The Anthem MRX 720 Home Theater Receiver - High-End With Some Twists

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01
of 07

Introduction to the Anthem MRX 720 Home Theater Receiver

Anthem MRX 720 Home Theater Receiver - Front View
Anthem MRX 720 Home Theater Receiver - Front View. Image provided by Anthem

The home theater receiver serves an important role in the home entertainment landscape as the central connection, control, and audio/video processing hub for all your home theater components.

Home Theater receivers come in prices ranging from below $300 to $3,000 or higher. The Anthem MRX 720, with its $2,500 price tag, definitely fits into the high-end category.

What is interesting is that although it doesn't have all the bells and whistles you might find on less expensive, mass-market branded receivers, there are some distinguishing features that make the MRX 720 different, including a unique speaker setup system and an innovative way to access and manage both internet and local streaming content.

There is a lot to check out - so let's get started.

Core Features of the Anthem MRX 720

The MRX 720 is built like a tank. Featuring an all metal exterior cabinet (including the front panel) and interior frame construction, the receiver weighs in at 31 pounds.

The front panel is clean and uncluttered, while still providing access to essential features, as well as access to both a headphone and front mounted HDMI inputs.

The MRX 720 houses amplifiers that are easily powerful enough for medium and large size rooms. While most manufacturers state equal power output across all channels, Anthem takes a slightly different approach with the MRX 720's 7 built-in amplifiers.

For amplifiers 1 through 5 (designated for the front left/right, center, and surround left/right channels), Anthem rates the power output at 140wpc (tested running two channels using 8ohm speaker loads), and for the two remaining assignable amplifiers (channels 6/7 - surround back/zone 2/front height), Anthem rates the power about at 60 watts per channel.

Although this seems unorthodox, the power output ratings for the two extra assignable amplifiers is more than enough to handle the type of audio signals sent to them.

For more details on what amplifier power output ratings mean real-world listening conditions, refer to my article: Understanding Amplifier Power Output Specifications.

To make sure that amplifier output is stable over time, as well as fluctuating content demands, Anthem provides Advanced Load Monitoring (ALM), which constantly monitors amplifier power output and makes real time adjustments to meet demand, such as adjusting the speed of the built-in fan or shut down the receiver automatically in case of any power output anomalies (such as excessive clipping) or detection of any short-circuited speaker wiring.

In addition to 7 built-in amplifiers, the MRX 720 also provides expansion for up to 4 externally powered Dolby Atmos height channels (for a total of 11). This is available via two sets of preamp outputs. This expansion capability allows the MRX 720 to run up to a 7.1.4 channel configuration.

Exclusive of the 4 height channel preamp outputs, the MRX 720 also provides a full set of 7 channel preamp outputs. This allows users to bypass any of the internal amplifiers in favor of optional external amplifiers - thus turning the receiver into an AV preamp/processor.

To take full advantage of either built-in amplification or preamp output capabilities, the MRX 720 provides audio decoding for most Dolby and DTS surround sound formats including Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD Master Audio, and Dolby Atmos. The MRX 720 is also DTS:X compatible, but when this review was conducted, the required firmware update was not available, so will not be discussed.

On the other hand, the MRX 720 provides additional audio processing options that include AnthemLogic (Music/Cinema), All Channel Stereo, DTS Neo:6, Dolby Surround Upmixer (provides a Dolby Atmos-like effect for content that is not Dolby Atmos-encoded), and Dolby Volume.

Also, in a similar manner as the Dolby Surround Upmixer, AnthemLogic also supports height channels for 5.1.2, 6.1.4, or 7.1.4 speaker configurations (on the MRX 720, 6.1.4 and 7.1.4 speaker setups require connection of additional external amplifiers).

02
of 07

The MRX 720 and DTS Play-Fi

DTS Play-Fi Music Services
DTS Play-Fi Music Services. Image provided by DTS Play-Fi

Another important audio feature that MRX720 includes is DTS Play-Fi

Play-Fi is a wireless multi-room audio platform that operates via the installation of a free downloadable app to compatible iOS and Android devices (smartphones). Once the Play-Fi app is installed, it provides access to select internet streaming and radio services, as well as audio content that is stored on compatible local network devices, such as PCs and media servers.

