Quick, name a Canadian A/V receiver maker! Yeah, I couldn’t either — until now. Anthem, the north-of-the-border firm best known for its “Statement” Series reference-grade A/V preamp (and power amps), has finally merged the two forms into a single new element: the MRX family of A/V receivers.
I’ve seen plenty of loudspeaker “breakthroughs” in my half-a-lifetime around the audio sideshow, including speakers shaped like ears, tubas, and croquet balls. And there have also been “revolutionary” new driver designs that resembled stars, chafing dishes, and origami.
It’s a fact of modern life. The higher you climb in the high end of anything, the less, at least in one sense, you will get. You will find, I believe, few gargoyles on buildings designed by I.M. Pei, and even fewer rear-seat DVD screens in Paganis.
Most A/V receivers with any pretensions toward high performance — and most audio and video products in general, for that matter — are designed and marketed for hardcore hobbyists, not average consumers. What’s the difference? The hobbyist revels in scores of setup options, dozens of surround modes, and fistfuls of video-processing choices.
British hi-fi used to be quirky. Anyone who remembers, say, Connoisseur turntables, Leak amps, or Quad speakers will know what I mean. Today’s Brit-fi, however — at least as exemplified by Cambridge Audio — has successfully transitioned from quirky to distinctive.
Denon has been making A/V receivers for about as long as there have been A/V receivers, and it's rarely produced a bad one. The brand usually gleans more attention for its über-dollar high-end models than for the kind of high-value, midprice models that win the credit-card swipes of most buyers. But this new AVR- 991, with its suggested price under $1,000 and its rich feature set, may change that perception in a hurry.
Focal has flipped me the bird. The company is hardly the first to have done so (even just among audio manufacturers) and is unlikely to be the last. But none before has done so quite as elegantly or enjoyably.