For 15 or so years, until very recently, Anthem continued to produce upgraded versions of their second-generation AVM surround-sound processor. That’s a long time for any component, and especially for a surround-sound processor. Although the original AVM 20 had little more than Dolby Digital EX, DTS-ES, and THX Surround EX processing, Anthem continually updated it throughout its long run; the last version, the AVM 50v 3D, had all of the latest audio codecs and processing, save for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, along with Sigma Designs’ VXP “broadcast quality” video processing and Anthem’s own Anthem Room Correction (ARC). The original AVM 20 cost $3199 USD at its debut; before being discontinued earlier in 2016, the AVM 50v 3D was priced at $6499.
Anthem’s newest AVM processor, the AVM 60, is based on an entirely new platform and costs a very reasonable $2999. I was eager to review it, especially as, for many years, I’ve used an Anthem Statement D2 surround-sound processor as a reference for both two-channel and multichannel sound.
The AVM 60 is nearly indistinguishable from Anthem’s new MRX receivers, which have been favorites of A/V enthusiasts since their introduction five years ago, and which themselves have the same basic appearance as Anthem’s recently upgraded MCA series of power amplifiers: functional, clean, and refreshing, if not super-attractive. The AVM 60 measures 17.25”W x 6.5”H x 14.5”D and, at 20 pounds, is relatively light, but feels quite solid and sturdily built. The rear panel is well laid out, and the minimalist front panel has only a few buttons, for accessing key functions and navigating the menus. Compare that with the rather dated look of Anthem’s earlier AVM and Statement D models, whose front panels were busy with multitudes of buttons. The AVM 60 isn’t as attractive as, say, NAD’s striking Masters Series M17 surround processor, but it has a more modern look than its predecessors.
But it’s what’s inside that counts, and in that regard, Anthem has upped the ante with the AVM 60. They did an admirable job of providing a steady upgrade path through their previous generations of AVMs, but they apparently took that platform as far as it could go. While the AVM 60 lacks the sophisticated video processing of its predecessors, it has switching and compatibility for UHD Blu-ray and 4K60 video, and is compliant with HDMI 2.0a and HDR HDCP 2.2. Having a high-quality video processor built into an A/V processor may have been a big benefit five or ten years ago, but with high-quality 1080p sources now the norm and 4K broadcast TV and Ultra HD discs gaining in popularity, sophisticated video processing seems expensive and unnecessary. And if that’s what’s resulted in the AVM 60’s costing less than half the price of its predecessor, well, I won’t complain.
The AVM 60 uses quad-core 32-bit digital signal processing, and premium 32-bit/768kHz differential-output digital-to-analog converters from AKM. It accepts digital signals with resolutions up to 24/192, but does not support native DSD signals. It supports Dolby Surround, DTS Neo:6 Cinema and Music, Anthem Logic for 11.2 channels, Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Atmos, and DTS-HD Master Audio -- and, with a firmware upgrade expected to be released by the end of 2017, it will eventually support DTS:X.
Like many new A/V components, the AVM 60’s rear panel has mostly digital inputs: seven HDMI (and one HDMI on the front that supports MHL), and two coaxial and three optical audio inputs. There are also five analog stereo audio inputs (RCA). The AVM 60 has no analog video inputs, which may present a problem for those who have older video sources -- but these days, those are becoming quite rare. There are 11.2 preamplifier channels, each with unbalanced (RCA) and balanced (XLR) outputs. This includes the two subwoofer channels and four height channels used by Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. There’s also an optical digital output, a stereo line out (RCA), Zone 2 stereo output (RCA), and two HDMI outputs. Finally, there are 12V trigger inputs and outputs, an RS-232 control port, and, for firmware updates, USB ports on the front and rear panels.
Although the AVM 60 can’t stream audio files from a USB-connected storage device or accept a computer’s USB output, it does support DTS Play-Fi, which allows it to stream audio from PCs via a home network and an Ethernet or Wi-Fi connection, or wirelessly from an Android or iOS device.
The AVM 60’s remote control is a backlit, plastic handset of decent enough quality; using it, I found it easy to navigate the processor’s straightforward menu system. And the AVM 60 itself is simple enough to operate that I had to refer to the owner’s manual only a few times. A remote-control app for iOS and Android devices may be available by the time this review is published.
