Since its introduction five years ago, Anthem's MRX line of AV receivers has followed a pretty tried-and-true good/better/best approach, with basic 5.1-channel offerings at the bottom (MRX 300/310), solid 7.1-channel offerings in the middle (MRX 500/510), and more powerful 7.1 models at the top of the line (MRX 700/710). This year, though, Anthem is bucking that trend with the third generation of MRX receivers. Gone is the MRX 3xx model, for one thing. The lineup now commences with the $1,399 MRX 520 (a 5.1 model that also supports 5.1-channel preouts), extends through the $2,499 MRX 720 (as before, a beefy 7.1-channel receiver that now features 11.1-channel preouts), and culminates in the $3,499 MRX 1120--which, in case you hadn't guessed, boasts a full 11 channels of amplification (!!!) and support for Dolby Atmos (and DTS:X via a future firmware update later this year), all in a chassis that's no bigger than any MRX receiver before it.
Let's pause for a moment and reflect on that fact. Eleven channels of amplification--enough to power a complete 7.1.4 object-based surround sound system--in a box that measures a mere 6.5 inches (or 4U) tall. That makes it a good deal more compact than even the nine-channel receivers I've put hands on to date, which forces one to ask the obvious question: is Anthem skimping on power to squeeze so many amplified channels into one little box that formerly housed seven amplified channels at most?
The short answer: no, not where it counts. The long answer? It's a creative one. The MRX 1120's five main amplified channels (left, right, center, surround left, surround right) are Class AB, 140 watts each into eight ohms and 170 watts into six ohms. The other channels (the surround backs and four overhead channels, as they would likely be configured in most systems) are Class D, 60 watts each into eight ohms and 75 watts into six ohms. This is Anthem doing the reporting, by the way, which tends to be quite conservative, so take that for what you will. In the real world, 140 Anthem watts tend to be worth a lot more than 140 watts from your average Japanese AV receiver manufacturer.
Anthem has also packed the MRX 1120 with the latest and greatest in terms of video connectivity, which is an impressive feat for any non-Japanese electronics manufacturer. Six of its HDMI inputs (there's a total of seven 'round back and one up front) are 2.0a with HDCP 2.2 compliance, meaning that the receiver fully supports 4:4:4 chroma subsampling at 4K/60 (18.2 Gbps), High Dynamic Range (HDR), and BT.2020 from front to back. Video processing is a thing of the past, though; whatever video signal you feed it is exactly what it passes along to your display, with no options for scaling, noise reduction, or the like. That's all well and fine because analog video inputs of any sort are also a thing of the past (and I write that with every possible connotation in mind). #HDMIorBust
In terms of audio processing, this year's MRX models have been given quite a boost, with new 768-kHz/32-bit Differential-Output D/A converters. Intriguingly, the MRX 1120 and 720 also act as DTS Play-Fi receivers; so, if you've bought into that ecosystem (perhaps by way of sister company Paradigm's Premium Wireless Series PW AMP or any number of other compatible standalone speakers), the MRX 1120 and its sibling can act as part of your larger whole-home wireless music system.
That inclusion does somewhat relieve the need for second-zone capabilities, but the MRX 1120 still has them, and quite configurably so, with your choice of powered or line-level outputs. In fact, "quite configurable" is a description that could apply to just about all aspects of the MRX line, then and now. Although the overall setup process hasn't gotten any easier in the move from second generation to third--which is to say that I would never recommend the line to my friends who just want to plug in a piece of gear and expect it to work to its fullest potential--once all the setting up is done, the MRX 1120, like its forebears, remains one of the most hands-off receivers I've auditioned.
For the uninitiated, the most daunting aspect of the MRX 1120's setup will likely be its Anthem Room Correction configuration process. If you're already familiar with ARC (especially as implemented in the Gen 2 MRX receivers), feel free to skip over the next few paragraphs. The only significant difference that you're likely to notice is the fact that ARC has expanded to handle more channels. Because duh.
If you're new to Anthem, though, you should know that ARC isn't like your typical room correction and calibration system. First off, the software itself isn't built into the receiver. It's a downloadable program for Windows (sorry, OS X and Linux folks!) that works in conjunction with a high-quality USB microphone, which attaches to the same computer you use to run the software. [Editor's note: Right after publication of this review, Anthem introduced ARC Mobile for iOS; you can get more details here.] Said computer must be on the same network as the MRX 1120, but no special connectivity is required. Wireless or wired LAN is fine, since ARC doesn't work in the time domain.
