Anthem AVM-20 Review

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Evan S, Mar 22, 2002.

  1. Evan S

    Evan S Cinematographer

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    As some of you know, I recently acquired my AVM-20 and I promised some of you I would post a review on this board after getting a chance to play with my new toy. Seeing as I will be going to the East Regional Final in Syracuse, N.Y. on Sunday, I figured I would post this now so I would have most of Saturday to answer any questions.
    First of all, let me describe my system for a starting reference point. My speakers are all Paradigm Reference Series, 40's in front, 20's in the rear and the CC. I have an Anthem MCA-5II amp with a Sony SCD-555ES SACD player, Sony DVP-360 DVD player and an Anthem AVM-20 processor. Interconnects are all Outlaw Audio PCA's, with Tributaries and DH-Labs digital Coax. My speaker wire is DH-Labs Silver Sonic T-14. My subwoofer is a Mirage BPS-100. Everything is calibrated using Avia and I am NOT running my sub hot at all.
    I am presently running a 5.1 setup only as space constraints prevent a 7.1 setup, so I cannot answer any THX-EX questions or anything of extended surround nature.
    Seeing as most of you are looking at this processor for Home Theater applications I will start there. I've had the unit for a full 7 days and have watched about 5 movies in full and parts of others. I theme I am going to continue to come back to in this review is clarity. This processor absolutely imparts no sound of it's own onto the signal. It is just such a clean sounding output, it's truly amazing. One thing I love about this unit is how well it separates sounds. For instance, when there is a bunch of activity going on-screen, it never jumbles the sound. There is no "wall of sound". Every sound is separated from one another. What I mean by that is if there is music in the backround and a fight going on-screen, you can easily pick apart minute details in the sound. Nothing is lost or clouded. Gravel under the shoes, wind through the trees, everything is clearly defined even with the presence of other ambiant sounds or music soundtracks.
    This unit picks up the faintest details and really lets you know they are there. A good example is in the movie "Rock Star". Say what you want about this movie as a film, but for a reference, it's great. Plenty of concert footage and great use of surround applications. There is a scene in the movie where Mark Wahlberg's character is auditioning for the band Steel Dragon . He sings about 30 seconds of material and the band cuts him off. He's standing there in complete silence, crapping his pants while the band decides to keep him as their singer or not. Very faintly, he's got a rapid breathing going but it is very very subtle. The AVM-20 picks it up and really lets you know that the character is waiting with baited breath on the outcome. Details like this really add to the enjoyment of the film and it's stuff like this my previous receiver just could not replicate. As far as surround usage goes, again in this film you really feel like you are in the middle of the crowd. Surrounds are much more prominant and have a far greater impact with the AVM-20.
    There is a feature with this unit that provides a center channel EQ depending on what size TV you have. I have tried it on all settings, and I feel it's basically a worthless feature. It sounds great no matter where you set it. Dialogue is clear and detailed. If you had a larger room or maybe a unique placement of your center channel this feature may have some benefit, but I couldn't really tell much difference to tell you the truth.
    I must say that there were certain material I used that really shined with this processor and that included "Rock Star", "Die Hard" in DTS, and the Metallica S&M DVD concert.
    For music, I have no complaints at all. It really gives the music some air. Details like picks on the guitar strings really come into focus. It's tough to describe what something "sounds" like using words but the best way I can describe music on this thing is that it appears to be unrestrained and almost played at a quicker pace. Soundstage is so good on this unit, that while playing Suzanne Vega's "Solitude Standing" I actually had to get off my ass and go to my center channel speaker to see if it was on. I really thought I was playing in a multichannel mode even when I was in 2-channel. As far as soundfields go, I'm not a big fan of these modes, so I am biased. I tried listening to music in ALL of the soundfields. Hall, Church, Club, 5 Channel Stereo, etc. I found that the Cinema Logic mode was well done with some recordings and not with others. Some recordings took the vocals and kept them in the L/R channels (which I prefer), some recordings threw it into the center (which I hate). So, I found myself really enjoying this mode for some material and hating it for others. I hated all the "artificial" soundmodes like Club, Hall, Theater and Church. Just not my cup of tea. Also, I tried the 5 channel Stereo mode and thought it would be fantastic for parties, but not for general listening. Hearing two full channels behind you can be distracting, but like I said, useful for parties. An interesting thing I noticed was when doing A/B comparisons of the digital out on my DVD player and 555 unit. I would be hard pressed with a gun to my head to tell you the difference in the two units when used as a transport with the Anthem. This is a HUGE compliment to the AVM-20 as everyone knows the Sony 360 is one of the WORST DVD players ever made. It sounded HORRIBLE when used as a transport with my previous receiver and now sounds like a $1200 player with this processor. Truly amazing at how good it sounds in this mode.
    I have a great SACD player but use the unit as a digital transport for Redbook because the Anthem DACS are so good, plus I don't run full range speakers so I can use the bass management and time alignment features this way. Music sounds incredible on this unit and that's all I can say. I set my crossover at 60htz, although I've played with it and I'm not sure if I don't like it better at 80.
    Analog passthrough for SACD is nothing short of breathtaking. There is absolutely no grain to the music, no additional sound in the background and any brightness I experienced before the Anthem is now gone. Michael Jackson's "Thriller" sounds awesome as does Billy Joel's "52nd Street" in multichannel, and I know this is not the best of my SACD recordings.
    Use and setup of the feature set is incredibly easy after just an hour with the remote and manual. I can navigate the menu set without the use of any on-screen display. Speaking of the display...it's one of the major drawbacks to the unit. Sometimes, depending on ambiant lighting, I can barely see the display. Othertimes it's crystal clear. I don't know why Anthem didn't use a black background here. Would have been much easier to see. I don't use any macros, never have, so the remote suits me just fine. Controls all of my gear perfectly and even my two female roommates can use it easily and that tells me it's not as bad as some have said previously.
    Is this a perfect unit? Of course not. It's $1500 at least more expensive than the Outlaw 950 and doesn't provide DTS-ES or Dolby Pro-Logic II. I would be interested to see how DPL-II sounds for TV applications when the upgrade comes about. I'm also interested in Sonic Frontiers Music Logic mode they are going to debut with this upgrade for music applications. All and all, this unit is at least twice as expensive as any of my other gear. However, I have ZERO buyers remorse and really feel that this unit has measurably increased my enjoyment of both music and movies and that's the biggest compliment I can pay a piece of gear. You should really look into this unit if you love to hear things as they were intended to be heard. I love it. It's awesome.[​IMG] [​IMG]
     
