Anthem MRX 1120 Receiver Review
By Chris Heinonen on
Unlike most companies, Anthem doesn’t do a yearly refresh of their receivers. They don’t try to stick in every single new feature that comes out each year, most of which people don’t use. Instead they focus on upgrading when necessary. The updated MRX x20 line of receivers from 2016 is the third release in the MRX line and adds essential features including HDMI 2.0a, Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, and DTS Play-Fi. Most importantly they’ve kept Anthem Room Correction in place and added support for 11 channels of audio. The Anthem MRX 1120 is a powerful, great sounding receiver that serves as the heart of a high-end home theater. The Anthem MRX 1120 sits at the top of the Anthem receiver lineup. As the model number implies, it supports 11 channels of amplification inside of the chassis. To accomplish this it uses 140 watt Class A/B amplifiers for the five main channels and smaller 60 watt Class D amplifiers for the rears and Atmos/DTS:X channels. Seven rear HDMI inputs, all 2.0a save HDMI 7, and one front HDMI 1.4 MHL-compatible input provide plenty of connectivity for most users, while integrated WiFi and Ethernet with DTS Play-Fi let you stream music. All of this connectivity is built on top of a solid analog base and Anthem Room Correction. Unlike most room correction systems, ARC doesn’t operate with a microphone you connect directly to the unit. Anthem ships a separate microphone with that is individually calibrated. ARC requires more processing power than a standard receiver can provide, and this individual calibration file, so it can’t run like Audyssey and others do. A recent update also lets you use an app on your iPhone to run ARC. What the MRX 1120 doesn’t have built-in is a lot of excess fluff. If you want extra DSP sound modes, you won’t find them here. Anthem provides Movie and Music DSP modes, along with Dolby Surrounds and DTS:X Neural, but that is all. There is a Zone 2 output which is analog audio for PCM sources or it can follow the main input while other high-end receivers can pack HDMI or HDBaseT for up to 4 zones. There is no USB input to allow you to use it as a DAC for a PC or Raspberry Pi, Phono preamp, or video adjustments. While some people use these features, most people do not, and cutting them allows Anthem to concentrate on the sound quality of the receiver instead.
One of the most important selling points for Anthem products is Anthem Room Correction, so it deserves some in-depth discussion of why. Let’s start with the flexibility that ARC offers. You can define and configure up to four different ARC presets. For each preset you can have a different speaker arrangement and different settings for those speakers. If you want a movie mode that is 7.1.4 with Atmos and DTS:X, a TV mode that is straight 5.1, and a music mode that is 2.0, you can define those all inside of ARC. Each will have their own settings for speakers and crossover, and each can be assigned on a per-input level. Switch to your Blu-ray player and you have 11 channels ready to go, while your TV input is only 5.1. For ARC you can also define what frequencies it should work on. The most important frequencies to correct in a room are the lower bass octaves. Even in my smaller 11’x13’ room, frequencies above 225Hz are short enough that the entire sound wave fits between my speakers and listening position. For these frequencies the room should cause very little interaction. If I use ARC to adjust these, I’m correcting the sound of the speakers which I might not want to do. If I only adjust frequencies below this, now I’m adjusting for the room, which is what I want to do. Since ARC uses your computer to measure, it lets you adjust this information, save the results, and come back and update it if necessary. As you have the complete set of room measurements available, you are able to come back later and make adjustments or upload the information again if your receiver gets reset. ARC does offer an automatic mode, which Anthem recommends for first-time users or if you don’t want to deal with all these options, and it will still come out sounding better than other room correction systems. For those that want to set our systems up exactly how we want them, the flexibility it offers is outstanding.