Granted, that means ARC doesn't calculate delays, so you'll need to use a tape measure to figure out the distances from your main seat to all of the speakers in your system. Don't worry about getting any more precise than the nearest foot because that's as precise a measurement as the MRX 1120 allows (or, if you live anywhere in the civilized world other than the U.S., Liberia, or Burma, you can round to the nearest 30 centimeters).
All that said, running ARC (once you've got the software loaded and the microphone in place) can be as simple or in-depth as you choose. Simply run your measurements in five positions, press the Calculate button, and then upload the results to your receiver, and you're pretty much guaranteed to have a fantastically improved sound system that ameliorates bass anomalies in your room and leaves alone the sense of space, soundstage, timbre, etc. That's primarily because, by default, ARC doesn't apply any equalization above 5,000 Hz, and it spends the bulk of its resources on the sub and lowest extents of your main speakers' bass capabilities. (For more information on why I think that's a good thing, check out our article Automated Room Correction Explained.)
Dig deeper into the Target tab of the software, though, and you have all sorts of parameters related to the equalization and bass management of your speaker system that are yours for the fiddling. You can, for example, set a Max EQ frequency anywhere between 200 and 5,000 Hz. (I generally set this to 500 Hz or thereabouts, depending on the speakers attached--although during the process of this review, whenever there were Atmos speakers involved, I left it at the default 5,000 Hz.) You can also tweak the subwoofer high pass order, subwoofer high pass frequency, minimum subwoofer EQ frequency, room gain, and more. And every time you tweak one of these numbers, you can see exactly what sorts of effects it will have on the response of your speakers in a graph on the right side of the screen.
Even if you know exactly what you're doing, chances are high that any additional improvements to the sound of your system will be minimal as compared with ARC's default calculations; but, if you're spending $3,499 for a receiver, chances are just as high that diminishing returns are right up your alley.
Another neat thing is that you can measure and store up to four separate speaker configurations and assign individual speaker configurations to different inputs. This could come in handy for a few different reasons. Say you have a complete Atmos setup with 7.1 channels on the ground and four overhead. That's great for Blu-ray watching, but what about when you switch over to TV? Do you need overhead speakers to enjoy WeatherNation? You don't. So you could easily run measurements for a 7.1.4 system, then run your measurements again for a 5.1 system with the exact same speakers in place, assign the latter configuration to your TV input and the former to your Blu-ray player input, and effectively have two (or three or four) different speaker system configurations. You can also set default sound modes for each input individually, both for incoming two-channel and multichannel sources. For my TV, for example, I like to have two-channel sources run through Anthem's own AnthemLogic-Cinema processing. For my Blu-ray player, I prefer two-channel audio to be processed by Dolby. Incidentally, you can also use the different speaker profiles to account for things like a drop-down projection screen that's only used for certain sources, or even for different main seating positions. But it's also worth nothing that you're not limited to just one "input" for your TV. Inputs on the MRX series are configurable, so you could have two, three, or however many inputs that all draw audio and video from the HDMI 1 port. Or video from HDMI 1 and audio from a stereo analog or digital audio input.
These are just a few examples of what I mean when I say that setting up the MRX 1120 can be a task if you let it be, but it also rewards that upfront effort by making day-to-day operation pretty much idiot-proof. In a way, it's almost like programming a smart home system. Or, of course, you can skip all that and switch modes yourself during day-to-day use as you see fit.
As for the specifics of my system, I relied primarily on a KEF Q Series 5.1 system that was already connected to my old Anthem MRX 710 (for the sake of minimizing variables in my testing), augmented by a quartet of GoldenEar Technology SuperSat 3 speakers mounted on the ceiling. At no point did I connect rear surrounds for the complete 7.1.4 experience because rear speakers just make the complete opposite of sense, given the layout of my room and how closely I sit to the back wall.
For sources, I relied on my Dish Network Joey and Oppo BDP-93 Blu-ray player connected via HDMI, as well as a Roku Stick connected to the rear-panel MHL-capable input (the front HDMI input is also MHL-capable, for a total of two). I also connected my Control4 EA-1 entertainment and automation controller via HDMI and made the necessary adjustments in the MRX 1120's setup menus to allow for powering on the system and controlling it via IP.
I did run into a few hiccups with the network setup, mostly when I was adding the MRX 1120 to my Play-Fi ecosystem. At one point I got stuck during the setup process and ended up having to do a complete factory reset on the 1120 because, for some reason, the receiver stopped responding to IP control altogether after it hung up during the Play-Fi setup. But after the reset, everything behaved, Play-Fi setup went smoothly, and I haven't had any issues since.
Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...
