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Anthem AVM 90 15.4CH Preamp Processor Review

by February 12, 2024
Contributors:
Anthem AVM 90 8K 15.4CH AV Processor

Anthem AVM 90 8K 15.4CH AV Processor

  • Product Name: AVM 90 8K
  • Manufacturer: Anthem
  • Performance Rating: StarStarStarStarStar
  • Value Rating: StarStarStarStar
  • Review Date: February 12, 2024 00:00
  • MSRP: $ 7,499
  • Buy Now
Anthem AVM 90 8K video review

Preamplifier Channels

  • Maximum Output (<0.1% THD): 10.7 VRMS, Subwoofer 11 VRMS
  • Frequency Response: 20 Hz — 35 kHz (+/-0.2dB)
  • Frequency Response, Analog-Direct: 20 Hz — 80 kHz (+0, -2 dB)
  • THD+N (4 Vrms output): 10.7 VRMS, Subwoofer 11 VRMS: -100 dB
  • S/N Ratio (4 Vrms output, IEC-A filter): 115 dB
  • XLR Configuration: Pin 1: Ground, Pin 2: Positive, Pin 3: Negative
  • Typical Load: 60 W
  • Standby: 0.3 W
  • Standby IP Control Enabled: 1.8 W
  • Standby: 0.3 W
  • Height (without feet): 6” (15.24 cm)
  • Height with Rackmount Kit: 4U
  • Width: 17” (43.18 cm)

 

Pros

  • 15.4 channel pre-pro supporting 9.4.6 Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, and IMAX Enhanced speaker layouts.
  • Pure sonic bliss: Upgraded, reference audio circuitry is audible and measurable.
  • Dual, flagship ESS ES9038Pro DACs.
  • Quad, independently calibrated subwoofer outputs.
  • Automated phase adjustment to align each sub to the mains.
  • A streaming powerhouse with AirPlay2, Chromecast, Spotify Connect, and Bluetooth.
  • Quick Measure now evaluates speaker measurements with and without ARC in real-time.
  • 30 virtual inputs with ability to assign any one of four ARC calibrations to each input.

Cons

  • Roon Ready certification still pending.
  • Enabling CEC can lead to some quirks.
  • Inability to pass LFE to the mains with speakers capable of supporting it.
  • No Auro-3D or DTS:X Pro support.
  • The AVM 70 may be just enough performance for many users without the premium price.

 

The AVM 90 8K 15.4CH Processor: A Flagship By Any Definition

Anthem AVM 90 heroIf you’ve been in the home theater hobby, then you know Anthem’s pre-pros are for those who want two-channel, audiophile performance in a multichannel processor.  That “audio first” legacy reached almost legendary status with Anthem’s Statement D1 and Statement D2v processors. While Anthem’s AVM 60 processor was a solid performer, it was no true successor to the Statement D2v.  Anthem unquestionably delivered that successor with the AVM 90 8K. 

The $7,499 AVM 90 8K is Anthem’s flagship, forged through the crucible of COVID 19 and the devastating AKM audio chip factory fire in 2020. Those events eliminated the planned 4K iteration and forced to choose a whole new DAC into the AVM 90. 

The results? Simply spectacular. Read on for more.

AVM 90 Features & Supported Technologies

The Anthem AVM 90 8K adopts the all-metal, streamlined chassis introduced with Anthem’s STR integrated. The AVM 90 8K supports a single power button, five front panel buttons, and volume control. That’s it.  

Powering up Zone 2 and controlling Zone 2 inputs are relegated to the included remote or the Anthem mobile app. LED colors replace independent zone power buttons.  A blue LED ring signals a single Zone is turned on—either Main or Zone 2.  Purple indicates you have both the Main and Zone 2 powered on.  The power button glows red when the unit is off if HDMI CEC is enabled. The LED cannot be turned off or dimmed.

The streamlined chassis makes room for a larger and sleeker color front display easily readable 18-feet away. Reading volume numbers at that distance was impossible with prior generations and competitors like the Marantz AV 10.

The larger display makes room for active input, ARC room correction status, and audio signal details in the corners.  The display is dimmable on a scale from zero to 100%. 

The AVM 90 supports Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, and IMAX Enhanced. If you require Auro-3D or DTS:X Pro neither of those formats are supported in the AVM 90. Anthem dropped the planned support of DTS:X Pro. If those features are important to you, then you'll want to check out the Marantz AV 10.

