Like many of you, I don’t have a perfect listening room, so having room correction built into a preamplifier can be a game changer. The Anthem STR preamplifier (buy at Crutchfield) has Anthem’s ARC GENESIS room correction, bass management for up to two subwoofers (in either mono or stereo), a USB DAC that supports up to 32 bit/384 kHz PCM and DSD up to 2.8/5.6 MHz, moving coil and moving magnet phono inputs, home theater bypass, and a full set of analog inputs (four RCA and four XLR) to go along with the digital input section (two optical, two coaxial). This preamp does a whole lot for about $4,300. Let’s get into some of what makes it so appealing.
What Makes the Anthem STR Stereo Preamplifier Special?
- The big draw with the Anthem STR stereo preamp is ARC GENESIS room correction. The STR preamplifier comes with an high-quality measurement microphone and a USB cable so that you can use the room correction software. Going through the whole room correction process took me 15 minutes to run and complete. The really compelling thing about the ARC GENESIS software is that you can adjust the room correction as you see fit, so if you want more bass or you want to make other adjustments you can do that right in the software before it sends the settings back to the preamp. You can voice your system to your tastes or just use ARC GENESIS to deal with room maladies. Your choice.
- Bass management is yet another big deal in an audiophile grade, stereo preamp. Depending on the types of music you like to listen to, being able to manually adjust the bass to what works for both your tastes and your room is a great feature commonly found in the world of home theater but much more rarely in the audiophile domain. I know I spent a considerable amount of time playing around with this feature, as well as testing my subwoofers in stereo and mono to see which I preferred.
- The built-in phono stage supporting both moving magnet and moving coil is increasingly relevant to today’s market. If your preference is listening to vinyl over listening to digital audio sources, then having a phono stage built in is handy.
- If you’re someone who not only enjoys audiophile two-channel sound but also a high-quality home theater experience, then having a preamp with home theater bypass is a great added value as it essentially turns your preamplifier into a straight line out to your amplifier.Separation of church and state, one might say.
- One of the coolest things about this preamplifier is that you can create virtual inputs.Virtual inputs allow you to take an existing input and allow that input to have its own custom setting. So, if you are someone who maybe typically listens to pop music and you enjoy more than average levels of bass but you are someone who also sometimes listens to say more “buttoned down” classical music, you can have a custom input just for classical that doesn’t have the bass boosted or really lets you set the sound for it as you see fit. There’s lots of customizations that you can make here.
- You can bypass the ARC GENESIS and/or the internal DAC so that if you want the Anthem STR just to be a preamp, it can be just that.
- The internal DAC is pretty advanced in terms its up-sampling. Nobody really has 32-bit sources but being able to upscale to them is a forward-thinking move on Anthem’s part.
Why Should You Care About the Anthem STR Stereo Preamplifier?
There are not a lot of preamps in the Anthem STR’s price range that offer you both the selection of inputs as well as room correction in one chassis. ARC GENESIS room correction is going to be the reason why you actually pop for this preamp, as there are plenty of preamps that are very capable as switching inputs and attenuating levels that might even be less expensive. ARC GENESIS’s ability to specifically adjust the sound at the preamp is a great way to optimize the sound in your room while not completely taking the controls out of your hands. You are really getting three components in one: a stereo preamp, a full-power room correction system, and an internal DAC with some pretty good specs. If you want a standalone room correction device that competes (no DAC and no preamp) you can look to Trinnov at $4,995. If you want a preamp and DAC from them the starting as is more than double at $11,000 thus you can see the value that Anthem offers with, in effect, a 3-in-1 deal.
Some Things You Might Not Like About the Anthem STR Stereo Preamplifier
- While the metal remote control is very durable, it isn’t backlit and it can get to be cold to the touch. This is a little quibble if you’re someone like me who lives in a colder climate and/or who likes to listen to music with the lights dimmed.
- While the Anthem STR preamp supports many inputs and technologies, it doesn’t support Bluetooth, Apple Airplay, or Chromecast, so if you want to stream your audio you will need to add another component to do so. This isn’t the end of the world, as the Anthem STR has a USB DAC so you can still plug in your laptop into the Anthem preamp, but having some streaming support would have been well received here.
- There is no headphone amp built into the Anthem SRX stereo preamp. If you’re someone like me who typically listens to your music after the kids are in bed, you won’t be able to plug directly into this preamp without another component. I know. I know. If Anthem puts every feature known to man into their STR, it isn’t going to be $4,299 anymore. It will be $5,000 or more. Good aftermarket headphone amps (sometimes with tubes) can be had from the likes of Schiit, Monoprice, and an ever-growing list of Chi-Fi companies who can solve this problem for a few hundred bucks and give you a chance to embrace your inner-audiophile tweaker without getting crazy with the main structure of your audiophile system.
Listening to the Anthem STR Stereo Preamplifier…
The first track I really caught my attention with the Anthem STR Preamplifier was “Don’t Do Me Like That” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (AIFF 1440 – CD Resolution) (buy at Amazon on CD or vinyl). This classic rock anthem has a lot happening in the middle to higher frequencies with both the piano and the guitar tracks being ever-present. Like the best of audiophile preamps, the Anthem STR never felt like it added any brightness to those parts of the track. There is also a lot going on with the rhythmic parts of the song, as you have the bass, lower registers of the piano, an additional organ and the drums all rocking out. The best compliment that you can pay to a preamp is that it doesn’t have a “sound” per se, and the Anthem STR is just like that. It just isn’t very colored sounding and I like that.
