If you have ever wondered what advantages a separate A/V processor and a dedicated multi-channel amplifier can bring to the home theatre experience, then you’ve come to the right place. As the publisher of an audio video magazine I’ve had the delight of sitting through demonstrations of some remarkable home theatre systems over the years. From modestly priced setups with small speakers and flat panel TVs to outrageously expensive systems with studio-quality speakers and gigantic screens, I’ve seen just about everything. But none left a lasting impression on me quite like the home theatre installed at the Paradigm/Anthem headquarters. What was it that captivated me so much about this particular setup you ask? It was the system’s uncanny ability to transport me right in front of a live musical performance and offer one of the most immersive movie experiences I had ever watched. Since then, my own home theatre system has never brought me the same pleasure. Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration but the fact is that I’ve desired to own an Anthem A/V processor and a matching amplifier ever since.
Naturally then, when the Anthem D2v 3D A/V Processor arrived at my house, I was filled with joy. It came very well packed in a double box and despite the large dimensions of the package, it tipped the scale at a manageable 27 lbs. Anthem is considered by many, including myself, to be one of the top home theatre component makers in the world and so it should come as no surprise that its top-gun A/V processor comes with a price tag of $10,499. If you compare it to other A/V processors out there it might seem a little pricey, but if you compare it to a high-end audio preamplifier, the price makes much more sense. That’s because the Anthem D2v is a machine engineered to deliver not only the highest level of audio but also uncompromised video performance. Like most Anthem components, the D2v is designed and built entirely in Mississauga, Ontario (Canada).
Unlike many of today’s A/V receivers, the D2v doesn’t offer a long list of features, many of which you’ll probably never use anyway. Instead the D2v focuses exclusively on performance. If the D2v was a car, it wouldn’t be a family sedan or even a sports car – it would be a pure-bred racing machine with a single goal, to outperform everyone else on the circuit. At its core the D2v is a 7.1-channel audio and video processor that offers 3D compatibility, the company’s renowned Anthem Room Correction (ARC), a Sigma Designs VXP broadcast quality video processor and state of the art audio processing. It offers decoding of all the latest audio formats including Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD Master Audio, as well as PCM 24/192 playback. All channels in the main zone are upsampled to 24-bit/192 kHz for improved fidelity and as you might expect the D2v is equipped with top-notch DACs and ADCs, chosen carefully for their synergy with other components. Finally the D2v also features a built-in AM/FM tuner for all you radio listeners.
The D2v’s rear panel offers a great wealth of connections. For starters there are 8 HDMI inputs and 2 parallel outputs. There are also 4 component video inputs, and 2 outputs, along with more S-video and composite video inputs than you’ll know what to do with. On the audio side, the D2v has a plethora of inputs: 7 digital coaxial, 3 digital Toslink, 7 analog RCA, 1 balanced XLR as well as dedicated 8.2-channel analog inputs (which include 2 centre channels and 2 subs). Its main audio output section offers outputs for 8 channels, plus dual subwoofers, in both RCA and balanced XLR formats. In addition to the main zone, the D2v offers two additional stereo zones.
There are so many technical aspects to talk about under the hood of the D2v, that this review could easily run for many pages. I’d like to refer the highly technical readers to get more detailed technical information from the D2v product page on www.anthemav.com, and instead I’ll focus here primarily on the music that I listened to and the movies that I watched, through the D2v. This should serve greater value to all readers.
The initial setup of the Anthem D2v is a little more involved than setting up a typical A/V receiver. There are more connections to be made and the ARC setup process takes a little longer. I set up my D2v review sample together with a multi-channel Axiom Audio ADA-1500 amplifier, which you’ll find a review of in the next issue of CANADA HiFi. This is a very powerful and wonderful sounding amplifier capable of putting out 300 watts per channel with 5 channels driven (8 ohms loads), and 214 watts per channel when driving 7 channels. Anthem of course offers its own matching Statement series of amplifiers, with three different ranges to choose from – the A series, M1 monoaural, and P series. The speakers used in this review consisted of my reference 5.1-channel system of the Monitor Audio GX Gold series, while the picture was provided by the best Pioneer ever offered, the PDP-6020FD 60-inch KURO plasma TV. My source was the Cambridge Audio Azur BD751 universal Blu-ray player.
