March 1, 2009
Anthem Integrated 225
Canadas Anthem has been making audio
components for over a decade. The brand is part of Sonic Frontiers International, a
company that started out in the early 1990s making only tube-based electronics. In the
mid-90s they established the Anthem brand, and shortly thereafter were purchased by
Paradigm, the large and well-known maker of loudspeakers.
Anthems current product line includes a range of
stereo and multichannel power amplifiers, one stereo preamplifier, and several
surround-sound preamplifier-processors, most notably the Statement D2, considered a
benchmark in that category. All are solid-state designs.
While the new Integrated 225 is the only integrated
amplifier in Anthems current line, its not their first. In the mid-90s
they created the Integrated 1, a tubed model that produced 25Wpc into 4 or 8 ohms. It was
superseded by the Integrated 2, a hybrid design that used tubes in its preamplifier and
transistors in its power amp, and output 90Wpc into 8 ohms or 145Wpc into 4 ohms. The
Integrated 225 is said to deliver 225Wpc into 8 ohms or 310Wpc into 4 ohms. Its
Anthems most powerful integrated yet, and the most powerful Ive ever reviewed,
but its certainly not the most expensive at just $1499 USD -- not much for such a
Not only is the 225 heavy, but its build quality is
outstanding. This is no flimsy, throwaway integrated. In fact, the build quality is more
suited to something costing twice as much. In fact, when the Integrated 225 first arrived,
I was surprised by its weight. For the price, I hadnt expected something so hefty
and well built -- it measures 17 1/4"W x 5 7/8"H x 18"D and tips the scales
at 43 pounds. This makes it not only the most powerful integrated Ive reviewed, but
one of the most substantial as well.
The Integrated 225s rear panel is well populated:
five RCA inputs, one set of balanced inputs (which I didnt use; I own no balanced
source components), one line-level output, a preamplifier output (for connecting an
external power amp), and, best of all, an input for the onboard moving-magnet phono stage.
With sales of vinyl and turntables on the rise, its nice to see a product that comes
ready to play LPs right out of the box. Not only does the built-in phono stage save the
cost of buying an external one (which you can still do if you prefer), it has the added
benefit of making the signal path between phono stage and preamp as short as possible.
Also on the rear are an RS-232 port, 12V trigger inputs and
outputs, and an IEC receptacle for the detachable power cord. The single pair of binding
posts can accommodate banana plugs, spades, or bare wires. And the Integrated 225 is wide
and high enough to provide plenty of space around all the connectors.
On the brushed-aluminum front panel are the volume knob, a
balance control, bass and treble controls (along with a Tone Defeat switch to remove them
from the signal path), input selection buttons, a power switch, a headphone jack, and,
finally, a stereo mini-jack for connecting an iPod or other portable audio device. Because
many people now carry their entire music collections around on hard drives small enough to
slip into a shirt pocket, its nice that Anthem has made connecting them as
convenient as possible.
With its silver faceplate and black case, the Integrated
225 doesnt exactly deviate from the design trends current among integrated amps;
however, its attractive enough to blend in with almost any décor.
The remote control has one unexpected feature: a nice
backlit display that comes on when any button is pressed. This learning remote can be
taught commands and used to control other components in your system.
My only problem with the Integrated 225 was a functional
one: Controlling the volume via the remote was difficult because the remote is too
sensitive. Only a slight tap on the Volume button increased or decreased the level more
than it should have, making it difficult to find a suitable volume without constantly
over- and undershooting. My only suggestion for Anthem: Slow the volume control down a
See our Integrated 225 photo gallery.
System and sound
The Integrated 225 drove PSBs Platinum M2
stand-mounted speakers, whose nominal impedance PSB claims to be 4 ohms. I used AudioQuest
Type 4 speaker cable terminated with banana plugs. Kimber Kable Tonik interconnects linked
up the NAD C542 CD player that served as my digital front end. Performing analog duties
were a Thorens TD-160HD turntable fitted with a modified Rega RB250 tonearm, on which was
mounted Dynavectors DV-10X5 high-output moving-coil cartridge (see sidebar).
When I turned the Integrated 225s Bass and Treble
dials to 12 oclock and shut the Tone Defeat switch off, I could detect no difference
in the sound. Still, I decided to keep the tone controls out of the circuit, and left Tone
Defeat engaged throughout my listening sessions.
As I sift through my notes, trying to figure out what I
want to say about the sound of the Integrated 225, four things keep popping up:
neutrality, midrange clarity, expansive soundstaging, and seemingly limitless power. The
more I listened to the 225, the more I noted these qualities.
In terms of neutrality, the Integrated 225 was the
proverbial chameleon in its ability to take on the character of whatever disc I played
without infusing the music with any sound of its own. It wasnt bright or dark, lean
or warm, forward or recessed. As I listened to discern any sort of flavor to its sound,
nothing jumped out at me. For those unaccustomed to it, a component that appears to have
no sonic signature at all might seem to sound a bit drab. After all, some electronics with
serious colorations (tube models come to mind) can tend to seem exciting at first, not
unlike punching up the colors on a TV. But that oversaturation can wear thin after a
while; in my opinion, the components that impart the least character are the ones that are
most enjoyable over the long term.
