Introduction to the Anthem MRX 300 Receiver
Anthem is a company that is well-known in audiophile circles for cost-no-object separates and excellent separate power amplifiers. Anthem is the parent company to Paradigm, whose Studio 20 v.3 monitors were used in conjunction with the Anthem seven-channel MRX 300 AV receiver for this review. I always assume that companies who manufacture both receivers and speakers design them to work with each other. This may or may not always be the case but the two were a good match for power handling and voicing.
ANTHEM MRX 300 RECEIVER SPECIFICATIONS
- Design: 7.1 AV Receiver
- Power Output: 7 x 80 Watts
- Codecs: All, Including Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio
- Anthem Room Correction (ARC), Scaling to 1080p60, 1080p24
- 3D Support via Software Upgrade
- Connections: HDMI, Component Video, S-Video, Composite Video, Coaxial Digital, Optical Digital, Analog Stereo Audio, IR, RS-232
- Dimensions: 6″ H x 17″ W x 14″ D
- Weight: 33.4 Pounds
- SECRETS Tags: Anthem, Receivers, Room Correction
Design and Setup of the Anthem MRX 300 Receiver
First of all, I should say that this receiver has a very easy setup procedure. It defaults to HDMI video output and prompts you through a few simple questions to help it get acclimated to your preferences, sources, number of speakers, sub, etc. I never experienced any HDMI handshake problems and there is no audible clicking when changing inputs. This would seem like a no-brainer but there are more expensive receivers that still have no mastered this feat, and I do not take it for granted (and I would not purchase one that had these problems).
One benefit to buying this $999 receiver is that Anthem includes its proprietary ARC setup kit (usually sells separately for $329-$399 since early 2008, and $420 as of November 2011), which comes in a separate box and includes a professional grade tripod mic stand, mic, usb cable. Mine was shipped with a Tripp-lite serial to USB adaptor, which the company sells for a small extra fee (I think this should be included if it’s necessary to fully utilize the receiver’s biggest feature) I’ll say up front that I almost majored in computer science in college and this was the most complex, counterintuitive auto-setups that I’ve ever used. My family only uses Apple computers and as the ARC software was only written for PC, I had to borrow one just to run the ARC (in their defense, I was informed that ARC will run on Bootcamp equipped Intel based Macs).
Anyway, I got an error message early on stating that the ARC software couldn’t detect an Anthem processor. Turns out that the Tripp-lite serial-USB converter didn’t ship with Windows 7 drivers. So, I got on the Internet to download those, and, while I was on, got the most recent firmware and ARC updates from the Anthem site (make sure the serial and USB cables stay tight, if they wiggle off just a little, you’ll get a “no processor detected” msg. as well). Updating the firmware is an unusually lengthy process, about 30-40 minutes after you get everything hooked up. The firmware I used was v.50.12 and fixed a bug with the receiver passing through a 3D signal from satellite, as well as some HDMI control problems. The firmware update was very beneficial though I’d like to see this process made easier by connecting the receiver to an Ethernet connection and letting it do the update itself.
There’s a very good screenshot walkthrough in our MRX 700 review here: http://www.hometheaterhifi.com/receivers/1354-anthem-mrx-700-71-av-receiver.html?start=2
The ARC is similar, but much more complex, to other room correction systems such as Audyssey Multi EQ that I have on my Denon ARV-2909. It requires a minimum of 5 room measurements at least 2 ft apart and 10 maximum. It also allows you to choose which speakers are being calibrated and lets you calibrate different ones for music modes. The Audyssey software simply calibrates whichever speakers are hooked up. I preferred the ARC partially because I run 5.1 in my living room and my surround back speakers to the patio and this always throws Audyssey for a loop (tries to turn them up because they’re so quiet, being outside). With ARC, you can just tell it to disregard any certain speakers you want. ARC feels like a much higher end room setup, but I’d try to talk your Anthem dealer into coming out to your house and running through the setup for you (it would really save you some time).
I also found out the hard way that DirectTV doesn’t play well with Anthem devices. First, I’m using my DTV remote to control the other components in my HT, but not the Anthem (I called Anthem and DTV both and it turns out DTV just hasn’t gotten around to programming Anthems codes…well, its time!) Second, since Directs HD box isn’t fully HDMI 1.4 compliant, it doesn’t play well with any devices that are and it won’t pass 3D through the Anthem to my TV, though 3D blu-rays worked fine as that bypasses the satellite box. During my time with the receiver, Anthem developed a firmware update that tricks the satellite box into working (it also enables HDMI control of the Anthem receiver with the satellite remote).
The remote is backlit but the light button is painted black and is impossible to see in the near dark plus its right in the middle of a bunch of other buttons, which makes it even harder to locate. Manufacturers need to start making the light button out of glow in the dark material or at least place it way over by itself where it can be easily located in the dark. Anthem does provide a zone 2 remote with only basic controls but this remote isn’t RF and has to have a line of sight so it’s not really that useful for a separate room (plus it cannot control the receiver’s zone 1-main controls).
Anthem MRX 300 Receiver In Use
I listened to the receiver for several weeks before running the ARC. Generally speaking, the ARC’s effects are fairly subtle. It produces a tighter image with better, flatter midbass vs. the uncorrected receiver’s sound, though not night and day. In all, I felt the ARC was an improvement so I left it on for all of my listening comments below. I’ve recently transitioned most all of my music to my Mac as lossless AAC and ALAC files so I can take advantage of the Mac interface and remote app (allowing any iPhone to control the digitized music through the home theater). I’ve recently invested in an asynchronous USB-DAC converter made by HRT (Streamer II+). Generally speaking, the DACs in the Anthem receiver are a little less focused and relaxed sounding than the HRT. The Anthem’s internal DAC is warmer and it definitely sounds a little more analogue as it’s a bit more relaxed in the highs-pretty sure it is rolling off the extreme highs, but it’s a pleasant sound. The HRT DAC is much less likely to hide a bad recording and can almost be edgy at times (though not at moderate volumes).
