Anthem may not be as well known a brand as Denon, Yamaha or Pioneer when it comes to home theatre receivers, but it’s reputation amongst enthusiasts and professional AV installers is considerable.
Elegantly designed, with high-grade components and a secret sauce able to expertly tune the AVR to your listening room, it can slug it out with the best of them at the high-end of home cinema.
The MRX 1120 is the brand’s current flagship. It’s a Dolby Atmos equipped model with eleven channels of amplification onboard (still something of a rarity). Consequently, the receiver supports a full 7.2.4 Atmos speaker configuration. Alternatively, you divide power for second zone duties. Perhaps remarkably, it’s still rather compact.
The MRX 1120 leads a four strong Anthem line-up. The MRX 720, offers 11 channel decoding but only has seven channels of amplification onboard. There’s also an entry-level model, the 5.1 MRX 520 and a processor version, the AVM 60, which adds a balanced audio output board to fill larger spaces.
Atmos rival DTS:X is a planned firmware update for the MRX 1120 – incidentally, there’s no user option to download firmware from the Internet. Anthem has mandated that all firmware updates be manually downloaded from the Anthem website – but until then there’s DTS-HD Master Audio support (and its derivatives) on hand, as well as Anthem Logic Cinema if you want spread stereo around the soundstage.
The receiver is beautifully built, with good connectivity. It has seven rear-placed HDMIs, plus one front facing, with two outputs. All support HDMI 2160/60 with HDCP 2.2 – essential for 4K UHD source components. There’s HDMI bypass, so that the system doesn’t need to be fired-up to just catch up on the news.
There are also five digital inputs (two optical, three coaxial), plus one optical output, and five analogue stereo inputs.
That fascia flap conceals a headphone jack and USB – but the latter is only for software updates, not media playback. The same with the USB on the rear. There are two sub outputs, along with a full set of pre-outs. Naturally the MRX 1120 also has Wi-Fi, but if you’re unable to hardwire to a network a pair of aerials can be screwed to the rear.
Also included in the box is a complete Anthem Room Correction kit. This includes individually serial numbered and calibrated USB microphone; the number on the mic tallies up with the Anthem Room Correction software supplied on the enclosed CD Rom. If your laptop doesn’t have a disc drive, you can just download the specific calibration file from the Anthem website. The pack also includes a proper tripod and USB cable.
Anthem says that a calibrated microphone will always be more accurate than a generic one, and cleverly leaves all the EQ to the PC. The processor in an average AV receiver will never have comparable number crunching chops.
When first launched, ARC was an expensive separate upgrade kit. Now it’s bundled free.
Input set up is different from the norm. Out of the box, you’ll find just three inputs assigned, plus FM radio and DTS Play Fi multiroom. Additional HDMI and audio inputs can be created and assigned, as required, up to 29. These are not so much physical inputs, as Profiles build around connected hardware, your chosen decode mode and room settings.
All inputs can be manually labelled – and as I discovered after setting up the system, you don’t need to laboriously finger the remote, you can use the rotary volume dial to rename.
The MRX1120 doesn’t try and offer every bell and whistle. The emphasis here is on the decoding and amplification. The AVR is tailored heavily for the custom install market. If you’re programming a Control4 system, the Anthem has SDDP (Simple Device Discovery Protocol) engaged, so it will automatically appear on the network.
The key feature attraction of any Anthem receiver is ARC (aka Anthem Room Correction). When it comes to EQ and fine tuning, this is a league removed from the likes of Audyssey and Yamaha’s YPAO.
ARC measures the room, capturing all the data with that calibrated microphone.
Once you’ve analysed the speakers in the room, you’ll see an uncorrected trace of every channel, comparing live data against a target curve. This reveals just what’s happening in the space, including room nodes and nasties. ARC automatically calculates where to put crossovers. One click tailors every channel to a target curve.
Once calibrated, the settings are uploaded into the AVR’s processor. The entire set up can saved as an extensive PDF document.
Duly tuned, the MRX1120 sounds sensational. Dialogue is clear and uncoloured, front soundstage beautifully precise. Steerage around and within an Atmos soundstage is seamless and totally immersive.
There are four completely separate speaker profiles available. This means one speaker profile could be a full-blown surround system, while another could just be for two-channel.
Incidentally, you can opt to bypass audio (perhaps from a cherished two channel source) from room correction, although I’d certainly not want to do that.
Mad Max Fury Road boasts a blistering sound mix, and the MRX 1120 is more than up to the job. The receiver bristles with power, LFE hitting faster and harder than UFC champ Colin McGregor in a strop, but ARC EQ keeps dialogue crisp and focussed.
Imaging is consistently accurate. When Pi first meets Richard Parker, in Life of Pi (Blu-ray, DTS-HD MA 7.1), the lion pads around the front soundstage, and eyes closed you sense exactly where he is.
Stereo music sounds excellent too. DSD tracks, ripped from vinyl on Sony’s PS-HX500, are sublime. This isn’t just a muscle amp, there’s serious musicality here.
There’s a massive amount of power on tap – more than enough to fill larger home cinemas. Interestingly, the four height channels are all driven by Class D modules, while the main speaker layer benefits from Class A/B amplification. Anthem rates the power output of the MRX1120 at 140W p/c into 8 ohms, with 60W going to the height channels. If you need more, there’s always a bank of pre-outs.
With the MRX 1120, Anthem has set a new benchmark for home theatre sound. It offers a fantastic level of performance enhanced by to a stunningly effective calibration and room EQ solution, in the form of ANTHEM Room Correction. This is the kind of receiver that restores your faith in high-end home cinema.
The Anthem MRX 1120 is available now for RRP $4999.