Unfortunately, this meant that some poorly recorded music
sounded downright awful through the Anthem. For example, when I listened to some
poor-quality MP3s played directly from iTunes by a MacBook computer, the Integrated 225
laid bare the muted dynamics, the two-dimensional soundstage, the complete absence of
energy and vitality. This was a case of faithfully reproducing an audio signal, warts and
all -- the 225 refused to pretty it up.
Of course, the flip side to this was that well-recorded
material sounded simply sublime through the Anthem. This was particularly true of its
reproduction of the midrange, that band of frequencies into which fall most musical
instruments and the human voice. When I listened to Eddie Vedder hum along with his
acoustic guitar in the instrumental version of his "Guaranteed," from the
soundtrack for Into the Wild (CD, J Records 88697-15944-2), his distinctive
baritone was as clear and detailed as the notes he strummed. I couldnt help but
think that, with the exception of sitting in the studio with the man as this track was
being recorded, his voice probably couldnt sound much better. The Integrated
225s lack of editorializing meant that it could do an amazing job of bringing the
songs intimacy right into the room with me. What I heard sounded startlingly real.
Moving on to John Coltranes A Love Supreme, I
marveled at Elvin Jones drum work during "Part 2 -- Resolution" (CD,
Impulse! B000061002). As the clear shimmer of the cymbals and the flow of Coltranes
tenor saxophone enhanced this tracks sense of true swing, it became clear that
limitless power and midrange clarity werent the 225s only strengths. It was
also extremely refined sounding, particularly at the top end, where the sound of the
cymbal lives. I ended up putting my pen down and listening to the rest of the disc.
Another of the 225s strengths was its ability to cast
a credible soundstage in my listening room, an indication of high resolution and low
noise. When I put on the Great Lake Swimmers beautiful Ongiara (CD, Nettwerk
30691 2), I was amazed at how well the Anthem captured the acoustic space of Aeolian Hall
in London, Ontario, where this album was recorded. This was especially apparent during
Tony Dekkers solo performance of "Passenger Song," in which the echo of
his voice made the halls vastness easily perceptible. His guitar notes seemed to
hang suspended in space, their isolation a fitting metaphor for the sentiment conveyed by
the song. The 225 wasnt merely neutral; it was also highly resolving, and did a
fantastic job of getting out of the way and letting the music speak for itself.
As impressed as Id been at first with the Integrated
225s size, weight, build, and features, I was taken back by its power. Even driving
4-ohm speakers such as the Platinum M2s, the Anthem didnt even begin to break a
sweat. And despite putting it through some marathon listening sessions of five or six
hours each, the 225 never even got that warm. It was clear that the 225 always had plenty
of power in reserve, and that I never came close to pushing it to its limits. This
integrated amp should be suitable for use with most loudspeakers out there.
|The Built-in Phono Stage -- a Great
Place to Start
Anthems Integrated 225
includes an onboard moving-magnet phono stage thats also suitable for high-output
moving-coil cartridges. Mounted on my Rega tonearm is a Dynavector DV-10X5, a moving-coil
design with a voltage output of 2.5mV. It worked well with the Anthems phono stage.
Music sounded clean and detailed while preserving the inherent warmth and ease of analog.
Listening to Calexicos Carried to Dust (LP,
Quarterstick qs108), the clear, open sound conveyed excellent depth, and a wonderful sense
of space that helped me appreciate the various atmospheres created by different tracks on
this record. I had no trouble hearing into the massed assortments of strings, horns, and
percussion. Ultimately I stopped writing notes, picked up the lyrics sheet, and lost
myself somewhere on side A. The ability to lose the listener in the music isnt
something all components can do, but this was never a problem for the Anthem.
With Björks Homogenic on the platter (LP,
Björk Overseas Ltd. 539 166-1), I was again struck by the high level of performance
achieved by the 225s phono stage. Homogenic is a dense album with layers of
instrumentation and complex musical arrangements that require multiple hearings to fully
appreciate, and the 225 and its phono stage were the perfect tools for unraveling it all.
This LP sounded enormous through the 225, creating sound that was wall-to-wall,
floor-to-ceiling, and beyond. Bass was deep and tangible, and Björks voice soared
through my system with a purity and ease that begged me to turn the volume up. I did so
Much as Id found the Integrated 225 itself, its phono
stage was revealing of the quality of the recording without adding much of itself to the
sound. You can certainly buy a better, more expensive phono stage that will outperform
this one. However, the stage included in the Integrated 225s price of $1499 was
surprisingly accomplished, and will give someone who owns a turntable a great place to
start without having to spend more, at least right away. My suggestion: If you have a
turntable, try whats here, live with it for a while, and upgrade later -- but only
if you feel a real need to. In the meantime, you might find yourself perfectly content,
and use the money you save to buy more LPs.
