|Anthem MCA 5 Multi-channel Power Amplifier|
|Home Theater Power Amplifiers Multi-Channel Amplifiers|
|Written by Brian Kahn|
|Friday, 01 October 1999|
The MCA5 is the first five-channel amplifier from Anthem. It is part of their new MCA series and retails for $1,399. Unlike the majority of products in the Sonic Frontiers and Anthem lines, the MCA series is solid state. The MCA series of multi-channel amplifiers offers 200 watts per channel in two-, three- and five-channel configurations.
The description below applies to all three amplifiers in the series unless otherwise noted. The back panel contains single-ended and balanced inputs for each channel, an iec standard power cord socket and a DC relay trigger socket and switch to control the auto-on circuitry. This switch lets you choose from three different modes, manual on, trigger and auto on. In the auto on mode, the amplifier switches itself on after sensing an input signal. The sleek and deep chassis is well finished and is a bit unusual as you can see through the top and out the bottom in the heat sink area. The heat sinks are large and should prevent any tripping of the thermal protection circuit.
Inside, the amplifiers feature custom 550va toroidal power transformers, two in the MCA5, eight bi-polar output transistors and 20,000 microfarads of capacitance per channel. The architecture is completely modular, facilitating easy service.
The MCA5 spent the majority of its testing time in my theater system. I have been investing in quite a few movies lately, so it was only natural for me to fire up the home theater and enjoy them. Sonically, I found the MCA5 to be pretty neutral, just a bit on the forward side.
I recently enjoyed an old favorite, Top Gun (laser disc, Paramount Pictures). This film has a variety of scenes that are great for trying out a theater system. In the "Target Rich Environment" bar scene, I was amazed by the extremely large soundstage thrown up by the MCA5. I felt as if I was in a large bar area, in the middle of targets, rather than alone in my living room.
While watching Strange Days (laser disc, DTS, Twentieth Century Fox), the MCA5's detailed presentation was clearly evident in the scenes with the visual reality goggles. When the characters are utilizing these devices, the viewers see and hear what the characters see and hear through them. There is a lot of good use of spatial cues to pull this off. The MCA5 handled these scenes very well, providing the proper amounts of spaciousness as well as 360-degree imaging.
Watching some of the louder complex scenes, such as the "Diva" scene from Fifth Element (DVD, Columbia Pictures), there was a bit of congestion. With a lot of information coming from all channels at very high volumes, the MCA5 seemed to have a little bit of difficulty keeping up. While the resolving powers were quite excellent on some of the quieter scenes and in the Strange Days scenes described above, the performance on loud and complex scenes was not as good. This minor flaw was not noticeable, except at the loudest of levels. Even at high volume levels, the congestion and loss of resolving powers were slight.
I also tried the MCA5 in my two-channel system with the Anthem Pre2L and Martin Logan Scenario speakers. The characteristics remained similar. The sound was just slightly forward, as compared to the Amp 2, and also had some grain evident. What I thought was amazing was how much performance and power the MCA5 had at such a low price. The grain I heard on the Martin Logans was not evident with other excellent speakers that were not quite as transparent. My Vandersteen's covered the slightly grainy texture of the MCA5, as I imagine all but the most transparent speakers will, leaving the MCA5 sounding quite smooth. While listening to the two-channel system, there were no signs of congestion or lack of resolution at any listening level and the soundstage was wide and extremely deep.
My biggest complaint about the MCA5, and the MCA series in general, is the binding post. Yes, they are solid, and yes, they conform to all the new European safety requirements, but they are a pain to use. There is a little slot on the bottom through which to feed the speaker wire. You may also use a single banana plug, which would be easy, but does not offer as secure a connection. My front speakers are bi-wired, with thick and heavy cables, and they were a bear to connect to the binding posts.
The congestion on loud, complex passages was minor but noticeable. I feel that this may be due to the power supply set-up and sharing of transformers, as it did not occur at either low volumes or when only two or three channels were being pushed hard.
The MCA5, like the other Anthem products I have reviewed, is solid and performs well, especially given its price. Once the amplifier is hooked up and you don't have to deal with the terrible binding posts, it is quite enjoyable. The soundstage is huge, imaging is good and is as smooth as all but tube and the very best of the solid state amplifiers. Buyers of home theater amplifiers are lucky to have solid, strong performing amplifiers such as this to purchase at a reasonable price.