In spite of surround sound music and movies,
there are plenty of two-channel hi-fi buffs out there, including me.
There are also plenty of two-channel separate
components to supply us.
Unfortunately, because the market is now
focused on multi-channel sound, the two-channel products tend to be the high
end ones, and rather expensive.
That's not a problem for aficionados, but what
about those of us who can't afford the high end units? And suppose we just
want a basic two-channel unit for a small TV setup to give us stereo sound
with our movies?
Mass market manufacturers, now selling
surround sound receivers by the container-load, are not spending much effort
in the two-channel arena, because they would rather sell 10,000 surround
sound receivers than 1,000 two-channel receivers.
You can find some two-channel receivers out
there, but the pickings are slim, and the products tend to be on the low-end
Stereo Dave's Audio Alternative (SDAA) is a
small company in Oregon that has taken what they consider the best of the
two-channel receivers - in their opinion, Harman Kardon - and modified them
to perform like high-end products, but keeping the final price still in the
mass market range.
The HK 3480
The Harman Kardon HK 3480 is a low-priced
($449 MSRP) two-channel receiver that is no longer manufactured. It is
pretty good to begin with, but SDAA bought some and modified them by putting
in more powerful and higher quality power supply capacitors, changing the
changing out some of the op amps, and modifying the power supply transformer. Since it is last year's model, SDAA gets
them at bargain prices, so even with the $300 mod cost, the final price to
the consumer is only $550 plus shipping.
The result is a two-channel receiver that
sounds like the $2,000 preamp/power amp combos, but still is less than
$1,000, in fact, far less.
Compared to a surround sound receiver, the
front panel of the 3480 is plain. While plugged in, the unit remains in
standby, and you just press the on/off button on the front to power it on. A
row of input selectors (round buttons), along with speaker selectors and FM
tuning buttons (rectangular buttons), are located in the center. The large
illuminated volume control is on the right, underneath which are tone and
balance controls. There are also some composite video and stereo audio
jacks, and a headphone jack.
The rear panel is also Spartan compared to
most surround sound receivers. There are numerous sets of stereo audio input
jacks, above which are composite video input jacks. Interestingly, unlike
most surround sound receivers, there are stereo subwoofer output jacks. The
Pre-out and Main-in jacks come with a pin jumper, and, for the review, we
replaced those with Stereo Dave's own hand made jumpers (the white rope-like
short cables in the photo). They are $10, and well worth it (anyone noticed
the price of custom cables these days?)
Click on the
photo above to see a larger version.
You get two sets of speaker outputs so that
you can switch between speakers in one room vs. a second room. The AC cable
is non-grounded and non-detachable.
I tested the 3480 with an ONIX CD-3 CD player
and Carver Mark IV Silver ribbon speakers. Cables were mixed, including a
set of Stereo Dave's interconnects.
Just as I had heard at the 2006 Rocky Mountain
Audio Fest, the
Stereo Dave's mods on this HK 3480 made the unit sound more
like a high performance product.
Good to Go-Go, Heads Up SACD/CD HUSA9127.
one might hear on other low-priced units, the brass
instruments on this
snappy disc did not sound harsh. They sounded smooth and
deep and clean, and there was plenty of it. And that was with my
ribbon speakers that hover around a 4 ohm impedance,
something that typical mass market receivers have a tough
Symphony No. 4, EMI Classics, 0-94638-47232-2.
music, the 3480 almost has a tube-like sound, sweet yet
enough headroom to drive my ribbon speakers, which are not very
efficient, to room-filling volume without breaking up.
Overall, I am amazed at what changing out some key parts with higher
quality components can do for the sound. No, it is still not a Levinson,
or Lamm, or McIntosh, but it sounds like a lot more than $550.
Click Here to Go to Part II.