|Anthem Statement D1 AV Preamplifier|
|Home Theater Preamplifiers AV Preamps|
|Written by Christopher Zell, Ph.D.|
|Monday, 01 November 2004|
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After an initial period of casual listening and video viewing, I started my evaluation process with some two-channel listening. I find this an effective way of checking out the basic sonic character of a component without the confusion and added stimulus of additional loudspeakers and video. A few sessions with one of my favorite late-night CDs, Mazzy Starr’s So Tonight That I Might See (Capitol), made it clearly evident that the Anthem D1 was very transparent and capable of revealing detail even in subtle music such as this. The acoustic guitar and tambourine in “Five String Serenade” were crisp and clean through the D1, the strings smooth behind Starr’s gentle, almost emotionless vocals. In my favorite cut,” Into Dust,” Starr’s breathy, soothing vocals floated above the guitar and occasional pick squeaks.
I was ecstatic when I spotted Billy Cobham’s classic fusion album Spectrum (Atlantic Recording Corp.), released on DVD-Audio, with both multi-channel and stereo high-resolution audio available. I have been a huge Cobham fan since his days with Mahavishnu Orchestra, and the addition of former bandmate Jan Hammer on keyboards and a young Tommy Bolin on guitar makes this a can’t miss disc. Multi-channel music and systems can sound surprisingly unexciting, and in some ways less three-dimensional than two-channel, like a sphere of sound around you, but with little or no thickness to it. This was not true of the title cut, which features one of my favorite drum solos ever recorded. Despite the relatively non-aggressive use of surrounds, the presentation through the Anthem was not flat in the least. Cobham’s larger than life drum set was very deep across the front of the stage, the image moving in a circle around him rather than just back and forth between the three front speakers. The combination of the D1 and the high-resolution DVD-Audio source was a perfect match for recreating the sweetness, as well as the detail of what I assume the master tapes contain. This was especially apparent when focusing on Bolin’s guitar work, as well as Hammer’s piano. Closely microphoned piano is a very difficult test for systems, often sounding harsh, like fingernails on a blackboard, to me. The D1’s smooth presentation of piano breaks in “To the Women in my Life” and the lusciously detailed bass and snappy percussion created a satisfying contrast to the immediately preceding cut, “Stratus.” Cobham’s ambitious assault was spectacular during “Snoopy” without hurting my ears or overpowering the back-and-forth play between Hammer and Bolin. Switching to the high-resolution two-channel version of this cut verified all of the above observations, with perhaps an increased front depth, although the soundstage of course collapsed to the front of the room. Regardless of the format, multi-channel or stereo, the music flowing through the D1 was fabulous, a reflection of the source, the Anthem in no way a limiting factor.
The Anthem D1 contains a very high-quality headphone preamplifier, designed with the Motorola® MC33078 operational amplifiers, and Wima MKS 2 metalized polyester film capacitors, renowned for minimizing high-frequency distortion. The combination of a dedicated, fully discrete output stage and ±15 Volts DC power rails enables wide volume capability, and the ability to handle both high and low impedance headphones alike. I verified this to my satisfaction by utilizing a wide variety of headphones from Grado, Sennheiser and AKG, all of which sounded open, dynamic and effortless. The headphone amplifier can operate with or without the main speakers on, and has separate volume, bass and treble controls. Anthem also incorporates a very competent, versatile AM FM tuner section, with 18 FM and six AM presets. This did an excellent job pulling in my favorite local radio stations, as well as some not-so-local ones, with exemplary rejection and fidelity, and I enjoyed listening to them as background throughout the day.
Much to my surprise – if you would have told me this a year ago, I would have said you were crazy – I spend as much time (actually, often more) watching movies on my home theater as I do listening to music. I appreciated my D1-based system with music of all sorts, but despite my increased viewing of movies, it is becoming increasingly difficult to write about what I hear in soundtracks. The more realistic and more dynamic it sounds, the more detail it extracts, the more I am pulled into the movie and the less I think about my home theater system and/or the particular component I am evaluating.
Not surprisingly, the D1 was spectacular with blockbuster films. Over the last month, I watched (again) the entire “Lord of the Rings” trilogy (New Line Home Entertainment), including the extended versions of “The Fellowship of the Ring” and “The Two Towers,” of course, with my kids, and it was the best I have heard them sound, including in the theater. I did not think about the sound during the movie, it just fit right in and melded with the video: intelligible, subtle and shocking when an mumakil (giant elephant) stomped through the room. I feared my six-year-old would have nightmares for months after witnessing and hearing the terrifying spider Shelob slither after Frodo, the D1 effectively placing us in the middle of her lair, but fortunately she is braver than I, who would have been permanently warped had I experienced that at her age.
Despite the D1’s exemplary performance with action sequences, it was often the more subtle soundtracks that enforced my appreciation of its capabilities. One unlikely example was “The Falcon and the Snowman” (MGM/UA Home Entertainment). This DVD is an old two-channel mix, not very exciting sonically, both in quality and because of the absence of crashes and explosions (this is not a blast-‘em-up film). But when the occasional cut in Pat Metheny’s wonderful soundtrack escalated, my system responded with stunning detail, three-dimensional and exciting. The title song featuring David Bowie on vocals put a huge smile on my face, snapping my ears to attention.
Despite being somewhat long in the tooth as far as concert videos, the Eagles’ Hell Freezes Over (Image Entertainment) still gets a lot of playing time, many times as a demo for music enthusiasts who visit my home. The DTS soundtrack still sounds excellent to my ears, never more so then through the Anthem D1. The acoustic guitars throughout the unplugged, relatively mellow opening section of the concert were crisp and detailed and the percussion parts jumped out with clarity and snap, particularly in cuts like “Love Will Keep Us Alive.” “Get Over It,” a song which I was never overly fond of before watching this video, has become a favorite of my friends and I when we are in the mood to rock. I have never heard it as dynamic as through the D1, with the drums sharp and visceral and the power of a live concert as realistically reproduced as I have heard in my system.