Listening to “Warsaw or the First Breath You Take After You Give Up” by Them Crooked Vultures (44.1 kHz/16bit via Compact Disc) (buy at Amazon on import CD) with room correction turned off, you certainly have no issues picking out the separation of instruments, but you really notice the bass coming from Dave Grohl’s drumming, and that alone isn’t a negative. What really stands out is that once I turned room correction on, the sound was more even and seemingly in tune with the layers of the bass and the guitar in the recording. Acoustical problems got solved – almost magically – especially in the lower frequencies in my far-from-perfect listening room. Normal preamps simply can’t aspire to solve such complex issues but the Anthem SRX can and that’s where it laps the competition, especially at its price.
Does the Anthem STR Preamplifier Have Any Resale Value?
It sure will have resale value. Anthem is an A-list brand with fantastic distribution in North America. Their support is excellent. Their updates via firmware are meaningful. For its price, you get a whole lot of value and that value will appeal to the next audiophile that you will sell it too also. Expect this to be a pretty safe audiophile investment.
Who Is the Competition For The Anthem STR Preamplifier?
Lyngdorf TDAI-1120 ($2,449) is an integrated amplifier (unlike the Anthem it comes with an internal amp) that includes most streaming technology such Chromecast, Apple Airplay, Spotify Connect, Tidal Connect, and Bluetooth. It also has analog and digital inputs as well as HDMI if you want to connect your TV, which is really thoughtful. The Lyngdorf option also outputs 2 x 120 W RMS into 4 Ohms and 2 x 60 W RMS into 8 Ohms worth of power for your speakers. What makes this a competitor, though, is Lyngdorf’s own room correction software. So if you’re looking for room correction and prefer to stream your music, this might be a component worthy of checking out. Keep in mind though, this unit does not have bass management, which might impact how you go about getting the lowest of the lows into your system (meaning possibly bigger speakers or more complex subs).
If you’re looking for something a little more high-end, the Linn Selekt DSM ($6,370.00) preamplifier is another compelling option. The pricing on this product is variable depending on which version you buy, as Linn has a few different DACs that you can choose from, and there is also the HUB edition of this product that adds one subwoofer output and a headphone jack. Similar to the Lyngdorf product, the Linn Selekt DSM features Bluetooth, Apple Airplay, and Wi-Fi support for streaming, as well as an HDMI input, but it doesn’t have MQA support nor does it have support for Tidal or Spotify Connect. The most notable input that the Linn adds is a phono stage if you’re looking to add a turntable into your hi-fi system. Linn also makes use of room correction software with its space optimization feature to help their products sound their best in your room.
Another integrated amplifier with room correction is the NAD M10 V2 (2,999.00) (buy at Crutchfield) which is very competitive with the Lyngdorf offering many of the same options, but more power for your speakers and a few other features as well. This product uses Lenbrook’s proprietary BluOS multiroom ecosystem to provide you provide you with a streaming interface from your phone or tablet, but also allows you to leverage BluOS-capable speakers to wirelessly play your music. The other big thing that differentiates this product is that it is Roon Ready and you also get support for two subwoofers, which is a solid perk. Beyond that, you are getting Apple Airplay 2, Spotify Connect, Tidal Connect, aptX HD Bluetooth, MQA encoding and rendering, and HDMI support. Also let us not forget that this device also features room correction using Dirac Live Room Correction software, which is how it got into the competition.
Trinnov is the one company that could possibly boast more complex and audiophile grade room correction, and they have two products that deliver such performance. The $11,000 (in silver) Trinnov Amethyst preamp is a stone-cold killer and represents much of what the Anthem STR can do with higher end, slightly more tweaky options. Trinnov also makes a standalone room correction box price at $4,995 called the ST2-HiFi that can be added into any more traditional audiophile system configuration, often with a little more ease. Trinnov has a more DIY room correction, but if you want to get into it (and I mean way into it) they’ve got levels of room correction that reaches level of sophistication that is simply mind-blowing. And you were wondering when you were going to use that electrical engineering degree that you got all those years ago? Now you know.
Final Thoughts on the Anthem STR Stereo Preamplifier
The Anthem STR preamplifier (buy at Crutchfield) simply a fantastic multi-purpose audiophile-grade stereo preamp. I can certainly understand a complaint that there isn’t streaming capacity built-in, I would argue that with the ability to make use of a good USB-DAC you don’t really need the streaming capacity built-in anyway because the solutions (Sonos, Roku, or so many others) are so affordable these days. Upgrading a streamer costs less than a hotdog and a beer at an NHL game and perhaps it is better that way, as the Anthem STR brings the value by packing in other technologies for your audiophile investment dollar.
The user interface on the Anthem STR works great, making it easy for you to adjust the sound, change the input, etc. Using ARC GENESIS Room correction was quick, easy, and amazingly effective. Literally, anybody can make an Anthem STR do its ARC GENESIS thing without high levels of technical proficiency. Most importantly to me is the colorless sound that the Anthem STR stereo preamp presents. I am not interested in a preamp that colors my listening experience. The fact that it has an up-sampling DAC, room correction, bass management, and more should be enough to win this preamp the highest of accolades. I will give it one more for the mantle… I wrote the check and bought mine for my reference system. There were many factors that got my platinum card some exercise and we’ve covered those, but in the end, and as predicted, it was the ARC GENESIS room correction that offered the leaps-and-bounds audiophile improvements to the sound in my 2.1 system. Things sound drastically better with the Anthem STR preamp in my rig than without, and that’s why I bought it.