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...