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MRX 720 Multi-Channel Receiver Review
Pair with your HD TV or Blu-ray system for premium stereo or surround sound.
A home theater receiver is the brain of the home theater. If you are thinking about building a theater in your home or upgrading your existing system, the sheer number of home theater receiver options can be daunting. The range of models and prices is similar to that of the auto industry with many brands and prices ranging from a couple of hundred dollars to pushing $10,000. So, what is important?
Well, maybe we should consider the one term that started it all: surround sound. That is why you are buying a new receiver — to be surrounded with great sound, right? Of course, you will want to make sure your new receiver can handle the latest in video processing, has enough inputs for your system, and has enough amplifier channels to handle your speaker layout, but all that it really does come down to how well the receiver can immerse you in great surround sound!
Today we are looking at what has quickly become our favorite receiver brand at Audio Advice: Anthem. We are going to take a deeper dive into their best-selling model, the MRX 720, and go over the differences as you move up and down from the MRX 720.
Company History and Design
Anthem has been around for about 20 years now. Their primary design goal is to make equipment that is ultra high-performance without the high price tag normally associated with that level of sound. Two decades of award-winning sound have proved that they really know how to pull this off. To achieve this lofty goal, Anthem uses three key things in their design: an electronic room correction system they call ARC, amplifiers used in their receivers that come from their rich heritage of making lots of separate component power amps, and top notch D to A converters used for the signal path.
When you take a close look at any of the three Anthem receiver models, you will notice that there isn’t any nonsense, and that these receivers are built for business. Build quality is extremely high, with solid connectors for all of your inputs, and beefy speaker terminals that accept banana plugs.
The Anthem Room Correction (ARC) really sets their receivers apart from the competition. Every room can create acoustic issues that can blur or muddy your sound. ARC takes several measurements of your room and removes the room anomalies, giving you unbelievably clear sound. We’ll go more into how ARC works in the features and technology section below.
The majority of Anthem’s products are power amplifiers. They actually have 13 different models, and several of them go up into the $4,000-$8,000 price range. A power amplifier has one job -- to drive your speakers. It will usually have a massive power transformer and lots of output devices to properly drive and control your speakers. Inside a home theater receiver, there is a power amp, preamp, surround sound processing circuitry, and/or a tuner and streaming services. With 13 models of power amps in their lineup, it’s obvious that Anthem knows a lot about making great amps. They have done everything possible to give you separates quality sound in an all-in-one receiver, which is one of the reasons their receivers sound so good.
Finally, let’s not forget the great DACs (Digital to Analog Convertors) that Anthem deploys in their receivers. The signal coming from almost all of today’s sources (except a turntable) is in digital form. The DACs Anthem uses are similar to what you would find in a very expensive outboard D/A converter.
Features and Technology
Inputs and Outputs
All three of the Anthem receivers are set up for the latest in video signals and are able to accept HDR 4K video and pass it right through. The video signal is a complete pass through with no internal video processing. We fully agree with this philosophy and feel that it is best to leave the video processing up to the TV or projector.
The Anthem receivers all have an identical input set. You get 7 HDMI inputs that are all capable of passing HDR 4K, 5 analog inputs, 3 optical digital inputs, and 2 coax digital inputs. They all have dual HDMI outputs as well, should you want to get the video signal to a TV in another room.
Another feature we really like about all of the models is their dual subwoofer output. Most receivers just give you a single subwoofer out, and if you are using more than one, which we highly recommend, you will have to wire them in parallel and won’t really be able to adjust each one separately.
When we look at the outputs, the features on the three models start to really differ. The entry point MRX 520 is set up for a 5.2 speaker configuration. This means you would have your left, center, right, and a pair of surround speakers, with up to two subwoofers. The MRX 520 does not have Dolby Atmos or DTS-X since it only supports 5 channels. However, if you can only do 5 channel surround in your room, we cannot think of a better sounding way to do it, and for that reason, the MRX 520 is a big seller at Audio Advice.
Dolby Atmos and DTS-X
Moving up to the MRX 720 gets you into Dolby Atmos and DTS-X, the latest in object based surround sound. The MRX 720 also gives you 7 amplified channels with additional pre-amp outs for up to 11.2 channels of output. This is one thing we really love about the MRX 720. If you are starting out and do not initially have the budget for a full Dolby Atmos home theater with 11 speakers and two subs, you can start smaller and still get Dolby Atmos by using a 5 channel normal surround setup with just 2 in-ceiling Atmos speakers. You could later add the rear speakers, another set of ceiling speakers, and use a 4 channel power amp to drive them. Another option with the MRX 720 is to only do a 5 channel theater set up and use the remaining two channels to power another room, using their zone 2 configuration.
