AT A GLANCE
Dolby Atmos and DTS:X support
Anthem Room Correction (ARC)
11 amp channels in one box
ARC doesn’t calibrate dual subwoofers individually
One of the finest-sounding AVRs I’ve had the pleasure to audition, though it’ll cost ya.
Much like a luxury sports car, the flagship AVR is expected to have every bell and whistle under the hood in order to appeal to the well-heeled crowd that’s willing to drop a few thousand dollars on a piece of electronics. The real bummer is that even if you spend the extra cash on a flagship, there’s no such thing as totally future-proofing your investment, due to the rapidly changing landscape of the home theater business.
This has been especially true during the past few years in which 3D has come and (thankfully) gone, and when we’ve witnessed the rise of 4K even before a final industry-wide spec was finalized! At first, 4K was boasting a bump in resolution, which is all fine and dandy. But because most people sit too far from their displays for it to matter much, another hook was required—and it has now arrived in the form of high dynamic range (HDR) plus wide color gamut, delivered by the competing incompatible formats dubbed Dolby Vision and HDR10. Of course, with this new technology, the HDMI specification has changed once again: In order to fully support the current 4K spec, your equipment must be at least HDMI 2.0a compat- ible, with HDCP 2.2 copyright management, or else you’re out of luck if you want to watch the latest Ultra HD Blu-ray Discs.
On the audio front, Dolby Atmos and the newcomer to the market, DTS:X, offer object-based, height-enhanced surround sound from up to 11 speakers for home systems (plus multiple subwoofers, if you’re so inclined). Your flagship AVR will have to check both of those boxes as well. In my mind, the flagship must also include all of the required amplifiers in its one chassis, which hasn’t been easily found to date. Most top-line models tap out at nine channels.
Give It to Me Straight
Enter the Anthem MRX 1120, the latest offering from the Canadian company best known for their Statement pre/pro from earlier this century. The MRX 1120 checks all the boxes listed above plus a few more, although DTS:X won’t be up and running until there’s a future firmware release. And as I requested, this receiver packs inside the 11 channels of amplification needed for a 7.1.4 system. Of course, you’ll pay for the privilege—at $3,499, it doesn’t come cheap (though a late- generation 11-channel surround processor and matching stand- alone amplification could easily come to more).
Aesthetically, the MRX 1120 isn’t flashy and doesn’t draw much attention to itself in the rack. The front panel has a black aluminum finish, with a large and easy-to-read LCD readout centrally located. The volume knob is on the right side; the main power and Zone 2 power buttons are underneath. Housed below the display are direct access buttons for Setup, Dim (to change the display’s brightness), Mode, Level, Zone, and Input. On the left-hand side are four directional buttons encircling a select button, and below that is a surprisingly flimsy flip-down flap that hides an HDMI input (compatible with Mobile High-Definition Link, or MHL), a headphone jack, and a USB port.
The rear panel sports dual Wi-Fi antennas located at the top of each corner, which makes the AVR look a bit like an alien with protruding ears when viewed from the front. Other connections include seven HDMI inputs plus two outputs. HDMI Out 1 supports Audio Return Channel, while HDMI In 7 supports MHL. As expected, each HDMI input/output is 2.0a compliant, supporting HDCP 2.2, 4K at 24/30/50/60 Hz, HDR, and BT.2020 color gamut, with the required bandwidth of 18.2 gigabits per second.
There are five analog stereo inputs, dual stereo outputs (Line Audio and Zone 2), three Toslink inputs (one output), and two coax digital inputs, as well as IR in, trigger out, RSC-232, FM antenna (no AM), Ethernet, factory-service USB, a wireless setup button, a grounding screw (for you vinyl lovers), and a detachable power cord. Additional outputs include subwoofer (two in parallel) and 11 main pre-outs. Among the 11 speaker outputs, the terminals of each pair are spaced too far apart to accept most dual banana plugs, and each terminal has a plastic ring at the base that makes using beefy spade lugs all but impossible. On the plus side, all of the terminals are spaced out enough to make hand-wiring not too difficult for those with larger than normal fingers. For most folks who are not reviewers, the speaker connections will be made just once.
Analog video acolytes should note that there are no composite or component video inputs or outputs, which really cleans up the look of the rear panel. The MRX 1120 doesn’t offer, nor does it need, any video conversion; it will pass through any digital video unmolested from your source components to your display, stripping out the audio along the way to process and send to your speaker system.
