Anthem AVM 50v Processor MCA 5-Channel Amplifier Review

Building a Top Class System Starts with the Preamp-Processor

Debating the most important part of a home entertainment system could go on forever, but we know from experience that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. With that in mind, building a top-class music or home theater system starts with the controller or preamp-processor. In view of the complexity of a multichannel AV system, a pre-pro that can precisely adjust the sound and picture and customize its operation for user preferences is the foundation of good performance and usability.

I tested Anthem's AVM 50v preamp/processor/tuner and MCA 50 five-channel power amp to find out how the system stacks up.

Overview: AVM 50v & MCA 50

Anthem is a Canadian company, sister company of Paradigm Electronics, a respected speaker manufacturer. Anthem AV components are admired for their excellent build and sound quality.

The Anthem AVM 50v is a 7.1 channel pre-amp/processor/AM-FM tuner that serves as the center of a high-end, three-zone system. It has extensive connectivity, lots of digital processing horsepower and useful adjustments to dial-in the best performance. The AVM 50v is junior to the flagship Anthem Statement D2v.

The AVM 50v replaces the AVM 50 with upgraded performance and features, which include improved video noise reduction, eight HDMI v1.3c inputs (with Deep Color support), two parallel HDMI outputs, 2 dual-core DSP engines to support Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD audio decoding and the Anthem ARC-1 Room Correction System, originally an option.

The MCA 50 amp is 5 x 225-watts (8 ohms) powered by two toroidal transformers and eight output devices per channel. It features balanced-line XLR and single-ended RCA inputs and 3-way power control including a +12V trigger input. Its robust Slew Rate of 20V/µS (twenty volts per micro second) implies its ability to respond quickly to the transients found in most music and home theater sources.

The AVM 50v is a good-looking component but initially intimidating because of the abundance of front panel controls. The controls are well organized and the informative front panel display is clear enough to read across the room. The rear panel is well laid out and clearly labeled, but not a square inch of space remains. For more information, see specifications.

Connectivity: Cable Up!

The AVM 50v supports a three-zone system and cables will require a substantial part of a total budget. It has ten balanced-line XLR (L) and ten single-ended RCA analog audio outputs. Why ten? The system can be configured for a 7.1 channel system (8 ch) and drive a 2nd zone stereo amp for a total of ten. Or, the zone 2 outputs can be used for dual center channels (one above and one below a screen) and an additional sub – dual subs are a good way to improve bass and lessen room resonance problems. Zones 2 & 3 have RCA analog outputs and a full set of video outputs. Its eleven digital inputs include 7 coaxial, 3 optical, and a single AES/EBU stereo digital input, used for professional or high-end audio gear. It has 7 stereo analog RCA inputs, a 2-ch analog balanced-line XLR input and 6-channel analog RCA inputs.

Altogether 16 inputs can be assigned and renamed. The PATH feature routes signals to the Main, Zone 2, Zone 3 or REC OUT from the front panel or remote control. Three 12-volt triggers activate external AV components and the controller's AV functions can be configured with a PC via the RS-232 port, which is also compatible with Crestron and AMX system controllers. Upgrades, such as Dolby Volume (a software upgrade that delivers consistent volume between different programs) will be available as an Anthem download and installed via the RS-232 port. Vinyl enthusiasts will need to use an external phono preamp to play records as the AVM 50v does not have a phono input.

However, a good external phono preamp can be purchased for a few hundred dollars or less.

System Configuration & Setup

The controls in the AVM 50v rank it among the most flexible controllers I've used or reviewed. A component of this caliber is often installed and configured by a professional installer, but the on-screen menus and operating manual make installation mostly intuitive. Among the Anthem's most useful features is dual Bass Management settings for the main zone – one for Music, another for Movie sources. The setting allows separate speaker configurations and adjustments for stereo, multichannel music and movie sources. Within the Bass Management controls are Basic and Advanced crossovers to customize the controller. The Advanced settings have a crossover for each speaker pair (adjustable in 5 Hz steps from 25 Hz – 160 Hz) and a Room Resonance Filter to control peaks in the bass. The processor can be setup manually or with the Setup Editor and Video Editor applications included on the ARC-1 software disc. The AVM 50v has the latest Sigma Designs VXP digital video processor with added video noise reduction and scaling features. Some of the adjustments require sophisticated calibration equipment to correctly adjust. The Anthem Room Correction System (ARC-1) includes a calibrated microphone, stand, cables and software. ARC-1 sets speaker levels, crossover frequencies and speaker distance, and compensates for room acoustics based on measurements taken from the microphone. The entire process took 20-30 minutes and resulted in balanced overall sound of the system. Specifically, the levels of bass and mid-bass sounded more in-line with the rest of the system.

Testing the Anthem AVM 50v & MCA 50

I've had the AVM 50v in my system long enough to become thoroughly familiar with its features and performance. The AVM 50v is one of the finest controllers I've heard or used. With two-channel music it delivers the transparency and neutrality of the most straightforward analog component, and it cranks out decisively dynamic home theater performance with its advanced digital processing.