For another $1,000, the MRX 1120 gives you 11 amplified channels with preamp outs, should you want to add more power later for any of your speakers. Speaking of power, Anthem does not skimp on any of their models. The MRX520 is 100 real watts of power per channel, while the MRX 720 and MRX 1120 are 140 watts per channel. However, you do get a better power supply in the MRX 1120, with a toroidal power transformer. On demanding passages, this does give the MRX 1120 a slight edge in performance over the MRX 720.
All of the receivers have PlayFi, which is a brand-agnostic streaming music system developed by DTS. This allows you to stream services like Tidal, Pandora, Spotify, Amazon Music, and more through a free app. You will see PlayFi in many brands, which means you can actually mix and match products, yet control your streaming music with one app. The MRX 720 and MRX 1120 are able to connect to your network either wired or wireless, while the MRX 520 is only wired.
Anthem Room Correction
ARC, or Anthem Room Correction, is what really sets these receivers apart from the crowd. If you have ever walked into a completely empty room and heard how your voice sounded, you have experienced the effect a room can have on your sound. At Audio Advice, we actually feel the room affects your sound more than anything. Just a few short years ago, the processing speed and technology did not exist to fix room problems. Room correction circuitry required days of fine tuning by an acoustical engineer.
Anthem, being a Canadian company, is able to use the Canadian National Research Center, a huge facility set up in Canada to help Canadian companies compete in the technology space. The NRC has a massive section devoted entirely to acoustics! Anthem was able to use this amazing facility to develop their room correction technology.
Imagine the sound coming out of your speakers as ripples in a pool of water. If there is an object in that water pool, the ripples change and move in a different direction when they hit that object. Every piece of furniture in your room acts as one of those objects. Then, every room, based on the dimensions of the room, will either reinforce or reduce bass notes at certain frequencies. One spot in your room may sound great for an upright bass, however, a deeper thunder effect sound may be non-existent or greatly diminished. This is just the way it is in every room. ARC corrects for the objects in the room, and the bass issues caused by your room dimensions.
Every Anthem receiver comes with a calibrated microphone. Once purchased, you would go to the Anthem website, enter the serial number of the microphone, and download the actual calibration file for that exact microphone. That file is plugged into the ARC software which takes multiple measurements of your room. The software compares your room to an ideal lab environment room and figures out what corrections need to be made to get your room as close to the ideal lab environment. You can even take different measurements for multiple listening positions. ARC has made a drastic improvement to the sound in every room we have tested. We think one reason it works so well is the amount of processing power in the Anthem receivers. The MRX 720, for example, uses Quad Core Digital processing, which then passes through the great DACs Anthem deploys.
In August of 2019 Anthem introduced an updated version of their ARC software and renamed it ARC Genesis. After playing with ARC Genesis for a while, we find it far easier to use and much more flexible than the previous version. ARC Genesis took a software product that was already fantastic and made the user interface far better. If you want to read more about ARC Genesis, check out our full review here.
Configurations for Every Situation
Another part of the Anthem design we love is the flexibility they offer you in setting it up for different audio situations. All three Anthem receivers give you 4 different configurations. Let’s look at some use cases for this. Perhaps you also enjoy vinyl and want to listen to it with just pure stereo—no subwoofer and only your main speakers. You also love enjoying movies in your home theater. Many times it may be just you and your significant other, but about 10% of the time you fill your home theater room with 3-4 other couples. Wouldn’t it be great if you could get the absolute best performance out of each one of these totally different situations? Well, with the different configuration options on the Anthem receivers, it is super simple.
For the first use case, stereo vinyl, you would program a configuration where you only had a left and right speaker. You could even program this into the input you are connecting your turntable to. You would use the Anthem Room Correction centered on just your main listening spot. When you and your significant other use the home theater, this configuration would have all of your speakers adjusted and working for full surround sound. The ARC would be set up centered around your two favorite seats. Finally, for couples movie night, you would use ARC to average out the room so that each seat in the room would be taken into account when it did its room correction.
