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.
Anthem AVM 50v Rear PanelAnthem
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
Anthem MCA 50 5-channel Power AmplifierAnthem
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.