With everything connected, I initiated the ARC setup. I’m quite familiar with the ARC setup as I own Anthem’s MRX 500 A/V receiver and have ran the calibration numerous times in different environments. The D2v comes supplied with all the components you’ll need to make the ARC work: a microphone (with a stand), a USB cable, a serial cable, a USB to serial adapter and the ARC software (for PCs only, although can be run on Macs using Windows emulator software). The only thing you’ll need to supply is your own laptop. Unlike pretty much all A/V receiver room calibration systems in the market, the ARC sophistication requires computing power that A/V receiver chips aren’t capable of – hence the need for a laptop. Once everything is connected, the ARC plays test tones on each speaker as the microphone is repositioned a number of times around the room. The system then adjusts the frequency curve for each speaker in the attempt to provide the flattest response. This process takes about 20 minutes to run and is extremely effective in correcting acoustic room problems – which nearly all rooms suffer from. In fact, the ARC is the most effective room calibration system I have personally used to date. To learn more details about the ARC set up and calibration procedure, please check out the Anthem MRX 500 review on www.canadahifi.com/.
After connecting your sources to the D2v, you can enjoy music and movies in a matter of minutes. But to take full advantage of the D2v’s capabilities, you’ll definitely want to take the time to fine tune its settings. The D2v offers advanced audio and video processing – likely far better than your sources and display – so you’ll want it to perform all the decoding, scaling and processing of all audio and video signals. The settings for each source can be adjusted individually and there are no shortage of adjustments to tweak – various levels of audio processing, video scaling, noise reduction, detail enhancement, just to mention a few. The D2v offers more audio and video settings than any other A/V processor or receiver I’ve ever configured. The control and customization options are seemly endless. In fact some users may find the sheer choice of settings overwhelming, in which case the solution might be to ask your Anthem dealer to set up the D2v for you.
With the initial setup in the rearview mirror, I finally hit the couch to do some listening. Given my level of excitement, I wanted to start with something that I knew was a quality recording. When I put on the AIX Records 3D Music Album Demo & Audio Calibration Disc (Blu-ray), I was rewarded with some amazingly stimulating musical performances. In addition to being extremely well recorded, this disc offers a 5.1 channel Dolby TrueHD soundtrack as well as a two channel presentation in 96kHz/24-bits. Plus you can listen to the disc in one of three mixes - a stage mix, an audience mix, and a stage & audience perspective. I listened to the 5.1 audience mix. This was without question the most engaging, musical performance I’ve heard in my home theatre to date. The first track, Laurance Juber’s solo acoustic guitar performance, is a playful song that sounded breathtakingly real. The guitar strings played with the fullness and richness that I’m used to hearing when I play my own guitar. Every string picked, every chord strummed, played with a remarkable texture. The next track, Rita Coolidge’s “Play Something Sweet (Brickyard Blues)” offered a wonderful female vocal performance backed by an 11-piece band. Despite the number of instruments in this recording, the vocals along with each instrument were presented in their own clearly defined three dimensional space. Coolidge’s voice was exceptionally clean and contained the tiniest nuances that a lesser system would conceal. The D2v processor’s transparent quality allowed every instrument to shine through with superb tonal accuracy, offering all the textural details. I enjoyed this disc many times before through various A/V receivers in my system but this was an almost entirely new experience. The Anthem D2v processor, along with the Axiom Audio ADA-1500 amplifier presented me with a heightened level of realism, which resulted in a hair-raising musical performance. I loved every part of it.
Switching gears, I listened to several 2-channel classical recordings, including Holst “The Planets” performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic orchestra. Personally, I find that the vast majority of A/V receivers out there today simply don’t sound musical enough when it comes to 2-channel performance. Most A/V receivers will show their limits especially when playing highly dynamic classical music. During demanding musical passages, the soundstage presentation can collapse and result in a congested mess that’s simply unpleasant to listen to. Even if you don’t listen to classical music, think of how many movie soundtracks rely on dynamic orchestral scores. So I was really curious how this Anthem/Axiom Audio duo would fair. When listening to “Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity” in stereo, this duo once again showed its true strengths and demonstrated the benefits of using separates in a multichannel system. I rarely ever listen to classical recordings in my home theatre simply because they don’t sound nearly as good here as they do through my two channel system. To my delight however this was the very first time that I was presented with a true high-end two channel performance in my home theatre. All the best qualities of a great two channel system were offered here in spades: tonal accuracy, soundstaging, dynamics, detail extraction and overall engagement and musicality. Even when listening to the loudest of passages at high volumes, the soundstage kept its composure, along with its impressive depth and width. The overall presence and dynamics of the sound were superb. The macrodynamics – orchestral crescendos and bass drums – were presented with a great sense of impact and power. The microdynamics, such as small percussion instruments and triangles, were delivered with fine, realistic textures with proper decay. When classical music sounds this good, it leaves you – at least it left me – air conducting.
