Anthem is a relative newcomer to the market in audio/video receivers -- they launched their original MRX series of 300, 500, and 700 models as recently as 2010. But looking at their parade of products since, I’m astonished that the new ’20 models comprise what already is the third iteration of Anthem’s MRX models -- not an easy feat for an audiophile brand to pull off. It just shows you how quickly things change in home theater.
I’d reviewed Anthem’s MRX 500 and MRX 510 receivers, so it seemed logical that I next review the MRX 520. Instead, I’ve chosen the MRX 720 ($2499 USD). I was excited to try the new immersive home-theater audio formats, Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, which the MRX 520 doesn’t support. Ever since the theatrical release of the first Dolby Atmos film, Pixar’s Brave, in 2012, I’ve been anxiously awaiting my chance to experience this format at home.
Anthem’s current line of A/V receivers is topped by the MRX 1120 ($3499); the 300 models have been discontinued. The MRX 1120 features a rare 11 channels of amplification and a toroidal transformer, support of Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, and DTS Play-Fi audio streaming. The MRX 520 ($1399) is the new bottom model, with five amp channels, and no Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, or DTS Play-Fi. The middle child, the MRX 720, hits the sweet spot of the MRX line: It has seven channels of amplification and also forgoes the toroid, but otherwise boasts the same features as the 1120 -- including an 11-channel preamplifier stage. You don’t pay upfront for four extra channels of power amp you might not use, and you can easily go full Dolby Atmos in the future by adding a separate four-channel power amp.
All three MRX ’20 models are the same size (17.25”W x 6.5”H x 14.75”D) and weigh within a few pounds of each other: respectively, 28, 31, and 32 pounds for the MRX 520, 720, and 1120. This is made possible by the types of amps used: the first five channels are powered by class-A/B amps, and the rest by smaller and far more efficient class-D types. Like the receiver specs published by most other manufacturers, none of Anthem’s power ratings are for all channels driven. Anthem’s complete power-output specs for the MRX 720 are: Channels 1-5: 140W, two channels driven into 8 ohms; 170W, two channels driven into 6 ohms. Remaining channels: 60W, two channels driven into 8 ohms; 75W, two channels driven into 6 ohms.
If you have fairly efficient main speakers (as I do: Definitive Technology BP-8060ST) and a room of small to medium size, the MRX 720 should have no trouble driving your speakers to loud levels and beyond.
The MRX 720 has all the bells and whistles one could expect or want in a modern surround-sound receiver. Its video section has two HDMI outputs and eight HDMI inputs, one of the latter hidden under a front cover. These inputs meet the HDMI 2.0a spec, which means they’re compatible with high-bandwidth 4K (60 frames per second) and High Dynamic Range (HDR) signals. They’re also compatible with HDCP 2.2 copy protection, so you should have no problem playing current 4K content. For audio processing, the MRX 720 has 32-bit/768kHz D/A converters. While it can decode all current audio formats, including Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, at the time of writing DTS:X had yet to be released; Anthem assures me that the update will be available in late 2016.
What makes the MRX 720 special in my book is that while it has only seven channels of power amplification, its preamp stage is a full 11.2 channels. This makes it fully compatible with Dolby Atmos’s 7.1.4-channel layout of seven main channels, one sub, and four height channels. In this price range, you often see support of only 7.1.2 or 5.1.4, which will compromise a Dolby Atmos track by providing only two height speakers (7.1.2), or will limit playback of Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 by providing no rear surround channels (5.1.4). The MRX 720 lets you optimize for all of these formats.
The MRX 720 can connect to your network with or without wires. Network connectivity offers many functions, including the ability to use an iOS or Android control app, Anthem Room Correction (ARC), and streaming music. Anthem’s Remote app lets you use your iPhone or tablet for complete control of the MRX 720, and is handy for those who need bifocals -- on a tablet, the app’s icons and buttons are big. You can control the volume, switch inputs, change settings, and -- my favorite -- adjust individual channel levels on the fly. This app was designed for the previous generation of MRX receivers; Anthem says that a new version is in the works.
