Introduction and Background to the Harman Kardon BDP1 Blu ray player, AVR 3600 receiver and Definitive Technology ProCinema 800 Speakers Affordable Systems Review
This is a complete 5.1 surround sound system. The front end is the new Harman/Kardon BDP1 Blu-Ray player. The Harman/Kardon receiver is also a new model, the AVR 3600. The speaker package is the Definitive Technology ProCinema 800. These products are not typically discounted, so the anticipated system price comes in just under $2,700. This places the system just over the threshold we’ve established for “Mid Priced” systems which we have defined as systems with a street price between $2,500 and $5,000.
The system includes small bookshelf speakers on all four corners, an MTM center speaker, an 8″ powered sub, a Profile 2.0 Blu-ray player and a 7.1-channel multi-zone surround sound receiver. The receiver can decode all the latest surround formats and has an impending firmware update to make it HDNI 1.4 compatible! The speakers and subwoofer offer surprising performance for their size and cost. All the components feature tasteful styling and excellent performance.
Price Range: Mid (over $2,501 – 5,000 MSRP)
- System MSRP: $2,698.98
- System Street Price: ~ $2,698.98
Our criteria for rating systems is shown below. Click on the graphic to see the full sized version.
Harman/Kardon BDP 1 Blu-ray Disc Player
- BD-Live Ready (Profile 2.0)
- HDMI (v 1.3a) with 1080p Upconversion
- BonusView (PIP) Support
- AVC-HD Compatible
- Ethernet Port
- Front-Panel USB Port compatible with flash drives and external USB hard drives/client only, FAT32 format
- IR Remote I/O
- Parental Control System
- Supported Formats: Blu-ray Disc, BD-ROM (Profile 2.0), BD-R/RE (does not support BDAV or BDMV formats), DVD-Video, DVD-R/W, DVD+R/W, CD, CD-R/W, MP3, WMA, DTS-CD and JPEG (up to 5MB file)
- Supported Audio: Dolby TrueHD, DTS HD/MA, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby Digital, and DTS
- Supported Video Resolutions: up to 1080p/24; upconverts DVD to 720p, 1080i or 1080p
- Dimensions: 17.3″ (W) x 2.6″ (H) x 13.8″ (D)
- Weight: 8.2 lbs (net)
- MSRP: $499.99
- MFR URL: http://www.harmankardon.com
The H/K BDP 1 player shares the same styling as the AVR 3600 receiver. The color of the LED’s, the look of the logo, the feel of the buttons. . . each detail is so tightly spec’d that these products are nearly perfectly matched. They have a clean, modern style that has to be seen to be appreciated.
This player has BD-Live capabilities, but requires that the user insert a 1 GB or larger USB drive in the player’s front-panel USB jack in order to access on line content. The front panel USB jack can also be used to stream content from and external USB hard drive. This player does not have an SD card slot. One more omission is that the H/K BDP 1 player does not stream online content from Netflix, Vudu, etc.
On the back panel, the H/K BDP 1 has one HDMI output, on component video output, a coaxial audio output, an optical audio output, and Ethernet jack, stereo analog output, an IR in and an IR out. There are no multi channel analog audio outs.
The BDP 1 player has what is probably the best remote control of any player I have reviewed. It is fully backlit with a glow in the dark button for the backlight. The buttons are large, logically arranged and are appropriately shaped for their particular function. This medium sized remote also sits comfortably in the hand and is well balanced. As far as I’m concerned, it is the reigning champ of Blu-ray remotes.
Setup and Use:
This player is a little slow to load many of the Blu-Ray discs I tried. It’s not interminably slow. But it is slower than a Sony PS3 or an Oppo BDP 83 player. I didn’t find this to be more than a minor nuisance, though. I usually insert the disc, grab a beverage, turn off the lights and settle in. By then the disc is loaded and the projector is mostly warmed up. So from a practical standpoint, this player was perfectly acceptable when it came to load times.
I have recently had some Blu-Ray players in for review that really struggled on scenes with lots of motion in the picture. They didn’t struggle with the motion because of a deinterlacing defect. They struggled because they didn’t have the processing power to decompress the image quickly enough to accommodate a lot of frame-to-frame changes in the picture. The ability of a player to handle lots of on-screen motion is becoming an important criterion that I use when rating Blu-ray players. Rendering motion is ultimately limited by the bandwidth capabilities of the medium and the compression scheme used in mastering a given disc. But lesser players don’t have the processing power to approach the limit of the format.
