Anthem has been producing solid AV receivers and multi-channel amplifiers for high end home audio and home theaters for a while now. They bridge the gap between lower cost mainstream electronics and high dollar separates. They have a reputation for good quality and one of the best room correction systems available. With a relatively short feature list compared to others in the same price range, however, they definitely fall into the no-frills category. The lack of bells and whistles certainly makes them even more attractive to the purists looking to get the best sound for their dollar, and not interested in wasting a single penny on unnecessary features. With that in mind, I've decided to focus on build quality, user-friendliness and reliability, sound quality, and room correction for this review.
The MRX-710 is a seven channel, networking capable AV receiver with a variety of audio and video inputs, 4k resolution compatibility, and a proprietary room correction and EQ system. The beefy internal power supply provides a respectable amplifier output of 120 watts per channel (2 channels driven) and 90 watts per channel (5 channels driven). MRX series receivers decode HD formats from Dolby and DTS, and offer upmixing via Dolby PLIIx or DTS:Neo 6. Anthem's own AnthemLogic listening mode is included as well. HDMI connections offer configurable parameters and CEC control. Firmware updates and IP control are handled by a wired network connection. ARC room correction is also done via network connection, which saves users from having to navigate the process from the handheld remote. Dual HDMI outputs and analog (RCA) 7.1 audio outputs provide some flexibility for different system configurations. Control via IR or RS-232, IR repeater, 12v trigger output, and 2nd zone should also make for easy integration into a larger household system.
Aesthetics & Quality
Designers of the MRX series kept the front panel simple yet functional. The display is easy to read, without unnecessary clutter, and a handful of common functions can be accessed via hard keys on the face of the receiver. The brushed metal look is always a winner in my book, and it dresses up the somewhat plain looking front panel nicely in this case. The faux rack ears are a nice touch too, but may not be for everyone. Although I wouldn't call the plastic looking buttons premium, they felt sturdy and reliable, and functioned without issues when I needed to use them.
The overall look and feel of the unit suggests the use of good materials and good quality control. The construction of the chassis is typical, using black painted sheet metal. The connectors on the rear panel are above average quality. The layout is intuitive and arranged well for easy connection and setup. The receiver is one of the heavier ones I've reviewed, which is generally a sign that it contains a good hearty power supply. I expected this based on what I know of Anthem, but it's always nice to have confirmation. My back generally disagrees. The remote, although reliable and well laid out, looks and feels basic and plastic-y. It functions perfectly fine, but is not particularly impressive to look at. No concern for those who use a universal remote or some form of IP control.
Setup and Calibration/Anthem Room Correction (ARC) 1M
The physical setup and connection to the rest of my system was a piece of cake as expected, though maybe that's just because I've done it so many times. Nothing new or unexpected here. I will note that the speaker binding posts are arranged nicely, and provide plenty of room for connecting either bare or terminated speaker cables. It's a small thing, but I appreciate the extra effort there. The rear panel is also very clearly labeled, which also streamlines the initial setup process. All input connections are labeled with a white text on a black background, while outputs are indicated by black text on a white background. It's a very smart way to provide a nice contrast between the two.
The GUI, while basic, is straightforward and intuitive. The menu structure makes sense and provides quick access to all necessary settings, without trying to be too creative or fancy. One gripe I have about many modern receivers is the fact that there are different contextual menus that can be accessed via different buttons on the remote, depending on what input or listening mode is active at the time. All of the MRX-710's settings and options can be found within the main menu structure, which prevents users from having to guess if they're missing something. This also makes it very easy to learn the interface, if you're coming from a different brand of receiver.
Anthem has taken a slightly different approach to their auto-setup procedure. While most new receivers with room correction will initiate an on-screen guide when the measurement mic is plugged in, the MRX-710 requires a Windows computer and a network cable. Since most people have these, it is not likely to be an issue for the majority of Anthem's customers. Aside from that extra step, the ARC PC-based interface is my favorite in terms of flexibility, feedback, and control. Software installation and network connection went smoothly for me, but can be a tad tricky for anyone not used to changing network settings in windows. Anthem provides a very good quality step-by-step guide in the manual, so it is doable even for computer novices. ARC guides the user through the initial configuration and measurements and presents a graph of each speaker's response. From there it displays the default crossover and filter target settings. The bonus here is that those settings can be adjusted before ARC calculates it corrections. The manual actually states that they do not recommend changing the settings. Initial results with the default settings were excellent - as good as any other room correction program I've used so far. And yet I was still tempted to re-run it and play with the settings.
Overall, I was very impressed by the post-ARC results (both default and tweaked) in terms of the measured response and overall sound quality. All of the speakers blended together into a very coherent system. Although the individual ARC settings can't be edited later from the receiver's GUI, the filters can easily be disabled and enabled from the main menu. This can be done individually for each input. There are two ARC profiles available to the system. One complaint I have about ARC and the MRX series in general is lack of support for multiple subs. In fact, there is only one single sub connection on the back, not even a pair of mono outputs. To me, dual sub outputs are essential for any AVR in this price range. If not for this I'd probably say ARC is the best room correction package I've used.
