Receivers

Anthem AVM50v Audio/Video Processor

ARTICLE INDEX

Design

Anthem AVM50v Audio/Video Processor

Almost nothing has changed on the back panel. Seven conventional analog stereo inputs are each augmented with coax digital audio, composite video, and S-Video. Two have complete sets of analog audio and video outputs to feed the record lines on those components. There are three Toslink (optical) digital inputs and one Professional AES/EBU digital input, all of which can be assigned to any of the previously mentioned seven basic inputs. There is a dedicated two-channel balanced input and a six-channel (5.1) single ended analog input. A quartet of component video inputs can be assigned to any audio line. In terms of HDMI we find the one change: we now have a total of eight, yes eight, HDMI inputs, plus two, count 'em, two HDMI outputs.

Of course we still have the complete 7.1 audio output in both single ended and balanced formats. Both still include two jacks for the center and subwoofer (10 outputs per set total). Stereo audio, composite, and S-Video outputs are provided for Zone 2, Zone 3, and the Rec Path, while a pair of coax digital audio outputs is also available. Two component video outs are there as well. Despite the abundance of jacks, and the fact that at first glance it looks overwhelming, Anthem has kept the concept which has worked so well for them thus far: All inputs are on a black background, while outputs are all on a white background. It's just a pity the industry at large has all but abandoned the THX standard for color coding of multichannel jacks.

The DVD and TV inputs can each have up to four pseudo inputs, the SAT input up to two (selected by repeat presses of the corresponding input). Pseudo inputs are basically "alternate setups" for the input in question. This is useful if for example you have DVD1 setup to use clean video processing, and DVD2 setup to employ a lot of noise reduction or detail enhancement. Then you just select inputs to chose whether the one real source gets the extra processing applied or not.

Custom Installers will continue to enjoy no less than three 12V trigger outputs (1/8" jacks), two infrared outputs (also 1/8" jacks), and a 12V terminal strip to power such things as IR receivers. A DB-9 RS-232 serial port of course now serves not only as a vein for the AVM50v to communicate with whole home systems, but is integral to the now included ARC system we'll take a refresher on in a moment.

Antenna terminals are still hanging in there for the built-in AM/FM tuner.

There are four independent zones (or paths is perhaps a better term). The Main Zone is the full 7.1 channel layout. Zones 2 and 3 are completely independent 2 channel paths complete with volume and tone control. The 4th is the Record path, again, independent of all the others. Any source can be routed anywhere, though digital sources can only be played in Zone 2, 3, and Rec if they are copied from the main zone (in other words if you are playing one digital source in the main zone, you cannot play a different one in another zone). This is the industry norm since doing otherwise requires a great deal of expense (not just more DACs but digital format decoding DSP as well) and at this time custom installers assert that ancillary zones of SSPs and AVRs are employed principally for background music or a TV in a bedroom such that making a second, analogue connection from a source does just fine.

Under the hood Anthem continues with their highly successful power supply topology and processing compliment. DACs and ADCs remain unchanged since the original AVM20, while the DSP compliment now has been upped to twin dual-core Freescale units in order to get the decoding of the HD audio formats, which by the way is the only embedded/off the shelf software Anthem employs. Everything else is, literally, theirs from scratch, some of it reaching into 56bit precision.

Anthem AVM50v Audio/Video Processor

Anthem continues with the same sizable, robust remote control unit since the AVM20 (it is not unique to them, as several other companies oem the same one). There implementation is commendable given the compliment of buttons. As with most units of its ilk it has built in codes for a myriad of components and brands and can of course learn functions it does not already know, but it has the same "one component at a time" limitation (volume control being the exception) so in all likely hood while it is possible to wrangle it into being your only remote, there is no substitute for a good Pronto (or for the more lazy among us, the proverbial remote control array).

Form and function

Bottom line: nobody came close when the AVM20 floored us with its software, and to this day many still struggle to beat 'em. Anthem continues to have one of the most comprehensive, yet still accessible, system software and functionality going.

Anthem AVM50v Audio/Video Processor

There are four video and two audio configurations which can be setup. For example, one video configuration might be setup for HDMI output at 1080p60, another 1080p24, while one audio config might include a subwoofer and all speakers high passed, while the other might consist only of a stereo pair of full range speakers. You then may choose which from among these basic configurations will be used by each input. Each input can be renamed to anything you like up to six characters, can have any digital input assigned to it, or may be designated as analog, in which case you'll chose between converting it to digital or leaving it as analog (heaven forbid). Each input may have a global delay applied to it, in range of 0-170 ms, and each has an input gain, as well as its own unique Bass and Treble settings (yea, remember those?).

In the case of digital, a given input can be set to use short, medium, or long muting, this referring to the mute all processors apply while waiting for and locking onto bit streams. This used to be a much more critical feature when things like "DTS CDs" or the inefficient DTS 24/96 were still in circulation, as processors tended to exhibit a significant pop or squeal at the start of the bit stream, but the option to tailor it to each input is still a useful option today because not only does it extend the mute, but also the length of time the processor will stick with a given format (very useful when channel surfing digital TV).

Each input now has seven signal formats to which default playback modes may be assigned: 2 channel, 2 channel surround encoded, 6.0, Dolby Digital5, EX, DTS, ES, and raw 7.1 For each of these you can set a default mode for play back (exactly what you have to chose from of course depends on the format in question).