The H/K BDP 1 does a great job passing along very busy, motion-intensive scenes. I rarely saw signs of break up or reduced image detail, regardless of the material I fed the player. Try it on the final battle scenes in Avatar or the rehearsal scenes on This is It where there are lots of dancers on stage. While not as accomplished in this regard as my reference Oppo BDP 83, the H/K BDP1’s picture nevertheless held together remarkably well on these movies.
Due to editorial issues, I wound up with the H/K BDP 1 player in my system for longer that I usually keep review units. I have to say that I have thoroughly enjoyed using it. Its colorful menus are very slick and its set-up is straight forward and intuitive. It has worked great on all kinds of material, from the bright and colorful Avatar to the dark and grey The Road. It has never hung up on any disc and always provided a very watchable image. The sound from this player has also been first-rate. Please see the Performance Observation section below for my detailed impressions of the system as a whole.
Harman/Kardon AVR 3600 AV Surround Sound Receiver
- Design: 7.1-Channel A/V Surround Receiver
- Codecs: Dolby TrueHD, DTS HD Master, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby ProLogic IIx, DTS HD High Resolution Audio, DTS, DTS-ES, DTS 96/24, DTS Neo:6, Logic 7
- MFR: 7 x 85W (8 ?, 20-20kHz, 0.07% THD)
- High Current: +/-35 Amps
- The Bridge III iPod Dock Included
- Room Correction: EzSet/EQ
- Video Processing: Faroudja DCDi Cinema Processing
- Inputs: 4 HDMI; 2 Component Video; 3 Composite Video; 4 Optical Digital (1 Front); 3 Coax Digital (1 Front); 7.1-Channel Analog Audio
- Outputs: 1 HDMI; 1 Component Video; 1 Composite Video; 7.1-Channel Analog Pre-out; 1 Coax Digital; 1 Optical Digital; IR Mini Plug; 12-Volt Trigger; Zone 2: Composite Video, Stereo Analog
- A-Bus Compatible
- USB Port for Updates
- Firmware Update Available for HDMI 1.4a (3D Ready)
- Dimensions: 17-5/16″ (W) x 6-1/2″ (H) x 17-1/16″ (D)
- Weight: 44 lbs (net)
- MSRP: $ 999.99
- MFR URL: http://www.harmankardon.com
Like the H/K BDP1 player, the H/K AVR 3600 receiver is a new model. The two components match in styling very closely and look very nice sitting near one another in my equipment rack. The lines of both boxes are clean and modern. The AVR 3600’s volume knob is its most interesting physical feature. The knob is an inverted cylinder and inside this concavity is a lighted ring. Everybody has to touch it just as soon as they see it. I find myself changing the volume by putting my index finger in the open part and spinning the knob from the inside. It is as if I’m giving this receiver a “wet Willie”! The bottom line here is that this receiver is downright captivating to look at. I really like it. It might be the type of component one could fall in love with.
According to Harman/Kardon, this receiver will be HDMI 1.4a compliant with a firmware update due out September 2010. As a matter of fact, new models shipped starting in September will be equipped with the update. This means the AVR 3600 and many other H/K receivers will be able to handle 3-D signals!
The manual says that the H/K AVR 3600 receiver is rated at 85 watts per channel, seven channels driven from 20 Hz – 20 kHz at less than 0.07% THD into an 8 ohm load. I used this receiver, not only with the Definitive Technology ProCinema 800 System, but also with the JBL LS 80 surround system. This receiver drove both of these 5.1 systems with great ease.
Harman/Kardon claims that the AVR 3600 is a high current receiver. It is rated at 35 Amps! That is a pretty high current rating for an A/V receiver. This means that the receiver probably has a decent power supply, very low output impedance and a high damping factor. It also means that the receiver produces sound with very good drive. Look at it this way: power in a car is an indicator of how fast the car will travel (speed). This is similar to the power rating of an amp in watts – how loud can it go?