. . . Philip Beaudette
Large dynamic shifts in some of the classical music to
which I listened didnt faze the Integrated 225 even slightly. In practical terms,
this meant there was lots of juice for convincingly reproducing the wonderful drone of the
pipe organ in the final movement of Saint-Saëns Symphony No.3, with Charles Munch
conducting the Boston Symphony (CD, BMG Classics 61387-2). The sheer power of the organ
flooded my listening room, the Anthem doing a superb job of portraying the authority and
weight of its low frequencies. It would have been fun to play this track through a pair of
large, full-range speakers so the 225 could fully realize its potential by reproducing the
lowest octaves, but even through the PSBs, the scale of the organ, the size of the
orchestra -- even the sound of the hall in which the performance was recorded -- were all
well preserved, creating a large-scale aural illusion in my listening room.
In the end, though, what most won me over was how
faithfully the Integrated 225 reproduced my favorite music. The Great Lake Swimmers Ongiara
is a wonderfully recorded album, but it took an integrated amplifier as superb as the
Integrated 225 to reveal that fact. In "Backstage with the Modern Dancers," Tony
Dekkers voice appeared from behind the plane of the speakers, the drum kit several
feet behind him. Not only was depth of the stage outstanding, so was its breadth, as Erik
Arnesens banjo emerged with excellent clarity from behind the left speaker. Some
integrated amplifiers tend to produce convincing depth at the center, but truncate the
back corners of the stage. Not the Integrated 225. It managed the impressive feat of
portraying a stage that had as much breadth along its back wall as it did at the plane of
Overall, the Integrated 225 performed at such a high level
that it left me with no nits to pick or anything to complain about. What Anthem has
achieved for $1499 is nothing short of remarkable.
I pitted the Integrated 225 against another high-value
integrated amplifier, NADs C372 ($999). The C372 is another powerhouse, rated at
150Wpc into 4 or 8 ohms. On paper, the Anthems 225Wpc wins. But at the volumes at
which I listen to music, both integrateds had more than enough watts, with plenty in
reserve. If you have a big room and/or inefficient speakers, total power output will be
more important and the Anthem will be the better choice. For me, either amp was
In terms of connectivity the two are similar, with some
differences. The NAD has seven single-ended inputs compared to the Anthems five, but
the C372 lacks the 225s balanced inputs and onboard phono stage -- not
insignificant, if you have equipment to hook up to those.
Feature-wise, the Anthems only edge is its remote:
backlighting is a handy thing that, now that Im used to it, I wouldnt want to
do without. Cosmetically, the Integrated 225s sleek appearance might impress a few
more people than the C372s battleship gray. On the other hand, Ive always
admired the utilitarian look of NAD gear, so this is really a matter of taste.
The build qualities arent in the same league. The
Integrated 225 is more than 15 pounds heavier, and looks and feels like it. With its
thicker, sturdier chassis and faceplate, its a far more substantial component that
makes the C372 feel flimsy in comparison.
Because I never taxed the total power output of either
integrated, I was surprised to discover that they sounded quite different. Listening to
Neil Youngs "Out on the Weekend," from Harvest (CD, Reprise 2277),
through the NAD C372, the drums had punch and clarity but werent as sharply defined
or as aggressive in attack as through the Anthem Integrated 225 -- the NAD sounded fatter
and more rounded, whereas the Anthem had more bite and seemingly better control.
Youngs voice sounded more forward through the C372, and more isolated from the
musicians around him. With the Integrated 225, Youngs voice seemed a more coherent
part of the musical whole, not standing out as much as they had with the NAD. I attribute
this to the 225s extracting more detail and simply conveying more of the information
thats on this disc. Finally, Youngs harmonica sounded a touch brighter in its
upper registers through the C372; through the Anthem it sounded crystal clear, but I
actually wanted to turn the volume up. Overall, I found that the 225 sounded more refined,
particularly up top.
The NAD C372 has a warm, friendly sound, but its not
as refined or as precise as the Anthem. The Integrated 225 could come off as sounding a
tad lean and dry, comparatively, but I found it more resolving, natural, and neutral. The
Anthem costs 50% more, but in the final analysis was a clear step up from the C372,
particularly when you factor in the features (including the excellent phono stage; see
sidebar), build quality, and power output. To me, thats all worth it.
At its price, the only fault I could find with
Anthems Integrated 225 was a functional one: the volume-control problem. Otherwise,
the Integrated 225 is a real gem with a wealth of features, more power than most people
will ever need, and sound quality that belies its asking price of $1499. Youd likely
have to spend twice as much to get something better . . . but why should you? The
Integrated 225 is so good, you may never have to or want to.
. . . Philip Beaudette
Price of equipment reviewed