The AVM50v still sports the same clock as its predecessors with time/day, giving owners a comprehensive set of timers.

Digitally controlled analog volume control is exploited to the fullest. A default power-on volume level may be specified for each of the three zones. We've already mentioned that each input has its own gain trim. A maximum volume level can be set (may I suggest for your safety you set it to "0 dB"), and at your option, the Mute button can either be a total cut or an attenuation, your choice.

Anthem AVM50v Audio/Video Processor

As is my reputation I gloss over nothing so here is a sore spot: The front panel display sadly has been carried over from the original Statement D1 and is now featured in all the Anthem models. Why do I say "sadly"? Sure it is an excellently clear and legible dot matrix with two rows of text and a decently high dot count, sure it is judiciously used to its fullest by Anthem, but with only 3 levels of brightness to chose from, the lowest of which is most certainly not "dim" at all, it remains a blemish on an otherwise exquisite presentation. My wife, who is an excellent unbiased outside opinion for these sorts of things, actually found the display at its dimmest setting "ugly and distracting". Sure you can turn it off completely and rely on your home theater's big screen to convey the information (albeit transiently only), but I have a better idea: return to the original AVM20's display! What was the difference? Unlike the current fluorescent display, that one used a back-lit LCD with dam near infinite adjust-ability. The AVM20 in fact offered 15 brightness values, the lowest of which literally could barely be perceived in a pitch black room.

Anthem continues to get all "the little things" right such as comprehensive access to Pro Logic II Music's non-mandatory adjustments, judicious implementation of Dynamic Range Compression, flawless detection and execution of things like EX flags, and of course THX's Re-Eq can be turned off independently of the THX Cinema/THX Surround EX.

All material is down-mixable to two-channel for the other zones, headphones, or tape/CD recording (for digital or digitized inputs, only when they are copied from the main zone). This includes all multi-channel digital formats as well as the 5.1 analog inputs.

For old untreated soundtracks, the industry standard Academy Filter is still available as is a non-filtered mono mode, an all-channel mono mode, and an all-channel stereo mode. Anthem's own matrix decoders, Anthem Logic, are still on the table and present a subjective alternative to Pro Logic IIx.

A Dolby Volume logo is somewhat preemptively featured on the face plate. Preemptive in that it has yet to be incorporated (but we are assured soon will be in a future software revision).

Anthem is still including their center EQ (a curve with a handful of presets to counter the boundary effect of a TV screen) as well as the Room Resonance Filter (a single-band parametric EQ), both of which seem pointless since the included ARC has, literally, made these obsolete and redundant. Speaking of which....

ARC (not Noah's)

By now in a review I should have spent at least several paragraphs covering speaker and subwoofer setup parameters, features, and options, and waxed poetic about what's good and what is gimmick. Truth is, with ARC, pretty much all of the old tedium is gone. Not to say everything is not still available. Listener Position/speaker distances may still be manually input (in razor sharp half-foot or .2 meter increments), and basic speaker level calibration still one-ups the norm by letting you deviate from THX reference input level for the test noise itself, which is nice if you have remarkably efficient speakers or an amp of unusually high gain (though you could also just start with all speakers set to levels well in the negative). You may, if you are forgoing ARC, elect to use "simple" speaker setup where a single, common crossover frequency is used, or "advance" where each pair of channels, the LFE channel, and the subwoofer output itself get their own setting. And on top of everything else, as previously mentioned you can have two completely different configurations in terms of speaker settings and adjustments, conspicuously named "Movie" and "Music", terms which I take exception to as they imply that an otherwise properly setup system will require fundamentally different configurations based on material being handled. Stuff and nonsense! In my opinion the only valid use for the "Movie/Music" thing is comparing different ARC implementations, which is what I'm supposed to be talking about here anyway.

For a more in-depth look at ARC system, I hate to steer you away but my review of it from May of 2008 (http://www.hometheaterhifi.com/surround-sound-processors/343-a-secrets-ssp-review.html) will give you more of the story than I'm willing to go into here, except to say hooray it is standard fair in the AVM50v, and if you are a previous AVM owner who has not tacked it on, well, too bad for you.

ARC differentiates itself from the ever growing list of "auto setup and filter" systems by employing some serious math (the use of a personal computer is NOT an option) and more importantly Anthem's VERY unique application of psychoacoustics and audio shaping algorithms. So good is it that I can with every confidence say you will NEVER not use it, which is why we can now forget the old debates about subwoofer/speaker settings and just let ARC have at it.

The only thing I would like to add to my previous review of ARC by way of update is that in the latest revision of ARC, Crossover Frequency selection and Target Filter are addressed somewhat independently. In other words while the Crossover Frequency is selected by and taken into account by ARC, it is not necessarily coincident with the filter's roll off. Without going into an entire technical tangent, this simply means that whereas before you could override ARC's choice of crossover frequency (BEFORE downloading to the processor) without compromising ARC too much (such as when someone was obsessed with rolling off their tower speakers at a ridiculously low frequency) it is now very much discouraged as the effect may be much farther reaching.

Anthem AVM50v Audio/Video Processor

Also I'd like to note that (unfortunately) Anthem is still using the same mic stand, the one which when placed on a seat places the mic WAY above the ear plane (and yes that makes a difference, sometimes a big one depending on the room). You really have to fuss with it to take your measurements at ear level as you are supposed to.