We’ll remind enthusiasts that in the United States there is little to no native Auro-3D content and we therefore do not view Auro-3D as a required feature. For those who love Auro-3D’s upmixer, we’ll simply note that Anthem has proprietary Anthem Music and Anthem Movie up-mixers and the Dolby Up-Mixer on the AVM 90 is exceptional. And dear Anthem, request #1: You all need to implement the Dolby Surround Upmixer center channel spread as a standard feature just as Denon and Marantz have done. We realize that Dolby specifies that it should be left out... and we just think that Dolby is flat out wrong with their recommendation

Editorial Note: We're in active discussion advocating with Anthem about request #1 to have it put back in. Fingers crossed!

Anthem AVM 90 Immersive Audio tech

Anthem AVM 90 Immersive Audio tech

The AVM 90 supports eARC on one of the Main Zone’s two parallel HDMI outputs. Don’t confuse HDMI ARC with Anthem’s ARC Room Correction. eARC is an HDMI standard that allows you to pass two channel stereo all the way to uncompressed Dolby Atmos and DTS:X audio signals at up to 192kHz and 24-bits at 37mbits/second from your TV to the Anthem. 

eARC worked from my Sony A80K OLED which is a boon for those who subscribe to Sony’s Bravia Core streaming service that features IMAX enhanced content with the IMAX Enhanced (DTS) codec. I can confirm that you’ll get IMAX enhanced audio over eARC on the AVM 90. Unfortunately enabling CEC introduces potential gremlins to the AVM 90, which I’ll detail further down.

The AVM 90 8K sports seven HDMI 2.1 inputs with HDCP 2.3.  There are two parallel HDMI 2.1 outputs for the main zone and an independently switchable HDMI 2.1 output for Zone 2. The AVM 90 dropped an independent Zone 3 starting with the AVM 60. 

Of course Anthem’s 30 virtual inputs remain a unique game changer to fine tuning your installation experience. You can assign any one of four ARC profiles on an input-by-input basis and assign input combinations for the ultimate in customization. 

AVM 90 HDMI 2.1 and HDCP 2.3

The AVM 90 8K has two parallel HDMI 2.1 outputs for the Main Zone, an HDMI 2.1 output for Zone 2 and seven HDMI 2.1 inputs.

Each input has its own video and audio options, independent ARC assignment, lip sync adjustments, up-mixing preferences for stereo and multichannel, analog ADA conversion, and importantly Dolby Post processing so you can, for example, have a dedicated input that automatically has “night mode” enabled.  

I cannot emphasize strongly enough how critical granular control over each input’s details can be to your user experience. Out of the box, the AVM 90 comes pre-configured with virtual HDMI inputs for each of its physical inputs as well as streaming and eARC.

Anthem AVM 90 Backpanel

Anthem AVM 90 - Backpanel

You’ll find traditional digital connectivity, which includes a pair of S/PDIF optical inputs, three Toslink optical inputs, and one Toslink output. There are four pairs of single ended RCA audio inputs and even a dedicated moving magnet phono input. A phono input is a first for an Anthem Pre-Pro. Every digital or analog input can be assigned to any one of 30 virtual input channels. 

The AVM 90 (like all Anthem models going back to the AVM 20) has balanced outputs. Simply note that the AVM 90—like all Anthem models going back to the AVM 20—is not a fully balanced unit internally. Many enthusiasts would be surprised how many consumer devices with balanced inputs/outputs are in fact unbalanced in their design.

The AVM 90 lacks any stereo balanced or AES/EBU inputs and foregoes a built-in AM/FM tuner. There is no practical need for stereo balanced or AES/EBU inputs. As I mentioned, the balanced inputs on the prior Anthem models were not fully balanced to the internal circuitry. I would recommend any enthusiast to feed an all-digital signal to the AVM 90 to take advantage of its flagship DACs and ARC Genesis, whose resulting one-two sound combo will be a better solution for musical enjoyment. It also saves you an additional step of ADA conversion, even though Anthem's is at 192kHz.

Differences Between the AVM 90 8K & AVM 70 8K

Anyone looking at the AVM 70 will ask “What do I get if I upgrade to the AVM 90 8K?” and anyone looking at the AVM 90 will ask “What’s the difference with the AVM 70 8K?” Audio Advice has put together a more in-depth comparison between the two to help prospective buyers here. For our review purposes, let’s look at the critical differentiators.

AVM 90 8K vs. AVM 70 8K Difference #1: Flagship DAC and Audiophile grade audio circuitry.
The AVM 90 sports significant upgrades to its internal audio circuitry.  The differences are both measurable and audible. The level of audibility depends on your speakers and the rest of your components.