Anthem Room Correction is one of the most sophisticated room-equalization softwares available with a home-theater receiver. Installed on a laptop, ARC measures, analyzes, and corrects the speakers’ interactions with your room’s acoustic. A microphone that’s individually calibrated -- a rarity among receivers -- is connected to the USB port of your computer, which then wirelessly connects to the MRX 720. New for 2016 is ARC Mobile, an iOS app that uses the built-in mike of your iPhone to measure and calibrate your system.
DTS Play-Fi allows you to stream music from a variety of sources (a NAS device, Spotify, Amazon Music, etc.) to the MRX 720 using an Android, iOS, or Windows control app. Play-Fi is compatible with MP3, MP4, AAC, FLAC, and WAV files, and will stream files of resolutions up to 24/96 with bit-perfect accuracy. It downsamples 24/192 files to 16/48 for reliable wireless streaming. The beauty of DTS Play-Fi is that it has already appeared in products from many different manufacturers, from music servers to powered speakers. With such a wide product range, it’s easy to set up a whole-house music-streaming system without being tied to one company. For example, I could have Play-Fi streaming throughout my house, to the MRX 720 in my home theater to a Sonus Faber Sf16 in my bedroom and a MartinLogan Crescendo X in my kitchen.
Anthem Room Correction and setup
To put the MRX 720 through its paces, I configured my speakers as a 7.1.4-channel Dolby Atmos array using my usual fleet of Definitive Technology speakers, with some modifications. I normally use the Definitive Technology Mythos Gems for the side surround channels, but this time they served as rear surrounds. As left and right surrounds I used a pair of DefTech ProMonitor 1000s. For the front height channels I used two more ProMonitor 1000s mounted high on the front wall, and for the middle height channels a pair of Angstrom Ambienti in-ceiling speakers. The LFE channel fed a Paradigm Reference Servo-15 v.2 subwoofer. The height speakers were driven by four channels of my Integra DTA-70.1 multichannel amplifier.
Unlike other room-correction systems, Anthem Room Correction doesn’t measure distances -- you’ll have to use a measuring tape and enter each figure in the software. After connecting the supplied USB mike, start the ARC software on your PC, then input the mike’s unique serial number. You then run a series of test tones (they sound like a chirping bird) through each speaker. This is repeated for a minimum of five seating positions, even if you have only one primary listening seat. According to Anthem, averaging many spots results in better correction; listening positions even just inches apart can have very different frequency responses.
When every speaker has been measured, the fun begins. You can adjust many parameters before ARC calculates the correction curves. ARC overlays the measured, target, and corrected frequency responses in graphical form for each speaker in your system. If you don’t like the results, you can adjust them again and recalculate. Some of the adjustable parameters are crossover frequency, the frequency range within which the correction is applied, and the room gain. ARC set the crossover frequency too high for my liking. My BP-8060ST front left and right speakers are full range, each having a built-in 10” powered woofer with good response down to 30Hz; nonetheless, ARC automatically set the crossover frequency to 80Hz. I corrected this to 50Hz, then had ARC recalculate the curves. These adjustments looked as good to me as the originals, with the added benefit of even more bass throughout the room, with the speakers and sub contributing bass.
The other cool thing about ARC was adjusting the room gain, best described as a hump in the target frequency response between 60 and 300Hz. I find that room-EQ systems such as Audyssey, can’t quite get the bass right. With ARC, I bumped the room gain up to 4dB from the default 3dB, which I find gives a perfect boost for home theater without sounding too boomy.
When you’ve adjusted the target curves to your liking, hit ARC’s Upload button. Within a few seconds, ARC generates correction curves and, via your network, wirelessly sends them to the MRX 720. You can save up to four different configurations, making possible different settings for music and movie listening with the press of a button. I set my BP-8060STs to Full Range for music listening, and named that setting Config2.
With ARC Mobile, Anthem aims to simplify room correction by using your iPhone rather than a PC laptop. This works similarly to the Windows ARC software, but you have the option of using your iPhone’s built-in mike or buying a mike separately. I tried using my phone’s mike, and it was indeed much simpler. However, to my ears, the bass wasn’t as tight or as defined as with the calibrated mike and PC. Nor does ARC Mobile graph the frequency response or permit adjustment of any parameters. Still, I can see the appeal of an iPhone app -- and your system will sound better than with no correction at all.
