|Anthem AVM 30 AV Preamplifier|
|Home Theater Preamplifiers AV Preamps|
|Written by Tim Hart|
|Friday, 01 April 2005|
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For decades, manufacturers have produced high-end stereo components that deliver music playback so real that you can practically reach out and touch your favorite musician. Although home theatres with multi-channel surround systems have been commonplace since the early 1990s, there have been few options for the ultimate level in multi-channel reproduction. Such systems came at a price that invoked shrieks from even the wealthiest consumers. Many are familiar with the likes of the Mark Levinson No. 40, priced at over $30,000 and the Meridian G68 and Reference 861, at $8,000 and $20,000 respectively, just to mention a few. In the growing group of sub-$5,000 processors, can the Anthem AVM30 bring on the highest level of performance at a fraction of the cost of these mega-processors? One glance at the feature list and the $3,000 price tag tells me the Anthem AVM30 preamp/processor/tuner may well be the brightest contender on the price and performance landscape.
This North American-made preamp/processor/tuner is the successor to the popular AVM20, which was reviewed in AVRev.com a few years back. The new model has many new improvements and some important additions. However, one addition that Anthem did not include with the AVM30 is extra cost. Actually, the AVM30 costs about $400 less than the AVM20. The most surprising aspect of the price reduction is that it did not reduce the product’s functionality, capability or performance. In a time when it is easy to justify raising the price of a component by adding a few bells and whistles, Anthem’s approach runs against the norm. The product positioning is interesting, as it comes in under the cost of similar performers, such as Sunfire’s Theater Grand IV or Krell’s Showcase, both of which retail for $4,000. The AVM30 trumps both of these products with full bass management and speaker-distance compensation for its multi-channel analog input. This feature has been long awaited and is long overdue. Finally, here are the tools to fine-tune playback of SACD and DVD-Audio.
Sharing the same general chassis size as its predecessor, the AVM30 is five-and-seven-eighths inches tall, 17 inches wide, 14 inches deep and weighs a hefty 28 pounds. The front panel has a more refined look to it than its predecessor did, with a finely brushed clear anodized or black aluminum finish. The blue display is a nice touch that is easily read and highlights the gorgeous metalwork of the panel. Blue LEDs indicate the source path and zone in use. Red LEDs indicate the source in use. I was able to make adjustments to the system without use of the onscreen display, which says a lot about the amount of information that can be seen. The only issue with making changes at the front panel is the visibility of the labeling for each indicator and button, which should either be backlit or use larger text size. It is a bit too small and the black lettering doesn’t contrast well enough with the clear anodized finish of the review unit in some lighting conditions. I run a projection system and turning on a light really isn’t desirable. Not a big deal, just a note worth mentioning.
A large two-inch master control knob on the right-hand side of the unit controls the levels for surround mode, bass and treble, balance, display brightness and the FM tuner section. The volume has a detented attenuation of 0.5 dB increments. The knob has a nice feel to it. Around the knob are buttons for the surround mode, headphone settings for bass, treble and balance, and the subwoofer LFE level settings. All of the functions on the front panel are laid out in an organized and easily understood manner.
The AVM30 universal remote is nicer than most and has a good feel, with an easy to grip surface finish and an organized layout of large backlit buttons that are approximately the same color as the main display on the face of the unit. Thanks go out to Anthem for recognizing that most theaters are dark and remotes need to be backlit. This seems fundamentally simple, yet most remotes are not backlit and consumers are forced to struggle when using them during movies. The AVM30 has a learning remote that has all of the functions that are on the unit itself, plus a few extra features, such as AM/FM direct entry and source seek, which will automatically sense an operating source and use this signal.
The AVM30 has all but one of the latest decoding schemes for music and movie playback, Dolby Pro Logic IIx, which is currently available as a free download, and the indicator is already on the front panel in anticipation of the addition. Anthem is committed to keeping the AVM30 as future-proof as possible by offering downloads from their website to keep the software as current as possible.
