Reviews

Review: Anthem MDX-16 – audio matrix and multi-zone amplifier

Review: Anthem MDX-16 audio matrix and multi-zone amplifier is an inch perfect device that has many positives in it with almost zero cons.

Review: Anthem MDX-16 : More and more people are opting for a discreet solution to distribute music throughout the home, whether or not via an installer. The MDX-16 16-channel amplifier from Canada’s Anthem is a new, strong entry into the segment. A great asset: separate room correction via the excellent ARC, and that per zone. This way you can optimize the sound in every room with minimal effort.

Anthem MDX-16

Anthem is known to hi-fi enthusiasts as a builder of high-quality audio devices, such as the mighty STR amplifiers and MRX receivers. These are devices that are perfect in a listening room or living room of an audio enthusiast. MDX appliances are also used by installers for multi-channel projects. The Canadian brand is looking even more explicitly at the custom install segment with the EUR 3,199 MDX-16. This is understandable, because in North America the installation market is larger and more important than the classic hi-fi market. In Europe, installation may be a little less relevant, but in some countries (such as Belgium and Germany) there is a strong growth to note in projects in which audio is integrated into the home. The fact that well-known audio brands such as Anthem are active in this part of the audio market is a positive thing, because they have the right cards in hand to deliver good sound quality for CI projects.

The MDX-16 is one of two CI amps that Anthem is launching this year. The other is the MDX-8, equipped with eight channels. We may not need to tell you how many channels the MDX-16 has? This is a pure amplifier that must be combined with one or more sources, controlled via IP or RS232 and compatible with a whole range of home automation platforms. We now write ‘pure amplifier’, but the MDX-16 does come with a DAC hatch so that digital audio streams can also be played. It is a real audio matrix; you can forward any source to one or more zones, which offers a lot of flexibility. 60 Watts of power is available for each of the sixteen channels, but in bridge mode (where you merge two zones into one) you can increase that to 200 Watts. You can already do something with that.

Anthem MDX-16

 

What  16-channel CI amplifier
Inputs 8 x RCA pair, 2 x coaxial, 2 x optical, Ethernet
Outputs 8 x Euroconnector (2 channels), 8 x RCA sub, optical, analog
Integration 12V trigger in / out, IP, Control4, Crestron, Savant, URC, Elan
Power 60 watts per channel (at 8 ohms), 200 watts in bridge mode (at 8 ohms)
Dimensions 8.9 x 43.2 x 41.7 cm, 2U

Rack or not?

Out of the box, the MDX-16 is immediately ready to be slid into a rack. The standard 2U format and mounting clips on the sides make that easy. But if you prefer, you can quickly remove these brackets and mount the supplied feet. You suddenly get a device that deserves a place in a cupboard or even visibly on a piece of furniture. It is not that the MDX-16 suddenly looks sexy, because it remains primarily a functionally designed device intended for the CI market. Nothing wrong with that and the informative display with LEDs on the front shows you at a glance which zones are active. This is useful if you want to troubleshoot quickly.

Functionality and ease of use are important things when executing a project, they apparently understand that with Anthem. The clear structure of the back makes it easy to connect speakers and sources. All connections are neatly grouped, so you cannot easily make a mistake. That saves valuable time. The euroblock connectors are a real skill, especially in situations where the back of the device is not easily accessible or the visibility is disappointing. Unplug them, connect the speaker wire and plug in the connectors again.

With each of the eight zones you have the option to add an active subwoofer. In bridge mode, you merge two adjacent zones (e.g. zones 1 and 2) to create a more powerful combined zone. For a set of ceiling speakers, the 2 x 60 Watts of a single zone should suffice. But for a passive subwoofer or a few more demanding ones Hi-Fi speakers the extra power of the bridge mode is certainly useful.

If you are suddenly concerned about fire safety in that installation or technical room: the MDX-16 applies class D technology that generates little heat. The device remains relatively cool, even when you use it heavily.

In total there are 8 analog inputs and 4 digital (2 x optical, 2 x coaxial) on the MDX-16. This allows you to connect a lot of sources to this central amplifier. Thanks to the audio matrix functionality, you can select a specific source in a specific zone or even multiple zones at any time. For example, if you play a playlist via a Sonos Port that hangs on analog 1, you can play that music in the living room, kitchen and dining room at the same time. You will not experience any problems in terms of synchronization: for example, we controlled a set of Rubicon LCR wall speakers in one room via zone 3 and a set of other speakers in the next room in bridge mode via zone 1. Playing from a NAD C 658, we did not hear any lag from one zone in relation to the other. You can of course also select a different input in each zone. It is therefore equally possible to play songs via the Port in the dining room while in the living room the TV sound comes from two built-in speakers. If you want to focus heavily on streaming in the rack, you can set up a multi-zone streamer as a partner for the MDX-16, such as Monitor Audio’s IMS-4 or Yamaha’s XDA-QS5400RK. If you play music from a streamer that is connected to the MDX-16 via an optical cable, hi-res files are also playable. The DACs in the Anthem amplifier handle 24-bit / 192 kHz streams.

Anthem MDX-16

Fast configuration

Since the Anthem MDX-16 is an amplifier, there is not a lot to adjust. Yet you quickly discover that the Anthem offers a surprising number of options for fine-tuning a project to perfection. To set up the device, a sleek web interface is provided that is clear despite the many possibilities. Here too: no loss of time. Things are grouped and you never have to search long to do something. For example, it is very easy to name inputs and zones, which makes the final operation slick.