Anthem’s highly regarded Anthem Room Correction (ARC) software uses a high-quality USB mike and a surprisingly decent mike stand -- both are included in the purchase price of the AVM 60. From Anthem’s website I downloaded the latest versions of ARC (now ARC-2), the calibration file for the USB mike, and the AVM 60’s firmware. The software runs on a PC, using the computer’s processing power to calculate the equalization curves to be uploaded to the Anthem A/V processor or receiver used. For this, the AVM 60 requires a network connection via Ethernet or Wi-Fi. Although the process sounds somewhat complicated, I found it straightforward, and ARC-2 was intuitively easy to use. I was able to complete the ARC setup process in a few minutes.
I installed the DTS Play-Fi app on my laptop and iPhone 5, and was able to stream music to the AVM 60 without problem, both wirelessly and via Ethernet. Play-Fi essentially allows the user to play music on a device on which the app is installed, and output the audio to any Play-Fi device available on the network. I used iTunes with my iPhone, and foobar2000 with my laptop.
I used the AVM 60 connected primarily to an Anthem MCA 525 power amplifier, also provided for review (it’s in the works), via their single-ended RCA connections. Sources were my Asus VivoBook X200MA laptop running Windows 10 and foobar2000, a Bel Canto Design mLink USB converter, and an Oppo BDP-105 universal Blu-ray player. My video monitor was a Panasonic Viera TC-P60ST60 plasma TV. Although the AVM 60 is a Dolby Atmos device that can drive 11.2 channels, I used it in a 5.2-channel system: KEF R900 front left and right speakers, a KEF R600c for the center channel, Definitive Technology BP-8080ST surround speakers, and two JL Audio E-Sub e112 subwoofers.
During the time Anthem’s AVM 60 processor and MCA 525 amplifier were parts of my system, I could not have enjoyed listening to them more, either with multichannel film soundtracks or two-channel music. While a fair number of the surround processors that have come through my system have sounded excellent with movies, few have fully satisfied me with stereo recordings. The AVM 60 was one of the few SSPs that have sounded truly musical at a reasonable price.
In the opening scene of The Revenant, as the main character, Hugh Glass, and others are stalking prey, the sounds of rushing water as it floods a forest fully enveloped me, and the sounds of chirping birds and the rustle of wind in the trees seemed to come from far off in the distance. Very near sounds, such as footsteps in moving water and the clicks of muskets being cocked, were perfectly placed in the soundfield by the AVM 60. Although I was listening in just 5.2 channels, the sound was amazingly precise and holographic. I can only imagine how much more precise the sound might have been had I been able to listen to this film’s 7.1-channel DTS-HD Master Audio track. Although music doesn’t figure as prominently in the sound design of The Revenant as it does in some films, when the score -- by Ryuichi Sakamoto, Carsten Nicolai (aka Alva Noto), and Bryce Dessner -- was present, it sounded sweeping and majestic through the AVM 60. In an emotionally affecting scene that takes place amid the stark ruins of a church, the mournful upwelling of strings as Glass experiences a revelatory vision was as pristine and crystalline as anything I’ve heard from an orchestra well recorded in stereo, and made this memorable scene even more powerful.
The AVM 60’s ability to extract minute details from high-resolution multichannel recordings made it possible for me to distinguish subtle differences between the sound designs of films. For example, in the main scene featuring Quicksilver, in X-Men: Apocalypse, the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” sounds very clear but lacks depth. The music is confined mostly to the front speakers, with sound effects in all channels providing directional cues and a sense of depth. As an explosion rips in slow motion through Professor Xavier’s mansion, the sound of the blast filled my listening room, but the groaning of the floorboards as they flexed and snapped was very specifically placed, as were Quicksilver’s footfalls as he deftly scampered across the rapidly disintegrating floor.
This was very different from the sound design of Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, in which music plays a more prominent role. In the hostage-rescue scene, the score, inspired by Middle Eastern music, radiated richly from all speakers with a great sense of depth, as did Harry Nilsson’s cover of Badfinger’s “Without You.” Sound effects, such as the muted thwacks of automatic weapons with silencers, precisely tracked the action onscreen, but didn’t extend to the sides or the rear half of the room. That area was filled by the wonderfully enveloping musical score, which wrapped all around me. Although the characters of these two film soundtracks were quite different, each was incredibly involving, thanks to the AVM 60’s ability to reproduce them exactly as I imagine the sound designers had intended.
