But the good news, here, is that when you feed the MRX 700 music material recorded in (or converted to) LPCM format, it sounds well and truly terrific. A great example would be the title track from Mary-Chapin Carpenter’s Come On Come On [Columbia]. I routinely use this highly revealing test track when evaluating ultra high-end headphones and headphone amplifiers for our sister publication Playback, so I feel that I have a pretty good idea of how good it can sound through cost-no-object transducers and electronics. Imagine my surprise, then, when the MRX 700 managed to reproduce some of the same special qualities I hear in “Come On Come On” through higher-end components. What qualities are those? Well, for starters there is the sheer complexity and beauty of Chapin Carpenter’s voice—a voice that, through the Anthem, sounds at once earthy and powerful, yet also breathy, delicate, and at times vulnerable. These subtle shadings of timbre aren’t easy to capture, at least not to their fullest extent, yet the Anthem caught them with much if not all of the richness and subtlety I would expect to hear from more costly components.
Then, there is the richness of the instrumental accompaniment, which centers on acoustic guitars, bass, and piano. The guitar work is richly, even sumptuously detailed throughout, yet not in an exaggerated way that would inappropriately draw too much attention and thus detract from the song as a whole. The piano, in turn, provides a contemplative (and at times almost melancholy) melodic and rhythmic framework, while the bass functions as a rock-solid sonic “sea anchor” that holds the song on course. Through this all, though, we also hear small—indeed almost subliminal—harmonics, overtones, echoes, and reverberations that convey a sense of the recording space in a way that imparts a quality of lifelike realism that makes the recording special. On this track, the MRX 700 differentiates itself from run-of-the-mill AVRs by successfully expressing the deeper, more soulful and emotionally involving aspects of music.
As I listened to Come On, Come On (and other 2-channel source material) I also had the opportunity to try out the MRX 700’s various two-channel-to-surround-sound processing modes. While I concede that such modes do have their appeal, I’m normally not a big fan (hey, I was raised as a dyed-in-the-wool audio purist), but I had to make an exception in the case of Anthem’s wonderful AnthemLogic-Music mode, which sounded quite wonderful. What makes AnthemLogic Music mode different and better than others of its type is its elegant simplicity. Anthem says the mode “enhances the stereo listening experience without detracting from the stereo soundstage,” adding that, “this is a minimalist design that uses no echo or reverberation effects which could negatively affect the purity of the sound.” Moreover, Anthem points out, the mode “does not utilize the center channel to ensure that the purity of the stereo music soundstage will in no way be compromised when you’re sitting in the ‘sweet spot’ and listening to your favorite stereo recordings.” Where many such modes sound like garish extrapolations upon the original stereo content, AnthemLogic-Music mode manages to sound very much like the original stereo recording—only better, because the overall presentation becomes more enveloping and three-dimensional, albeit in a very subtle and tasteful way. Good work, Anthem.
Consider this AVR if: you want a versatile, flexible, internet radio-capable receiver whose amplifier section offers the clarity and finesse for which Anthem is rightly famous, and whose muscular, punchy sound belies its comparatively modest output specifications. Also consider the Anthem if you want a receiver that incorporates one of the most sophisticated room EQ systems available today.
Look further if: you’d like to research other AVRs that may ultimately provide more audiophile-friendly features and greater ease of use at a comparable (or slightly lower) price. The MRX is a good choice, but it faces formidable competition at its price point (from Integra, Marantz, and Onkyo in particular)
Ratings (relative to comparably priced AVRs)
User interface: 9
Sound quality, music: 8-9
Sound quality, movies: 9
In terms of apparent build quality, flexibility, versatility and clean, punchy power delivery, the MRX 700 lives up to the promise inherent in the Anthem name. In short, it’s a real (not a “watered-down”) Anthem component. The MRX 700’s ARC room EQ system is also one of the two best that I’ve heard thus far—a feature that beautifully complements this receiver’s overall design brief, which basically calls for affordable excellence.