Their design also lets you assign inputs to more than one position. To do this, they have what are called “virtual inputs”. On most receivers, once you plug in an HDMI cable, it is locked into that input only. However, with the Anthem, you can assign it to more than one input. Now, why would you want to do this? Well, let’s look at some more use cases. Maybe you like watching sports, but also enjoy listening to the local radio station sports announcer. You could assign the HDMI cable from your cable/satellite box to a normal input where both picture and sound come from that cable, then you could create another virtual input where the picture comes from your cable/sat box, but the sound comes from your internet radio streaming device (which by the way just happens to be built into the Anthem as well)!
Performance and Testing
That was a lot of features, but as you could tell, none of the features are gimmicks. They are all about getting great sound! The most interesting test we did on the MRX 720 was a track on the Dolby Labs Atmos demo disc. They have a track called “Rain”. This track starts out with some thunder coming in and then changes to rain coming down. We like to play this with the lights turned all the way off and the video display off so that you are in pitch-dark. To give you a great surround sound experience, a receiver needs to be able to localize the effects very well. When we first played this through the MRX 720 it was simply amazing how well you could hear every single raindrop in a 3-dimensional space. It literally sounded like we were standing outside in the rain!
Another great test on that same Dolby Labs disc is the track “Amaze”. On this track, there are lots of effects, including one that sounds like some kind of bird flies completely around the room. When this effect happens, your first reaction is to duck. The tracking of the wings flying around the room is just spooky!
The general sound you get from the Anthem receivers is similar to what you would expect to hear from high-end separate components. Most home theater receivers have a thinner, somewhat edgy sound when you compare them to some high-quality audiophile separates. Not so with the Anthem. The bass is rich and full and the midrange is crystal clear, but the big tell is the top end. There is no sense of digital edge to the sound at all. It is pure and extended with just an effortless quality. Whether you are watching a big action film or a drama with intense dialog, you will just lose yourself in the great sound. Dialog is so easy to understand, effects are precisely placed, and with the great amplifier section, the dynamic changes you will experience are astounding.
A funny thing happened in our showroom when we first hooked up the MRX 720. We have a great Dolby Atmos system with B&W CT7.3 series speakers. We had another brand of components in the room previously using their separate power amp and surround sound processor. We switched out the processor for the MRX 720, used its internal amps for the front three speakers, used 2 pairs of Atmos in-ceiling speakers, and used two of the channels of the existing power amp for the surround speakers. It only took about 30 minutes to get all of the settings done and run the ARC calibration. In this room, we have all of the components hidden away, so if you just walked in there, you would not be able to tell anything had changed. Everything is controlled by a smart remote, so you would not need to even see any of the components to play the system.
We then had two different audio consultants on our staff come in and do a demo for their clients. They had no idea anything had changed, but each of them independently asked later what in the world we did to the room to make it sound so much better. That tells you all you need to know about the Anthem MRX 720.
The Anthem MRX 720, and for that matter, the MRX 520 and MRX 1120, are the best sounding home theater receivers we have ever tested. Their ARC technology, coupled with great audio circuitry, results in a sound quality you would expect to have to pay 10 times as much for. If you add up everything in your home theater or media room and it comes to more than 7 or 8 thousand, or if you think it will get to that level, you are doing yourself a disservice by not having an Anthem receiver. Even if you are not there yet, the MRX 720 will let you grow into a full-blown Dolby Atmos system with zero compromises. Basically, if it is in your budget, it is by far and away the best choice!
HIGH NOTES UNPACKED
Anthem Room Correction
Your room has more impact on the sound than any single component. Anthem's ARC is the first easy to use room correction system that makes a huge difference in how your system sounds. It literally takes out all of the big peaks some rooms add to the sound to get you as close what the recording engineer wanted you to hear.
Real Amps Coupled with High-End DACs
Your digital sources are first decoded by the very high-end 32-bit audiophile DACs. The signal then passes on to the massive power amp section, which is more like what you would find in a separate power amp. The MRX 720 has 7 channels capable of delivering 140 watts per channel of serious power.
Great Speaker Profile Memory
We love this feature of ARC. You can set up one listening mode that is designed for balanced sound over all of the seats in your home theater. Then you can set up another focused on your favorite seat right in the middle. You also have two more you could use with subwoofers and without. Tons of fun and flexibility!