On the other hand, a car’s torque rating is an indication of how quickly the car can accelerate. This is analogous to current in an amplifier. High current amps control the speakers’ drivers very well because they accelerate and decelerate the drivers effectively and also because of the amp’s resistance to back EMF caused by a speaker’s resonance (damping factor). In practice, the high current quality of the H/K AVR 3600 produces a sound that is full of drive. Leading edges of sounds are very clean and they just float from the speakers. I think high current capability, not just high power, is a very important sign of an amplifier’s overall competence.
Setup and Use:
I was seriously impressed with the H/K AVR 3600’s menus when I first saw them at CEDIA Expo in Atlanta. They were very colorful and detailed. This was something I looked forward to checking out when the review unit came in. I am generally very happy with the menus. I could usually find each and every setting that I needed.
The very large remote control is handsomely styled. It has a cool blue backlit which is turned on by pressing a glow in the dark light button. Most of the buttons are not backlit. The active input glows red but the other input buttons remain dark which made it a little difficult to select the next input in the dark. Although the remote is large, it doesn’t feel clunky because of its ergonomic shape, nice balance and comfortable coating on the back surface. I like this remote very much as well.
You can have up to eight named inputs. Each is directly accessible from the remote control. They can be renamed, but I didn’t mess with this because the remote has logical labels for the inputs.
The AVR 3600 features a proprietary automatic speaker set up utility. Harman/Kardon calls their system “EZSet/EQ”. It sets the speaker size, crossover and EQ for one seating position only. I liked the EZSet/EQ’s EQ capabilities better than some of the systems I have tried. It uses a series of white noise bursts when computing and adjusting the EQ. Each time the tone plays, you can hear that the sound is a little closer to flat. So while the EQ worked nicely, I found that the EZSet/EQ’s ability to balance the sub was a little lacking and I wound up balancing the channels manually.
The H/K AVR 3600 ships complete with an included iPod/iPhone docking station. The docking station is called “The Bridge III”. It connects to the AVR 3600 with a rather thick umbilical. The attached iPod can be controlled by the AVR 3600 remote. The on-screen menus provide all the iPod controls but does not display album art. You can also play videos over The Bridge/AVR 3600 combo. I played around with some Digital Copy Blu-Rays on my iPod and found the PQ to be a little better than I expected. The Bridge III comes with a number of plastic inserts to fit the bases of the various iPod models which provides for a more stable connection between the player and the dock.
This receiver has a nicely and logically organized back panel layout. The video connections are across the top. The middle section houses the audio connections. The line and speaker level outputs are along the bottom. This is one of the easiest to install and set up receivers that I have used.
Definitive Technology ProCinema 800 System: 4-ProMonitor 800 (Main Channels and Surrounds), 1-ProCenter 1000 (Center) and 1-ProSub 800 (Subwoofer)
Model: ProMonitor 800 (Main Channels and Surrounds)
- Design: 2-Way, 2-Driver Bass Reflex (Passive Radiator)
- Tweeter – 1″ Pure Aluminum Dome
- Woofer – 4-1/2″ Balanced Double Surround System (BDSS)Cone
- Bass Radiator – 4-1/2″
- MFR: 57 Hz -30 kHZ
- Sensitivity: 89 db
- Power Handling: 150 watts
- Nominal Impedance: 8 ?
- Dimensions: 4-3/4″ (W) x 8-3/8″ (H) x 5″ (D)
- Weight: 4 lbs (each)
Model: ProCenter 1000 (Center)
- Design: 2-Way, 3-Driver Bass Reflex (Passive Radiator)
- Tweeter – 1″ Pure Aluminum Dome
- Woofers – 2~4-1/2″ Balanced Double Surround System (BDSS)Cone
- Bass Radiators – 2~4-1/2″
- MFR: 47 Hz -30 kHZ
- Sensitivity: 90 db
- Power Handling: 200 wattsv
- Nominal Impedance: 8 ?
