The category of preamps has changed a lot in the past decade or so. On the AV side of the equation, there are exciting new frontiers in room correction, seemingly constant HDMI updates, improved internal DACs, feature-rich control system drivers for the likes of Control4 and Crestron, and so much more. In the two-channel world, though, preamps haven't evolved as much, with many of the products that were sold 10 years ago still being somewhat relevant today. One exception is Anthem, who was a somewhat disruptive force in AV preamps ten years ago with the Statement product line. Today, Anthem is making waves in the stagnant pool of stereo preamps with its STR DAC-preamp.
Priced at $3,999, the Anthem STR stereo preamp isn't cheap by any measure, but considering that it includes Anthem Room Correction, a high-end internal 32-bit, DAC and the latest in analog preamp technology--as well as the coolest front faceplate complete with an TFT display for full control--it is uniquely positioned as a potential high-end audiophile value. The build quality of this Canadian-made stereo preamp is absolutely first rate and comparable with audiophile components costing many times more than the STR. The unit has other goodies, too, including bass management for two subwoofers, which is a nifty feature normally reserved for AV preamps and receivers.
The preamp can accept asynchronous USB audio up to 32-bit PCM and the latest of DSD formats, which gets the HD audio enthusiast in me excited. You can easily match levels on inputs, which is a reviewer favorite in terms of features. There is IP/RS-232 control, which allows this stereo preamp to live comfortably in a modern, smart home controlled environment. The unit comes in black or silver and can be matched to an Anthem STR power amp with the same finish starting at $5,999. I was lucky to have an Anthem STR amp to use for the review, along with a Krell Theater Seven, Parasound JC5. and others. The pairing of Anthem STR components together looks just fantastic--modern, sleek and sexy. The TFT display on the front of both the amp and preamp are total eye candy. The preamp's front panel is a little more useful for setup and input management, however.
To call the Anthem STR a preamplifier doesn't really do the component justice, as it's packed with a bunch of goodies not often found inside of a top performing stereo preamp. Some, though, are pretty standard--although much appreciated. The analog direct mode, for example, allows you to defeat all digital processing, leaving only analog filters and gain amplification. There's also a home theater bypass feature that allows the user to defeat all processing and gain control completely, such that your AV preamp or receiver can handle processing when you're watching movies and pass its signal straight through the STR, even with the power off.
Anthem doesn't ignore those still spinning vinyl, either. Far too often, AV manufacturers choose to ignore an internal phono stage from their stereo preamps, be it for greed's sake (so they can sell you another black box) or perhaps for performance's sake. The built-in phono stage in the Anthem STR includes step up amplification for both moving magnet and moving coil inputs. A number of DSP phono EQ filters are included to get the best out of your LPs, even if purists cringe. But to assuage said analog purists, the included RIAA EQ filters use such high-quality components that they achieve a +/- 0.1dB tolerance. And yes, these are completely run in the analog domain, so they still work when you push analog direct mode. Still with vinyl lovers in mind, listening modes can be set to allow one to listen to those mono LPs on either the left, right, or both speakers in mono.
On the digital side, the Anthem STR accepts most digital inputs except HDMI/ I2S. You can stream from any digital source, and the built-in DAC will work with virtually any digital source including high resolution formats like double DSD and 24-bit/192kHz. Virtual inputs allow users to setup and save up to 30 different settings for sources. I can't imagine pushing this feature anywhere near its limits, but I like the flexibility nonetheless.
Anthem also sent me a pair of the new Paradigm Persona 5F speakers along with the aforementioned Anthem STR amplifier to play with, in addition to my reference Salk Signature Soundscape 10 speakers. My reference stereo preamp is a Parasound JC2BP with an Anthem AVM 60 in use on the home theater side of things. For the duration of this review, and in every tested configuration, I relied on Wireworld interconnects and speaker cables--running XLR balanced audio connections between preamplifier and amplifier. Anthem installed its most advanced 32-bit version of ARC (Anthem Room Correction) to date before the preamp shipped. Unlike with some higher end automatic room correction programs, setting up the Anthem STR was a breeze and took less than half an hour including all connections, installing the ARC software onto my laptop, and following the onscreen instructions as well as using the included microphone. ARC might not be Trinnov in terms of total room correction power. but you don't need a Ph.D. in electrical engineering to make it work, either, which was good for this reviewer.
Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...