After running through the ARC setup several times to fine-tune the speaker correction curves, I was ready to listen to the MRX 720. The first disc I tried was one of the first Dolby Atmos releases: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) on Blu-ray. (I think I’m one of the few adults who actually like this movie.) Through the MRX 720, it sounded great, just as I remembered from seeing it in the theater -- a very immersive and aggressive soundtrack. The Dolby Atmos height channels are used sparingly, contributing to a better illusion of space than a standard 7.1-channel array can depict, but with few discrete effects. In a scene set in Ninja Turtle headquarters, in a sewer, the MRX 720’s playback of the Dolby Atmos soundtrack made me feel as if I were in the sewer with them.
A better disc for assessing what Dolby Atmos can do is The Hunger Games: Mockingjay -- Part I. In chapter 1, when Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) takes the elevator belowground to District 13 HQ to meet President Coin (Julianne Moore), the elevator sounds panned up into the height channels. In chapter 2, when Katniss rides a hovercraft to see the destruction of District 12, the bass rumble of the aircraft taking off was tight through the MRX 720, a testament to ARC’s exceptional room correction. The MRX 720 produced a wonderful 360° soundfield -- I could easily hear the hovercraft in both of the left height channels as it flew off, and in the rear surround when it was some distance away. Another great use of the Dolby Atmos height channels is in chapter 7, when Capital hovercraft bomb a hospital and a huge chimney falls on Katniss. The MRX 720 tracked this perfectly, panning from the center channel to the front height channel. I could easily follow the sound of the hovercraft through the height speakers as they made multiple bombing runs. The Atmos height channels also paid dividends in chapter 11, which features rain and thunder. Through the MRX 720, the effect was startling -- rather than imagining rain falling from above, as I would with a 7.1 soundtrack, I experienced everything about a storm except getting wet.
Although Mockingjay -- Part I makes good use of a Dolby Atmos speaker array, aurally interesting scenes are interrupted by long periods of dialog. If you want a Dolby Atmos demo disc, try Mad Max: Fury Road on 3D BD. This soundtrack has it all -- loud explosions, discrete sound effects through the height speakers, and diffuse, enveloping sounds. The opening scene, which features voices that Max hears only in his mind, was spooky through the MRX 720, the voices popping in and out of all of the channels, including the heights. In chapter 3, a pursuit of Imperator Furiosa in her big rig, motorbikes and other vehicles crash all around her. These scenes had me literally ducking in my seat as I followed the sounds of the crashes, from front speakers to middle ceiling speakers to rear surrounds.
I marveled at how convincingly the MRX 720 conveyed the various soundscapes of film soundtracks. All of my viewing, from old Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes on Netflix to the latest Dolby Atmos BDs, resulted in the most immersive viewing experiences I’ve ever had. In addition, the MRX 720 with Anthem Room Correction gave me the best bass definition I’ve had in my home.
Listening to DTS Play-Fi
For listening to music, I found that nothing could be easier than using the DTS Play-Fi built into the MRX 720. After launching the app, you select the DTS Play-Fi device corresponding to the Anthem receiver, and it will automatically switch the receiver to the Play-Fi input. The app screen lets you select the music source, with icons for Amazon Music, Tidal, Internet Radio, and Media Server, among others. I pushed the Media Server icon, and Play-Fi found music sources within my network. After browsing my music-storage NAS, I selected a song to play; the app displayed the album art. You can also use this app to adjust the MRX 720’s volume. The iOS version of the Play-Fi app seemed to be more stable than the Android version, with which the signal sometimes dropped out. The biggest drawback of the software is the inability to create playlists within the app.
DTS Play-Fi’s Critical Listening Mode permits native playback of 24/96 files with no downsampling. Listening to “Within,” from Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories (24/88.2 FLAC, Columbia), I’d never experienced bass as tight and defined through my DefTech BP-8060ST speakers as it was through the MRX 720 and Play-Fi. Another area where the Anthem receiver performed well was in imaging. Listening to the title track of Claire Martin’s Too Darn Hot! (24/96, Linn), I could easily track every note of the double bass, and the precise imaging of the percussion at the right of the soundstage.