ESS Technology’s flagship ES9038PRO is one of the best DACs on the market, and Anthem chose it for the AVM 90. In fact, the AVM 90 has two of them for its 15 primary channels.  

The ES9038PRO is a 32-bit 768kHz, 8-channel DAC capable of 132dB DNR (Dynamic Range) and -122dB THD+N (Total Harmonic Distortion and Noise).  

A DAC’s ultimate performance stems from its implementation. Think of it as the sum of its parts—not just its specs. To maximize the ES9038PRO’s performance upgraded:

  1. The voltage regulators 
  2. The DAC board board from a four-layer to a six-layer board
  3. The Op Amps
  4. The precision resistors to 0.1%.

Anthem went one step further for the subwoofer outputs. Anthem chose a pair of ESS Technology’s 9038Q2M—also a 32-bit, 768kHz stereo DAC—so that each subwoofer output has a dedicated DAC channel. There’s also a separate DAC for Zone 2. 

In the $8,000 and under pre-pro market, you’ll find processors that tout streaming functionality and quad subwoofer outputs. They are not necessarily on equal footing with the AVM 90. Pay special attention to the audio circuitry and sound of those products. What Anthem has done in the audio section of the AVM 90 is special. 

The bottom line? Anthem upgraded the AVM 90’s audio circuitry in every reasonable way to deliver audible benefits you can measure. If you are a music aficionado and demand the best two-channel and multichannel performance, then the AVM 90 is probably your ticket.

Anthem AVM 90 specifications

The Anthem has two 32-bit/768kHz ES9038Pro DACs on board and dual 1.6Ghz Dual-Core DSPs

AVM 90 vs. AVM 70 Difference #2: Four independent subwoofer outputs
The AVM 90 8K sports four independent subwoofer outputs to the AVM 70 8K’s two. The latest version of Anthem’s ARC Genesis will calibrate each sub independently and phase align each sub automatically to the mains for the best performance. Calibrating four subwoofers independently can help provide more consistent and smoother bass response across a wider seating area. 

AVM 90 Custom Installation, Configuration, and Automation

Remote Integration

The AVM 90 natively integrates with Crestron, Control 4, Savant, URC, RTI, ELAN or any IP-based control system. The AVM 90 maintains the rich IR, IP, and RS-232 command set of prior models. I tested the AVM 90’s IP integration with Roomie Remote on iOS. The AVM 90 worked flawlessly and passed back interactive information such as current volume and active input.  

I preferred using a third party control app with the AVM 90 8K. Anthem’s remote control app for iOS was a bit of a mess—it remained in beta during my review period and had two annoying quirks. First, the dropdown to select a new input kept collapsing on me. I sometimes needed 5-7 attempts to get the input selected. The Anthem remote app also occasionally lost its connection to the AVM 90 when I switched to other apps on my iOS device. I did not test the Android version. 

Triple Trigger Outputs

The AVM 90 brings back three independent trigger outputs, fixing the inexcusable blunder of a single trigger output on the AVM 60.  You can set each of the three triggers against conditions on Main, Zone 2, or an input-by-input basis. As of this writing, I uncovered a bug with the Zone 2 trigger implementation where the Anthem will activate a Zone 2 input trigger—even if Zone 2 is powered off—if that input was the last selected input when Zone 2 was turned off. Custom installers be sure to test your trigger network implementation carefully. (Editorial Note: Anthem is looking into my findings)

Included IR Remote

Anthem stayed with the same plastic remote from the AVM 60.  It is basic, functional, back-lit, and reliable. The remote’s coating—which gives a solid grip and feels good when new—will start to break down after a few years’ use and get sticky. This has been a characteristic of Anthem remotes going back 20 years to the AVM 20. Nothing new. My observation: Anthem presumes there will be aftermarket integration. Therefore if you’re looking for a premium remote to pair with the AVM 90, get a third party solution.

New web-based UI is golden

The AVM 90 sports a new web-accessible interface—and it’s great. The web UI gives you a birds-eye view of the entirety of the AVM 90’s settings and even includes some options not available elsewhere. The web UI is superior to the on-screen and mobile app experience.  

The web interface can serve as a remote control to manage power, input selection, and volume, as well as a dashboard for total control over all configuration aspects of the processor.  Request #2: Hey Anthem, may I request a remote-only interface with the web GUI that combines both Main and Zone 2 functionality in a single view like Storm Audio products? I’d love a competent web-based remote to load up on a tablet. I’d also like to see the installer/admin functions password protected. Open configuration interfaces are a bad security practice.