Inside the box is plenty of pro- cessing power including a quad-core DSP, along with 768-kilohertz/32-bit digital-to-analog converters. Of the 11 channels of amplification, the five main channels offer 140 watts each, while the six others are rated for 60 watts each (two channels driven into 8 ohms). While on paper this looks somewhat weak for a flagship, my experience with Anthem is that they don’t embellish their amplifier specs, so I’m curious to see how this measures; check our Test Bench box for the results. Anthem uses traditional Class AB amplification for the five main channels and Class D topology for the back surround and height channels where ultimate full-bandwidth sound quality plays a less important role, which presumably keeps the chassis a bit cooler when the unit is running full bore.
Room correction is a definite must-have for a flagship, and this one offers what is arguably a best-in-class solution: the proprietary Anthem Room Correction (ARC). Unlike other software on the market, ARC will work on all 11 speakers in your system in addition to your subwoofer, with one caveat. Those of us with dual subs are at a slight disadvantage because the program equalizes dual subs as one. I’d love to see Anthem treat each one individually.
The MRX 1120 doesn’t offer any internal streaming options or Bluetooth, but it does sport DTS Play-Fi, which allows you to use the Play-Fi app on mobile devices to stream music from local sources, including your phone, and popular services like Amazon Music, iHeartRadio, Spotify (premium account required), and Pandora, just to name a few; it also provides DLNA compatibility with your home network and Internet Radio. Furthermore, Play-Fi doesn’t compress the audio, and it will support file formats up to 192-kHz/ 24-bit hi-res as long as your network and mobile device support the data rates. While setup of Play-Fi didn’t go as smoothly as I’d hoped (it took me three attempts with my iPad), once it was configured, it worked like a charm. Though I didn’t test Play-Fi’s multiroom capabilities, once the system is set up you can add standalone Play-Fi-compliant wireless speakers (such as those from Anthem’s sister company Paradigm) around your home and operate them from the same app.
Source components for this review included an Oppo BDP-103D Blu-ray player, Samsung UBD-K8500 Ultra HD Blu-ray player, TiVo Series 3, Xbox 360, and Logitech Squeezebox Touch with both digital coax and analog stereo outputs. I tested the receiver’s Zone 2 stereo outputs by feeding them to a NEAR 6XL amplifier that powers my outdoor speakers and subwoofer.
My speaker system consists of three M&K Sound S150s across the front, four M&K SS150s to complete the seven-channel floor system, and four Atlantic Technology IC-6 OBA in-ceiling speakers for the height channels to make a full 11 channels plus subs. As noted, I run a two- subwoofer setup with an SVS PC- Ultra and a Hsu Research VTF-15H MK2—yes, I like bass!
The MRX 1120’s onscreen menus aren’t cluttered up with fancy graphics; everything is text-based, which I like. The layout is easy to follow, and renaming inputs was a breeze. The included backlit remote is very responsive and intuitive. I wish the backlight button had been placed on the side of the remote instead of in the lower third, but this is a very minor complaint.
Having never used ARC before, I expected the learning curve to be somewhat steep, but I was pleasantly surprised. Included with the shipped AVR is the Windows-compatible software for ARC, as well as a very handy microphone stand. The software measures the speakers in your room and then flattens the response. How well does it work? Marvelously! Despite the fact that you can’t EQ each subwoofer individually, I didn’t find the system lacking in any way, and the well-written manual gives you a tip on how to set up multiple subwoofers (which works well). The entire process takes less than an hour to complete, though if I owned this piece I could see myself devoting multiple hours to custom tailoring the various functions to my room based on viewing/listening conditions, taking full advantage of the four memory settings.
To Boldly Go…
Auditory memory is very fleeting, so making direct comparisons between the Anthem and my reference Marantz AV8802A pre/pro and Parasound Halo/Zonemaster amplifiers is very subjective. Without the opportunity to perform double- blind testing, any thoughts I had were based on a vast amount of everyday listening to the Marantz/Parasound combo versus a few weeks with the Anthem. That said, I can’t say I missed my reference system a lot. For one thing, the Anthem runs significantly cooler than the Parasound Halo with its five channels of Class A/AB amplification, so my room didn’t get as hot—which was a blessing in light of the heat wave that hit California during my testing.
