Anthem MRX 700 AV Receiver Reviewed
By: Andrew Robinson,
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Next, I cued up The Dark Knight on Blu-ray (Warner Brothers) and started with the opening scene where Joker, played by the late Heath Ledger, masterminds an ambitious bank robbery with a team of thugs. I went ahead and turned up the volume a bit to see if the MRX 700 could recreate a theater-like surround sound experience; it could and it did. Everything about the MRX 700's sound was dimensional and organic. Gunshots took on a visceral quality, one that was as violent as the action unfolding on the screen. Dialog was crystal clear even when marred by cheap, costume clown masks. Once again the MRX 700's vast soundstage and phenomenal surround sound performance was on full display dishing out a full, 360-degree soundfield that was densely packed with sound cues ranging from the faint cries and whimpers of the hostages to the AC humming away inside the bank itself. Bass was again textural and nuanced though still lacking that bit of oomph that I expect from shots such as the one of the harpoon gun bursting through the glass in the film's opening seconds. Hans Zimmer's score, especially the tense and offputting "Joker Theme" was presented beautifully despite its anarchist nature.
To test the MRX 700's 3D capabilities I fired up Resident Evil: Afterlife 3D on Blu-ray (Sony). Right off the bat the MRX 700 identified the 3D signal and locked onto it without incident. From there it was smooth sailing with the MRX 700, affecting the 3D image nil. I tried Tron: Legacy in 3D (Disney) on Blu-ray as well and experienced similar results. Whether I was watching 3D content or 2D content, the MRX 700's video performance was tantamount to a pane of glass, for it simply passed the signal along to my LG 3D HDTV without introducing any imperfections or anomalies - precisely what you want in an AV receiver. When it came to standard definition material the MRX 700's internal video processing proved to be a welcomed addition, providing slightly increased sharpness and detail while lessening noise and smoothening motion. I'm not going to say the MRX 700 cleaned up SD material, enough for it to pass as HD but it did polish it up a little bit.
As for music, the MRX 700 was again a capable performer, possessing the same neutrality I found while watching some of my favorite Blu-rays. When I cued up my playlist of demo tracks on my AppleTV, the MRX 700 proved to be Switzerland in terms of its musical preferences, presenting each track with the same care and attention to detail as you would expect a high-end, audiophile product to do, not an affordable AV receiver. Even lower resolution downloaded music was given its due and in some instances was made better thanks to Anthem's proprietary AnthemLogic-Music DSP.
Tracks such as "Seville" off the Mission Impossible 2 soundtrack (Hollywood Records) were presented brilliantly via the MRX 700. The MRX 700's soundstage was downright cavernous, possessing startling width and ample depth with tremendous detail and air throughout. The MRX 700's dynamic prowess was on full display, with each driving heel and clap of the Flamenco dancers' hands ringing true with terrific weight and scale. The dueling guitars sounded decidedly analog and organic with good texture and air throughout. Even subtle details such as the vibrations of the strings could be heard with the right loudspeakers, in my case the efficient M-Lores.
All in all and with the right loudspeakers I found the Anthem MRX 700 to be rather ambidextrous, able to faithfully present both music and movies with aplomb, regardless of their genre or quality.
The Anthem MRX 700 is one hell of a fine receiver and one definitely worthy of consideration provided you keep in mind the following: for starters, the MRX 700's power output when paired with less efficient loudspeakers is a little underwhelming. To combat this I recommend pairing the MRX 700 with loudspeakers in excess of 90 to 92dB in order to fully recreate the cinema experience at home. As luck would have it, Paradigm makes such a loudspeaker, in fact they make several that should mate wonderfully with any of the MRX AV receivers - especially the MRX 700. Another work around to the MRX 700's lack of power for some speakers would be to utilize it in small to medium rooms and to pair with a more powerful multi-channel amp, like Anthem's own P5, when utilizing it in larger ones.
Another issue to keep in mind with regards to the MRX 700 is its lack of HDMI inputs, which stands at four. Most AV receivers around and even below the MRX 700's asking price often pack five or more HDMI inputs. While I was able to get away with four, for most of my review period it also wasn't hard for me to max them out as soon as I wanted to get my PS3 on. Also, there are several AV receivers at or around the MRX 700's price that offer dual HDMI outputs.
