Oppo BDP-105 Blu-ray Player
Marantz PM-15s2 Integrated Amp
Anthem MRX 720
custom built matrix switch
Audioquest hard-type RCA splitter (http://a.co/70CLI16
Day 1: Test as a Pre-Amp
I had anticipated that setting up and configuring the Anthem would take a lot of time, so I didn't plan on doing anything on the first day except hooking it up, and setting up to play some pink noise and white noise for the night. To be honest, the Marantz AV receiver and pre-amp was such a disappointment to me, that I came into this test with the mindset that the Anthem will sound very nice, but kill the depth of the music like any other receiver would.
**Keep in mind, I have a reference in these test. The goal is to play audio as transparent as the Marantz PM-15s2. If you don't understand what that means, read the first post.**
Current setup: Oppo (as source) --> RCA via the dedicated stereo output --> Marantz PM-15s2 (integrated amp) --> B&W 804S
Opened the box, placed the Anthem next to my Marantz, plugged it in, and turned on the Anthem. It was plugged it in between the Oppo and Marantz.
Pre-amp set: Oppo (as source) --> RCA via the dedicated stereo output --> Anthem (analog 1 input, then out via the pre-amp) --> Marantz PM-15s2 (power amp) --> B&W 804S
I configured my first input on the Anthem
Video Input: None
Audio Input: Analog 1
Zone 2: None
Process Analog Audio Input: Off
Anthem Room Correction: Off
Dolby Volume: Off
I didn't do anything else. No ARC setup, nothing. So in this setup, I am using the Anthem as pre-amp only.
I played a few songs just to get an initial first impression. It was very nice. It was actually a whole lot nicer than I expected. It was so nice, that I got curious to see just how nice it was and decided to do some tests.
- Plugged the RCA splitter on the Oppo. Ran one pair of interconnects to the Marantz analog 1. Ran another pair to the Anthem analog 1. Same type/length of cable.
- Ran a pair of interconnects from the Anthem's pre-out to the Marantz's Power Direct input.
- Made sure there was no sound adjustments on the Anthem. Made sure tone controls were disabled on the Marantz PM-15s2.
- Played a test tone using the Marantz as an integrated amp and measured the db level. Pressed stop, then pressed the Power Direct button to change it to act as an amp. Played the same test tone, and adjusted the volume to match the same db level as the Marantz.
Now I am ready to begin.
I played a few tracks at first. Then more music. Played a whole bunch of range of stuff.. Eagles, Billy Joel, Ray Charles, Faye Wong, Vivaldi, Rostropovich, Celine Dion, The Carpenters, Bob Marley, Rage Against the Machines, Jessie J, Squirrel Nut Zippers... a whole bunch.
I didn't mean to at first, but I couldn't stop.
In my initial test with the Marantz receiver and pre-amp, the difference was very obvious. So I imagined it would be just as apparent with the Anthem. No, it was not. Not at all! That is why I couldn't stop.
I started with one track. Hit the Power Direct button... it still sounded the same. Then another track.. did the same... same results.
The Anthem did not kill the depth. The sound did not change at all. With the Marantz PM-15s2, the music sounded like you could touch it. As if there were no speakers. With the Anthem as a pre-amp, it did not change to "just speakers". It remained the same.
This was a unit straight out of the box with only one input configured. Unlike the past units that I tested, the Anthem placed in the middle of the mix did not change the sound at all. This was very exciting!
However, I did find that even with my most basic configuration settings on the Anthem, if I changed "Process Analog Audio Input" to 'On', it degraded the depth and imaging. I played with that a little bit, but always had the same degrading results.
So I decided to set up my next test for that day.
In comes the Emotiva amp.
Oppo (as source) --> dedicated stereo output+RCA splitter+interconnect--> Marantz PM-15s2 (analog 1 input, then out via the pre-amp) --> matrix switching box input 1 --> B&W 804S
Oppo (as source) --> dedicated stereo output+RCA splitter+interconnect--> Anthem (analog 1 input, then out via the pre-amp) --> matrix switching box input 2 --> B&W 804S
In this test, the Anthem and Marantz do not touch each other at all. Both acting as a pre-amp. Once again, used a test tone and level matched both setups.
