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Harman Kardon CP 35 Seven-Channel HTIB System, Including DVD-V/DVD-A Player, Receiver, Speakers, and Subwoofer

July, 2005

Rick Schmidt

 

Specifications:


DVD 31 Progressive Scan DVD Player
● Plays DVD-V, DVD-A, CD, MP3, Windows
    Media, JPEG and VCD
● Wolfson DACs

AVR 335 Receiver; 55 Watts x 7
● Codecs: DD, DPL-II, DD EX, DTS, DTS ES,
    DTS Neo:6, HK Logic 7

Speakers (HKTS 14): Four SAT-TS14, One CEN-TS14, and Two HKS-4
● Drivers: One 3/4" Dome Tweeter, Two 3"
    Midrange
● Shielded
● Dimensions: Satellites: 9-9/16”H x 3-
    5/16”W x 3-5/8”D; Center: 4”H x 9-
    1/2”W x 3-5/8”D

Powered Subwoofer
● 200W RMS
● 12” Driver, Rear Ported
● Dimensions: 20-1/2”H x 14-1/2”W x 14-
    1/2”D

● Weight: 48 Pounds

 

System MSRP: $1,899 USA

 

Harman/Kardon

www.harmankardon.com

Introduction

The Harman Kardon CP 35 Home Theater system is a Home Theater in a Box (HTIB) that by volume, represents the maximum that should be crammed into one box. In fact, although complete speaker packages are often called HTIBs, the term should really only apply to complete setups, as is this one.

The CP3 35 consists of a DVD player, receiver, speakers, and subwoofer. Wiring, such as RCA cables and S-Video, is included, but there is no six-channel interconnect for using the DVD-A capability. But, basically, this set has everything you need to be watching surround sound movies without shopping further, assuming you have a display.

Speaker brackets for wall mounting are included in the box, but speaker stands are extra. I received a pair of stands for this review.

The Looks

This is a handsome rig. The electronic components are a sleek silver and grey with dark black displays when turned off. Powering on gives you a cool blue light that highlights the buttons along with the oversize volume knob on the receiver. The information part of the 335’s display is green, with large, easily readable characters.

The speakers are also silver. These are diminutive, so they are easily hidden amongst a living room that has other purposes besides home theater. But, these speakers could also serve as a beautiful addition to your décor, especially if your tastes lean towards the sleek and modern.

A fine metal mesh wraps all the way around the triangular speakers. This mesh gives off a pleasing glitter in almost any light. The stands are taller than most and are also striking, being constructed so that the mounted speaker (satellite) leans back from vertical by about 15 degrees. I didn’t perform any tests to see if this arrangement enhanced or detracted from the sound experience but it clearly added to the visual experience.

The subwoofer is a big one, and will require a bit of space (someone at HK knows the importance of being able to kick butt in the low frequencies). It has the same metal mesh wrapped around the bottom. If you place the subwoofer near your display, in your line of sight, you might want to cover the orange LED so that it doesn’t distract.

Set-up

Making all the necessary connections was easier than usual in that the included interconnects and speaker wires are all color coded to match the connectors on the back of the AVR 335 and DVD 31.

The speaker binding posts on the receiver are a little too close together for my fingers. To alleviate this common problem I’ve invested in a gaggle of banana plugs that I can connect to speaker wire while sitting on the couch and then simply plug in to the receiver or amp. Man over wire. If you really want to get fancy, you can purchase the new Locking Banana Plugs that let you tighten them by turning a ring on the plug. This will keep the plugs from coming loose. Here is a link where you can buy them. Not cheap, but a good investment for any system.

The AVR 335 comes with Harman Kardon’s EZSet procedure for speaker set-up. This automates the process of calibrating the speaker delay and volume to compensate for placement and other room anomalies. Utilizing the procedure is a really smart thing to do because the processor in the receiver can do this crucial task faster and more accurately than the processor between your ears. If you insist that you are smarter than the processor in the receiver, you can tweak the results on your own after the running EZSet.