You can link the Anthem MDX-16 to a variety of home automation platforms, including Control4 and Crestron. Then you simply operate the amplifier via the interface of that platform. You can also work via the web interface, which works well thanks to the clean layout. If you log in via the browser, you will immediately go to the ‘Zones’ screen. Here you can choose a zone so that you immediately have a series of controls. The volume and the selected input, for example, but also deeper settings, such as a tone control and a mute button. You will notice that there is also an option ‘speaker profile’ here, but this is only relevant if you use CI speakers from sister brands MartinLogan or Paradigm.

Maintaining the correct volume level is always a concern for projects with many zones and many sources. A good thing then that a level trim is provided for each input and you can set a start-up volume and a maximum volume level per zone.

If you choose that boot volume correctly, the user will not have to be in the web interface often. After all, the MDX-16 will automatically switch on a zone when music starts playing – after 3-5 seconds you will hear sound – and you can often fine-tune the volume via the music source (or its app) itself. If a user still wants to control via the web interface, then it is a good thing that that interface adapts to small screens on phones and smartphones. Perhaps it would have been helpful if there was also a very limited web interface option to keep certain functions away from users. If you work via another home automation platform, you can of course provide such a fast remote this way.

Better sound

Few CI amplifiers are equipped with room correction, so that immediately makes the MDX-16 something very special. And don’t underestimate the added value of that ARC Genesis technology. There is a real chance that several zones that the MDX-16 controls will suffer from poor acoustics. It is not always possible to do something about this in terms of design. Not everyone is open to the idea of ​​hanging acoustic panels or moving furniture. However, via ARC you do get a tool to do something with it. What is interesting with the MDX-16 is that this room correction function is built in – no additional device needed – and available for each individual zone. So you can optimize the reproduction in every room, even if you are working with a bridge mode and / or subwoofer. That’s pretty powerful.

ARC – in full: Anthem Room Correction – is software developed by the manufacturer together with the renowned National Research Council of Canada. This Canadian government research institute has a strong reputation for acoustics research, and ARC is building on their know-how. What ARC does is measure the reproduction in a room and compare it with an ideal curve determined by the NRCC researchers. Where the display deviates, the algorithm will make the necessary corrections via a digital filter. In other words, music that doesn’t sound quite right (for example, because there is a standing wave that boosts a bass frequency enormously) will suddenly sound pleasant.

Although you are not obliged to use ARC, we certainly think it is worth setting up. You don’t lose a lot of time with it and the return is great. Install the ARC Genesis software that you download for free from Anthem on your laptop (Windows or macOS) and connect the included microphone to the USB port. A tripod is not included, but at a music store you are set for ten to twenty euros, even with an A-brand such as Innox or Samson. Then immediately opt for a microphone stand with a separate arm, which is more convenient if you have to measure in the vicinity of bulky design sofas.

The software will then guide you through the five (or more, if you wish) measurements you take around the seat. Basically it comes down to placing the microphone, listening to test tones for a few tens of seconds, and then moving the microphone to the next measurement position. In the ARC software you can also see graphically where the measurement should take place, so extra knowledge is actually not necessary. When the measurements are finished, you will be presented with the results and the corrected curve for checking. Just upload to the MDX-16, and the sound should be a lot better. The ARC correction can be switched on and off quickly via the web interface, so as a finishing touch you (or your customer) can still compare.

Anthem MDX-16

Better sound

Alternative room correction systems are in one of two camps: you either do not get the opportunity to adjust something yourself or you do have that option, but some knowledge is required. ARC Genesis offers you the choice of both approaches. After measuring, you can go straight to uploading the filter to the MDX-16. Or you first choose Adjust Targets, after which you can adjust the levels per channel as well as tweak the target curve.

In any case, our experience is that the ARC algorithm usually makes a very good correction, without necessarily feeling that we would have preferred to fiddle with a curve ourselves. However, adjustment can and is also relatively easy via the clear interface of ARC Genesis.

In our test room – where the MDX-16 drives a pair of Rubicon 2 speakers in bridge mode – ARC significantly improved clarity, detail and positioning. People don’t often look at these types of CI amplifiers when they are looking for a more audiophile solution, but what we hear with this MDX-16 is really excellent. In ‘Brasil’ by Radiohead guitarist Ed O’Brian (hence the group name EOB), the acoustic guitar in the intro is very nicely defined and clear. Once the beats and eighties New Order-esque vocals kick in, the MDX-16 shifts along effortlessly. Also in the beautiful reinterpretation of the Woody Guthrie oeuvre by Billy Bragg and Wilco on ‘Mermaid Avenue’ we note a clever, three-dimensional sound image that is nicely balanced. We are happy that we chose bridge mode for these speakers, they deserve that. In a room with smaller built-in / wall speakers – which is much more common in a project – a regular zone should suffice.

Anthem MDX-16

Anthem MDX-16 – Conclusion

The addition of separate room correction per zone (also in bridge mode) is a brilliant move from Anthem. Particularly because it concerns the proven and appreciated ARC system that is easy to set up but is nevertheless very effective against many acoustic problems. This provides installers with a way to make customers happier with a better display, without greatly increasing complexity or the price tag.

The presence of the ARC function is without a doubt the eye-catcher of the MDX-16, but this Anthem device still has strong advantages. Audio Matrix functionality, sixteen amplified channels (with bridge mode to bring a zone to 2 x 200 Watt), a clear web interface and many integration options, that’s not nothing.

Positives of Anthem MDX-16

  • Simple but effective room correction, one per room
  • Easily adjustable via web interface
  • Eight zones, with bridge capability
  • Separate subwoofer control per zone
  • Good integration of home automation platforms
  • Full matrix switching possible