High frequencies sounded particularly smooth through the MRX 720 and Play-Fi. One of the best recordings I use to listen for this is “The Seductress,” from Wynton Marsalis’s Standard Time Volume 3: The Resolution of Romance (16/44.1 FLAC, Columbia). The MRX 720 was able to resolve Marsalis’s trumpet without the harshness I sometimes hear if a component in my system isn’t quite right. Sometimes, an audio system can be so easy on the ears that you hear no detail. That may work for background listening, but not for those who care deeply about music. The MRX 720 managed the difficult task of high-frequency extension with smoothness -- it didn’t roll off the highs, and I could hear a lot of detail.
It had been a while since I’d had an A/V receiver in my system. My last review of a surround-sound component was of the Integra DHC-80.3 home-theater processor. While I’ve had to rely on aural memory for this comparison, I can tell you for sure that the Anthem MRX 720 bettered the Integra in one critical area: room correction. Although the Integra DHC-80.3 included Audyssey’s well-recognized MultEQ XT32 and Sub EQ HT softwares, I couldn’t get the LFE channel to give me the impact I wanted for home theater. Nor could I adjust the room-correction curve, as I can with Anthem Room Correction. I was left with either bass that was uneven (because I’d cranked up the LFE level) or bass that was underwhelming (because I’d let Audyssey do its default thing).
Although some audiophiles believe that a receiver can’t possibly sound as good as separate components, I think the Anthem MRX 720 gave up nothing to the Integra DHC-80.3. The Anthem was actually quieter -- I remember an awful ground-loop hum through the Integra that I could get rid of only by using it with its companion amp, the DTA-70.1. In my recollection, the Integra DHC-80.3 bettered the Anthem in only one area -- its XLR outputs to a power amp. I appreciated these connectors for the more robust connections they make possible compared to standard RCA jacks.
When I compared the MRX 720 to my NuPrime IDA-16 integrated amplifier ($2600), the Anthem’s sound quality came close to and in some aspects surpassed that of the NuPrime. With Daft Punk’s “Within,” the NuPrime produces deep, tight bass through my DefTech BP-8060STs, but it has overwhelming low frequencies in comparison to the Anthem’s tight, ARC-tweaked bass, which didn’t resonate as much through my room. In the midrange and highs, the NuPrime had a slight advantage in resolution. The IDA-16 also reveals the advantage of having an integrated amplifier dedicated to music playback: swings of dynamics. In “Code Cool,” from Patricia Barber’s Smash (16/44.1 FLAC, Concord), drums kick in after a relatively quiet moment. Through the IDA-16 I heard an explosion of sound that sounded more dynamic and impactful than through the MRX 720.
When I was offered Anthem’s MRX 720 for review, I mostly looked forward to using it to listen to Dolby Atmos soundtracks at home. And although I really enjoyed my experience of this surround format, by the end of my listening to the Anthem it seemed mere icing on the cake. What most impressed me about the MRX 720 was its state-of-the-art Anthem Room Correction, its clean amplification, and its effortless streaming abilities. If you’re looking for a great-sounding HT receiver that sounds better than other HT receivers while giving up nothing in features, and is simple to use, give Anthem’s MRX 720 an audition. I’m sure you’ll be as impressed as I was.
. . . Vince Hanada
- Amplifier -- Integra DTA-70.1
- Integrated amplifier -- NuPrime IDA-16
- Speakers -- Definitive Technology BP-8060ST (main left and front), CS8060HD (center), and ProMonitor 1000 (surround and height), Mythos Gem (rear surround), Angstrom Ambienti (in-ceiling height)
- Subwoofer -- Paradigm Reference Servo-15 v.2
- Sources -- Oppo Digital BDP-95 universal Blu-ray player
- Cables -- Analysis Plus Super Sub interconnects and Blue Oval speaker cables
Anthem MRX 720 A/V Receiver
Price: $2499 USD.
Warranty: Three years parts and labor.
Anthem Electronics, Inc.
205 Annagem Blvd
Mississauga, Ontario L5TL 2V1
Phone: (905) 564-1994