To run EZSet, simply plug the included microphone into the jack and place the microphone at the listening/viewing position, press the OSD (On Screen Display) button on the remote, and follow the on-screen instructions. The whole process takes less than a minute.

The only adjustment I made after running EZSet was to turn the volume down on the subwoofer. I’m not a big fan of booming special effects, and since I’m more interested in what my subwoofer can do for music, I typically have the sub dialed down. I find the best results for subwoofers to be off to the side of my viewing position, but your mileage may vary. The HK sub has a phase switch, not a knob, so your choices are 00 (Normal) and 1800 (Reverse). I kept it in the Normal setting.

Watching Movies

This DVD player is no slouch. I started out using an S-Video connection since that was what was supplied. I found the picture satisfying but I was starting to compile a list of critiques. Then I dug out a component video cable and starting making a list of accolades.

The DVD 31 presents a sharp picture which I favor, but I never felt fatigued by it. Images had excellent depth and realism. When you go shopping for DVD players or displays, take along a copy of The Fifth Element. The opening desert scenes are a good way to judge color and the ability to deliver a striking image. The scene where Leeloo first encounters the future NY City on the ledge of a high rise is the standard for depth and detail. The DVD 31 rendered this scene beautifully, with the distant buildings and vehicles truly distant, yet still distinct. The closer objects appeared realistic, not computer generated. Perhaps as a way to balance the artificial world created for this movie, The Fifth Element also offers many close-ups of faces with five o’clock shadows, wrinkles, or pock marks. It's a welcome relief from standard Hollywood fare. The DVD 31 did a great job with these; I’ve seen better, but that was on a DVD player costing more than this entire system.

This DVD player also does blacks extremely well. I never saw blotchiness, patches, or other signs of breakdown in dark scenes. In The Empire Strikes Back, when Darth Vader arrives at the under-construction-Death Star, there is a well lit shot of his helmet and cape. With the DVD 31, I could see the differences between the shiny plastic helmet and what appears to be a cheap blanket serving as the cape. Maybe you don’t want to see this, though some consider it part of the charm of the early Star Wars movies. Nonetheless, the ability to render blacks is one of the most important things for a DVD player and display.

The sharp picture from this player did have its drawbacks. This was revealed on DVDs with lower quality transfers. I thought I was seeing a bit of red push here and there, so I dug out Red. This movie is part of the Three Colors Trilogy by Krzysztof Kievslowski, and is one of my favorite movies of all time. The film is loaded with red. Red sweaters, a red jeep, red awnings, red coffee cups. Seemingly every scene has some red in it somewhere. Indeed there was a bit of push. In some scenes, Irene Jacob’s red sweater lost its texture, becoming a uniform field of video red. But, I also noticed that this transfer is not-so-good. Kind of grainy. This is not the fault of the player, and both of these things can be adjusted for in the DVD player and the display, so this does not stop me from recommending the DVD 31.
 

Listening to Music

A common strategy in home theater systems is to design the speakers for voices. Since most of what you want to hear in a movie is people talking, this can represent a good tradeoff. It's better though if the speakers can just give you the full range. That is what this system does. It takes the whole package to do it though, and I guess that is why they included such a big subwoofer.

While listening to CDs using analog connections, with no DSP in the receiver active, physics won out and the three inch drivers in the front pair of satellite speakers were not able to reproduce much if any of the bass octave. Nonetheless, this became my favorite way to listen. As is the norm these days, small speakers seem to deliver more than they have a right to, and I find that less is more when it comes to digital processing.

Another reason to listen this way is the fact that the one part of digital processing that is absolutely necessary, the conversion of the digital stream for the disc to analog is handled in the DVD 31 by Wolfson DACs. These are widely considered some of the best in the business right now. Wait a few months and that may change, but I have to agree with the current thinking. The sound in this mode is smooth and non fatiguing. But with bass heavy R&R, too much was missing. I found that with jazz and especially vocal jazz like the excellent Smokey & Miho EP, the whole picture was entirely engaging, and with excellent source material like this, intoxicating.