- Dimensions: 14-3/4″ (W) x 5″ (H) x 5″ (D)
- Weight: 6 lbs (each)
Model: ProSub 800 (Subwoofer)
- Design: Bass Reflex (Passive Radiator)
- Driver: 8″
- Bass Radiator: 8″
- MFR: 20 Hz -150 HZ
- Internal Amplifier Power: 300 watts
- Controls: Volume (side), Crossover, Phase (0°/180°), Crossover Bypass and Master Power
- Dimensions: 10-5/16″ (W) x 12-7/8″ (H) x 15-3/4″ (D)
- Weight: 26 lbs
- MSRP: $1,199.00/5.1 System
- MFR URL: http://www.definitivetech.com/
I was a little surprised when the Definitive Technology ProCinema 800 5.1 speaker system arrived complete in one box. This box is about the size that most 12″ subs are packed in. So it was with relative ease and substantial pleasure that I hauled it into the theater for unpacking. If you purchase the ProCinema 800 system as a pre-packaged set, then speakers come in black only. The speakers are available in white when you purchase each component separately. The MSRP is the same either way you choose to purchase your speaker system.
The four satellites are the ProMonitor 800’s. These roughly quart-sized speakers are very solidly constructed with a high gloss finish. The enclosures’ slim, curved shape is said to reduce diffraction to improve dispersion and imaging. The satellites come equipped with small rubber-tipped tripod feet for shelf placement. The speakers have ¼” 20 threaded inserts on the back and can thus be wall mounted using optional articulating wall mounts which are available from you Definitive Technology dealer. The speakers can also be mounted on dedicated 30″ stands which are also available as an optional accessory.
The satellite speakers and the center channel speaker, the ProCenter 1000, all have a single 1″ pure aluminum dome tweeter. Definitive Technology says that the dome’s material is heat-treated to relax the crystal structure and then it’s coated with a ceramic material. The tweeter is also ferrofluid damped. Each tweeter is protected by a small plastic frame.
The ProCinema 800 and ProCenter 1000 speakers’ most unique feature are their main drivers: the 4.5″ High-Definition Balanced Double Surround System (BDSS). This patented technology includes the typical surround at the cone’s outer edge and one near the center of the cone where you would usually find a dust cap or phase plug. This allows a more linear cone excursion and eliminates some of the possible breakup modes that standard drivers might exhibit. These drivers have waveguides that are said to smooth the off-axis response. The cones are made of mineral-filled monpolymer. These drivers are supported by cast baskets and feature oversized motor structures. They are coupled to a flat 4.5″ passive radiator. The passive radiator is mounted on top of the enclosure on the ProCinema 800 and on either end of the enclosure in the ProCenter 1000.
The included sub is the ProSub 800. This 8″ sub is powered by a 300 watt MOSFET amplifier. The active driver is front-mounted and has a generous surround to accommodate the long throw driver. The sub has a down-firing 8″ passive radiator. The ProSub 800’s solid monocoque cabinet is said to be heavily braced. This design reduces sympathetic cabinet vibrations. The sub is available in matte black or matte white. The plate amp has an LFE line in. It also has speaker level ins and outs. There is a continuously adjustable low pass crossover as well. This sub does not have a main power toggle, a phase control or a switch to defeat the crossover. The maximum crossover setting is 150 Hz and is said to be a high order design which means it has a steep roll off slope.
The sub’s volume control is mounted on the side of the cabinet. I really like this because I usually like to adjust the sub a little for different program material. This is one of the most convenient ways to adjust the sub level, short of a wireless remote.
Setup and Use:
I placed the speakers in the usual locations around my theater. That means that the front ProCinema 800’s were placed on my 10″ Sound Anchor stands beneath the outer edges of my 100″ wide front screen. I honestly did not like the sound of the ProCinema 800’s in that position. At this placement, the soundstage was too narrow and the speakers sounded boxy, even in my generous open-backed cabinet. So I got on the phone right away and requested a pair of the dedicated 30″ stands for the ProCinema 800’s. With the stands in place, I was able to place the speakers farther apart and in an open air environment. I toed them in slightly. Now the ProCinema 800’s are free to sound their best. Open, unrestrained and extended on top. The sound from this system is consistently amazing for its size and price point.
All the passive speakers in the ProCinema 800 system have heavy duty gold-plated binding posts. The posts are recessed in an input cup and could prove a bit of a challenge for mounting with bare wire or spades. For the record, I use 14G bare wire for my rear speakers and I had no problems connecting the rear speakers.