Speaking of lack of inputs, some will probably miss the MRX 700's lack of analog multi-channel inputs. Personally their omission didn't bother me but I have to imagine an Oppo BDP-95 customer to be a bit sour on the missing analog multi-channel inputs, having just paid a premium to have multi-channel outputs on their brand new universal player.
Lastly, I still don't like that Anthem makes you have to rely on a PC in order to utilize their ARC EQ software. I know PCs are still the dominant computer on the market but that doesn't mean that those of us who choose to side with Mac should be punished. I'm not certain how cost prohibitive it would be to author the ARC software to be Mac-friendly but with a company as large as Paradigm/Anthem I'd have to imagine it's possible. More than that, why isn't the software housed internally or on a USB stick so that the only thing you have to interface with is the MRX 700 itself? I love the calibrated microphone and heavy-duty stand but the rest of the ARC system, aside from its performance of course, feels a bit last minute with regards to its user friendliness. Still, at least it's not Audyssey's Pro Installer Kit which suffers the same PC-only fate yet never comes included with the products it's installed in - in fact, it's a $500 up-charge.
Competition and Comparison
There's an AV receiver for every taste and budget but in the $1,500 to $2,000 price range. Some comparable receivers worth considering are Pioneer's Elite SC-35 and SC-37 AV receivers at $1,600 and $2,200 respectively. Both feature 140-Watts of total power, are 3D capable and have six HDMI inputs and two HDMI outputs. The SC-37 also has the same Internet connectivity and music options as the MRX 700.
Another receiver to consider is Denon's AVR 4311CI, which at $2,099.99 is only marginally more expensive than the MRX 700, though it offers up nine channels of amplification along with dual subwoofer outs, not to mention more power at 140-Watts. The Denon also has the most HDMI inputs at seven, all of them 3D compatible as are its dual HDMI outs. The Denon takes Internet connectivity to the next level too by offering AirPlay capability.
Though, if you're looking for a performance first oriented AV receiver as opposed to one only interested in logos and feature whoring, take a peek at NAD's T 757 AV receiver, which at $1,599 is a little cheaper than the MRX 700, though the two are more evenly matched. The T 757 dishes out a little less power at 60-Watts per channel, all channels driven though its dynamic envelope are rated to 137-Watts short term. Outside of power, the two receivers feature largely the same inputs and options, though the T 757 employs a modular construction, which, in theory, allows it to be upgraded easily making it, more or less, future proof. Again, that's the theory.
Of course you can read all about the above-mentioned AV receivers as well as others on Home Theater Review's AV Receiver page.
I must admit I was a bit perplexed by the MRX 700 AV receiver at first, for right off the bat it appears to be a touch over-priced, low on power and packing half of the bells and whistles that many of its competition. However having lived with it now for a few weeks I think I understand it's appeal, for while it is undoubtedly an AV receiver, it's somewhat the anti-receiver. The MRX 700 is the AV receiver for the enthusiast who's had it up to their eyeballs with the latest "features" they're forced to pay for but never use. It's the AV receiver for the enthusiast who puts absolute sonic performance first and foremost and everything else second for that's precisely what the MRX 700 does - puts performance first.
While it may be a bit down on power (with certain loudspeakers) and lacking perhaps one or two HDMI inputs, the MRX 700 doesn't make any excuses, instead it tackles its shortcomings head-on by being incredibly musical, easy to use and above all decidedly more high end in terms of the features you do want (and use) than most all of the competition I've encountered. In fact, I look at the MRX 700 not so much as an AV receiver but as an audiophile grade multi-channel integrated amp that happens to do 3D.
Aside from the MRX 700 as a stand-alone AV receiver, I found it to be one hell of a capable AV preamp, which at $2,000 makes it a relative bargain in comparison to Anthem's other AV preamps. However, if you want to utilize the MRX 700 as an AV preamp you can save yourself even more by going with one of the lesser MRX receivers such as the MRX 300 or 500, for both offer largely the same features as the 700 yet cost less due to their lower power ratings.
Regardless of how you choose to implement the MRX 700, the simple
fact still remains that you won't have to go far in order to find
compatible products to use with it, which is precisely why Anthem, along
with their parent company Paradigm, may just be the ultimate home
theater in a box company out there. If you're in the market for a
high-end sounding AV receiver but don't have high-end dollars to spend,
then I recommend you take a good long look at Anthem's MRX 700 AV
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