Anthem may not have the brand recognition of some other manufacturers, like Yamaha, Denon and Marantz, but they have certainly gained the respect of consumers for creating some very solid products over the last few years. Last year they announced a whole range of new AV receivers, power amps and processors which offered a completely new look along with updated specs and additions. Today in our Anthem MRX 540 review we will be testing the entry level unit in their MRX series of AV receivers and we will determine if it is another worthy entry in an otherwise very solid refreshed lineup.
Their new updated, 4th generation MRX series of AV receivers that they released last year consists of three models, the MRX 540 that we will be testing here today, the MRX 740 that we had reviewed recently and got very good scores from us, and the top of the line MRX 1140. All of them come with a similar feature set but what sets them apart is the different number of processing channels and built-in amplifiers along with a few other minor features that we will talk about later on.
The MRX 540 is the entry level unit and it comes with 5 channels of built-in amplification while it can process up to 7 channels if you add an external amp which is a necessity if you want some overhead action. The unit supports Dolby Atmos, DTS:X and IMAX Enhanced, which is rather unusual for a 5 channels receiver, and comes with Anthem’s proprietary audio calibration system called ARC, with the most recent version of it available here named ARC Genesis. As for extras the MRX 540 comes fully packed with Airplay 2 and Chromecast available, custom integration options, Bluetooth, Roon and Spotify future availability and optional upgradability for its HDMI ports to the latest HDMI 2.1.
With the entire MRX range sharing many of the same features we had an idea what to expect from the MRX 540, especially since we had a recent experience during our MRX 740 review. Is the receiver a worthy addition to Anthem’s lineup and how does it fare compared to other brands of the same category? Keep reading to find out…
Disclaimer : The video above is not our own and credit goes to its respective owners
For the new lineup Anthem redesigned the whole chassis and to be honest it now looks much better and more in line with today’s designs as the old look was starting to look a bit old fashioned in 2021. It seems that all three releases share exactly the same chassis so this part of our review will be similar to what we observed in our MRX 740 analysis and we will point the differences wherever we see them.
The unit comes with a size of 17″ x 14-1/2″ x 6″ (43.18 cm x 36.4 cm x 15.24 cm) and a weight of 28.2 lb (12.8 Kg) making it slightly lighter than its bigger brother due to the less internal hardware included, which is just about what you should expect from an AV receiver of this category. Unfortunately Anthem produce these only in black color so there is no choice here to be made here.
The new design is very minimalistic and uses a two tone design for the front face with half of it being a highly gloss black glass that is covering the functions display while the other half is matte black and includes a big turning knob and some smaller function buttons. The buttons available include menu, select, previous/next selection, mute and a power button on the far right. A set of logos are placed on the bottom which looks nice while a single port for the headphones is placed at the lower right corner.
Here we need to mention that the front display is a full LCD screen and not the usual dot matrix displays that we are used to see in many AV receivers even today. Although it cannot be compared to some other displays we have seen from Arcam or NAD it certainly is a step above what you will find in Denon or Marantz for example.
Under the hood the MRX 540 is very similar with its bigger bother by incorporating 32-Bit/768 kHz DACs along with a next generation DSP platform for signal processing and conversion. Unfortunately there is no information as to the type of DACs Anthem is using in the MRX series so we have no other info of its capabilities.
Anthem hasn’t changed the design of their remote for some time now and the one that comes with the MRX 540 is the same one that we saw included in the MRX 740. There is nothing exciting about it, it looks simple and even a bit cheap we could say but will get the job done. It uses a plastic body with rubber buttons and their layout is good enough with different groups depending their functionality.
There is a backlight function available but this work with the press of a button and is not motion sensitive. The remote even includes a whole set of buttons that are dedicated to Zone 2 which have no use in this receiver as it is completely stripped of Zone 2 capabilities.
In terms of design and build quality the MRX 540 falls in line with its other two siblings. They share the same chassis and many of the same internal components. The MRX 540 being the entry level unit obvious has less than the others but keeps the certain standards that Anthem has set for the entire series.
It is rather unusual for a 5 channels AV receiver to come with support for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X but the MRX 540 is one of the few that does so. After all Dolby Atmos and DTS:X do not require specific number of channels and can work with as many channels as your system has. What is even more impressive is the addition of IMAX Enhanced which we mostly see in the higher-tier models of the other brands, even if support for this is still very scarce.
But except from these we also get the usual up-mixing and virtual technology features that gives you even more freedom when playback legacy mixes.
When it comes to up-mixing tech we find the usual Dolby Surround and DTS Neural:X. What these up-mixing tech are doing is to up-convert stereo and legacy mixes in order to make use of all the speakers you have in your setup. But the Anthem MRX 540 also features AnthemLogic which comes in two presets for Cinema and Music depending the content you will be listening to.