Anthem AVM 90 web GUI

Anthem’s web GUI delivers some settings you won’t find in ARC Genesis—such as inverting sub polarity and routing bass to your mains and subs. When super-subs is enabled you get crossover information to both the subs and the mains, but no LFE routed to the mains. My third request to Anthem: Please implement a true LFE channel routing to both the mains and subs option so you can route LFE to speakers capable of handling it along with the subs. Speakers like my RBH SVTR, Ultima2 Salons, or the Focal Scala Utopia Evo that recently I had in for review can handle LFE in a reference setup.  By comparison, the Marantz AV 10 does provide the option to route LFE to the main channels even with subwoofers present in the speaker configuration.

Note about LFE Routing: The ability to route LFE to large main speakers with the subwoofer channel active is a very rare feature found only in top tier products from Marantz and Denon or specialty processors from Storm Audio and Trinnov. Most users do NOT need this feature and it should only be reserved for when the consumer is using speakers capable of handling the deep dynamic bass from LFE content in music and movie program material. Otherwise, LFE routing should remain solely in the subwoofer channel.

AVM 90 Designed for Streaming Audio

Anthem completely re-envisoned what streaming should be with the AVM 90, making up for the sub-par implementation in the AVM 60. Anthem you deserve credit for how you’ve envisioned streaming in a high-end pre-pro ( release delays and quirks aside). 

The AVM 90 is a multi-protocol powerhouse and fits into any modern ecosystem. Apple Airplay 2 and Google Chromecast are standard. Spotify connect and Bluetooth are also on-board. If you’re a Roon user, you’ll be pleased to note that the AVM 90 shows up as both an AirPlay 2 and Chromecast endpoint at the same time. You therefore have total flexibility to integrate the AVM 90 in mixed-platform environments. 

Anthem AVM 90 streaming

The AVM 90 offers broad and rich streaming ecosystem support

Speaking of Roon, the AVM 90 will function as a full Roon endpoint. Roon Ready is the highest level of integration you can get and will Roon’s native RAAT protocol for lossless streaming and integrated volume control. As of this writing, Roon support looks like it’s on target for early 2024. Anthem has taken a big black eye in the user community for the delayed launch of native Roon support.

I successfully cast and grouped the AVM 90 with both AirPlay and Chromecast devices. The strengths, quirks, and limitations of those streaming technologies are also present.

Chromecast is painfully slow to load music on the Anthem. Volume steps with AirPlay are too far apart if you use the hardware buttons on an iOS device Of course the volume step issue is non-existent when using the Anthem mobile app, the physical volume dial, or third party IP-based control with the streaming input.

Whether it’s the AVM 90 or my Denon X8500HA, I find quirks and limitations to how these companies implement their streaming. I personally find a dedicated, external streamer (like the Cambridge CXNv2 that I use) to be more mature solution.  

AVM 90 Bugs and Gremlins

AVM 90 GremlinThe AVM 90 and it’s sibling AVM 70 have gone through their share of bugs and firmware updates since launch. Anthem addressed the overwhelming majority of legitimate issues—including overactive fan noise—over the summer of 2023 with a major firmware update. 

I urge caution with online comments about any lingering issues. For example, enthusiasts who enabled “Install Beta Firmware” were greeted with a rude awakening when bass got sucked out of their subs on one of the beta builds. Conversely, those who installed the September 2023 beta firmware universally noted performance enhancements to the AVM 90’s already superb sound. 

Recommendation: Stick to production firmware builds and install beta firmware at your own risk.

I did find lingering gremlins with the AVM 90 (and this should be true for the AVM 70 and MRX units) over and above the previously mentioned ones.  I encountered CEC gremlins when pairing with my Sony A80K OLD and AppleTV 4K 2nd Gen. The Anthem sometimes switched to the eARC input when turning on the Sony OLED TV—even though that input was not selected.  I urge all prospective enthusiasts to keep CEC off unless absolutely necessary as it's a notoriously buggy technology. 

The AVM 90 (and it's siblings) seem to have an issue displaying—not playing—the bitrate of the incoming audio signal. The signal many times is stuck at 48-bits when it could be higher or lower.  I confirmed this anomaly HDFury's 8K VRROOM 490Gbps HDMI extractor.