The AVM-50v consistently delivered clean, open and detailed sound with music and movies. Vocal clarity sounded crisp and well defined, and the natural separation of musical instruments (frequently smeared in complex recordings) was keen and distinct, allowing the listener to focus or concentrate on a single musical event or simply enjoy the performance in its whole. Surround sound events, particularly subtle environmental sounds (such as a doorbell off-screen or a scene depicting diners in a restaurant) came alive in a way that tricks the senses and transports the viewer to that scene, if only for a moment. It's known as 'envelopment' and the Anthem delivers it with startling realism. This is the way music and movies should be enjoyed and the Anthem AVM-50v and MCA 50 carry the audio and home theater experience to its fullest potential. With its dual power supplies and eight output devices per channel, the MCA 50 delivered a seemingly inexhaustible supply of current to the speakers.

The amp's respectable Slew Rate (L) of 20 volts/microsecond contributed to very quick transient response in percussive instruments such as a piano, drums or guitar strings.

Video Processing

I've written mostly about the audio capabilities of the AVM-50v, but the processor also features a Sigma Designs VXP broadcast quality digital video processor with motion-adaptive de-interlacing (L) and video noise reduction performed on a per-pixel basis.

I put the Anthem's video processor through its paces with the HQV Benchmark 2.0 DVD standard definition and high definition test discs and it passed all of the tests except a few of the film cadence tests. The processor passed all video resolution and de-interlacing tests on the discs. On a critical note, the Anthem AVM-50v had a few performance glitches, mostly with the HDMI connection and 'handshake' functions. Periodically when switching between source components the processor had difficulty maintaining audio sync with the source component (BD player, HD set-top box) and the audio signal would go out, requiring the processor to be reset by turning the power off for a few seconds. In other instances, the processor's on-screen menus would flash on and off on the screen, also requiring a reset. HDMI is an evolving standard and I suspect the different versions of HDMI currently on the market are at least somewhat responsible for the difficulties.

Update: Anthem software upgrade solves the problem.

Conclusions

This Anthem duo has plenty of digital prowess and pure current horsepower with overall performance that shares space with the best of the best. Audiophiles will appreciate their clean, transparent sound quality and home theater enthusiasts will delight in the processor's control and customization features.

Building a top class system starts with the controller. Despite its complexity, the AVM 50v delivers the rich sound quality of the finest analog audio components, but with superb digital processing and a plethora of useful controls thrown-in. The MCA 50 amp is a robust powerhouse, and I'm sure I never tapped its full potential.

It's difficult to conclude that either component is a bargain - the AVM-50v is $5, 999 and the MCA 50 is $2,799 - but there is little doubt in my mind that with their robust performance, extraordinary sound quality, control capabilities and custom features, they are indeed the foundation of a top class home entertainment system.

Specifications

AVM 50v

Audio

  • Frequency Response: 10 Hz - 20 kHz (+0, -.2 dB)
  • Frequency Bandwidth: 1 Hz - 120 kHz (+0, -3 dB)
  • THD + N (noise) Analog Direct Input: 0.006% @ 80 kHz
  • IMD (Intermodulation Distortion) Analog Direct Inputs: 0.001%
  • Signal to Noise ratio Analog Direct Inputs: 106 dB

Inputs / Outputs

  • 7 coaxial digital audio inputs
  • 3 Toslink digital audio inputs
  • 1 AES/EBU digital audio input
  • 7 stereo analog inputs
  • 1 stereo analog balanced-line XLR input
  • 1 6-channel analog input
  • 10 balanced-line XLR audio outputs
  • 10 single-ended RCA audio outputs

Video

Inputs

  • 8 HDMI inputs
  • 4 component video inputs
  • 7 S-video inputs
  • 7 composite video inputs
  • 2 HDMI outputs
  • 1 S-video output
  • 1 composite video output

Custom Installation

  • Two 50-mA trigger outputs
  • One 200-mA trigger output
  • Three powered IR receivers
  • Two IR emitters
  • RS-232
  • Wake-up/shut-off/sleep timers (Main, zone 2, zone 3)
  • Dimensions (W x H x D): 17 ¼" x 5 7/8" x 14 ½"
  • Black or Silver finish
  • Weight: 30.7 lbs.
  • Price: $5999

MCA 50

  • Power Output: 8 ohms: 225 watts (200 watts all channels driven) 4 ohms: 375 watts (265 watts all channels driven) 2 ohms: 535 watts (340 watts all channels driven)
  • Power bandwidth: 10 Hz - 80 kHz (+0, -3 dB)
  • Frequency response: 20 Hz - 20 kHz (+0, -0.15 dB)
  • Damping Factor: 130 at 1 kHz
  • Signal to Noise ratio: 120 dB
  • Slew Rate: 20V/microsecond
  • 5 balanced-line, 5 single-ended inputs
  • 5 pair speaker binding posts
  • Three power modes: Trigger, Manual, Auto
  • Dimensions (W x H x D): 17 ¼" x 7 5/8" x 17 ½" (height including feet)
  • Weight: 61 lbs.
  • Price: $2799
  • contact: anthemav.com