Anthem MRX 700 AV Receiver Reviewed

Anthem MRX 700 AV Receiver Reviewed

Andrew Robinson was a little skeptical about the Anthem MRX 700 AV receiver, thinking that the price and features didn't quite add up. But after he put the receiver through its paces, he saw that the MRX 700 is greater than the sum of its parts.

Anthem_MRX_700_AV_receiver_review_angled.jpgThe 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.

Additional Resources
• Read more AV Receiver reviews written by Home Theater Review's staff.
• Explore Blu-ray players in our Blu-ray Player Review section.
• Search for LED HDTVs and Plasma HDTVs to pair with the MRX 700.

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.



Anthem_MRX_700_AV_receiver_review_rear.jpgThe Hookup
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.



Performance
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.

Read more about the performance of the MRX 700 AV receiver on Page 2.

Anthem_MRX_700_AV_receiver_review_front.jpgNext, 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 Downside
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.

Conclusion
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
receiver.

Additional Resources
• Read more AV Receiver reviews written by Home Theater Review's staff.
• Explore Blu-ray players in our Blu-ray Player Review section.
• Search for LED HDTVs and Plasma HDTVs to pair with the MRX 700.



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