Playing HDMI content concurrently to Main and Zone 2 blanked my Sony OLED and muted audio in both zones requiring me to re-power on devices in a specific order to work. Note: I am working on an additional review with the HD Fury team and their Dr. HDMI 4K and VRRoom products on HDMI network debugging. I’ll be covering my findings on this and broader HDMI debugging in a completely separate review. 

ARC Genesis suffered some sporadic setbacks over the past year. I strongly suggest that AVM buyers stick with stable software versions (versus installing betas). Should you perceive any issues with ARC Genesis, consult your Anthem Dealer. 

I'll also not that many readers would be shocked—and I mean SHOCKED—how often we reviewers find bugs or limitations with products—regardless of their price point. None of the issues I encountered during my review period were deal-breakers. I found Anthem’s support to be responsive and handled fixes in a reasonable timeframe.

Anthem ARC Genesis

The AVM 90 comes with Anthem’s heralded ARC Genesis room correction system. It is a powerful, easy-to-use, and flexible solution for room correction. ARC Genesis also runs at 192kHz. Some competitors downsample the audio signal to 48kHz or 96kHz for their room correction to work.

Here are keys to need to know about the ARC Genesis upgrades with the AVM 90: 

First, the AVM 90 comes with a completely new microphone. A small dot shows you the front orientation. The new microphone measures frequencies above 5kHz more accurately. This upgrade is key if you’re looking to calibrate speakers behind an acoustically transparent screen where you’ll experience some loss or issues above ARC’s default 5kHz cutoff. 

ARC Genesis

ARC Genesis now offers new features to fine-tune performance in your room such as deep bass boost and tilt level.

Second there is automated phase adjustment for each subwoofer. Auto phase adjustment is performed after you complete your ARC calibration. Simply put the microphone at the main listening position and let it do its magic.  

Third, Quick Measure now shows you the real-time frequency response of each speaker with or without ARC enabled. Quick Measure virtually eliminates the need for REW and gives you keen insight into optimal placement for subs and your mains. You can see an example by clicking here to jump to that part in my AVM 90 video review. QuickMeasure currently lacks the ability to play all subs together and get the summed measurements with and without ARC. That’s a key feature I hope Anthem will add in the future and we made this request.

ARC Genesis Quad Subs

Automatic Phase Adjustment in the new ARC Genesis will automatically phase align each subwoofer to the mains

I’ll have an in-depth primer and review of ARC Genesis with the AVM 90 with measurements of multi-sub calibration in a separate editorial review here and a video version on our Audioholics YouTube channel.

AVM 90 versus the Competition

Let's take a look at the AVM 90 compared to its predecessor, the AVM 60 and some of the contemporary competition.

AVM 90 Face-off with the AVM 60

I put the Anthem AVM 90 head-to-head with my Anthem AVM 60 for two channel and headphone performance. Suffice to say, the AVM 90 delivers an audible upgrade over the AVM 60 in imaging, soundstage, dynamics, transparency, and dimensionality.  

The AVM 90 demolished the AVM 60’s headphone performance. 

Check out the AVM 90 Part I video review at the beginning of the article for the deep dive on this level-matched, direct A/B comparison between the AVM 90 and AVM 60 or just click here to jump to the AVM 90 vs. AVM 60 section of that review.

Comparison to the Marantz AV 10

Comparing the AVM 90 to other 15.4 channel processors opens up a whole can of worms. If your preference is Audyssey, Dirac, or Auro-3D, then there’s no real conversation to be had. Let's be honest about that bias. If you’re a custom installer and you want extremely granular control and features, three zones, or other installer-specific elements, then the Marantz AV 10 may be the better fit for you given its rock-solid HDMI switching, custom installer cloud-based control portal, and granular functionality.

Anthem AVM 90 vs Marantz AV 10

Marantz AV 10 vs Anthem AVM 90 - image courtesy of Bonzo17 @ AVS Forum

They key differentiator for me lies in the AVM 90’s upgraded audio circuitry as a starting point for any discussion. I'm not implying the competition sounds bad. I am noting that the AVM 90 sounds spectacular. Look closely at the competition’s DACs, audio circuitry, and measurements and see if they really are comparable to the AVM 90. 

That being said, the closest objective competitor is likely the Marantz AV 10. The Marantz has quad independent sub outputs and upgraded audio circuitry, and on paper, the Anthem AVM 90 has the better DACs. However, there is no denying the Marantz AV 10 is a beast just by looking at the sheer size difference of it sitting side by side with the smaller and lighter Anthem AVM 90 as seen in the above photo.

