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Harman/Kardon AVR 340 7.1 A/V Receiver


Performance

Putting this receiver through its paces was quite an enjoyable experience. My normal receiver is rated at 120w per channel into seven channels. The 340 is rated at 55w into seven channels, so I was interested to see how the apparently large power difference would manifest itself.

One important point to note is actually found on Harman/Kardon's website. The power rating specs are based on driving all channels simultaneously, which many companies do not take into account when publishing amplifier specs. While I couldn't drive my system to the levels I can with my regular receiver, the H/K put out plenty of juice for my normal viewing habits.

I began with a few of my favorite reference DVDs. The Two Towers Extended Director's Cut is perhaps my favorite movie from the series, and the added material not only contributes greatly to the storyline, but provides an extra 30 minutes of candy for the ears and eyes. I sampled several scenes with both the Dolby Digital and DTS tracks. Applying the Pro Logic IIx processing to the Dolby Digital signal, thereby creating 7.1 discrete channels, was simply outstanding. I preferred this mix to the DTS one, oddly enough. It was more enveloping and realistic to me. The 340 played loud, clearly, and cleanly, with no distortion at reference levels. The pounding of the Ent footsteps reverberated with power, as did their speech. Later, I felt as if I was right in the middle of the climactic battle at Helm's Deep as the arrows whizzed by my ears.

Next I put in The Matrix Reloaded from the 10 disc Ultimate Matrix Collection. The freeway scene is both aurally and visually beautiful. The H/K reproduced the soundtrack with fine crispness and detail. The hum of the crotch rocket's engine as Trinity and the Keymaker tried to escape pulsed through my theater. The supernatural whizzing of the bladed weapons as Neo fought off the Merovingian's henchmen sounded light yet deadly.

Testing with some music finally allowed me to experience Logic 7, and thus let me compare it directly with DTS: Neo 6 and Dolby Pro Logic IIx. I suppose I could have tested it with the two- channel soundtrack from any DVD as well, but since I rarely watch a film and select the two-channel audio track, I felt that music would be a better real world test for me. Sure, there are plenty of films that don't have a surround mix, but in those cases, I would rather watch it with its stereo track anyway (instead of extracting a surround experience where none was intended). I will also state for the record, that using the dedicated eight-channel input with some SACDs proved that the amplifier stages of the receiver were of excellent quality. I could not hear any clipping or distortion at high levels, and clarity and depth were still apparent at low levels.

I listened to several different types of music, employing the Logic 7, seven-channel music mode. I must say that in my opinion, Logic 7 surpasses the Pro Logic IIx and DTS:Neo 6 methods for creating surround from two channels of audio. I still think Dolby does an excellent job, but Logic 7 was a more realistic and natural sounding experience. One of the best examples of this during my listening was on the track "Can't Find My Way Home" from the classic album/band Blind Faith. In the instrumental passage towards the end of the track, there is a loud crash of a cymbal. While listening with Pro Logic IIx engaged, the sound came at me directly and somewhat harshly from the left surround speaker. With Logic 7 activated, the cymbal did not sound so directional; rather, it was woven more naturally into the left front part of the overall soundstage.

Generally, Logic 7 seemed to sound more true to the original source material while still providing an enveloping sound experience. It is a natural evolution in surround sound. Remember when you first heard a receiver that could create a concert hall effect and you were wowed? Well, now I would venture to guess most people completely ignore those faux venue creations since they carry with them the problems inherent in those very locations! Would you rather sit down to listen to music that has been artificially enhanced with reverberation that you didn't want in the first place? Of course not! Now surround formats such as Logic 7 and Dolby Pro Logic IIx demonstrate a more mature intent to subtly enhance the dimension and envelopment of the sound, rather than call attention to them as enhancement.

While 98% of my experience with the 340 was positive, there were a couple of issues I ran into with the unit. One somewhat substantial problem I had was how it output 480p material to my Sony VPL-HS10 projector. When I fired up my Nintendo GameCube and told it to output a progressive image, the projector really had trouble syncing to the input. The video would constantly drop out. I have never had problems with this when switching the video through my everyday receiver, or when connecting the GameCube directly to the HS10. I confirmed it to be a problem with the 340 as I set my Moxi cable DVR to 480p output as well and experienced the same dropouts. I can't be sure if this is a flaw with my specific unit, but it definitely posed a problem for connecting my 480p source devices.

A common complaint I see in many receiver reviews is with the remote control, and unfortunately, this review is no exception. I am continually mystified as to how companies can design great receivers and yet provide such a poor human interface to them! The battery compartment is located at the top of the somewhat long remote, and thus it feels top heavy in my hand. The remote narrows from top to bottom, which makes for an awkward experience when accessing the bottom-most buttons.

The button layout has pros and cons. The volume buttons share the exact same shape as the sleep timer and DSP surround select buttons, and I often found myself accidentally setting the receiver to turn off in 90 minutes rather than adjusting the sound. The button to turn on the on-screen menus (which aren't required, but definitely provide an easier interface to adjust settings than the front display) is hidden among similarly sized buttons that are rarely used. Of course, my biggest gripe with buttons on a remote like this is that the keys are not backlit, or even glow-in-the-dark. I watch movies and such in the dark, as I am sure a majority of home theater enthusiasts do, and it drives me batty when I have to turn the lights up to find the function I want. On the positive side, I like the four-way navigation controller with a selection key in the middle of the remote. This makes scrolling through and selecting menu items a breeze. I also like how Harman/Kardon tried to include as many functions as they could on the remote so there is not a constant need to wade through menus or multiple key presses to perform simple tasks.

The remote is programmable and does come preloaded with many codes, but it is still no match for a good universal model.

My final reservation about the 340 is simply the amount of heat it generates. There is an active fan on the back of the unit as well as the standard vents to draw heat out, but the top of the receiver is very hot to the touch. You definitely want to have adequate headroom in your rack for the 340 or you may be asking for trouble.

Conclusions

My overall opinion of this receiver is quite a positive one. Once I became accustomed to using the 340, I realized what a wonderful fit it was in my home theater. Keep in mind, if you are an avid iPod user, this is an excellent choice with which to integrate it into in your home system.

I definitely enjoyed test driving the AVR 340 receiver. The design is quintessential Harman/Kardon, which is to say, it looks fantastic. It is feature-rich, well priced, and most importantly, the audio performance is top-notch. I would definitely recommend trying this model out if you are in the market for a mid-level receiver.
 

- Gabriel Lowe -

 

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