  2. Ron Alcasid

    Ron Alcasid Stunt Coordinator

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    Evan, thanks for the review. How long did it take to get your AVM 20? I ordered mine Feb. 18th and haven't received it yet.
     
  3. BruceD

    BruceD Screenwriter

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    Evan,

    Great review!! Sonic Frontiers is certainly known for it's great sounding preamps, so I wouldn't expect any less out of the AVM-20, especially since they've had a chance to cut their teeth on their first prepro the AVM-2.

    This unit is still on my list when they offer it with DPL-II, unless I am satisfied with the 950 I take on a 30 day trial.

    By the way I used to fly into the Lebanon airport frequently from Boston on my way to Dartmouth for one of my jobs and always wondered about the Manchester airport.

    Good listening.
     
  4. Michael Mohrmann

    Michael Mohrmann Screenwriter

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    Evan,
    The description of your system's performance very much mirrors our system with the AVM-20. The AVM-20 provides a lot of detail, yet the placement of sounds are eerily accurate. In addition, this detail does not come at the expense of the system's musical sound, which is its' best quality (IMO).
    My wife is especially fond of what the AVM-20 does with background vocals (or is that doesn't do?), as the placement of the vocals are where they are suppose to be, in the background. But the rest of the music is not smeared over the background vocals, so you can still hear them quite clearly! Same goes for background instruments, like a small brass section.
    "I'm also interested in Sonic Frontiers Music Logic mode they are going to debut with this upgrade for music applications."
    This is the first time I have heard of this. Can you provide more information regarding this upgrade?
    The receiver/processor has been the weakest link in our system, and we had several good units in our home the last two years. With the AVM-20, I feel it is our best component, which is saying a lot because we love our speakers (Canton Ergo 92 DCs), our amps (Marantz MA-700s), our subs (ACI Titan II LEs), and our CD player (Audio Refinement CD Complete).
    Michael
     
  5. Dennis Oblow

    Dennis Oblow Stunt Coordinator

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    Evan,

    One of the features that has really come in handy for me is the simulcast feature. My cable box has both analog and digital audio outputs, unfortunatly the digital ones are silent on the lower band channels and work for HBO and the higher band channels. With the simulcast feature, I hooked the digital output into the AUX input which I changed in the setup menu from an analog to a digital. When I'm watching HBO or a digital sound channel I press the TV source button for 2 seconds then Aux. This allows me to see the video while listening to the 5.1 surround through the Aux input. When I'm done I press the TV input for 2 seconds and it reverts back to analog.
     
  6. Evan S

    Evan S Cinematographer

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    Michael, in one of my numerous e-mails to Sonic Frontiers regarding the Anthem upgrade, they mentioned (in passing) that they will be debuting a Music Logic mode, but I have no details on what it will do or how it will process the sound. Here is a copy of the text.
    > 4. It has also been said that the unit will not play with 5 or 7 speakers
    > when THX is activated unless the original source material is 5.1. Is this
    > correct?
    It'll play with 5 speakers with THX Cinema because Pro Logic automatically
    engages, but not 7. Otherwise, you have to use THX Surround EX, but this
    only works with 5.1 sources. All THX preamps are like this. If you want to
    use all speakers with stereo material, our own Cinema Logic and future Music Logic is the way to go.
    Ron, I ordered my unit on February 29th and it came in on March 13th. My dealer is much closer to Sonic Frontiers headquarters and others who ordered at a similar timeframe to me have also not gotten theirs in yet, so I wouldn't quite panic just yet, but I would inquire as to the status.
     