Played most of the same songs as before... toggled the input on the matrix box while playing music... sound did not change at all.
Result: The Anthem as a pre-amp is very transparent.
Day 1 continues: Testing the Anthem's DAC
At this point, I've already proven to myself that the pre-amp portion of the Anthem is equal to the Marantz PM-15s2's pre-amp. It is transparent.
So now I wanted to hear the digital portion of it. I did not want to throw the Anthem's amplification section into the mix, so for now I am still using the Marantz as a power-amp only.
Anthem input #2
Video Input: None
Audio Input: Optical 1
Zone 2: None
Process Analog Audio Input: N/A
Anthem Room Correction: Off
Dolby Volume: Off
Oppo (as source) --> dedicated stereo output--> Anthem analog input 1--> B&W 804S
Oppo (as source) --> optical output--> Anthem optical input 1--> B&W 804S
In this test, I thought I would need to adjust the volume each time I switched inputs, but I didn't. Sound levels from both inputs measured the same.
Since the Anthem doesn't have dedicated buttons for each input, I configured my Logitech Harmony to control the Anthem because I didn't want to click on the remote, navigate on the screen, etc, etc every time I wanted to switch sources. So I configured the Harmony remote to switch between the two sources with just one click.
I still have not looked up to see what DAC chips the Anthem uses, but whatever they use, Anthem has implemented it very well.
There is a difference between the Oppo's DAC and the Anthem. But it's not as the case of this one is better than that one.
I found the spacial separation of the Anthem to be slightly more precised than the Oppo. However, I found the lower frequencies in the Oppo's DAC to be slightly more precise and a bit stronger. This was VERY very slight.
Perhaps the most distinguishable difference was when listening to music where the singer was so close to the mic that you could hear their breathing (like Joss Stone's The Chokin' Kind). At the end of a breath, with the Oppo it sounded like you could hear just a tad bit more of the breath.
I tried switching sources. I used my media server's plugged into the Oppo via USB, then used the DAC's stereo analog output. Then I had the optical output straight from the pc go into the Anthem. Same results.
The Anthem's DAC is very very well implemented.
Is it 100% identical to the Oppo? No. There are differences, but every so slight. I would say 99.xx%.
I would say it's like having two brand new red Ferrari's. One of them has 3 hairline scratches on the door. The other has 2 hairline scratches on the roof. You can't see them unless you are so close and at a certain angle. My point is, unless you are looking for it (the same way that you would be looking for a hairline scratch), you are not going to notice it.
When you are enjoying your music, you will be enjoying it every much the same as the other.
Just the same as if you were enjoying staring at one of the Ferrari's. You are not going to see the hairline scratches unless you are deliberately looking for them.
So how good is the Anthem's DAC? I've own several DACs in the past. I ended up selling my DAC1 because I was so content with the Oppo BDP-105's DAC.
And now, I find the Anthem's digital inputs so good that I am content with selling the Oppo.
Day 1 continues: Digital Input test
Markmon, I did this one just for you. I wanted to see if there was any real difference between using optical input or audio from HDMI input.
I configured my media server to output audio via HDMI and optical (I use JRiver). Configured input #3
on the Anthem with audio from HDMI.
I didn't bother with the HDMI display from the Anthem as I didn't need it. I was remoted into the media server using my laptop.
Played a few songs, switched between input #2
(optical) and input #3
I can't say I heard any difference at all.
So rest assure that all the digital inputs work equally well.
So at this point, I have proven to myself the the Anthem's pre-amp portion is as transparent as the Marantz. And that the DAC is just as good as the Oppo's.
End of Day 1 testing.
Day 2: Testing the Anthem's internal amps
I decided on would continue the next test using 2-channel music only. Mostly the same music as the prior day.
Oppo (as source) --> optical --> Anthem --> speaker selector switch (Luxman) --> B&W 804S
Oppo (as source) --> optical --> Anthem, out via the pre-amp --> Marantz PM-15s2 (as power amp) --> speaker selector switch (Luxman) --> B&W 804S
I played a test tone using the Marantz, and recorded the db level. Then I played the same test tone using the Anthem's internal amps and matched the db levels.
Now I was ready to start my tests.
Now the difference becomes apparent.
I played the same music as day 1, and just toggle the speaker switch to listen to the output form the internal amp vs the external amp.
