Anthem MRX 300 A/V Receiver
An Anthem A/V receiver? AVRs were Anathema to anthem, I mean anathema to Anthem, until recently. This company’s heart has always been in surround separates—bleeding-edge surround processors, muscle amps that live on steak and steroids. The quintessential Anthem product—to digress from the main subject for a moment—would be the P5 five-channel amplifier, basically five 325-watt monoblocks in a single gut-busting enclosure.
One power supply isn’t enough to feed this colossus, so it has five. The user plugs into two separate 15-amp outlets. When you switch one of these things on, you’d swear the lights dim in every house on the block. I haven’t yet been able to document my suspicion that the simultaneous operation of a dozen Anthem power amps triggered the Great Blackout of 2003. But consider the fact that the blackout occurred both in Ontario, Anthem’s home ground, and in parts of the United States. I trust you can add 2 plus 2.
Joking aside, who is Anthem exactly? The company started as The Parts Connection in 1987. It introduced a popular tubeamp kit in 1989 under the name of Sonic Frontiers, then progressed to finished products. The Anthem brand entered the picture in 1995 as an entry-level alternative to the Sonic Frontiers brand. The company merged with Paradigm—the formidable manufacturer that makes my reference speakers—in 1999. It got into home theater with its first surround separates in 2000. Since then, Anthem has been synonymous with high-end home theater.
The P5 is an Anthem Statement product. But there’s also a justplain-Anthem line that includes more surround processors, less powerful multichannel amps, a Blu-ray player, and in recent days, three A/V receivers—including the subject of this review, the MRX 300. While some in Anthem’s high-end audience may regard AVRs as somehow compromised, even they must admit that not everyone wants or needs a power amp capable of crashing the power grid and melting everyone’s ice cream. The MRX 300’s mission is to run five to seven speakers of reasonable sensitivity to action-movie-worthy levels.
No one will ever mistake the MRX 300 A/V receiver ($999) for a P5 amp. It is conservatively rated at 60 watts per channel into 8 ohms with five channels driven at once. With two channels driven, the rating rises to 80 watts. The MRX 300’s sister models are more powerful, with the MRX 500 ($1,499) offering 75 watts times five and 100 times two; and the MRX 700 ($1,999, reviewed in our March 2011 issue) offering 90 times five and 120 times two.
All three models have unusual and noteworthy features, some of which are licensed from Dolby Labs. Dolby Volume evens out the levels among different source components—and, even more usefully, narrows the extreme dynamic range of movie material, making it easier to reconcile loud effects with soft dialogue. Dolby Virtual Speaker produces surround-like effects from just two speakers. Dolby Headphone produces surround-like effects from headphones. Dolby Pro Logic IIz uses two of the AVR’s seven amp channels to deliver height effects derived from any material that has two to 7.1 channels. Other uses for the extra two channels are back-surround and zone two.
Anthem AVRs have their own homegrown stereo-to-surround adaptation modes: Anthem-Logic-Music and AnthemLogic-Cinema. I’m a big believer in the Dolby Pro Logic II Music mode, so I was eager to compare it with Anthem’s version. The manual describes AnthemLogic-Music as “a minimalist design that uses no echo or reverberation effects, which could negatively affect the purity of the sound.” That fake reverb is one of my biggest objections to the DSP junk modes that clutter up most A/V receivers, so this sounded promising. How did AnthemLogic-Music work in practice? See the music demo section below.
All three Anthem AVRs have four HDMI inputs and two outputs plus a docking port for the optional MDX 1 iPod/iPhone dock ($129). However, only the two step-up models include an Ethernet port, enabling Internet radio, and a USB port, to play music from a flash drive or hard drive. The top model also offers digital over-the-air HD Radio.
While I am no fan of 3DTV, some of you are, so be advised that all three AVRs are 3D capable. To go all the way, you’ll need to run a software upgrade.
Although their weights vary slightly, the three Anthem A/V receivers are all the same averagereceiver dimensions. Quite handsome they are. At first glance, the gleaming thick black brushed-aluminum front panel seems to have two knobs, but the round object at left is actually a set of navigation buttons that duplicate those on the remote—so losing the remote wouldn’t be a showstopper. A row of source select buttons marches across the panel below the attractive pale-blue fluorescent display. Dolby Volume is important enough to score its own front-panel button.