"But, Dude!" I hear you saying, "back up. You kinda glossed over some huge info in the intro. Back and height channels with half the power of their main-channel counterparts? Huh?"
I hear you there. Which is the main reason why I immediately threw the most demanding Atmos disc I own at the MRX 1120 right from the giddy-up, rather than easing into my evaluation as I normally would.
The Ultimate Edition of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (Warner Home Video) is as much an assault on the senses as it is an insult to comic book fans, and I imagine I'll be suffering through chapter 13 as Atmos demo material at trade shows for the next year. Simply put, this battle between Batman, Wonder Woman, Superman, and "Doomsday" (which I put in mocking quotes for a reason) is an unrelenting mix of thunderous bass, aggressive surround sound mixing, and over-the-top object-based fury. If any disc had a chance of tripping up the MRX 1120 or revealing the weakness of its Class D effects channels, this is the one. Even when I pushed the system a little above reference listening levels in my 13- by 15- by 8-foot secondary listening room, the overhead channels more than held their own, filling the overhead space with so many whizzing, whooshing, zooming, and booming sound effects that I didn't even bother to try cataloging them all.
Generally speaking, when reviewing Atmos-capable receivers, I spend a day or so testing just to make sure that they work as they should and then I revert to a 5.1 setup for the remainder of my testing. Normally I just don't have much to say about the impacts of overhead speakers on the performance of a receiver. The MRX 1120 is a little different, though. One of the things I've always loved about Anthem's MRX receivers is the palpable sense of space they create--the fact that the soundfield is less like five discrete points of sound and more like a continuous ring of audio around the room. Never have I been disappointed by my MRX 710's ability to immerse me in an environment, rather than merely filling my room with sound.
That same characteristic applies to the MRX 1120's Atmos capabilities, just extended into the Z axis. More so than any other Atmos receiver I've tested here at home, it created a legitimate bubble of hard-hitting sound that seemed to defy speaker placement. And never once throughout the course of this dreadful movie did I feel that the Class D overhead channels in any way struggled to keep up with the cacophony pouring out of their Class AB, ear-level counterparts.
Another thing that Batman v Superman revealed is the MRX 1120's exceptional bass performance, which is no great surprise given that it features amongst the best bass management and correction capabilities of any receiver I've auditioned. My notes on the deep, penetrating, room-filling, but controlled bottom end in this film only counted as observation in isolation, though, since I haven't watched the movie with any other receivers in place. So I next popped in the Director's Cut of Hellboy on Blu-ray (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment), not just because it's a longtime favorite but because it's literally the last film I had watched on my MRX 710 connected to the same KEF speaker system used in this review, so my impressions were relatively fresh.
Right off the bat, I felt at home with the MRX 1120's sonic delivery of the film. Skipping forward to chapter 13, when Hellboy catches the grenade belt tossed at him by Agent Myers, the echo of the catch reverberated through the room with exactly the same precision I remembered from my MRX 710 receiver. What's more, the jingling of the grenades hanging from Hellboy's shoulder sparkled and penetrated the space between us with exactly the level of detail I've known and loved for nearly three years now.
At the risk of spoiling the finale of the film for those of you who haven't seen it, let's just say that those grenades eventually go off. And when they did, I found myself thinking that the bass was even more controlled, more forceful, and more natural than I remembered with my MRX 710--if only by a weensy bit. A quick look at the ARC files on my computer seemed to confirm as much. The measurements for the five main channels looked virtually identical between the two setups, but that of the subs didn't. So I shot off a quick email to Anthem's Nick Platsis for some technical digging. After looking at my measurements, Platsis seemed to think that mic placement (and even sub placement) could account for some of the differences I heard, although the more advanced DSP of the 1120 could also account for some differences in the accuracy of the measurements. After chatting with him for a bit, I'm inclined to believe that there's something to the latter. The MRX 1120 does seem to have picked up on a few slight wiggles in bass response in my room that the MRX 710 smoothed over, and although the differences are subtle to say the least, they do have some measureable impact on performance.
To put it bluntly, though, even if the MRX 1120's bass performance is exactly on par with that of the MRX 710, and all of this is just a fluke (a fluke that I've repeated twice now), it still puts the new receiver in a class of its own when it comes to Atmos-capable units I've evaluated so far. Simply put, you'd be hard pressed to find better, more even-tempered, controlled and forceful bass without spending a good bit of money on physical acoustical treatments for your room. And overall, the only room correction system that gives ARC a run for its money, in my experience, is Dirac, which is a good deal more difficult to set up and run.