When music is accessed, Play-Fi can re-stream it directly to compatible sound bars and wireless speakers that may be scattered throughout the house, or, in the case of Anthem, Play-Fi can stream music content directly to their MRX 20 series receivers (such as the MRX 720) so you can hear music through your home theater system.

Play-Fi setup is straight forward. The first time you select Play-Fi as your active input source on the MRX 720, you will get a message on the front panel and instructs you to install the Play-Fi app. At this point, turn on your smartphone, and search for the Play-Fi app, either by going to the official DTS Play-Fi website or via your web browser. You then download and install the app.

Once installed, open the app, the Play-Fi will then search for compatible playback devices. It took me 2 tries, but once the app paired with the MRX 720, it showed a list of available services, which included the following: Amazon Music, Deezer, iHeart Radio, Internet Radio, KKBox, Napster, Pandora, QQMusic, Sirius/XM, Songza, TIDAL, and media server.

iHeart Radio and Internet Radio are free services, but the others may require an additional paid subscription for total access.

Play-Fi is capable of streaming uncompressed music files, so the results were excellent for such content when available - much better than you would get from Bluetooth-access music content.

File formats that are compatible with Play-Fi include MP3, AAC, Apple Lossless, Flac, and Wav. CD quality files (16bit/48hz sampling rate) can be streamed with out any compression or transcoding. Also, hi-res audio files up to 24bit/192kHz are also compatible with a local network.

As a result of the incorporation of the Play-Fi platform into the MRX 720, Anthem does not include the Bluetooth, AirPlay, or USB options that are provided on many other branded home theater receivers. Also, the MRX 720 can only access internet or locally available streaming content when paired with a compatible smartphone or tablet with the Play-Fi app, it cannot access the internet or audio files from PCs or media servers on its own.

Anthem's approach is that Play-Fi effectively eliminates the need for Bluetooth and Apple AirPlay, since the app is available for Android and iPhones, but it was somewhat puzzling that Anthem would not provide the ability to access music files stored on USB flash drives, especially since the MRX 720 actually has 2 USB ports. According to Anthem, the USB ports are only assigned to access firmware and service update files.

03
of 07

Audio/Video Connectivity Options Available On The MRX 720

Anthem MRX 720 Home Theater Receiver - Rear View
Anthem MRX 720 Home Theater Receiver - Rear View. Image provided by Anthem

To further support its audio features, the MRX-720 not only provides abundant connections, but they are organized and spaced well, with the added touch of color coded-by-channel speaker terminals.

Here is a rundown on what connections are available and what they mean for users.

To start, there are 8 (7 rear/1 front) HDMI ver 2.0a input connections which support 3D, 4K resolution, HDR and Wide Color Gamut pass through.

However, it is important to point out that the MRX 720 does not perform any additional video processing or upscaling - whatever video signals come in are passed through unchanged to a TV or video projector - it is up to the TV or video projector to perform any desired video processing or upscaling.

On the other hand, the HDMI inputs have the ability to accept all Dolby and DTS surround format signals, including Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. Also, two of the HDMI inputs (1 front/1 rear) are MHL compatible. What this means is that users can connect compatible devices, including many smartphones and tablets, as well as the MHL version of the Roku Streaming Stick.

For added connection flexibility, one HDMI input can also be designated for audio/video pass-through use when the receiver is off (Standby Pass-Through). This feature allows consumers to access one HDMI source without having to turn on the receiver - this is practical when you don't need the full audio capabilities of the MRX 720 and just want to watch your TV using its own built-in speakers, such as news programs from a cable/satellite box, or for late night viewing.

The MRX 720 provides two parallel HDMI outputs which allow users to send the same video output signal to two video display devices at the same time, such as two TVs, or a TV and video projector.

NOTE: The Anthem MRX 720 does not provide any composite or component video connections. If you want to connect older video components, such as a VCR or a DVD player, cable/satellite box, game console, or another source that does not have an HDMI output connection, you need to connect the video outputs from those devices directly to your TV, and then make a separate connection to the MRX 720 to access the audio.