Gene put the Marantz AV 10 on the bench and it measures exceptionally well—very similar to the AVM 90. The Marantz has a low noise floor and great dynamic range. And it sounds really good too (I auditioned the AV 10 briefly at Gene DellaSala’s AH SmartHome paired with the Perlisten S7t and the Marantz AMP 10).  Note that there is a difference in the Marantz AV 10's DAC filter performance. Hint: If you're a Marantz AV 10 owner, switch to DAC filter #2.

Out of the box, the Marantz comes with a limited version of Audyssey MultEQ-XT32. To get peak performance you need to purchase MultEQ-X for PC or the full version of Dirac along with calibrated microphones. That increases your investment by several hundred dollars. Audyssey MultEQ-X and Dirac give you more granular control than ARC Genesis over fine tuning your target curve. They also have a far higher and more complex learning curve than ARC Genesis. And, ARC Genesis works at 192kHz. Best of all? It just works great.

There are user interface intangibles to consider as well. The AV 10 lacks the granular control the AVM 90 gives you on an input-by-input basis. And remember with the AVM 90 you can apply any one of four ARC profiles on an input by input basis.

Other elements like Anthem’s superior display and streamlined interaction will be personal preferences. All in all, the competition between the Anthem AVM 90 and Marantz AV 10 is the closest we’ve ever had here at Audioholics. I strongly advise anyone looking at processors in this price point to audition for yourself. I recommend that the measurements guide you on the products to audition and your ears help you decide on the products to purchase. My intuition leads me to suspect that those who demand the best sonic performance with music and movies may tend to the AVM 90. 

AVM 90 Measurements

If you’ve been eyeing the AVM 90 or lurking on forums, you’ll readily find former AVM 70 users upgrading to the AVM 90 and others who have chosen the AVM 90 after comparing its sonic chops with the competition.   

Those anecdotal experiences now find real world validation in the AVM 90 8K’s superb bench measurements.

AVM 90 SINAD

The AVM 90 has a SINAD just over 102dB. This is an excellent measurement for a preamp-processor with 0.007% THDk+N.  I should note that the AVM 90's measurements are better through its unbalanced (single-ended RCA ) outputs. They actually measures better —106dB SINAD via unbalanced outputs. For those interested in academic comparisons, you can see Gene DellaSala's in-depth measurements of the Marantz AV 10, whose XLR measured at 106dB or 0.0005% THD+N when Gene ran the full bandwidth (Fs=192kHz) test. Gene got 108dB SINAD when he limited the bandwidth to 22kHz. But without bandwidth limiting, the SINAD results for the AV 10 was 101dB via XLR and 99dB unbal. As Gene DellaSala has noted on several occasions, SINAD is one of many measurement indicators and should not be used as the sole determination of a product's overall performance and sound.

SINAD vs. Measured

AVM 90 measurements THD and Noise

AVM 90 Dynamic range

The Anthem AVM 90 sports a ridiculously low noise floor, over 19-bits of dynamic range, and inaudible levels of distortion. This is a very quiet, noise free processor and you shouldn't hear much hiss even if you're using high-sensitivity speakers in close proximity to the listening area. The Anthem AVM 90 and Marantz AV 10's dynamic range measurements are neck-and-neck at over 116dB. If you want better, measurable (and potentially  audible) performance you’ll need to turn to a dedicated, high end, stand-alone DACs.  

AVM 90 intermodular distortion 

The Anthem AVM 90's SMTPE ratio is textbook and excellent. Once again, you'll need to turn to a dedicated, high end DAC to see any measurable improvement in performance.

AVM 90 Linearity

The AVM 90's linearity is excellent. The minor blip is in the inaudible spectrum and irrelevant.

AVM 90 Spectrum Analysis

Given what we've seen so far, it's no surprise that the AVM 90's FFT Spectrum analysis is excellent.

AVM 90-FFT Spectrum analysis

It is such a pleasure to see such a well-measuring multichannel processor. In summary, the Anthem AVM 90 joins the Marantz AVM 10 as the best measuring multi-channel preamp-processors that we have ever had the pleasure of reviewing here at Audioholics and sets a benchmark for the competition to aspire to!

