Anthem AVM 20 v2.0
multichannel preamp/processor/tuner garnered universal praise upon its release, which was
not surprising as it offered immense amounts of flexibility, premium-quality parts and
construction, and a promise of software and hardware upgradeability.
That promise has now become a reality. Anthem's AVM 20
v2.0 replaces the DSP board of the original AVM 20 with a new one built around
Motorola's 56367 processing chip. The new DSP plug-in offers the unit a long list of new
functions including the company's proprietary AnthemLogic-Music and AnthemLogic-Cinema
modes, Dolby Pro Logic II, Dolby Digital Surround EX, DTS Neo:6, DTS-ES Matrix, DTS-ES
Discrete, and THX Ultra2/THX Surround EX with four optional modes. The AVM 20 v.2.0
offers a unique list of THX audio setup options that give its THX processing an unusual
set of adjustments. These include back surround speaker delay fine-tuning for 7.1 setups
and Boundary Gain Compensation, in addition to a full list of bass-management capabilities
with the ability to tailor crossover-frequency settings independently for each speaker
group (fronts/rears/surrounds/center/subwoofer) in 5Hz increments.
The new DSP module is available to owners of the original
AVM 20 for $300 (the AVM 20 v2.0 is priced at $3399, $200 more than the
AVM 20's original price). The AVM 20 v2.0 requires new operating software, which
is available from Anthem's website.
Ground control to Major Tom
To get a good idea of just how packed with features the
first version of the AVM 20 was, check out Jeff
Fritz's review of the unit. In fact, I received the unit Jeff reviewed and, after
having lived with it for several months, I replaced the DSP board myself and updated the
flash software. That makes me sound like a real technowiz, but the process is simple
enough for any ham-fisted klutz to master. This is not particularly relevant for most
consumers, however, since the price of the upgrade includes dealer installation. Some
people don't have local dealers, though, so let me assure them that they can do it
themselves, if push comes to shove.
I'm glad I had time with the unmodified unit. Even before
the upgrade, the AVM 20 was phenomenally impressive. It did have a few shortcomings,
however, which v2.0 neatly resolves.
To begin with, v2.0 has THX Ultra2, which adds one or two
interesting wrinkles to Ultra's basic surround processing -- especially when using a
7.1-channel system to play back material recorded for 5.1 channels. The AVM 20 v2.0
employs ASA (Advanced Speaker Array), which ameliorates some of the phase problems endemic
to Ultra2's two adjacent back surround speakers and allows the user to establish the
pair's relative positions to one another.
THX Ultra2 uses seven channels of amplification to play
back any multichannel-encoded format through a fixed seven-speaker/single-subwoofer
system. In either THX Ultra2 Cinema mode or THX Ultra2 Music mode, any 5.1-channel format
is detected automatically and then Ultra2s proprietary processing blends the
directional and ambient surround information to the system's four surround speakers: two
dipole speakers on the sidewalls and two monopoles at the rear.
In addition to allowing the user to establish the precise
location of the back channels, Ultra2 allows for the use of an extended subwoofer (Ultra2
spec calls for a sub flat to 20Hz, down from THX's 12dB roll-off below 35Hz). The
specification also features switchable Boundary Gain Compensation (BGC) that alleviates
boomy bass as a result of near-wall listening positions (or, for that matter, subwoofer
Pro Logic II is now available on the v2.0, which includes
Pro Logic II Music, which replaces the "acoustical environments" (Hall, Jazz
Club, Church, et cetera) from v1.0 -- even though Anthem didn't go overboard with
these, I never met a serious listener who used any of them. Pro Logic II, on the other
hand, is pretty useful -- as are Anthem's proprietary matrix decoders, AnthemLogic-Cinema
The upgrade also includes DTS Neo:6 Music and DTS Neo:6
Movie, which I found less satisfying than Anthem's or Dolby's offerings.
Dolby Digital Surround EX is also available, although it
differs from THX Surround EX primarily in not offering THX's Re-Eq, Timbre Matching, and
Adaptive De-Correlation -- all of which, I am loathe to give up, so I prefer using the THX
The AVM 20 v2.0 offers a new setting called Academy
Mono, which sums everything to the center-channel speaker and applies the Academy Curve
(rolled-off top-end and attenuated bottom end). It's well suited for mono movie
soundtracks made before the mid '70s.
But most people are most chuffed by the AVM 20 v2.0's
bass-management features. The unit allows the user to set the crossover point for FL, FR,
C, surround L/R, and back L/R individually. In addition, the user can now set (actually, must
now set) the subwoofer's low-pass frequency somewhere between 25Hz and 160Hz (employing
Bass-management controls also include a variable subwoofer
phase adjustment and polarity adjustment.
Fate gave what chance cannot control
Reading the list of new functions is probably more taxing
than actually using them on the AVM 20 v2.0. Once you set the unit up -- which is
quick and intuitive -- most of its operation is transparent or intuitive. Initial set-up
options include the ASA and BGC adjustments -- after that, the only option you are likely
to activate when needed is the unit's ability to switch off THX's Re-EQ when playing back
soundtracks that are already equalized. Even this doesn't take a genius, since it's easy
to do on the fly, and (at least to my ears) obvious when necessary.