In addition to HDMI, the MRX 720 provides some additional audio-only connection options, including 3 digital optical, 2 digital coaxial, as well as 5 analog Stereo inputs. However, it is important to point out that the MRX 720 does not provide a dedicated phono/turntable input. If you desire to use a turntable with the MRX 720, it either needs to have its own built-in phono preamp, or an external phono preamp needs to be connected between the turntable and the receiver.

Audio Outputs (Excluding HDMI) include 2 Sets of analog stereo, 1 digital optical, 1 set of 7.1 channel analog audio preamp outputs, 2 sets of height channel preamp outputs, 1 zone 2 analog stereo pre-out, 1 extra set of analog audio preamp outputs, 2 subwoofer pre-outs, and 1 headphone output.

Another set of connections that are provided is screw-on terminals on the upper left and right side of the rear panel for connection of the provided Wifi Antennas (shown attached in the above photo).

04
of 07

Setting Up The MRX 720

Anthem MRX 720 Home Theater Receiver - Room Correction Kit
Anthem MRX 720 Home Theater Receiver - Room Correction Kit. Photo © Robert Silva - Licensed to About.com

To get the optimum audio listening results from the MRX 720, the Anthem Room Correction System (which is referred to as ARC) is included.

Note: Anthem's ARC should not be confused with Audio Return Channel (ARC), that is a part of the MRX 720's HDMI features.

The Anthem Room Correction System, as provided, works by having your PC or Laptop instruct the MRX 720 (via the ethernet connection or Wifi) to generate a series of test signals into each connected speaker and subwoofer. As the test signals are generated by the MRX720 and reproduced by the connected loudspeakers and subwoofer, they are picked up by the provided microphone, which, in turn, sends the signal to your connected PC or Laptop via a USB connection. It is recommended that this step is repeated for at least five listening positions.

Once the series of test signals are collected by the PC, the software calculates the results and matches the results against a reference curve. The software then corrects the response of the loudspeakers that are affected by room characteristics to more closely match the reference curve, thus optimizing speaker and subwoofer performance as much as possible for your specific listening space, correcting for the negative effects that the room adds to the mix.

When this process is completed, the results are saved in both the MRX 720 and your PC/Laptop, where the results can be displayed in graph form on your PC/Laptop monitor or screen (and you can also print them out).

Anthem provides everything you need to use ARC as shown in the above photo. This includes a specialized microphone, USB connection cable to connect the microphone to a PC/Laptop, a tripod to attach the microphone to, and an ethernet cable to connect the PC/Laptop to the MRX 720 - although you can forgo the ethernet cable if the MRX 720 is connected to your home network via Wifi.

Lastly, a CD-Rom was included in the review package that contains the Room Correction Software program. The software is compatible with PCs/Laptops running Windows 7 or higher. If you get a package that comes packaged with the CD-ROM and do not have a CD-ROM drive, you can also download the ARC software directly from the Anthem AV website.

However, although a CD version of the Anthem Room Correction software has been provided with shipped up to this point, moving forward it is being phased out in lieu of the software download option - which makes sure consumers have the latest version (and the fact that many newer Laptops and PCs may not have a CD Drive)..

05
of 07

Anthem Room Correction Results Example

Anthem Room Correction Results Graphs For The MRX 720
Anthem Room Correction Results Graphs For The MRX 720. Montage by Robert Silva

The above photo shows an example of the calculated results for the MRX 720 reviewed with a Dolby Atmos speaker setup using a 5.1.2 channel configuration after the Anthem Room Correction process is completed.

The vertical portion of the graphs displays the dB (Decibel) output of each speaker and the subwoofer, while the horizontal portion of the graph displays the frequency response of the speakers or subwoofer in relation to the dB output.

The red line is the actual measured frequency response of the test signal as reproduced by the loudspeakers and subwoofer.

The purple line is the measured frequency response with Bass Management added.

The black line is the target dB/frequency response output that is desired (the reference curve).

The green line is the EQ (equalization) with Bass Management that is calculated by the software that provides the best response possible for the loudspeakers and subwoofer within the specific listening space in which the measurements have taken place.

In looking at these results, the speakers measured perform well in the mid and high frequencies but drop off in output considerably below 200Hz (although the center channel has a very strong output between 100 and 200Hz, but starts it big drop-off at about 100Hz).