Anthem AVM 90 Subjective Listening Impressions 

I set up the AVM 90 with my Benchmark AHB2 power amps set to bridged mono driving my Revel Ultima2 Salons. A Monoprice 8250X with its Hypex NCore Class D modules and a Lexicon CX7 fed a Focal 1000 IWLCR center and Focal 300 series speakers for the height and surrounds. Four Perlistens D212s anchored the system

You can see my summary review of the Perlisten D212s subs with the Anthem AVM 90 on our YouTube channel

My Roon Nucelus server with Qobuz and hi-res audio files fed my Roon endpoint-enabled Oppo UDP-205 (connected via HDMI) and Cambridge Audio CXNv2 (connected via S/PDIF). I use a pair of Anthony Grimani’s MSR Spring Traps in this room.  My comments below relate comparatively to the Anthem AVM 60 that occupied this same setup.

Anthem AVM 90 8K: Best Measuring & Sounding Processor?

Music Listening

The AVM 90 is designed for the person who yearns for reference, two-channel audio performance in a multichannel processor. I put the Anthem AVM 90 8K through musical torture tests for over 6 months. From the first note, this was one of those experiences where you feel like you’re hearing your music all over again for the first time. Just pure magic.

The AVM 90’s musical performance exhilarates with transparency, depth and breadth of soundstage, imaging, detail, dynamics, and timbral accuracy.  The AVM 90 tonality comes across with neutrality without ever being analytical. If you’ve auditioned high end, two channel audio gear, then you understand what I mean when I say that the AVM 90 removes the screen between you and the window of music. The AVM 90’s transparency into the music reminded me of the Classé SSP’s and the Benchmark DAC 3 HGC which have been among the best sounding DACs and preamps to have graced my review setup. Listening to tracks like Loreena Mckennit’s “The Gates of Istanbul” from the Mediterranean Odyssey Live, the AVM 90 rendered the soundscape and cues against a black, silent background. The audience, sense of space, vocals and instruments popped.

Brandi Carlile

Soundstage presentation—depth, height, and breadth—is among the best if not the best I’ve ever had in this setup. The AVM 90 made the Revel Ultima2 Salons completely disappear and brought the Salon2s to a new level of performance. The AVM 90’s coherence is superb.

Whatever your genre, the AVM 90 will thrill you with its tall, wide, deep, and three dimensional canvas. The Indigo Girls “Welcome Me” exemplifies this point. The AVM 90 paints the song’s guitar riffs with pinpoint accuracy and as Amy Ray and Emily Sailer’s vocals come in—lifelike in size—each guitar remains distinct and dimensional as do their vocals as they harmonize during the refrains. 

Perhaps you’re thinking “What’s the difference with other processors or AVRs?” I felt as though the AVM 90 creates a single, three dimensional stage. I find that when I listen closely, other electronics tend to stack flat two dimensional layers on top of each other. They falter with dimensionality. Uncanny dimensionality is the AVM 90 difference; and if you value that aspect in your musical experience, then the AVM 90 has what you’re looking for.

The AVM 90, Ultima2, and D212s combo built a holographic image with Brandi Carlile’s “Turpentine” live at Easy Street Records in Seattle. The AVM 90 etched Ms. Carlile’s vocals lifelike in size, contoured, and refined with uncanny presence.  The AVM 90’s ability to render subtle details and textures is uncanny. 

What I experienced again and again through the Anthem-Revel-Perlisten tandem were sensory cues you experience from a live venue. Those are the intangible, emotional sensations that connect me with music in a far stronger and more intimate way.

The Revel Ultima2 Salon’s are renown for their accuracy, not their dynamics. And yet, the AVM 90 delivered a clearly heightened sense of dynamics from the Revels with each musical track.

Welcome Me indigo girls

When played on a reference system, “Jazz Variants” from the O Zone Percussion Group gives you real-world-style dynamics and that’s exactly what the AVM 90 delivered. The xylophone’s audible cues on this track may seem inconsequential at first, but sitting and listening you realize that they are absolutely natural and lifelike without any sense of dynamic compression.  And Drums — especially the kick drums—punched and popped.  

Not everyone appreciates nuances like these. Yes these are the kinds of cues and heightened emotional experiences that differentiate the AVM 90’s presentation. If these types of immersive musical experiences matter to you, then know that the AVM 90 delivers them.

Finally, pairing the AVM 90 with quad Perlisten D212s was Michelangelo meets Thor’s Stormbreaker. Gene DellaSala turned me on to “Angels Crying in my Bed” by Christine and the Queens. The AVM 90-Perlisten bass control on this song was absolute, visceral, pinpoint, and authoritative. At even moderately loud volumes, this song emits a physically tactile sonic pulse into your chest—and skull. And yet the AVM 90-D212s maintained bass textures while keeping those ethereal vocals unadulterated. With the AVM 90, bass is always an instrument to complement the music, never an obstacle you need to fight through. 