The ProCenter 1000 can be wall mounted just like the ProCinema 800’s, only it requires 2 mounting brackets. I did not wall mount it. Instead, I placed it on a shelf perfectly centered beneath my display. The center speaker has an adjustable rubber foot in the back of the cabinet. You can use this foot to vary the speaker’s vertical orientation by screwing it either in or out. I naturally adjusted the speaker to aim toward my head (and the heads of other adult audience members?.)
I tried three different crossover settings for the satellites – 120 Hz, 100 Hz and 80 Hz. The 80Hz setting made the bass sound detached from the rest of the music. At 120 Hz, the bass was much better integrated, but it was way too localized. 100 Hz proved to be an excellent compromise between the two. The bass rarely became detached from the music and it was pretty diffuse in the room.
The ProSub 800 is remarkably powerful. When I first approached the sub to adjust the volume as it was playing, the vibration of the sub was so forceful, I actually flinched at first. It seemed like it was going to blast off! I never really got used to the sensation of adjusting the sub when it was playing at normal levels because of its high output. This translated into a reasonably clean, balanced and tuneful performance that did an incredible job filling my large theater with the sounds from all manner of movies and music. I think I can safely say that the good people at Definitive Technology have not yet solved the mystery of intergalactic travel. But I did get the feeling that the ProSub 800, if properly motivated, might be able to generate enough energy to achieve the necessary escape velocity and vault itself into a geosynchronous orbit around the Earth. Or maybe it just seemed that way.
ProCinema 800 Speakers on the Bench
All measurements shown are in-room response. The first series of measurements were taken at 1-foot on axis.
I tested the ProCinema 800’s 4.5″ BDSS main driver at 250Hz and 1kHz at 90db at each point. The speaker has a very clean spectrum at both of these frequencies.
I tested the tweeter of the ProCinema 800 at 10kHz. Its THD measurement at 90db was only 0.18%.
The on-axis frequency response result at 1 meter was acceptably flat between 150Hz and 20kHz. The bass rolled off starting around 150Hz.
The frequency response of the ProCinema 800 at 30 degrees off axis shows some roll off of the upper frequencies starting at about 16kHz and its down about 8db by 18kHz.
I measured the ProSub 800 at in room at 1m. I was thoroughly amazed at the clean response the sub produced at 35Hz and 90db.
The response was also very clean at 100Hz. There was a little more distortion at 50Hz. This is most likely due to cabinet resonances. But this level of distortion is really inaudible at this frequency.
The frequency response of the ProSub 800, also measured at 1m, shows that the sub generates strong response down to about 40Hz at which point it begins a gentle roll off.
All in all, these are mighty impressive tests results for compact speakers at this price point.
System Performance Observations
What more can be said about Avatar that has not already been said? I thought this movie was a cinch to win the Oscar for Best Picture this year. I can only imagine that Hurt Locker must have just barely edged out Avatar for this accolade. In my humble opinion, Avatar has a stronger message than Hurt Locker and it is so finely crafted. This Blu-Ray is so well produced and I’ve watched it a number of times already. This makes for excellent review material.
The disc loaded very rapidly on the BDP-1. The motion detail was a little better than average on this system. The CGI scenes looked better than the live action scenes, from both a resolution and a dynamic range standpoint. The colors were not as saturated as I remember from the theatrical presentation. Still, I felt transported to this mythical world due to the excellent motion smoothness and detail in the CGI scenes.
On the audio front, the bass needed to be adjusted slightly at first. This is where the side-mounted volume knob is very handy. The sub must have a limiter circuit because I only rarely heard sounds of doubling on this very active soundtrack. The sounds in the Hometree attack scene were very appropriately sickening. The sub doesn’t have the highest degree of slam on movies. I got in-room bass response to about 32 Hz or so. Be that as it may, I found the bass to be strong and clean sounding on all actual program material.
The sound was characterized by a flat frequency response, an open sound field and a very articulate top end. The voices may sound a little nasal at times, but they were always sharp as a tack. The satellites also have very good mid-bass response as advertised. All in all, these speakers don’t give up a lot to more expensive products from many other manufacturers . . . the sequence where Sully bonds and then flies the Eclan alongside Neytiri had me on the edge of my seat.