  7. Michael Mohrmann

    Michael Mohrmann Screenwriter

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    "Music Logic"?

    Oh boy, I can just hear the Lexicon owners now (of which I was one for 9 months). This is the exact name for one of the DSP effects used in the DC-1, DC-2 and MC-1. Just from a PR standpoint, I hope that Sonic Frontiers changes this name before they document it, as the outburst from Lexicon supporters will be deafening. (As an example, search for posts about the Cinepro DTC-10 processor and the term "Logic 7").

    Michael
     
  8. Evan S

    Evan S Cinematographer

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    Dennis, we are upgrading to Digital Cable on Monday (Yeah, I know, a little late to the game here), but that feature was one thing I did not test with the AVM-20 and I will probably give it a shot on Monday after we get it installed. Thanks for giving me one thing to think about that I hadn't thought of.
     
  9. Scott-C

    Scott-C Supporting Actor

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    Great review, Evan!
    Did you test any of the video switching features of the unit (even s-video or composite, if not component).
    Just to head this off - I know the AVM-20 does not do video conversion - I was just interested to hear how it performs as a switcher, if you tried this feature.
    As for the display on the unit, that is interesting that it's not consistently good. It almost sounds like the screen on my Pronto...try as I might, I just can't find an acceptable setting for screen contrast. [​IMG]
     
  10. Marc_E

    Marc_E Supporting Actor

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    Awesome review Evan. You have TOTALLY convinced me! I will get that sucker but probably not until the upgraded units hit the market (be able to afford it by then)

    Marc
     
  11. Michael Mohrmann

    Michael Mohrmann Screenwriter

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    I wonder whether the front panel display on the AVM-20 is by design. It may be possible that it was chosen because it is an extremely low noise emitter. The other processor I was interested in, the Bryston SP-1/SP1.7, has a smaller front panel display but with similar coloring. Since the design of the SP-1 was to limit internal noise, this particular display may be the best available with that as a consideration.

    This is just an idea, not an excuse for what is cosmetically a very unattractive display.

    BTW, anybody else notice that the AVM-20's remote makes a whining sound when it is lit up?

    Michael
     
  12. Evan S

    Evan S Cinematographer

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    Scott, You got me. I didn't test video switching on the Anthem for three reasons.

    1.) I forgot. Plain and simple...forgot to test this.

    2.) I don't have component outputs on my DVD player so I have nothing to switch in this regard. I also am someone who, if given the choice, would run any video connection direct from the source to the input, bypassing any switching capability in between. Perhaps this stance is what allowed me to forget to check the ability of the Anthem in this regard.

    3.) I am short one S-Video cable in order to even run said test. I will have to go to Radio Shack and get a gold series S-Video to see how it fares for this.

    As most of you know, the Anthem cannot convert composite to S-video or vice versa, so without two S-Video cables, I'm stuck. I will try to do this before this thread runs it's course.
     
  13. Doug_B

    Doug_B Screenwriter

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  14. Scott-C

    Scott-C Supporting Actor

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    Evan,
    Not a big deal; I was just curious because I'd read some posts where running S-video through an MC-1 actually seemed to improve the video quality and I wondered if the same could be said for the AVM-20 (I don't know how it's possible for any processor to improve video quality, but that's another story).
    Like you, my preference right now is to run component video directly to the TV's component input, but for convenience's sake I sometimes will do s-video or composite switching through my receiver, since i have much lower expectations for the video quality.
    Your review was awesome and I certainly didn't expect you to test/write about every feature. No one paid you to write the review, so no one should expect that! I think you hit on many of the major questions folks may have had about the unit (sonics, major features, etc.).
    Thanks!
     
  15. Joe e h

    Joe e h Stunt Coordinator

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    Evan

    A question on the sub outputs. Can teh different outputs be set at differnet crossover? I am thinking along the lines of one output for a sub and another for Tactile Transducers.

    Are you running the balance outputs to the amp?

    Joe
     
  16. Evan S

    Evan S Cinematographer

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    Joe, I am not 100% sure on this one, but I highly doubt there are independant crossover setings for each sub seeing as the user interface doesn't list anything like Sub 1 and Sub 2...simply one sub on the menu. This may be addressed with one of the upgrades or a software fix by Sonic Frontiers, but you will have to e-mail them for more specifics on this one. I will double check the manual for this, but again, I doubt it.

    I am not running balanced outputs at this time, but will be using a balanced connection in about a year for my two channel bedroom system using the Anthem's Zone 2 functionality.
     
  17. Doug_B

    Doug_B Screenwriter

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  18. Marc_E

    Marc_E Supporting Actor

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    A question about the 3 zones.

    Can you send independent sources to each or is what gets sent to the other zones what you are set to in zone 1?

    thanks

    Marc
     
  19. Patrick R. Sklenar

    Patrick R. Sklenar Second Unit

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    Evan,

    Nice review! Where did you purchase this from? I live over by MCC.

    Thanks,
     
  20. Ron Alcasid

    Ron Alcasid Stunt Coordinator

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    Marc_E, I haven't tried it myself but I believe you can select different sources for each zone.
     

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