Two-channel performance with music streamed through the Oppo or from the Play-Fi app was quite good, although it fell just short of what I’m used to hearing from my considerably more expensive separates. Available on HDtracks is Film Music by John Williams, and I used a hi-res FLAC download of the intro theme to Superman, with Williams himself conducting the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. This is arguably one of the most distinctive pieces the brilliant composer has ever written. The opening horns draw you into the theme, and as the rest of the orchestra kicks in, it builds to a spine-tingling crescendo. The Anthem performed particularly well with the horn section, though the bells and triangles in the track were slightly overpowered by the main orchestra, giving it more of a two-dimensional sound than I typically hear on this track with my reference system. Dynamics were strong, perhaps a smidgen flatter than what I’m accustomed to. Imaging, meanwhile, was excellent, with audio that was a bit forward and slightly less layered than my reference—not significantly so, but enough for me to distinguish between the two. Granted, the Marantz/Parasound combo is more than twice the cost of the Anthem, so I would expect it to outperform the one-box solution and am definitely picking some very minor nits with this comparison, but I found that was the case in most of my music listening sessions.
Watching and listening to movies was even more impressive. The Dolby Atmos track on the Ultra HD Blu-ray of Star Trek: Into Darkness is to die for. (Don’t worry, though: Bones can bring you back to life.) The action scenes are filled with a plethora of directional effects flying through the room from side to side and overhead. This is especially on display when Kirk is running for his life in the first act, as a spear whooshes over his head, and careens off into the wild- erness. Then when the Enterprise reveals itself from the ocean, the falling water encompassed my room, and I swore I was right there. Dialogue in chaotic sequences such as the final battle with Kirk’s nemesis never loses priority in the mix. I was initially worried that the amp’s separate power specs for its 11 channels might negatively affect the soundstage and muddle the layering of the effects or its cohesiveness, but that certainly wasn’t the case as the five main channels blended seamlessly with the lesser powered rear and height speakers and kept all the individual sound effects well isolated.
This command of the material was also on display while demoing the various Dolby Atmos trailers from the Dolby promotional disc handed out at industry trade shows. “Horizon” is one of the longest at nearly two minutes, but the clip highlights the full potential of the object-based audio. Near the beginning of the clip, there’s a sequence in outer space where you hear mission control’s radio broadcast in the back right corner of the room, which the Anthem placed perfectly in space. Then a large ship comes in from the rear of the room resulting in the rear soundstage coming alive with discrete effects coming from the back third of the room. As the ship moves forward, the roar of its engines shows off the dynamics of the scene, which the MRX 1120 handled flawlessly.
Toward the end of my review period, my daughter had some college friends visit for a few days, and they got to experience the Anthem as well. They were Star Wars fans and really wanted to watch The Force Awakens. While the film only boasts a non-Atmos DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track, the receiver’s Dolby Surround upmixing filled the height speakers and thrilled them to no end. In fact, one of them commented that they thought the movie sounded better than the screening they saw in a Dolby Atmos–equipped theater near UCLA. Now that’s a compliment!
At $3,500, the MRX 1120 isn’t cheap by any stretch of the imag- ination, but it’s one of the few one-box components I know of that can do a 7.1.4 (or 7.2.4) object-based surround system without complicating your life with multiple boxes; and at the moment, it’s the most up-to-date and future-proofed. As an alternative, there are also some new AVRs out there at a more wallet-friendly price that offer 11 channels of processing with nine internal amps—meaning one could add a stereo amplifier for a few hundred dollars and save some hard-earned cash over this model. But you’d be back to adding boxes and giving up the excellent Anthem Room Correction software—a sacrifice that I’m not sure I’d be so quick to make.
In the end, my only real quibble with the Anthem is its inability to independently handle multiple subwoofers, something I think a product at this price really ought to do, though there are aftermarket alternatives for that if you’re a serious enthusiast looking to squeeze every ounce of performance out of your system. That being said, the MRX 1120, through countless hours of music listening and movie watching, provided the escape I was looking for without introducing any of the fatigue I’ve experienced with lesser products. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better-sounding solution short of going with separates. Highly recommended.
Power Output: 5 x 140 watts, 6 x 60 watts (8 ohms, 2 channels driven)
Auto Setup/Room EQ: ARC
Video Processing: None (4K passthrough only)
Dimensions (WxHxD, Inches): 17.25 x 6.5 x 14.75
Weight (Pounds): 32
Video Inputs: HDMI 2.0a (8), MHL-enabled HDMI (2)
Audio Inputs: Coaxial digital (2), optical digital (3), stereo analog (5)
Additional: Ethernet (1), Wi-Fi antenna (2), FM (1)
Video Outputs: HDMI 2.0a (2)
Audio Outputs: Stereo analog (1), Zone 2 stereo analog (1), 11.1-channel pre-out (1), Extra subwoofer (1) ¼-inch headphone (1)
Additional: USB (2), RS-232 (1), IR remote (1), 12-volt trigger (1)