The Anthem AVM 90 is one of the few home theater processors on the market today that can legitimately serve as a reference two channel and multichannel preamp-processor.

Movies

All those elements that I talked about with music: Pitch black background, soundstage, point point imaging, resolution, dynamics, detailed layering, and foundational bass converge in Atmos and DTS:X movies as an unadulterated, high octane, sonic thrill ride. That combo creates a dimension of emotional involvement with the on-screen action that separates a processor with "sounds all-around" versus creating the experience of a soundscape.  

Let me point to three examples: 

Dune Part 1: Ornithopter Escape Scene

Dune Part 1 is a reference 4K UHD Blu-ray in Atmos. The AVM 90 delivers the opening Sardurcar vocals paradoxically. The distorted, grinding vocals are utterly pristine. That’s then followed by the pistonic rendering of the Freeman thumper, like a heartbeat enveloping my listening space. The raw impact, authority and clarity of that simple opening commands attention in a way other processors fall short of delivering. 

Dune Part 1

On the Ornithopter escape scene with Paul and Lady Jessica, the AVM 90 shone brightly. The AVM 90 blew out the walls while at the same time expanding the spherical soundstage outward.  That’s the differentiator. The AVM 90 created a seemingly larger, more precise dimensional space from an utterly black background. All the while, Hans Zimmer’s musical score, the wind, and cockpit instrumentation all tighten up with a heightened sense of focus, detail, placement in space in time, and dynamics.  

Mad Max Fury: Road Storm Scene.

Mad Max Fury RoadThe AVM 90 again made physical confines disappear during the Mad Max Fury Road storm scene. As the Furiosa-led motorized caravan approaches the immense storm chased down by Immortan Joe, Junkie XL’s score hammers down and always remains as a distinct layer of the entertainment experience never muddying the voices, wind, engine roars, or other on-screen action which proceeds unimpeded on its own layer.

Star Wars Episode III: Opening Battle Scene

Star Wars Episode III's opening brings together such a complex layering of music, deep bass lines, fine audible cues, and at times aggressive panning.  What struck me most about the AVM 90’s presentation versus other AVRs or processors I’ve reviewed was the increased, heightened sense of detail and dimension on every object in the soundscape. And as the republic ARC-170 star fighters come on-screen and put their S-Foils into attack position, the engines have an increased dynamic that snap-punches you in your seat.

The AVM 90 is among the most competent multichannel performers you'll have the pleasure of auditioning.

Anthem AVM 90 Conclusion

Anthem AVM 90 Conclusion

The Anthem AVM 90 8K is subjectively and objectively Anthem’s finest processor—ever.  For the first time, Anthem enthusiasts have a true successor to the heralded Statement D2v. 

The Anthem AVM 90 8K is the apex predator of pre-pros.

The AVM 90 8K’s upgraded audio circuitry and quad independent subwoofer outputs delivers the goods. The AVM 90’s ability to resolve nuances and create finely sculpted three-dimensional images in space and time are all breath-taking. The AVM 90’s improved dynamics make two channel and Atmos music and movies come alive in an intoxicating way. Imaging, dimensionality, and detail are the best I’ve ever heard from an Anthem product. 

Pair the AVM 90 8K with the right source material, high performance amps, speakers, and subs (like the Revel Ultima2 Salon and Perlisten D212s), and then strap in for a performance that will blow you away.

You need to make a significant leap in price—double to quadruple the price to start getting more channels, more granular features, and finer control over your theater environment—all of which come with far more complexity. The Anthem AVM 90 8K is the apex predator of pre-pros and may very well be the finest sounding immersive audio processor under $8,000 for two-channel music and multi-channel performance. Yes, it sounds that good. All I know is that every time I listen to the AVM 90 8K, it just sounds so right. Perhaps the highest endorsement I can give Anthem’s AVM 90 8K—quirks and all—is that I purchased the review unit. ‘Nuff said.

About the author:
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Theo Nicolakis has been reviewing high end audio, video, home theater, headphone, and portable music products for the past 14 years. His reviews have appeared here on Audioholics as well as Techhive.com, PCWorld.com, MacWorld.com, and more. His reviews span high end two-channel and home theater systems, AVRs and immersive audio processors, headphones, DACs, DAPs, music servers, sound bars, and display technologies.

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