Performance Above All
I tested the Anthem MRX 1120 in my updated system consisting of a KEF THX in-wall 5.0.4 system with an SVS SB16-Ultra subwoofer. Video displays are a Vizio P65-C1 TV and Epson 5040UB projector with video from an Oppo UDP-203 along with Roku, AppleTV, Amazon Fire, and Shield TV media streamers. Before installing the KEF system I talked to them and Nick Platsis at Anthem to make sure the Anthem MRX 1120 would be powerful enough to handle the 4 ohm loads. After looking at the speaker curves and the room, both concluded that it would be able to power them without issue. Boy, were they ever right. The Anthem MRX 1120 has plenty of power to fill a room even with a set of demanding speakers like the KEF. I have never pushed the Anthem MRX 1120 to the reference volume level as I’ve never needed it that loud. It can push the front KEF speakers in full range without any audible strain to my ears. ARC did a wonderful job of bringing the bass in the room under control but not altering the sound of my speakers. Tested with the SVS SB16-Ultra in the front corner and a Power Sound Audio dual 15” subwoofer in the rear of the room, all the room modes were corrected. The bass integrated between the subwoofers and the rest of the speakers, with the levels brought in-line. A point of contention for some people is that ARC calibrates the subwoofers summed instead of individually. If you talk to Anthem they explain that this is because if you do them separately, they could then interact with each other when playing in parallel, and it wouldn’t be as accurate. Since you are going to listen to them summed, you should calibrate them the same way. Integrated Play-Fi makes it easy to stream audio directly to the Anthem without additional hardware. Play-Fi supports Spotify Connect, so you can use the standard app and just select the MRX 1120 as the output target. Instead of using Sonos for music in my home theater room, which is also my office, I was able to use the Anthem for all my streaming audio. For playback of HiRes audio, you can use Critical Listening mode to stream 24/192 sources at their native resolution. This gives the Anthem a leg up on systems that use Sonos, AirPlay, or Bluetooth for streaming which cannot support 24/96 or 24/192 audio. The way Anthem has designed the MRX series to handle inputs also makes it easier to customize than most receivers. Most receivers have inputs tied to a specific physical input, such as HDMI 1, but the MRX lets you configure inputs differently. You can create as many as you would like and then customize those. My Input 1 might use HDMI 1, have ARC enabled, and use a 5.1.4 profile with ARC enabled and be called UHD Oppo as it is for the Oppo UBD-203 Blu-ray player. Input 2 can use no HDMI inputs, Analog 1 for an input, a 2.0 speaker configuration, and have ARC off for straight analog sound, and be for my turntable. You can setup an input to use HDMI for video and analog or digital audio, the customization is up to you. Up to 30 input profiles can be configured in all. HDR10 content passes through the MRX 1120 without issue. Using a wide array of sources they all successfully passed UltraHD with HDR. I had the Anthem usually connected to two displays with the dual outputs, and even if the secondary display was only 1080p it would still correctly pass UHD content to the UHD TV.
Alternatives and Improvements
Most people probably don’t need a full 11 channels of amplification in their home theater. In this case, the Anthem MRX 720 offers the same features of the MRX 1120 but with fewer channels of amplification. Pre-outs let you upgrade to 11 channels in the future as long as you add an external amplifier as well. Then MRX 520 is only 5 channels but drops support for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, as well as the Play-Fi streaming support. Having also used the MRX 520 for a few months I can say the audio quality it offers is on the same level as the MRX 1120, it just gives up some of the features that it offers. One issue I would like to see improved on the Anthem MRX line is how they handle firmware updates. Right now they all have to be done with a USB stick and not automatically over the network. A way to allow these to happen automatically, or at least to notify us they are available, would help make sure everyone has their receiver up-to-date. Since firmware updates have added important features like DTS:X support, making sure people keep their receivers current is very important.
A Powerful Beast
I gave up running separate components, with a preamp and thousands of dollars in amplifiers, to use the Anthem MRX 1120. Since I did that, I’ve not missed those prior components at all. The Anthem has proven to be a first-rate component capable of bringing out the best in the rest of my gear. ARC corrects the bass issues in my room while not making the sound any less clear. The soundstage was completely unified between the speakers and while watching Dolby Atmos content I was completely amazed how immersed in the audio I became. The Anthem MRX 1120 is a real reference quality receiver that can be the hub of any home theater. It makes the right choices in what features you need and leaves out the extra ones you will likely never use. I’m happy to have it powering my updated home theater and believe anyone after a reference quality receiver should look at it.
Wonderful sound quality, top of the line room correction, flexible configuration and setup, plenty of HDMI 2.0 inputs, integrated streaming including HiRes audio.
Firmware updates are over USB only, need a PC or iPhone to run ARC room correction.
The Anthem MRX 1120 is a high-end receiver that delivers high-end sound. It is one of the few receivers that can power 11 channels at once and it does so well. Anthem Room Correction remains some of the best you can get, and the flexibility of the MRX 1120 makes it easy to integrate and control even the largest home theater. A reference quality component.