantz had a warm tone, I was concerned about the pairing with the M&K.
With the software upgrades fully implemented, there are no bugs that have popped up and I am happy with the Anthem MRX-700. I think the only thing that would have been a clear step up from this point would be seperates.
M&K THX 150 system, consisting of 3 S-150THX units up front, two SW-95’s in the ceiling as surrounds and the THX350 Sub.
Pioneer Elite SC-37 (very warm), the Denon AVR-5800 (great match), AVR- 4306 (dull). I also auditioned the Integra DTR-50.2 and DTR-70.2, Yamaha Avantage 2000 and the Marantz SR7005 & SR6005