That’s hardly the end of the story, however. This AVR has just about every Dolby and DTS mode you’ve ever heard of and perhaps one you haven’t: Harman Kardon’s own Logic 7. This was the mode I used most when the music demanded a full range presentation. In Logic 7, the system was able to transcend the size of the drivers and seamlessly blend in the subwoofer for a full sound that was very listenable and fully able to rock out.

I could and did listen for long periods in this mode. Some consumers will only use their home theater system for music occasionally, either because they have another system for music (like an IPod – egads), or its just not their bag. If that’s you, you should definitely consider this system, even if you’re like me and feel that you need a pair of full range speakers for conventional stereo listening. The CP 35 still deserves a listen because speakers can be upgraded at any time and this is a fine sounding receiver and CD player.

Remote

The AVR 335 and DVD 31 can be purchased as separate components, and as such, each comes with its own remote. As part of the CP 35 system, however, only the AVR 335 remote is included. This makes some sense as, like most AVR remotes, it can be programmed and has buttons specifically for the DVD player. Whether you like this arrangement or not will depend on how you feel about having four, five, maybe even six remotes on your coffee table and couch. Me, I’m perfectly comfortable with four remotes, but I feel a bit overwhelmed beyond that.

This remote is well sized but on the lighter side. The V-shape fits the sleek presentation of the rest of the system. The volume, channel, and on/off buttons are plenty large and intelligently laid out. The same is true for the ‘select’ button used in DVD navigation. The DVD play, pause, skip and fast-forward buttons are at the bottom of the V, and are necessarily on the small size. Once I got used to their location and relative layout, I found the logic in having them there. My thumb could easily reach any of them as I navigated and paused DVDs.

I do wish the remote were a bit heavier or perhaps balanced differently, but my main gripe is with having to do dual duty with one remote. In reading the following critique you should keep in mind that the alternative is to have two remotes that you have to keep track of and fumble for just when you need them most. With this remote, switching between DVD control and AVR control causes a couple of hiccups. Harman Kardon smartly avoids most of these issues by dedicating some of the buttons to a single function. The Play, Fast Forward, Pause, and other such buttons apply only to the DVD player so it doesn’t matter what mode you have the remote in, when you press them you get the desired effect. I wish they had done the same with the volume buttons though. The first thing you want to do after pressing Play is to adjust the volume. That will have no effect with this remote until you switch it back to AVR mode. It's only one button press to do so (I can’t believe I’m complaining about having to push a button), but its hard to remember that you have to do that.

A second remote, with minimal functionality, is included for use in a second ‘zone’ (elsewhere in your house).

The AVR 335 has a cooling fan on the back, but to my knowledge it did not come on while I was using the system. Either that or it's dead quiet. My viewing room is pretty cool, but I had the DVD player right on top of the receiver so I was expecting some heat buildup.

The AVR 335 includes Dolby’s new Headphone Mode. In fact, it has three versions of that plus the ability to bypass. I tried the headphone jack while listening to music, but not with movies. I had to turn the sound way up to get good volume in my Grado 325Si’s. Once I did, the sound was good if a bit laid back. The Dolby Headphone modes were subtle, which is good. I had a hard time choosing between the bypass mode and Dolby Headphone 3 which is meant to simulate a large concert hall with a wide soundstage. There was definitely a difference between the two, but both were pleasing.

This is a seven channel home theater in a box system. If you have room for seven speakers its definitely a better experience than five. You could pay as much for a five channel system.

The owner’s manuals were among the best I’ve seen. Clear and complete descriptions of everything I thought to look for.

Conclusions

The Harman Kardon CP 35 HTIB is a very good package, especially the DVD player and receiver. It will decode most of todays formats, including DVD-A, and has seven channels, which should satisfy anyone looking to get into home theater without breaking the bank.


- Rick Schmidt -

    Related to the article above, we recommend the following:

Primer - Surround Sound Processors

Primer - Speakers

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