"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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