In addition, the subwoofer results show that the subwoofer used in this test has a consistent output between 50 and 100 Hz, but has an increased output drop off below 30Hz and above 100Hz.

Note: Anthem also provides a Mobile App version of its Anthem Room Correction system. However, I was not able to test this version as it is only available for compatible iOS devices (iPhone, iPad) at the time this review was conducted, and I am an Android phone owner/user. 

06
of 07

MRX 720 - Use and Performance

Anthem MRX 720 Home Theater Receiver - Remote Control
Anthem MRX 720 Home Theater Receiver - Remote Control. Image provided by Anthem

Standardized test results are one thing, but the most important thing is to find out how a home theater receiver performs with real content in a real world setting - The MRX 720 does not disappoint.

Audio Performance

The MRX720 is robust over long listening sessions. I fed both uncompressed two and multichannel PCM signals via HDMI from both an Oppo BDP-103 Blu-ray and Samsung UBD-K8500 Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc players, as well as undecoded bitstream output via HDMI and Digital Optical/Coaxial to get a comparison between externally processed audio signals and the internal audio processing of the MRX720. In both cases, using a variety of music and movie source material, the MRX720 did an excellent job. The MRX 720 never exhibited any power drop-off or recovery time issues with demanding music or movie tracks.

In addition to the Dolby and DTS audio decoding/processing modes, Anthem offers its own AnthemLogic surround processing system. AnthemLogic operates in a similar fashion to Dolby Pro Logic II or IIx and DTS Neo:6. AnthemLogic Music is designed to provide up to a 6.1 channel sound field (no center channel inclusion), while AnthemLogic-Cinema provides up to a 7.1 channel sound field from incoming two channel material. I found that AnthemLogic is effective, and provides the user with an alternative to Dolby Prologic II, IIx, or DTS Neo:6 offerings.

As mentioned above, the AnthemLogic Music setting disables the center channel, but retains the left, right, and surround channels. The intent is to recreate a more traditional stereo image where the left and right front channel speakers are used to create a phantom center channel. After listening, I don't know if this variation is really necessary, but it does add another listening setup option.

Dolby Atmos

Running the MRX 720 in a 5.1.2 channel speaker setup I proceeded to check out the Dolby Atmos surround sound format.

Using Blu-ray and Ultra HD Blu-ray content (see title listing at the end of this review), I found the surround sound field opened up, released from the horizontal constraints of traditional surround sound formats and speaker layouts.

Dolby Atmos definitely provided a more immersive listening experience with fuller front stage and more precise placement of objects in the surround sound field that a straight 5.1 or 7.1 channel setup does. Also, environmental effects, such as rain, wind, explosions, planes, helicopters, etc... are accurately placed above the listening position.

Also, using the MartinLogan Motion AFX vertically-firing Dolby Atmos speakers (on review loan), the overhead sound effects were quite effective, but still not quite as effective as when using ceiling mounted speakers would be in a Dolby Atmos system.

The Dolby surround "upmixer" also did a credible job of providing a more immersive surround sound listening experience with non-Dolby Atmos encoded content. I would describe the results as sort of more refined version of Dolby Prologic IIz audio processing.

For standard music playback, I found the MRX 720, did very well with CD, and digital file playback via Play-Fi with very listenable quality.

Finally, for those that still listen to FM radio, the MRX 720 does include a standard FM Stereo tuner with 30 presets. The sensitivity of the FM tuner section provided good reception of the FM radio signals using the provided wire antenna - although results for other consumers would be based on distance from local radio transmitters - you may need to use a different indoor, or outdoor antenna than the one provided.

Also, although the MRX 720 does not have a built-in AM tuner. Select AM local and national AM radio stations can be accessed through iHeart Radio, via the DTS Play-Fi app.

Zone 2 Operation

The MRX720 also has the ability to operate a 2nd Zone. You can access Zone 2 operation using the MRX 720 in two ways.

  • You can run the receiver in a 5.1 channel mode for the main room and two channels in a second room using the built-in MRX 720's built-in amplifiers. In this setup, Zone 2 feature is accessed by re-assigning the Surround Back Channels to Zone 2.
  • You can run the receiver in either a 7.1 channel or 5.1.2 (Dolby Atmos) mode in the main room, and use the Zone 2 preamp outputs to connect to an external two-channel amplifier in another room.

