Combining the processing horsepower of several PCs with audiophile pretension is a tall order. Will we be standing to attention?
Until the recent addition of high-end Japanese AV processors like Denon’s AVP-A1HD, the upper echelons of the multichannel pre-amplifier market have been dominated by US brands like Lexicon and Krell. Neither of which have ever really got my juices flowing if I am honest. Enter Anthem, a new contender from Canada’s Paradigm stable [see box], with the Statement processor and power amplifiers.
It is easier to start with the Anthem Statement P5 and P2 power amps. These are huge amplifiers with balanced inputs and output voltages that Frankenstein could have used to animate the dead without having to wait for a storm. Such is the current draw from the P5 it requires two mains feeds. Oh, I can feel the accountants at npower rubbing their hands together already.
The D2 processor is an altogether more radical beast. Cosmetically there is nothing like it on the market. I might suggest this is because other manufacturers employ industrial designers rather than buying a job-lot of small silver buttons and exercising admirable determination to use them all.
GET READY, GET SET...
Behind the D2’s cosmetically challenged fascia is a full-spec AV processor with decoding for all the HD-Audio formats, more HDMI inputs than anything else on the market, serious 12-bit video processing and 192kHz/
24-bit up-sampling of all digital audio signals pre-DSP. You get 10-channel balanced outputs over XLR connections, multi-room AV configurations and an AES/EBU digital input. Interestingly, it has a bespoke EQ system called Anthem Room Correction (ARC) developed from research conducted by the Canadian National Research Council some 20-years ago. This is claimed to measure and apply EQ based on the human hearing response rather than the traditionally ‘flat’ response.
Operationally the D2’s set-up is far from straightforward. Not only is the complex on-screen interface a text-based menu system, the EQ and much of the auto set-up requires the supplied software to be downloaded to a PC. The PC is connected to the D2 via RS232 (no Ethernet connection strangely) which measures the room using the supplied mic and stand and Real Time Analysis (RTA) software. The EQ is calculated within various user-defined parameters for each channel and then dumped as a data file back to the D2. It is as comprehensive as it is complex.
...THEN SET TO KILL
With all the EQ disabled, the bass management bypassed and the power amps set on kill (0dB) rather than stun (–6dB), the sound is somewhere between epically huge and monumentally vast. Chris Botti’s ‘My Funny Valentine’ from the Legends of Jazz Showcase Blu-ray Disc is rendered potent, emotional and soaringly dynamic. Botti’s trumpet has unbelievable focus and solidity, and at serious volume is so tangibly real you feel the urge to go and shake him by the hand at the end of the track. Despite marginally more background hiss and a little less focus in the bass than some high-end combinations the Anthem’s ability to create a ‘live’ sound is second to none.
However, running the risk of being thrown out of The Hi-Fi Club for blasphemy, it is engaging the ARC EQ system that elevates the Anthem from plain old excellent to absolutely magical. Suddenly the 50Hz peak caused by my room geometry is a little less obtrusive and the excess midrange diffraction due to the surfeit of multichannel hardware in the room is rendered a tad less obvious. The top end seems to shake off the overt damping effect of the soft furniture and acoustic bass traps to really break free of the confines of the room. Switching between ARC EQ off and on is the
difference between Chris Botti playing live in your room, and putting you in the venue where Chris Botti is playing live. I wheeled in four independent listeners for this test (just in case I was going mad, finally) and four out of four voted for the ‘ARC on’ sound.
Let the disc run to the next track, Marcus Miller’s ‘The Panther’, and the Anthem continues to impress with its visceral attack and sheer headroom. At palpably live music volumes the fast-paced bass guitar literally tears from the speakers with urgency and precision. The Anthem’s lower registers are so ludicrously fast and tight you can feel the sticks hitting skins as the drums kick in. The stunning dynamic effect is somewhat muted at lower volumes but, again, I suspect if you are buying £20k of amp you are unlikely to have close neighbours to annoy anyway.
The Anthem’s revelationary experience just gets better when you switch to movies too. The absence of my room’s light bass bloom, to which I am so familiar, seems to add acres to the soundstage and specifically the height. A romp through The Fifth Element movie (on Blu-ray) allowed the Anthem trio to unleash its full potential in terms of power and dynamic range while remaining thoroughly impressive in detailing and clarity. With ARC engaged the performance is further elevated, bringing a breathy, goose-bump inducing scale to the Diva’s voice the like of which I have never previously achieved in my system.
Quirky, cosmetically challenged yet utterly wonderful in every critical respect, Anthem has produced a genuine Statement of the multichannel art. The complex set-up procedure is more than justified by the breathtaking power and dynamic range, and ARC is the first Room EQ system to convince me of its merits for default listening. Thoroughly inspired.
Originally published in the June 2009 issue
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