The soundtrack of the 2005 film Batman Begins also nicely highlights several of the MRX 700’s sonic strengths. One sequence that particularly caught my ear comes relatively early in the film as Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is subjected to severe test by his mentor Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson). Ducard uses a mortar and pestle to grind up the dried petals and leaves of a hallucinogenic mountain flower and then sets them on fire, ordering Wayne to breathe in the fumes. As the fumes begin to take their effect, Ducard—ably assisted by a team of ninjas—explains that it is time for Wayne to confront and presumably to overcome his worst fears, even as he must resist an attack that will be mounted by Ducard and the ninjas.
Interestingly, the sound designer and director use sonic images just as much as visual images to suggest the effects of the hallucinogen (and of Wayne’s mounting fears from within). Sounds become subtly, and then not-so-subtly, exaggerated and distorted, so the listener perceives in an instant that something seems a bit “off,” yet without initially being able to pinpoint exactly what’s wrong. Transient sounds experience momentary bursts of phase-shifted distortion effects that come, go, and then re-appear. Textures of sounds start out normally, morph without warning into other sounds that seem scarcely recognizable, and then snap back to normalcy again. It’s a heady and complicated sonic brew, which the MRX pulls off with real finesse and aplomb. While many receivers can no doubt give you a rote reading of the various types of effects used in this sequence, this one actually manages to convey what an altered state of consciousness might sound like.
I have mostly good news to report, here, but also a minor disappointment. Let’s start with that small disappointment and then work forward from there.
I listen to a lot of musical material in SACD format, which—as you may have gathered from my comments in the FEATURES section, above—isn’t the easiest thing to do with the MRX 700. The problem is that, first, you can’t listen through the analog outputs of a multichannel SACD player or universal player (because the MRX 700 doesn’t have multichannel analog inputs), and second, you can’t send a DSD bitstream to the MRX 700 and let it do the decoding (because the MRX 700 doesn’t support direct DSD decoding). So, to listen to SACD discs through the Anthem, you’ll need a player that can convert SACD content to high resolutions LPCM format. Happily, many popular players (for example, all of the Oppo Blu-ray players) support this functionality so that there is a way to get the job done.
But do SACD discs sound as good once you convert their musical content from DSD to LPCM format? To find out, I put one of my favorite test discs—the spectacular multichannel SACD recording of Gary Burton’s Like Minds [Concord Jazz], which I played through an Oppo Blu-ray/universal player configured to convert DSD to LPCM format. The resulting sound was good—actually very good, doing a wonderful job with the stunningly three-dimensional surround sound imaging cues that are a big part of what makes this record so special. Tonal colors, especially from Gary Burton’s vibraphone and from Pat Metheny’s electro-acoustic jazz guitar, were appropriately rich and nicely saturated. Even so, though, I felt a tinge of disappointment, in that I know from many past SACD listening experiences that the sound quality, though quite good as judged by most standards, might have had lost a step or two in the translation from SACD/DSD format to multichannel PCM. There’s a certain quality of aliveness and a heightened sense of air and resolution that should have been present in the recording, but that were only partially realized under the circumstances.
This isn’t a comment on the quality of the MRX 700’s analog audio electronics, (which sound exceptionally good when heard under optimal conditions); rather, it is a comment on what may be the inherent sonic drawbacks of converting DSD to LPCM format. In fairness, let me note not all listeners perceive these drawbacks as acutely as I do, and some report hearing no problems whatsoever with DSD to LPCM conversions. Thus, this is one of those areas where a precautionary “your mileage may vary” comment would apply. But if, like me, you’re a confirmed SACD fan, then this is a point to bear in mind when deciding if the MRX 700 is the right AVR for you. One very important point to consider, however, is that once DSD material is converted to LPCM format, it then becomes possible to apply Anthem Room Correction. Anthem’s position, as succinctly stated by Product Manager Nick Platsis, is that “the sonic benefits of ARC far outweigh” any hypothetical sonic drawbacks associated with DSD-to-LPCM format conversions—a legitimate point.