As for virtual tech the DTS Virtual:X is capable of creating sounds that originate from virtual created speakers around your room where there are no physical speakers present. As always this kind of virtual technology can be good in certain situations but it is not an all out solution for adding more surround sound to less capable systems as many times the sound feels unnatural and over processed. It is good to have it as an extra option but in our opinion it is not a feature that should constantly be used.
The MRX 540 comes with 5 channels of built-in amplification rated at 100W into 8 ohms. With the available built-in amplifiers you can create a surround system up to 5.2 channels. As the MRX 540 offers processing for up to 7 channels if you add an external amplifier you can create a system with a configuration of 7.2 channels or a Dolby capable 5.2.2 channels one. Now, for our testing we opted for a standard 5.1 channels setup with a single SVS SB-1000 pro subwoofer that was placed in the front left corner of our setup.
For our first test we opted for Kingsman: The Secret Service in 4K UHD which features a very solid DTS-HD Master Audio mix. The film is obviously dialogue driven but it has a few noteworthy scenes that we wanted to check out and that is no other than the church massacre.
There is so many things going on in this sequence that you are really thrown into the middle of the action as the camera travels through all this mayhem. There is a great sense of directionality as surround activity goes through the roof. We could hear everything happening in front, both sides and behind us with exceptional clarity and pinpoint accuracy while as the camera moves through this well orchestrated ballet, panning sounds would travel through space making us turn our heads more than once.
The film has its fair share of low end action with explosions offering the standard shake or two but your attention will not be focused there the most. Overall the receiver did great justice to this mix and even though there is no overhead action here we surely enjoyed it as much as possible. The mix is pure fun and the MRX 540 had no problem at bringing all this energy into our room.
Next we opted for Apollo 13 in 4K UHD with its magnificent DTS:X mix. The audio here is as impressive as it can be from a 5 channels system with plenty of surround action and low end prowess. The lift off sequence is one that will keep you on the edge of your seat with the subwoofer working overtime to bring you the full force of Apollo’s rocket engines into your room.
Again Apollo 11’s mix is not one that will keep you on your toes for its entire running time. Dialogue driven scenes had excellent clarity and everything was centered in the middle without any overlapping with the rest of the sound effects. There are a lot of small audio details here and there, especially during space flight, with beeps and hums emitting from Apollo’s navigation panels.
In general the Anthem really took an excellent mix and brought forward all its strengths making it sound as good as possible. There is no more you can ask from it with such a stellar performance.
Next on the list we put Cloverfield in 4K UHD which unfortunately has to settle for a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 lossless track. And we say unfortunately because this mix was one of the best in the Blu-ray format and we could only imagine what it could be with a fresh update to an Atmos one.
Nevertheless Cloverfield’s mix remain a benchmark in audio authoring and a prime example of how action films should handle audio design. Due to the nature of this movie being shot the audio becomes much more important than what the picture shows and as such surround activity can be described as more than just impressive. Sonic waves from explosions from afar have accurate directionality, the screaming of the alien will send chills down your spine and when the military attacks the creature with the camera running among the streets all speakers create a blasting atmosphere that will leave you in awe.
There are many films that offer superb surround design and Cloverfield is surely one of the few that sit at the very top of the list. And the receiver made sure to reproduce all this with exceptional quality, accuracy and detail.
Last movie test is the new Dune in 4K UHD that uses a marvelous Dolby Atmos track. Dune’s grand visuals needed an equally impressive mix in order to give you a real sense of size and magnitude and the MRX 540 did an excellent job at rendering each sound faithfully.
When the Harkonnen attack Atreides forces the blast of each of their big transporters hit us with force while explosions from all around gave us an idea of the magnitude of destruction that was about to follow. The excellent Hans Zimmer soundtrack blended naturally with the rest of the action while the receiver was equally good with different types of effects either it was cavernous echoes, powerful low frequencies or centered focus speech.
Last part of our tests included music testing so we switched to a 2 channels setup and streamed some audio files to the MRX 540 to see how it would fare.
The receiver really has no particular problems with music. On the contrary we liked the warm output of the MRX 540 which felt more natural and less forced to the ear. The receiver may not have felt as impressive here but this was not the fault of the receiver itself. On the contrary it did everything by the book, it was just that we were so amazed by its performance with films that with music this awe effect was simply missing.
But even if we were not as impressed the receiver had good balance in the middle frequencies that bind nicely the high end and the deep lows. Pushing the volume higher than preferable didn’t make the receiver show any fatigue or unbalance and everything remained tightly controlled.