Play back a Dolby Digital or DTS DVD and the Anthem will
figure out what processing is necessary. If you've set the unit to the THX suite, it will
even synthesize 5.1 soundtracks to 7.1 playback without any prompting.
If you're a discerning control-freak or a multichannel
enthusiast, the AVM 20 v2.0 offers all the control features you could conceive -- but
if you're like me and tend to lose focus on all the gizmos in the throes of music and film
lust, it doesn't require that you pay close attention. The Anthem will take good care of
And that's a good thing, because it's easy to lose track of
details when listening to multichannel music discs like Telarc's superb Hovhaness
compilation (Mysterious Mountain; Hymn to Glacier Peak; Mount St. Helens;
Storm on Mount Wildcat [Telarc SACD 60604]) featuring Gerard Schwartz and the Royal
Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. Using the analog multichannel outputs of my Sony
SCD-CE775 (which, of course, means that the AVM 20 converted the analog signal to
digital, processed it, and reconverted it to analog), the sound was enveloping and
overwhelming, especially during Mount St. Helen's spectacular eruption.
Listening to five channels of Magnepan panel speakers (with
monopole surround duties supplied by my trusty old Dynaudio Microns), I was knocked out,
not merely by the power of the orchestra (aided by the Polk PSW650, which doesn't quite
meet the Ultra2 20Hz cutoff, but who's perfect?), but by the transparency and complete
absence of specificity in the surround and back channels -- in other words, the
combination of the Anthem's SSP and Telarc's mastering rendered a convincing illusion of
direct orchestral sound informed by a hall's acoustic.
I tend to be pretty critical about getting the wall
reflections right in the music-surround context. When an engineer (or processor) gets it
wrong, I tend to mutter foul imprecations about "two channels being enough" and
other old fogy guff. When an engineer (or system) gets it right, I tend to glower in
Maybe there's something to this music-surround stuff after
Who can control his fate?
Of course, I have no reservations about surround for video
playback and here the AVM 20 v2.0 really proved a winner. I caught a few minutes of The
Right Stuff on DirecTV recently and it drove me to watch the whole thing on DVD.
There's a new edition due any minute, but the copy I have is the old one and Ultra2's 7.1
remix of the soundtrack proved convincing.
Ummm, did I say, "convincing?" It was astounding.
The jet flyovers and all the big sound effects that are integral to the story of the
Mercury program were absolutely convincing. If the point of a film's surround effects is
to take you out of your world and immerse you in that of the film (and who'd argue that
point?), Ultra2's back surround speakers add to that overall effect far more than I would
Movie-theater surround sound isn't designed to come from
two side-wall mounted speakers (or two sides and two backs, for that matter), it comes
from multiple speakers carefully equalized and adjusted to spread the sound over a huge
area. In that sense, 5.1 surround was a compromise from the get-go, which is why THX
specified dipoles for the surrounds -- they diffuse the sound. But even when properly
adjusted and located, two speakers don't begin to simulate that huge, diffuse surround
experience you get in a theater. In Contrast, Ultra2's 7.1 array does a darn-good
imitation of it.
Now that I've experienced the Anthem AVM 20 v2.0's
Ultra2 playback, I've become enthusiastic about adding the two additional channels to my
system. Contrast that with the ennui with which I greeted the concept!
Chances are once you experience it you'll crave it,
What can its joys control?
The only preamp/processor I've auditioned that could be
remotely compared to the Anthem AVM 20 was the TAG McLaren AV32RBP192,
which costs $5495, almost twice the AVM 20's $3399. The TAG featured superior video
switching to that of the Anthem, which I feel adds a slight amount of grain to video
images. Video imaging is one of the areas where TAG has a fanatical attention to detail,
however, and that doesn't come cheap.
The TAG also manages to cram its functionality into a case
that is about one-third the height of the Anthem. Hey, I'm an audiophile so I tend to
ignore such decorating niceties, but not everyone is as forgiving. However, the AV32RBP192
is hard on my aging eyes -- the Anthem's huge front panel and larger video display are a lot
easier to navigate and read.
In terms of sound quality, I'd be hard pressed to
distinguish between the two. The TAG sounds great, but so does the Anthem. Where the
Anthem edges somewhat ahead of the TAG is in its adjustability. I was able to tune my
speaker system to my room and to manage the bass (particularly by matching my subwoofer to
the speakers and to my room) with a greater degree of ease with the Anthem. If you have
high-resolution loudspeakers all around -- and a great-sounding room -- this might not
seem all that important to you. However, those of us who must compensate for real-world
deficiencies (in budget or room), this is not a minor consideration. Especially at half
Events control me
Anthem has managed to take a great product and improve it
-- as promised and under budget (the projected price for the AVM 20 v2.0 was $3500).
The new preamp/processor/tuner retains everything that was promising about the original
while improving the few areas that users even mildly objected to -- that's impressive.
If you aspire to an excellent home-theater system that
could satisfy picky audiophiles as well as hard-core cineastes, the Anthem
AVM 20 v2.0 should leap to the head of your must-audition list. Or maybe you should
just take the plunge and take one home -- it really is that sure a thing.
Anthem AVM 20 v2.0
Price: $3399 USD.
Warranty: Five years parts and labor.
Anthem/Sonic Frontiers International
205 Annagem Blvd.
Mississauga, Ontario, Canada
Phone: (905) 362-0958
Fax: (905) 564-4642