The ability of the AVM 60 to reproduce two-channel recordings of music with the same amazing fidelity it did movies was evident with Macy Gray’s Stripped, one of Chesky Records’ Binaural+ recordings (24-bit/96kHz FLAC, Chesky). Stripped presented me with an extremely realistic soundstage in which Gray stood slightly behind the beautifully recorded instruments of the jazz-inspired arrangements. The album doesn’t exhibit the extremely pinpoint but artificial imaging of most multitrack recordings, instead capturing the more natural ambience and energy of a “live” recording. The AVM 60 was able to convey the spaciousness of this recording, the percussion sounding especially well placed on the soundstage, and the sounds of cymbals trailing off into a very “dark,” quiet background. Russell Malone’s bluesy guitar riffs in “Annabelle” were placed squarely in the left channel, Gray’s raspy but subdued voice originated from directly in front of me, and Daryl Johns’s double bass sounded tight and solid in the right channel. Stripped is a great audiophile recording; through the AVM 60, I was able to enjoy it more than I ever thought I could with a moderately priced SSP.
Overall, the Anthem AVM 60’s sound was incredibly solid and clean, and perhaps even a little cleaner than that of my reference surround-sound processor, Anthem’s Statement D2 ($7499, discontinued) -- the AVM 60 presented individual elements of film soundtracks with more separation and clarity. In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, the explosion near the beginning of the garbage-truck chase scene had a bit more definition and oomph with the AVM 60. The revving of motorcycle engines and the various other sound effects from all channels were also a bit more distinct as they whizzed around my room.
While the AVM 60 did a better job of drawing clearer image outlines around individual sound effects, the Statement D2 countered with a more expansive presentation and greater depth. In the opening scene of The Revenant, the soundfield was deeper, with quiet whispers originating from closer to my listening position, and the chirping of birds and the sounds of the wind were farther away than through the AVM 60. Similar things happened when I listened to Stripped: Macy Gray’s voice in some tracks appearing a little closer to the fronts of the speakers with the D2, and in others a little farther back behind the instruments. In comparison, the AVM 60 placed her voice in nearly the same horizontal plane, no matter the track. The D2 also sounded a tad more rich and lush -- Wallace Roney’s trumpet in “Sweet Baby” was a bit sweeter while losing none of its brassy bite. Although I still prefer the sound of the Statement D2 to that of the AVM 60, the latter was much closer in sound quality than I would have expected for its much lower price.
The AVM 60 replaces Anthem’s venerable second-generation AVM processor, and adds features such as object-based surround formats and wireless streaming via DTS Play-Fi, at a much lower price. It also retains Anthem’s excellent ARC room-optimizing software, and seamlessly and coherently integrates subwoofers with all of the other speakers. It sounded absolutely fantastic with movies, but I expected that. What I didn’t expect was how well it would reproduce two-channel recordings of music. In fact, the AVM 60 performed so well in my reference system as a stereo DAC-preamp that I was more than happy to listen to it as my primary two-channel source for the entire listening period -- a high compliment for a $2999 surround-sound processor. If you’re in the market for a high-quality surround-sound processor, I can’t recommend the Anthem AVM 60 highly enough. I would think long and hard before spending more.
. . . Roger Kanno
- Speakers -- KEF R900 (mains), KEF R600c (center), Definitive Technology BP-8080ST (surrounds), JL Audio E-Sub e112 (2 subwoofers)
- Power amplifiers -- Anthem MCA 525 and Statement M1 (monos), NAD Masters Series M27
- A/V processor -- Anthem Statement D2
- Sources -- Oppo Digital BDP-105 universal BD player, Asus VivoBook X200MA computer running Windows 10 and foobar2000, Bel Canto Design mLink USB converter, AudioQuest JitterBug
- Cables -- Analysis Plus Digital Crystal and Solo Crystal Oval, AudioQuest Carbon USB, Nordost Quattro Fil interconnects; Analysis Plus Blue Oval and Black Oval 9, Nordost Super Flatline Mk.II speaker cables
- Power cords -- Essential Sound Products MusicCord-Pro ES
- Power conditioners -- Blue Circle Audio PLC Thingee, Zero Surge 1MOD15WI
Anthem AVM 60 Audio/Video Processor
Price: $2999 USD.
Warranty: Three years parts and labor.
205 Annagem Blvd.
Mississauga, Ontario L5T 2V1
Phone: (905) 564-1994