Adele- 19 (CD) and 21 (CD) –
On “Melt My Heart to Stone” the bass drum strikes were more solid and controlled than I remember it being (with ARC on and calibrated without my sub, Studio 20’s running full range, in stereo). In addition, at the end of her sentences I could hear Adele running out of breath, much the same as can be heard on Louis Armstrong recordings. On “Take it All” the piano decay is very realistic and the instruments can be localized. I A-B’d the HRT vs. the Anthem’s DAC and found the Anthem to be just a bit softer sounding, though instruments were even more localized. The HRT resolved more detail and the soundstage was much wider though the instruments were a little more mixed into each other. The backup singers on this track really give the opportunity to tell whether a component can separate instruments (vocals) in space and the Anthem did this very well.
Eddie Vedder-Music from the motion picture Into The Wild-“Hard Sun” has everything from kick drum, tambourine, maracas, electric guitar and excellent male vocals…the harder I pushed it, it only got louder (still clean, not compressed).
Tracy Chapman-Telling Stories (song by the same name) just sounds correct through the Anthem, especially with the ARC engaged. Admittedly it’s a little more “clubby” with it off (more mid-bass bump) but it sounds like the ballad it is, and more like she’s in the room with you than any other time I remember hearing it.
I Am Number Four-The introduction sound effects were very realistic, with very good directional cues, excellent subtle effects, very dynamic sound and the subsequent chase scene left little to be desired from any surround receiver. Male dialogue was well anchored and very detailed without being muddy. The soundtrack for this movie includes Adele, Zac Brown, Kings of Leon, Jimmy Eat World, Beck, The Xx and others. This movie is mixed a little differently than most. Instead of laying dialogue over its soundtrack almost all of the songs on the soundtrack enjoy the spotlight for 30 or so seconds while it plays. It’s quite the demo disc for evaluating a home theater receiver, speakers, sub, etc.
During my time with the receiver I acquired an Emotiva UPA-7-7 channel separate power amplifier which outputs a true 120 Watts X 7 channels (with all channels driven). I connected this to the Anthem to see if I could better its sound or power output. The sound of the amp inside the Anthem was just as dynamic and forceful, but no more so. The Emotiva didn’t seem quite as detailed as the amplifier section inside the Anthem receiver. Another reason some prefer separate power amps is due to the reduction in noise floor. In my listening, I was able to discern no noticeable difference between the setups. This is to be expected, but not taken for granted, as Anthem has been designing preamp/amps for a long time and knows the importance of isolating circuits from each other. In my 15X20X8 multi-purpose room the amps inside the Anthem receiver gave me all the power I could want without needing a separate power amp, your mileage may vary. In short, the only reason I would ever consider adding an external amplifier would be for incredibly difficult loads to drive like possibly an electrostat. Even then, you’d want to go for a much higher power rated unit.
The main drawbacks to saving money on the higher end Anthem models with this one is that you only get 1 HDMI output (only 4 in), lose USB input ability for music, lose network functionality such as Pandora, Netflix, internet radio stations, etc., and get a much less power amplifier. Initially, I though these missing options would be a deal breaker for many considering a this receiver against other $1000 competitors, almost all of which offer these feature and more. The more I used the receiver and thought about which options were absent the more I realized how smart the Anthem design team was in only cutting options that could be performed by other equipment you most likely already own (or can easily work around).
For instance, if you have a front projector and need a second HDMI output, an HDMI splitter can be acquired for around $50. Outboard DACs are becoming increasingly popular and much less expensive recently. Most now include asynchronous USB so you can pipe the music straight from your computer to your receiver (this would almost eliminate the need for a USB port on the receiver). If network features are important to you, almost any good blu-ray player these days includes many more internet features than most any receiver, and most have USB inputs (some eSATA ports for inputting movies from external hard drives) for bringing music in from a thumb drive or other USB device. If you have a large room and like it really loud or have a heavy load to drive, Anthem has you covered as they’ve included 7.1 pre-amp outputs for running a separate power amplifier. For this review switched back and forth between Anthems amps and an Emotiva UPA-7 which runs 120 watts/channel with all channels driven (which is more all out power than the twice-the-price MRX 700 probably provides). I confirmed with Anthem’s engineers that all Anthem receivers (MRX 300/500/700) share the same DACs, video processors and chipsets (though they were reluctant to share model numbers due to how big a deal is made of these…the implementation is arguably more important). All together, I see now that Anthem made some good decisions on which options to cut to bring the price of this AVR down.
Conclusions About the Anthem MRX 300 Receiver
I went into this review expecting a lot. Though it’s not the most expensive receiver I’ve ever reviewed it does come from a company with racehorse pedigree, so I expected it to be everything a receiver could be, which it did not appear to be, at first glance. What it is, though, is a really strong offering with no unforgiveable drawbacks. It offers a sort of different approach to HT by cutting back only on options that can be had in other components or added later. (DACs, video processors, power amps, etc.) If the feature set is robust enough for you, and the amplifier power enough, you should definitely find an Anthem dealer and audition this one.