In testing Zone 2 operation for this review, I opted to reassign the surround back channels for Zone 2 operation (option one)  and I was easily able to run two separate systems.

The receiver was able to run DVD and Blu-ray audio in the main 5.1 channel setup and also easily access any two channel analog and digital (optical/coaxial) audio sources, such as FM radio and CDs in the two channel setup in another room. Also, the MRX 720 could run the same music source in both rooms simultaneously, one using the 5.1 channel configuration and second using the 2 channel configuration.

07
of 07

The Bottom Line On The Anthem MRX 720

Anthem MRX 720 Home Theater Receiver - OnScreen Menu System
Anthem MRX 720 Home Theater Receiver - OnScreen Menu System. Photo © Robert Silva - Licensed to About.com

After using the Anthem MRX 720 for an extended time period, here are the key observations regarding features and performance.

Pros

  • Heavy duty construction.
  • Excellent audio performance for music and movies.
  • Anthem Room Correction easier to use than it might seem at first.
  • Incorporation of Dolby Atmos with DTS:X capability to be added via firmware update.
  • Up to 11 channel expansion via optional external amplifiers.
  • Compatible with the DTS Play-Fi app, which provides access to internet streaming services and content stored on network-connected PCs and media servers. Play-Fi is also compatible with Hi-Res audio files.
  • 4K, HDR, and 3D pass-through compatible.
  • Easy-to-use onscreen user interface.
  • Uncluttered front panel.
  • Well organized rear connection panel with color coded channel/speaker terminals.
  • Built-in fan assembly maintains cool running temperature even after extended use. However, it is always advisable to have ample space for air circulation on the sides, top, and rear of the unit.
  • RS-232 and 12 Volt Trigger connections provided for custom install control capability.
  • Backlit Remote control and access to mobile remote control app for iOS and Android devices provided.

Cons

  • No 5.1/7.1 channel analog audio inputs.
  • No dedicated phono-turntable input. If you need to connect a phono turntable you need to add an external phono preamp or use a turntable with a built-in preamp.
  • No composite or component video inputs or outputs. This is important to note for those that still have older video source devices that do not provide HDMI connectivity.
  • No Bluetooth or Apple Airplay.
  • No built-in standalone access to internet streaming services or network-stored music - The MRX 720 must be paired with a smartphone running the DTS Play-Fi app.
  • USB ports cannot be used to access music files stored on flash drives.
  • No additional video processing or upscaling - video signal pass-through only.
  • High price tag.

Added Note: The DTS:X firmware update was not available in time for the review.

Closing Thoughts

The MRX 720 is designed for great sound - great amps coupled with great audio processing and provisions for expansion for both Zone 2 and more extensive Dolby Atmos operation.

A high-quality receiver should have the ability to perform well in both stereo and surround modes, and the MRX-720 does not disappoint. Stereo, standard Dolby/DTS surround, or Dolby Atmos, all produced excellent results. There was no sign of amplifier or listening fatigue.

Anthem's Room Correction, although requiring a PC, is easy to use, and doesn't take a lot of time to run.

The MRX 720 does not include some audio connection options that are normally included in its price class, such as a dedicated phono input or 5.1/7.1 channel analog audio inputs. Also, there was the lack of both built-in internet streaming capability and video processing/upscaling.

However, internet streaming can be accessed by the DTS Play-Fi app, and although additional video processing/scaling was not included the pass-through functions worked perfectly - there were no added video artifacts, added noise, or halo effects (in the case of 3D), and the HDMI compatibility the HDR-encoded video signals was not disrupted as a result of receiver pass-through.

The MRX 720 is easy to set up and use for those that are not tech immersed (the user manual is well illustrated and is easy-to-read and understand) while giving the experienced user, or installer, more detailed setup and custom control options (such as the inclusion of both an RS232 port and 12-volt triggers).

The MRX 720 features excellent build quality - definitely no lightweight coming in at a hefty 31 pounds.

The Anthem MRX 720 Home Theater Receiver earns a strong 4.5 out of 5-star rating.

The Anthem MRX 720 carries a $2,500 price tag and is only available via authorized dealers or installers.