- Written by Jim Clements
- Published on 13 October 2011
The Anthem MRX 500 7.1 A/V Receiver In Use
I did not observe any subjective issues with HDMI video quality. All my video sources are HDMI and I don't utilize a single analog video input anymore. In fact, I found the digital video switching of the Anthem MRX 500 to be superior to a number of the receivers that have passed through my system.
As I mentioned in the previous section, the Anthem MRX 500 had some issues communicating with my HDMI splitter. This is pretty typical of many of the receivers and processors I have tested. I generally ran the Anthem on "Through" mode for the most pure image. When I would try accessing the on-screen menus while in "Through" mode, the screen would blink a few times as the splitter confused the MRX 500 and eventually the screen would come back up without ever displaying the menu. I quickly learned how to change the video mode to "Auto" using the front panel display so I could access the on-screen menus. I switched back and forth between each video mode throughout the review period in order to access the menus as needed. This really was nothing more than a minor inconvenience in actual practice. (Anthem informed me that the latest firmware update should solve this problem. I was not able to test this upgrade, but it should be available by the time this review is published.)
A good test for the MRX 500 video switching was the engrossing Blu-ray of The Lincoln Lawyer. I thoroughly enjoyed this suspenseful, thought-provoking movie. The video quality of the transfer is a top tier effort. Both the interior and exterior shots are rendered with excellent detail with natural colors and skin tones. The film grain was also preserved on the Blu-ray. The MRX 500 did not appear to soften the image to any appreciable extent and I was in fact drawn more in to the experience due to the very solid picture.
The audio on The Lincoln Lawyer is no slouch, either. There was great bass response during the times it was called upon and this movie has many different environments – jail cells, houses, interrogation rooms, court rooms, etc. The MRX 500 captured the essence of each environment in a realistic, nuanced way.
A more "actiony" movie to test the Anthem MRX 500 was the Liam Neeson thriller, Unknown. In this movie, Neeson plays a biochemist who is in Berlin for a conference. He winds up in an accident and suffers amnesia. The plot unfolds as he tries to pull the pieces of his memory back together again. One very important point about Anthem processors and their receivers with ARC is that they have in my opinion the best bass response I can muster in my theater. People and reviewers probably don't talk about this ARC quality enough. Whether it is a movie or music, Anthem's products deliver the smoothest and best-defined bass I have ever heard in my system. And the MRX 500 is no exception. During the big chase scene in Unknown, the bass from the Anthem was so well integrated with the rest of the audio, I was simply blown away. My notes actually said "Whoa, Nellie"! This movie also had a number of scenes with very clean video that passed through the MRX 500 quite nicely.
I didn't really enjoy The Lovely Bones very much at all. I found the story to be extremely saddening on so many levels. But it is a good point of discussion regarding the sound quality of the Anthem MRX 500 receiver. To begin with, the musical score by Brian Eno sets the tone of the movie and shows off the musical prowess of the MRX 500 quite handily. Starting with the bass again, it was pinpoint with the appropriate weight . . . it was not boomy or muddy in any way. The movie's core audio theme involved bell sounds and the sound of jangly things. The jangly sounds were clearly contrived, but the sounds of bells were so believable through the Anthem MRX 500 that I had one of those experiences where I paused the movie because I thought I heard an actual phone ringing in the other room. The film transfer did tend to over-emphasize the sibilants in voices and the Anthem let that come through unvarnished as well.
I actually watched Robin Hood in 2.1-channel mode because I was evaluating a pair of mid-sized bookshelf speakers at the time. This was a great opportunity to showcase the Anthem MRX 500's power output capabilities. But first, let's talk about the video qualities. The video through the MRX 500 was about as detailed as I could have imagined. A little too detailed when you consider it revealed how clean the actors were in this movie. They are just a little too clean to appear the least bit authentic. That was the single most negative thing about this movie . . . it's too Hollywood.
Besides that, there was a seamless transition in the sub crossover. The sound came through with a clean and airy treble. Plus, there was plenty of power on reserve for the battle sequences. Even in stereo, there was no hole in the middle while the ambience and environmental sounds were very lively. Finally, the orchestral score had good bloom and vocals floated in front of the screen. There was a very surprising scale with the music during the closing credits.
Now I'd like to run the Anthem MRX 500 through its paces on a couple of surround music selections. First up was the multi-channel SACD of Sir Colin Davis conducting the London Symphony Orchestra on Handel's Messiah. There was a subjectively very low noise floor through the MRX 500. It was not quite the inkiest black that I can remember, but it was about as dark a grey as one could imagine. The soundstage reached into every corner of my room and emulated the actual performance space with a wide and airy extension. The MRX 500 also delivered plenty of power to render the macro dynamic peaks at levels consistent with a live performance. But the sound was nuanced as well and everything held together the same at lower volume settings. This benefitted from the low noise. The strings took on the organic, wooden quality that lesser amps might smear into a more homogeneous mass of sounds. I was very impressed by the MRX 500 here.
I closed out my critical listening sessions with the SACD of Bach Organ Works. Kari Vuola performs these works on the organ at the Naantali Convent Church in Finland. This is becoming one of my favorite recordings for listening tests of surround systems. The Anthem MRX 500 filled my room with an amazing surround bubble. The receiver traced the subtlest dynamic shadings and demonstrated excellent power capabilities in filling my large room to convincing levels. The MRX 500 created a continuous soundscape loaded with timbral detail. I once again found the bass response from the Anthem MRX 500 to be on a par with the best bass I've heard in my system ever. It blends so seamlessly with the satellites and its weight and tonality is as close to ideal as I have ever heard.