Besides Dolby Pro Logic II, Dolby EX, DTS Neo: 6, EX Matrix, ES Discrete and THX Ultra2/THX Surround EX with four optional modes, the AVM30 has proprietary Anthem–Logic Music™ and Anthem–Logic Cinema™, which is a decoding scheme for older two-channel source material. All of this processing power is handled by the powerful Motorola® 56367 DSP chip.
The back panel of the AVM30 is the best I’ve seen for real estate management. Anthem chose to put the input on a black background and the outputs on a white background, which helps tremendously in sorting out the myriad of connections required for my situation, and is a very nice touch that makes life a lot easier.
Video switching and multi-zone manipulation is a strong point with the AVM30, giving the owner a plethora of options for distributed audio and video. There is no shortage of connections: seven S-video and composite-video inputs, four sets of component-video inputs and a pair of component outs with corresponding S-video and composite outputs, two composite and S-video outputs, and two sets of video outputs for each zone, either S-video or composite. The absence of HDMI or DVI switching raises an eyebrow, though. HD transmission from the source to the display can be handled by the component input and output on the AVM30, but what if you have a digital display that wants to stay in the digital domain? In this instance, you would have to bypass the switching capability of the AVM30. Things start getting tricky when you have to set things up outside of your main control system. At this time, Anthem is putting together hardware upgrades for the AVM20, AVM30 and Statement D1 and hopes to have them completed by summer, but encourages customers to visit their website regarding the latest updates.
For audio, the AVM30 has seven S/PDIF RCA inputs, seven pairs of RCA single-ended inputs, three Toslink digital inputs, one AES/EBU XLR input, a pair of XLR stereo inputs, six analog RCA inputs for SACD or DVD-Audio, four pairs of single-ended analog outputs for the two additional zones and recording, and 10 XLR and single-ended outputs to run to your amplifier. Additionally, there are connections for three relay triggers, an RS-232E port, 12-volt triggers, I.R. emitters and FM antenna, and a blank panel for an IEEE 1394 interface connector, which I’m assuming is a future update.
The flexibility doesn’t stop with the multi-zone set-up. Using the quick start guide provided with the AVM30, I installed the unit in my system and had music playing in no time. Using the OSD, I started with setting the time and day. This gives the AVM30 the ability to be an alarm clock with two different timers for each zone. You can turn your gear on at any time during the day or set it so that it will turn off at night if you happen to fall asleep. That’s pretty cool.
Next up was speaker configuration. The AVM30 gives you two different bass management set-ups for cinema and music, so you can really dial in the LFE in each application based on the style of listening you like.
Size; level matching, crossover settings for each speaker and subwoofer phase, polarity and crossover can be easily set up in one menu. The distance from the listener can be dialed in to within six inches of the listener’s position and level matching is at .5 db increments, which is more than adequate for most installations. I would prefer a finer adjustment for speaker position, but using my trusty Radio Shack SPL meter, I was able to get the AVM30 pretty much where I wanted it. A nice aspect of the AVM30 is the ability to adjust levels on the fly without having to get into the setup menu. Different program material will sometimes benefit from small tweaks and to get that ability without the OSD is pretty cool.
Source set-up pays big dividends when time and patience is spent in setting up the configurations for each of your components. The AVM30 makes it straightforward for the user to set up surround modes, level match components, adjust equalization, assign audio and component video input, and change the name of the source you are setting up for optimizing movie or music playback.
The room resonance filter is a tool by which you can tame nasty resonance peaks by means of a single notch filter. By determining the offending low frequency with an SPL meter or your calibrated ear, you can center the AVM30 on that particular frequency and reduce the dB within a 3 or 18 Hz range. Be aware that this can have an adverse effect if done wrong. You might want your dealer or a trained acoustician to set this feature up for you. The same can be said for the supplied bass peak level, which tailors the LFE to match you main loudspeaker capabilities. Done wrong, this could turn things sour in a heartbeat.
Bass management and speaker location for SACD and DVD-Audio takes the AVM30 to the front of the line with the ability to adjust LFE levels and such for all high-resolution formats. You are no longer stuck with the “one set-up fits most” scenario.