The term home theater in a box is one of those phrases that causes any true home theater enthusiast to cringe, for it's generally not a term associated with quality - especially sound quality. But what if the "box" in question wasn't a physical box but instead a manufacturer - would that change one's perception? I pose the question because Paradigm, parent company of Anthem, has become a smart stop when shopping for your home theater needs, offering loudspeakers and electronics. The latest in Paradigm's ongoing march towards total home theater domination, the Anthem MRX 700 AV receiver reviewed here. For years Anthem has been making top flight, affordable home theater electronics in the form of AV preamps and multi-channel amplifiers but never have they put the two together - until now.
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The MRX 700 retails for $2,000 and currently sits atop the Anthem's AV receiver lineup, a lineup that also includes the MRX 500 and MRX 300. All of the MRX AV receivers share the same casework; therefore have the same physical appearance, which obviously saves Anthem (and you) money, though it does make it difficult to distinguish one from the other easily. The MRX 700's front panel is decidedly receiver-esq, though it manages not to look like any other receiver on the market today. The MRX 700 is somewhat compact in comparison to some of the competition, measuring 17 and a quarter inches wide by six and a half inches tall and 15 and a quarter inches deep. The MRX 700 is the heaviest of the Anthem receivers at 35 and a half pounds.
All of the MRX receivers, including the MRX 700, are 3D-ready (via a software update), feature Anthem's award winning ARC room correction software, scale legacy sources up to 1080p60 and will decode and playback all of the modern surround sound formats including Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio. Where the MRX 700 differs from the other MRX receivers is in its power, which is rated at 120 Watts into eight Ohms when two channels are used and 90 Watts into eight Ohms when five channels are used. No rating is given for when all seven channels are used, which is odd considering the MRX 700 is a seven-channel amplifier. The MRX 700 also offers up the ability to play music via its flash drive or USB hard disc as well as Internet and HD Radio.
In terms of inputs, the MRX 700 offers up four HDMI inputs and one HDMI monitor output. It has three component and four composite video inputs, seven analog RCA style inputs, two USB inputs and five digital audio inputs (two coaxial and three optical). Missing from the MRX 700's analog audio inputs is a phono stage. As for outputs, the MRX 700 offers up component and composite video outs as well as optical and coaxial digital audio outs too. The MRX 700 also has a full 7.1 compliment of analog audio preamp outs that allow you to add an outboard multi-channel amp such as Anthem's P5 for more power. Missing from the MRX 700 is a full compliment of multi-channel analog inputs for those with older SACD players. To the right of the MRX 700's preamp outs are its seven binding posts, which can accept bare and banana terminated speaker cable. Those of you with spade terminated speaker cables will need to purchase adaptors, for the MRX 700's binding posts have a thick plastic surround at their base prohibiting them from accepting spade lugs. A few 12-volt and IR triggers, RS-232 port, Ethernet and Anthem Dock round out the MRX 700's list of inputs. The MRX 700 also has a detachable power cord as well as a single switched AC outlet.
Unpacking and installing the MRX 700 is an easy enough job for a single person for it's neither too heavy nor too complicated to go it alone. I was able to make the requisite connections to my source components, which consisted of a Sony universal Blu-ray player, Dish Network HD DVR and AppleTV via single runs of Transparent Performance HDMI cables in no time. Likewise, connecting my 50-inch LG 3D plasma was also a breeze. I used a variety of loudspeakers with the MRX 700, beginning with Bowers & Wilkins' newest PM1 bookshelf loudspeaker, followed by Magnepan's affordable wonder, the MMG, and later Tekton Design's M-Lore. I ultimately settled on the M-Lores for their high efficiency (95dB) and affordable price suited the MRX 700 well. Like all my source components, I connected all of the above-mentioned loudspeakers using Transparent Wave speaker cables. I rounded out the M-Lore's bottom end by employing one of my JL Audio Fathom f110 subwoofers, which I connected to the MRX 700's sole subwoofer preamp output.
Once everything was connected, I braced myself for the process of configuring the various inputs, which going off of memory from previous Anthem efforts wasn't going to be enjoyable. I was wrong. Unlike my last encounter with an Anthem preamp, the D2v, the MRX 700's on-screen menus were a delight to use and simple to navigate, making the process of configuring the inputs as simple as connecting the various devices themselves. Kudos to the folks at Anthem for upgrading their on-screen menus and setup architecture for I'm sure it wasn't easy given the levels of control both the D2v and MRX 700 provide the end user.