As for two-channel performance, I could pretty much plagiarize my review of the MRX 710 and be done with it. But where's the fun in that? I started my stereo evaluation of the MRX 1120 with Sarah Jarosz's latest CD, Undercurrent (Sugar Hill), with particular emphasis on track three, "House of Mercy." I gravitated toward that track in particular because it's a tough one to get right. It's delicate yet dynamic, with a deceptive density given the sparcity of its instrumentation: a mere two acoustic guitars and one double bass.
The MRX 1120 not only revealed the big mix in all its glory, but it did so while uncovering every ounce of subtle detail in the track: the scrape of the bow against the bass strings in the intro; the sympathetic rattle of guitar strings un-strummed but not muted. And through it all, Sarah's voice was unleashed on the room with rock-solid solidity of imaging and perfect tonal balance, not to mention delicious dynamic punch.
I only hesitate to call the MRX 1120's stereo performance "perfect" out of fear that Anthem will top it with its inevitable fourth-generation MRX lineup and I'll have to eat my words, because only Gouverneur Morris could pull off such linguistic shenanigans as "more perfect" with a straight face, and I am no Gouverneur Morris.
In terms of streaming audio performance, the MRX 1120 also excels. In addition to its Play-Fi capabilities, it also supports Spotify Connect, and the connection is pretty snappy indeed. Switching from a video source to the Spotify Connect (or Play-Fi) source is nearly instantaneous, and sound quality is excellent.
I do still have some issues with Play-Fi (although it has continued to improve in terms of reliability and features since launch), mostly the fact that it still isn't capable of gapless playback. So I find it infuriating when streaming my massive collection of live Grateful Dead bootlegs and official releases. But the implementation of it here is just as good as any of the standalone Play-Fi devices in and around my home.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record (as I do in virtually every review of an MRX Series receiver), I still find the remote control a major disappointment for a number of reasons. My main complaint is that it doesn't allow you to directly access inputs or sound modes. If you want to switch from Input 1 to Input 2, for example, you have to press the Input button and scroll through an onscreen menu, then press Select. Thankfully, as I said above, the receiver itself is so tweakable during the setup process that you'll likely need the remote for nothing more than switching inputs and adjusting volume (if that; it's also likely that most people in the market for a receiver of this caliber also have an advanced control system, or at the very least a universal remote).
Another legitimate beef you might have is that the MRX lineup still lacks 7.1-channel analog inputs, which I know will put it right out of the running for some people. It's a little harder to complain about the lack of such with the MRX 1120, given that there simply isn't room for such inputs on its back panel, what with the chassis being as compact as it is, but there you have it.
Lastly, the MRX 1120 still requires the use of a USB flash drive for firmware upgrades, despite its Ethernet connection. Network upgrade capabilities are pretty much taken for granted in connected receivers these days, so the lack thereof stands out as a bit of an anachronism here. That said, the upgrade process is pretty painless, assuming you have a spare flash drive lying around.
Comparison and Competition
Given that most Atmos/DTS:X-capable receivers max out at nine channels of amplification, the MRX 1120 doesn't have a lot of real competition for those of you in the market for 11 powered channels without bringing your own amps to the party. The Onkyo TX-NR3030 ($2,399) and Integra DTR-70.6 ($2,800) are obvious alternatives; however, being last year's models, neither supports DTS:X as the MRX 1120 will later this year. Both are also staggeringly tall (roughly twice the height of the Anthem) and rely on Onkyo's proprietary AccuEQ for room correction, which is certainly easier to set up than ARC but doesn't give equivalent results (although I like the results better than Audyssey). They also feature built-in Bluetooth connectivity and much more in terms of streaming audio support.
I'll be the first to admit that I painted myself into a corner of sorts in my review of Anthem's MRX 710, especially in praising the company for eschewing features in favor of pure sonic bliss. Here we are just a few years later, and Anthem has released a new flagship that might not exactly fall under the umbrella of "feature packed," but the addition of Play-Fi capability, Spotify Connect support, and this newfangled Dolby Atmos thing that all the cool kids are talking about certainly expands Anthem's MRX feature set by a lot.
That's okay, though, because in adding those features Anthem didn't lose sight of the fact that performance comes first. I imagine the addition of Class D amplification for the effects channels will raise some eyebrows, but to be blunt about it, had I not been curious about how the company managed to pack so many powered channels into such a small box and done some technical digging, I never would have suspected the creative amp configuration from listening alone.
Simply put, the MRX 1120 is kind of in a class of its own right now. At the very least, I'm drawing a complete blank when trying to think of any other 11.2-channel receivers that feature this level of multichannel and stereo sonic performance combined with this much customizability.�
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