Next up was the Blu-Ray of Brothers. Although I felt that the acting was a little contrived throughout, I did enjoy this movie. It did a reasonably effective job demonstrating how war can shatter peoples’ lives and even makes some of them into animals.
The sound was ever so slightly tilted up, but very, very smooth. The bass lines in the opening scene and on the music throughout provided a solid anchor to the sound when called upon. Voices, both loud and soft, just poured out of the center speaker. This system competently filled my large room with sound, but with a slightly restricted sound stage height. The system did a fantastic job with all the various environmental sounds in Brothers – with exceptional delicacy and air.
The Brothers disc loaded quickly in the BDP 1. The picture was smooth but detailed. The colors had a very natural tone. The ice rink scene in the snow fall was a good example of the system’s strength at delivering a natural and detailed picture, even when there was a decent amount of motion in the picture.
A friend of mine gave me a copy of Poet: A Tribute to Townes Van Zandt. This incredible CD features 15 original Van Zandt compositions performed by 15 different guest artists. I ripped it to my iPod Touch using Apple Lossless Encoding and then played it back over The Bridge III.
Once the system was warmed up, the sound of Poet over the AVR 3600 was pleasant. I felt that “Highway Kind” by the Cowboy Junkies was haunting. And Emmylou Harris’ voice floated from the center speaker on “Snake Song”. I actually thought that all the voices sounded good, from the gravelly low tones of John Prine to the plaintive wails of Lucinda Williams. But the sound was hampered by a persistent digital haze that distorted the leading edges of notes. Still, I felt that the sound was fairly close to CD quality. Be that as it may, I wound up using The Bridge III for casual listening only.
The Definitive Technology speakers were quite impressive on Poet. The tweeters had an uncanny ability to render the upper harmonics of string instruments. The soundstage was wider than average while the front to back presentation was a little more forward than I usually get on this album. I was able to obtain a balanced bass response that was strong enough to provide a solid foundation for the music.
I closed out my critical listening with the 1993 CD release of Frank Sinatra Duets. This album, which had the Chairman singing along with an all star line-up of performers from Anita Baker to Luther Vandross, has gone triple platinum. I listened to this CD on the BDP 1 feeding the AVR 3600 over HDMI. I set the receiver to DPL II.
Several layers of digital haze were stripped away and I discovered this system’s true potential sound quality. I could differentiate the precise locations of the performers. I thought that the sound field was very wide to the point that the orchestra sounded downright majestic. The sub was quite nimble and well integrated even if it didn’t play super loud. Don’t forget that this is an 8″ sub that retails for just $399!
The standout tracks on Duets are “New York, New York” with Tony Bennett, “I’ve Got the World on a String” with Liza Minnelli and “I’ve Got You under My Skin” with Bono. This CD is a veritable hit parade. I found that the horns, especially the muted trumpets, sounded much more real than I expected at this price point. The speakers, in particular, really did sound big with this orchestra.
This complete system is very accomplished in many areas. The Harman/Kardon electronics have an ease and panache in their styling and performance that makes them hard to resist. The BDP 1 Blu-Ray player has excellent video quality; it loads fast and has a great remote. The AVR 3600 receiver is up to date with HDMI 1.4 upgradeability, powerful output stages, slick menus and excellent video processing. The AVR 3600 has a major value-added bonus as it comes with a fully functional iPod docking station at no extra charge.
The real star of the show, however, is the speaker system. The Definitive Technology Pro Cinema 800 system is a complete 5.1 system that retails for just $1,199. Don’t let the price tag fool you into thinking that these are cheapo speakers. These speakers will delight you with what may be the best bang for your buck deal in the Home Theater marketplace. Despite their small size; the satellites produce tangible mid bass, transparent mid range and sparkling highs. The included compact sub boasts a beefy little amp and high excursion driver. This little sub filled out the lower octaves much better that I expected it would based on its size and price. I did prefer their performance on films a little more than with music, but I honestly can’t think of a speaker system that offers better performance at this price point . . . highly recommended.
- Superior Price/Performance Ratio Speaker System
- Powerful Amplification System
- Included iPod Docking Station
- HDMI 1.4 Compatibility
- Excellent Video Quality and Processing
- Docking Station has Pedestrian Audio Performance
- Somewhat Cumbersome Control Interface
- Player is not “Universal”