To see how the D2v handled albums with somewhat lower standards of recording, I tried a few popular live albums such as Florence + the Machine’s “MTV Unplugged”, Nirvana’s “MTV Unplugged in New Year”, Alanis Morissette’s “MTV Unplugged” and “Jagged Little Pill Unplugged”. All of the tracks that I listened to from these albums played with a great balance, with instruments never over powering one another. Some of the digital harshness that I associate with these recordings on lesser quality systems was virtually entirely cleaned up by the D2v. The soundstaging was also more three dimensional here than I would ever expect from a home theatre component.
Following such delightfully musical performances, I deemed it was time to watch some video. I watched a wide range of scenes on Blu-ray from Spaceballs, The Dark Knight Rises, Tron, Unstoppable, Sherlock Holmes and The Pacific HBO series. Spaceballs has long been one of my very favourites, and I was thrilled when it finally came out on Blu-ray a few years ago. Its iconic combination of sci-fi and comedy never seizes to amaze me and always puts a big smile on my face. Oh, how I’ve always wished Mel Brooks followed up with a sequel. As soon as the movie began, I felt something special about the sound. The DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack sounded cleaner, better defined and flowed more effortlessly than I’ve heard it before in my home theatre room. Jim Morris’ orchestral score was presented by the Anthem D2v/Axiom Audio ADA-1500 duo with a great dynamic range, something you could never expect from an A/V receiver. The bass response was remarkable, with each note articulated very well and with great tightness. I knew I had the D2v’s ARC system to thank for this. Not only does the ARC clean up the frequency response from all the speakers unlike other room calibration systems I’ve tested, it does a remarkable job at flattening out the bass response as well. The sonic benefits of the ARC are just awesome.
The dramatic opening scene of The Dark Knight Rises combines the rumble of aircraft engines, character dialogue, gunshots and a loud orchestral score. The Anthem/Axiom duo did a remarkable job when tasked with sorting out all of the individual components of this challenging passage. Each of the sonic components was clearly defined within its own space, yet combined seamlessly into an exhilarating audio experience that carried the movie forward. Yet amidst all the action, the character voices were presented with the outmost clarity. The D2v demonstrated an uncanny ability to transport me sonically right into every scene. From a ballroom dance to the sewers beneath Gotham city, I was always placed right in the middle of the action.
When watching scenes from The Pacific, every part of it seemed a little more real. The audio was hyper realistic and so transparent that I felt emotionally connected to the characters during the quieter chapters. On the opposite side of the spectrum, the battle sequences felt frighteningly real with bullets zooming between the channels and explosives blowing up all around me. The presentation offered bountiful power and fantastic dynamics.
The D2v offers an exceptionally large number of video processing options to help make even the poorest quality sources look good on a big screen. Inside the video source adjustment menu you’ll find various picture controls (brightness, contrast, colour, detail enhancement, noise reduction, etc), input cropping options, output scaling options, gamma correction and even test patterns. What I really enjoyed here is that as you fine tune any of these adjustments, the menu disappears from the TV screen so that you can see the difference they’re making in the video. I found these processing options particularly useful with 1080i sources, standard DVDs and non-HD channels from my satellite box. While watching Alien on DVD, the D2v was able to clean up some of the picture noise and increase the level of detail, especially in the darker parts of the picture.
If I had to point to some things that could be improved with the D2v, it certainly wouldn’t be anything to do with its audio or video capabilities. But a few items could use some attention. The setup menu looks and feels antiquated and could certainly use a modern refresh. The remote, although backlit, is rather plain and doesn’t offer the same sense of pride as other remotes included with high-end audio gear. Perhaps a brushed aluminum case with a small LCD screen would be more suitable. Some users will find the initial setup and ARC calibration time consuming and daunting. Then again the D2v is designed for home theatre enthusiasts, rather than the average movie viewer, who might enjoy the setup and tweaking process. Finally, we hope that the D2v will be hardware upgradable to support 4K video in the near future.
The Anthem D2v is a highly advanced machine that brought me pleasure unlike any other A/V processor in my home theatre. Two-channel music, multi-channel Blu-ray concert discs and movies have never sounded better. Every time I sat down to enjoy music or watch a film, I was rewarded with a remarkable sound performance. Thanks to its top-notch video processing lower resolution and interlaced video sources also looked fantastic. If you desire nothing but the very best for your home theatre, I can’t think of a better component to place at the heart of your system. The Anthem D2v A/V processor is a winner in every regard and hence deserves our highest level of praise. For being the best A/V processor we ever tested, we proudly award it the “Editor’s Choice” recognition.
Anthem Electronics Inc.
Anthem Statement D2v 3D A/V Processor
Price: $10,499 CAD