Operation and General Impressions
I will admit to being somewhat partial to the Anthem/Paradigm brands. Both were influential in my initial dive into high end audio, and I still admire the performance and value delivered by the companies. I was convinced I would like the MRX-710 for both music and movies. While my personal home theater development has reached a stage that requires more features than the Anthem offers, it has been one of the nicest home theater receivers I've used. The user interface is straightforward and uncluttered, with an intuitive menu structure and informative on-screen displays. In fact, one thing I like best about the MRX-710 is the fact that it does not have multiple menus, accessed via different buttons to contain it's full scope of settings and options. It is very easy to navigate, without the frustration of trying to determine what listening modes and/or DSP settings are enabled at any given time.
The MRX-710 met my expectations for quality and performance. Once set up, it did its job reliably, without any apparent effect on the content. It did not require tweaking or fiddling to accommodate different types of material. It just simply worked. Although sound quality is heavily debated among enthusiasts and can be very subjective, my ears tell me this Anthem performs above average. Quality of the power supply and amp section is a major selling point for the Anthem lineup. Not only that, but the combination of DAC, DSP, room correction, and output section provides an excellent experience overall. If the next generation of MRX receivers includes compatibility with the latest Dolby and DTS formats, support for multiple subs, HDMI 2.0 and HDCP 2.2, it will be very tough to beat.
Incubus - If Not Now, When? and Defiance (If Not Now, When?, CD/ALAC)
I use several Incubus songs as reference tracks simply for Brandon Boyd's impressive vocal range and power. For me, a vocal test is one of the easiest ways to test how close my system sounds to real life. His voice is the focal point of the first track, accompanied by a deep, driving bass line. His words came to life with excellent clarity and imaging. The simple drum rhythm stays crisp and clean, without intruding on the melody or vocals. Background strings are smooth and full, filling in the spaces between the percussion and acoustic guitar. Defiance is purely acoustic, putting even more emphasis on the lifelike sound I look for. Dynamics of the vocal and guitar are very good. There is a level of clarity that brings the artist in instrument right into the room, and helps the speakers begin to disappear. Music playback is certainly a strength of the Anthem receiver.
I don't frequently leave the cinema thinking "man, the sound quality was excellent". More often than not I'm thinking "did it have to be that loud?" Loud is ok, but there are limits. Perhaps it was just a matter of picking the right seat, or having just the right number of bodies in the theater, but I remember being impressed by the sound when I saw Fury in the theater. I anxiously awaited the Blu-Ray release and bought it as soon as it was available. It has turned out to be a very good home theater demo, in addition to being an excellent movie. The best scenes are, you guessed it, the battles involving the tanks. The mixture of thunderous bass, cannon blasts, and machine gun fire can really put a system to the test. The Anthem receiver didn't seem to flinch as I cranked it to near reference level. Each bullet could be heard as it seemed to rip through the room past my head. Each shot from the cannon shook the room, and the rumble of the tank's treads could be felt through the floor. Dialog could be heard clearly, but at a balanced and more realistic level for the scene (i.e. not too loud). Moments from inside the tank captured the brutal and claustrophobic nature of the job these men had to do. These scenes are thrilling and terrifying, and the MRX-710 did an exceptional job of bringing them to life.
It suddenly occurs to me that I picked two movies for my write-up that involve being confined inside a military machine during a war. A movie like this can be really convincing with the right setup, and fairly lame without it. A sub small space, cramped with people, with all of its creaks, and hisses, and beeps, as it fights the pressure of the deep sea. A soundtrack has to be just right to capture that environment and U-571's sound engineers did an admirable job. Combined with a rock solid system calibration thanks to ARC, the movie really drew us in and captivated our attention. Oh, and let's not forget the depth charge scenes. They were intense! Even when the crew was completely silent in an effort to elude the enemy's surveillance, the most subtle elements of the recording came through as if we were there. Throughout the movie, dialog was clear and well balanced with the effects.
Audio video receivers are, by nature, multi-purpose devices, and can appeal to a variety of users for different reasons. Some of us need to be on the cutting edge of technology, with the ability to use the very latest digital audio formats, connection standards, and highest resolution video. Some of us want just enough speakers to create a true surround sound experience, but nothing more. Some of us have decided to venture into multi-channel audio from a very high end 2-channel system. The Anthem MRX-710 falls into a place where premium quality and excellent audio performance are essential, but a receiver package is more economical than separates. Although the $1999 MSRP might seem steep for some just entering the hobby, it is appropriate in my opinion. The Anthem gives you performance that beats many of the higher volume models, and even approaches the quality of budget separates, but maintains the simplicity of an all-in-one package with one of the best room correction systems you can get.
Conclusion & Recommendation
If I had to summarize this receiver with just a few words I'd say "simplicity and consistency". The MRX-710 is not targeting consumers looking for maximum speaker count or web streaming options. It is more likely made for those who prefer to enjoy music in it's purest form, without a sea of features and settings to navigate and/or probably disable. That's not to say the MRX-710 doesn't have what you need. It absolutely gives you all you need to build an amazing home theater system. If you're looking to take a great quality 2-channel listening experience and expand it to include movies, this receiver is calling your name. It is excellent for music, but with the added bonus of superb Blu-ray playback. It does all you need to experience excellent Blu-ray playback, and nothing more. And for many "purists" nothing more is desired. I believe Anthem has proven that by investing completely in sound and build quality, they have been able to make one of the best performing A/V receivers on the market above and below it's price. I suspect Anthem is waiting for the dust to settle after a couple of very busy years in the A/V tech industry, so I'm very anxious to see how the MRX line develops in the near future.
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