The upper highs seem a bit rough compared to using a pro-amp. Like, very high female voices sound like sand paper 3000 grit versus the Marantz' 4000 grit. If you touch it with your hand, you can barely feel the difference.. but you do know that one of slightly more textured compared to the other. Did I notice this with all female voices? No. But it was more noticeable with voices compared to instruments playing the same high tones.
I listened to a lot of music with double bass and cellos. The bass also seemed slightly stronger with the pro-amp versus the internal amps.
The bass still seemed equally controlled and precise between the internal amp and the external amp, but with slightly less umph (not presence). However, this was very slight. Noticeable, but just barely. I heard it.. my wife did not.
One thing that I am very happy to report is that even though I noticed the high voice difference and the umph of the lower frequencies, the depth never changed. It never sounded like the sound was coming from speakers (as it did in my initial tests at the beginning of this thread). This was the biggest thing that turned me away from the Marantz receiver and pre-amp.
Also, keep in mind that these two devices do not have the same amplification power.
So because of that, I swapped the Marantz with the Emotiva. Again, not the same amplification power. I just wanted to see if I had the same results. Yes, I did.
Out of all the test, the bass was probably the biggest and most noticeable difference. Did it sound degraded? No. It just seemed like the external amps had more power (which the Marantz does not)
So does burn-in come into play at this point? I don't know. I may run this same test later. However, I can only do it with the Marantz as I returned the Emotiva today.
Day 2 continues: Testing HT and ARC
This post is already ridiculously long, so I will try to be short for this.
Setup 1: Oppo (as source and pre-amp) --> Emotiva A-500
Setup 2: Oppo (as source) via HDMI --> Anthem
I don't have a way of testing multi-channel on the fly. The matrix switch I made was made with stereo in mind only. I suppose I could modify it, but not this time.
I have always used the same particular blu-ray discs for testing out how well the surround effect are with different speakers and components.
Since I didn't have a way to test on the fly, I didn't listen or try to identify difference the same way I did with music. Instead, I just played some of my favorite scenes to see if anything sounded particularly different, or cooler, or more entertaining.
As I mentioned before, with the Oppo/Emotiva setup, everything sounded very clear, but Audyssey (when I had the Marantz AV receiver and pre-amp) made it everything so much better with movies. Surround effects, vocal, etc.
Once ARC was set up on the Anthem, I played several movie scenes with and without ARC.
With or without ARC, surround effects were entirely more enjoyable with Anthem compared to the Oppo/Emotiva combo. ARC didn't make a night and day difference, but everything sounded very balance with it on. Vocals were easily better balanced (more so with ARC on), and surround effects seemed more effect. That is what I found out last time as well. As much as the Oppo BDP-105 excels at so many things, these AV receivers/processor really do make such a difference with movies.
There really isn't much else to say about it with movies.
I have played quite a few games with it already, but I don't have a way of comparing it with anything. However, I found it more enjoyable playing games with ARC on.
However, one thing I do want to point out.
I played a CD in the Oppo a few hours later after testing the movies. I played it with and without ARC on, but I found that ARC seemed to affect the imaging too much. Did it sound bad? No.. but there were certain aspects that sounded a bit too processed with it on.
I am still trying to see if there is a way to toggle ARC on and off with just a button.
If you own an Anthem MRX 720/1120 and are wondering if the Anthem is adding any artificial sound to it, it's not. It is as transparent as the Marantz PM-15s2 and as transparent as the Oppo directly connected to a power amp.
The Anthem's DAC is equally impressive. Enough that it has replaced my Oppo BDP-105's use as a DAC.
Even the Anthem's internal amp is impressive. Being on par with the Marantz PM-15s2 or the Emotiva A-500.
Could it benefit from using an external amp? Maybe. Perhaps if you have very demanding speakers. In my case with my B&W 804S, I am more than content with the Anthem.
It sounds excellent with movies, does a very good job as balancing my different speakers while using surround sound, and plays music so beautifully that it sounds like the speakers disappear.
So yes, though not cheap, there is a receiver that is truly transparent for stereo.
If you really want to know how good your speakers can sound AND want to run a full surround setup with all the latest codecs, I highly recommend the Anthem MRX 720/1120.