As always we tried a few different genres included classical, electronic, rock, heavy metal, jazz and country and overall the receiver did very good across the board. The sense of integrity and overall control was very similar to what we had experienced in our MRX 740 review showing how good work Anthem has done to all their MRX models.
In the end the receiver may not be the number one choice for music audiophiles but is certainly a capable receiver that ticks all the right boxes when it comes to music reproduction.
Overall the Anthem MRX 540 may not be a powerhouse of a receiver but naturally it shouldn’t be considered as such. The receiver obviously has certain limitations, that why the higher tier models are there for, but for a simple 5 channels AV receiver it is surely a cut above what is there in the market right now in terms of audio fidelity, clarity and detailed surround reproduction.
Ports and Connectivity
The Anthem MRX 540 comes with most of its connection ports at the rear as the headphones jack is the only available port at the front side. This shows the different approach in design Anthem took compared to the other known brands that like to include more ports at the front for easier access.
Now at the back the first thing we notice is the 5 speakers terminals that can be used with the built-in amplifiers. Anthem has also included a generous 7 HDMI inputs and 2 HDMI outputs, enough to connect all the devices you may have.
As for the rest we get 5 analog stereo inputs, 3 optical audio inputs and 1 output, 2 coaxial audio inputs, 1 IR input, 3 12 volts trigger ports, an RS-232 port for control, 5.2.2 multi-channel pre-outs, 1 analog line output, an Ethernet port for wired connections to your local network and a USB port. There are also dual WiFi/Bluetooth connectors at the two corners of the AV receiver.
Since the receiver is capable at only 5 main channels if you want to add a pair of Atmos speakers then you will have to connect an external amplifier to the Back/Height main pre-out. Otherwise you are stuck to a non Atmos setup with only this AV receiver.
What also needs to be mentioned here is that the entire MRX series, including the MRX 540 we have here, only have HDMI 2.0 ports which means you can pass signals up to 4K@60Hz. The ports supports Dolby Vision, 4:4:4 Subsampling @ 4K60 (18.2 Gbps), High Dynamic Range (HDR), Hybrid Log Gamma (HLG), BT.2020 Color Gamut, 4K 50/60 Switching and eARC.
Anthem has also announced that the entire series can be upgraded with HDMI 2.1 ports and this can be done from the beginning of this year making the series even more future proof. It may not be the most practical thing to do, and obviously there will be additional cost, but at least you have the ability to further future proof the receiver unlike most competing brands that don’t offer something similar.
Lastly the unit comes with the standard set of wireless capabilities. With it’s built-in WiFi it can connect to wireless networks while it also supports Bluetooth streaming. The MRX 540 comes with Bluetooth 4.2 and while we would prefer the newer Bluetooth 5.0, from our tests we didn’t notice any problems connecting our devices.
The MRX 540 is very similar to the MRX 740 in terms of connectivity options. The only difference between the two is the missing Zone 2 ports (both analogue and HDMI) as the MRX 540 is missing Zone 2 functionality altogether and also some pre-outs that are meant for the additional channels processing the MRX 740 is capable of. Everything else remains the same. We would love to have a front HDMI along with native HDMI 2.1 support but no luck this time.
OS, Apps and Features
Anthem made sure to add a standard set of features in all three of their MRX models and so the MRX 540 is not so much different than the MRX 740 that we recently tested. So except from the obvious differences in its internal amplifiers and available channels the most notable difference here is the omission of Zone 2 capabilities. Other than that we find exactly the same features so this part of the review will be similar to our observations on the MRX 740 and we will make additions and changes wherever we dim necessary.
Although in terms of the supported feature set there are not many differences compared to competing brands if there is one area where Anthem differentiate themselves that is surely their audio calibration system called ARC (Anthem Room Correction). The latest version of this system included with the MRX 540 is called ARC Genesis and along with the receiver you also get the necessary microphone and a nice mic stand.
The ARC system has a really nice user interface and you can use it from both Windows or Mac systems. Actually its user interface is much better than most other auto calibration systems available and this is surely a huge advantage on Anthem’s part. ARC measures the output of each speaker relative to the listening area and make the appropriate adjustments to their output.
If there is one downside to this compared to the other usual calibration systems is that the ARC cannot measure the distance of the speakers and you will have to enter the values manually. But we wouldn’t consider this a big problem because I always found their measurements inaccurate and I had to go and correct the distances myself anyway.
After the system takes a specific number of measurements it makes the necessary calculations for each speaker and apply target curves to each one for better individual response. There is a lot more to it as it allows you to create your own custom target curves, save multiple profiles and create some nice calibration reports.
Usually cheaper models tend to use more simple versions of the proprietary calibration system each brand uses but with the MRX 540 you get the full package even though this is the smaller of the three units. Having the full ARC Genesis treatment is a huge plus here.