One aspect of the MRX 700's setup that was similar to that of the D2v was its use of Anthem's proprietary ARC or Anthem Room Correction software. I love ARC, I do, but I hate setting it up for right off the bat it requires me to procure several computer-oriented items I simply don't have - mainly a PC. That's right; in order to run ARC on the MRX 700 you must own or have access to a PC, preferably a laptop, running Windows 7, XP, or Vista (ugh). Those of you who prefer Macs like me will either be forced to borrow a PC from a friend or family member (like I did) or run an emulator on your beloved Mac in order to run the ARC's Windows-only program. You'll also need to ensure that your laptop PC has a serial port, which many don't, thus requiring you to buy another piece of equipment, a USB to serial converter, which sadly is not included (though Anthem did include one with my review sample).
Home Theater Magazine's Fred Manteghian recently went on record as saying, "Anthem's room equalization is geared towards getting it right rather than getting it done fast." Manteghian is correct, for the results gleamed from using ARC are nothing short of astonishing. That being said, I still argue that the home theater enthusiast looking to place an AV receiver at the heart of their home theater is doing so for a multitude of reasons, one of which has to be simplicity, a word I would not use when describing some aspects of ARC process. Outboard PCs and specialty software are fine when your dealer is doing the installing but on a $2,000 AV receiver it's kind of presumptuous - in my opinion anyway. Though it does speak to the MRX 700's value, for you're getting the same equalization capabilities found in Anthem's costlier D2v AV preamp. Also, I applaud Anthem for including the high-end calibrated microphone, stand, cables and software necessary to use ARC to its fullest potential as standard for its competition, Audyssey, does not. Okay - rant over.
Once everything is connected, the process of using ARC is no different than that of any other automated EQ system in that you use the included microphone to take measurements from various locations around your room. Once all the information is collected it's fed into the computer to be analyzed by the software resulting in (hopefully) a smoother, more accurate sound experience that is then fed into the MRX 700.
All in all, the entire process from opening the box to completing ARC took about three hours. Once completed, I let the MRX 700 break-in for a few days before sitting down for any sort of critical evaluation.
I began my evaluation of the MRX 700 with Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen on Blu-ray (Paramount). I skipped ahead to the fight between Optimus Prime and the Decepticons in the forest and right off the bat what struck me was the MRX 700's clarity and focus. Well, not right off the bat for I ended up experimenting with loudspeakers first, for my chosen PM1 bookshelf speakers from Bowers & Wilkins were not a good match for the MRX 700 - they demanded too much of the 700's, given their relative inefficiency (84 dB). The same was true for my Magnepan MMGs, which left me with my Bowers & Wilkins 800 Diamonds or Tekton M-Lores. Believing the M-Lores to be the better financial fit, I went with them for the duration of the review - a move that proved to be magical in more ways than one. Getting back to the film, the MRX 700's detail retrieval was exceptional, conjuring up and dishing out every last nuance. The metal on metal hits sounded, well, metallic and possessed all the texture, detail and sharpness one could hope for without being offensive. The MRX 700's sound leaned to the more neutral side of things, which at first came off as a little lean, for the MRX 700 doesn't overripen the bass nor does it artificially color the lower midrange. The MRX 700's bass is fast on the attack and extremely articulate, never sounding boomy or bloated, though it didn't quite possess the same weight that I'd grown accustomed to via my Integra AV preamp feeding my dual JL Audio Fathom f110s. It seems the MRX 700 favors texture and detail versus straight up slam when it comes to how it approaches bass and subwoofers. That being said, I felt the MRX 700's dynamic prowess to be exciting and appropriate to the source material -again, provided you mate it to the right speakers, which the M-Lores and their 95dB efficiency were. The MRX 700's surround sound performance was seamless and natural not to mention incredibly well balanced front to back and side to side. Spatial cues were rendered so eerily well that on more than one occasion I rose to my feet to see if I wasn't hearing something from outside my window. While the forest battle isn't exactly rife with dialog what dialog that can be heard was presented clearly.