Anthem may not provide a dedicated app for controlling the receiver but they have created a very nice web UI that includes all the functions and controls you will need. A dedicated app would be nice but at least web control is not bad at all and from what we saw Anthem put a lot of effort in making it as good as possible.
The receiver comes with the usual streaming capabilities most AV receivers offer nowadays. As such both Chromecast and Airplay 2 are built-in and available for use. With Airplay 2 you can stream content, plus songs stored on local networks, to any AirPlay-enabled device. AirPlay 2 adds support for multidevice play so you can hear your music throughout your home.
Google Chromecast on the other hand, lets you stream content from any Android device like a phone, tablet, or laptop to the receiver. If you can listen to it on your phone, it can be cast to receiver itself. For Airplay 2 you will need to have the Airplay app installed in your device while for Chromecast you need to download Google Home from the Google Play store.
Here the MRX 540 seems to be missing a few features as there is no Zone 2 available as it is stripped completely from this receiver. Also one area where the MRX 540, along with the rest of the MRX lineup falls behind the competition is in its online music capabilities. The receiver is missing some online platform in the way Yamaha has MusicCast and Denon/Marantz use HEOS and instead has to rely on an external device to provide this.
At least you have the ability to stream audio from a network drive or NAS server if it happens you to have one connected to your local network. Also if you prefer a more wireless way of streaming your music there is Bluetooth available for connecting with your mobile device. Unfortunately the MRX 540 does not grand you the ability to connect external storage as the included USB port is only there for service purposes.
Another handy feature that we do find is HDMI-CEC and this one lets you use the TV remote to control the AV receiver if the TV also supports this. You can understand the practicality of this as this way you can reduce the amount of remotes you will need to have in your home theater. Obviously this feature lets you use only the most basic functions of the receiver but for everyday use it can be a very time saving one. This is an old feature that we see being included for the last few years now.
The unit will also allow for signal pass-through when turned off which will pass not only the video but the audio to your TV. This can be handy in case you want to connect a pair of headphones for some silent viewing.
A very handy feature we find in the receiver is the use of virtual inputs. With this you can have complete control of the name of each input you create. This means that by creating a virtual input you can select not only which video (HDMI) input to use but also which audio input (HDMI, digital, analog, Bluetooth or streaming) to use, which speaker profile to use, and much more. You can even create multiple virtual inputs for the same source device in case you want to use different setups for different situations like music, movies etc.
The Anthem MRX 540 features external control and IP control capabilities for easy customization and compatibility with third-party integration solutions. It offers IP control capability for major third-party control devices including Control4, Savant, RTI, Creston, ELAN and URC.
A couple of features that were not initially supported but will work with an update is Spotify Connect allowing you to turn your smartphone into a remote and allow you to play, pause, and stream content from Spotify along with Roon allowing you to connect, stream and manage your music collection.
The MRX 740 may not be the most feature complete AV receiver we have tested and there are certainly a few notable omissions like no dedicated app, no online music streaming and no voice control support. But we wouldn’t call them as deal breaking omissions as the web interface is more than enough to replace a dedicated app while voice control was never a feature we consider to be extremely necessary.
We had mentioned in our MRX 740 review that as good as the receiver was Anthem still faces a few bugs they have to iron out. And while we did face a couple during that review with the MRX 540 our session went very smooth and trouble free. If this was luck on our part we do not know but we believe that as time goes by Anthem will fix the most prominent problems still present.
Overall the MRX 540 gave us a very similar experience to what we experienced with its bigger brother. There are the obvious reductions but overall the receiver didn’t feel all that much different as in terms of audio quality and feature set they performed very close.
For a 5 channels receiver the MRX 540 did splendid with surround audio really immersing us in each scene. Initial calibration and setup can take a bit longer but it is really worth it to put the extra time to setup everything correctly as the receiver will only then be able to offer what it is really capable of. ARC Genesis is one of its highlights, the web interface makes the whole experience easier to handle and it comes with enough extras for you to play with.
In the downsides the MRX 540 had more or less the same problems as its bigger brother. It is not an easy to handle receiver if you don’t know what you are doing and the ARC Genesis needs its time to give your machine its full potential. Anthem is still trying to iron out a few notable bugs, although we didn’t experience any with the MRX 540, that may potentially make the whole process a bit harder. Lastly it seems that Anthem has began to upgrade the HDMI boards to HDMI 2.1 but you have to pay an additional cost for that and we are not sure how many will bother going through this procedure.
The Anthem MRX 540 is surely a very solid 5 channels AV receiver. If you don’t need Atmos and you are ready to spend the time needed, the receiver will reward you with its pristine sound and immersive surround output. We only hope that Anthem will make these units more widely available because right now it is damn hard to find one in stores.