Harman Kardon AVR-235 A/V Receiver

Specifications:

Codecs: DD, DD-EX, Pro Logic II, IIX, DTS, DTS-ES,
   DTS Neo:6, Dolby Headphone, HK Logic 7
EZ Set Remote with Built-in SPL Meter
Power: 50 Watts RMS x 7 into 8 Ohms;
   65 Watts RMS in Two-Channel Mode THD: 0.07%
Audio MFR: 10 Hz 130 kHz 3 dB
Video MFR (Component): 10 Hz 30 MHz -3 dB
Dimensions: 6.8 H x 17.3 W x 15 D
Weight: 33 Pounds
MSRP: $549 USA

Harman/Kardon
www.harmankardon.com

Introduction

When Secrets asked me if I wanted to take part in the series on affordable receivers by reviewing one of Harman/Kardon's new 7.1 units, I gladly accepted.

I have been impressed with HK products in the past, and I was eager to try out one of their newer receivers that are chock full of features.

The Product Line

Harman International is a grouping of some very well known and successful audio brands, including Lexicon, JBL, Infinity, Harman/Kardon, Revel, and Mark Levinson.

Harman/Kardon is well known for their high-current amplifiers and receivers. They currently have three lines of receivers to choose from. These include digital path receivers, stereo receivers, and the AVR series of receivers, of which the AVR 235 is a member.

The AVR series has six different receivers, and they all feature the latest codecs, including HK's own proprietary Logic 7 sound mode. As you move up in this product line, you get more power per channel, more digital inputs, multi-zone support, and features to help with room set-up, such as automatic EQ adjustment.

The AVR 235 is the lowest priced 7.1 receiver of the bunch, at $549 MSRP. Features include seven channels at 50 watts RMS each, DD 5.1, DD PL-II, PL-IIx, DTS 5.1, DTS-ES 6.1 Matrix, DTS-ES 6.1 Discrete, and Logic 7. This receiver also features Harman Kardon's EZ Set remote and some flexible set-up options. Let's take a look.


 

Up Front

The Front Panel has a very modern look. The bottom half has a brushed metal finish, and the top half is black. The LED display outputs in a light blue and is complemented with the glowing neon blue of the volume knob and power button. HK added a dimming feature for this display and it can be dimmed to half output or no output. (Note: The power LED can't be adjusted and remains at full luminosity.)

The LED display shows the input that is selected with the type of connection it is using (analog or digital), the surround mode, and the speaker configuration that is currently active. The buttons and knobs on the front panel allow you to perform the speaker set-up, select the input, control the AM/FM tuner, and fine tune the sound with R/L balance and tone. The front panel also includes a digital input, an A/V input, and a headphone jack that features Dolby Virtual Speaker technology.

 
On the Back

The back panel has a multitude of inputs which make this receiver a great choice for an aspiring entertainment center with lots of devices. Specifically, there are four composite video inputs, four S-Video inputs, and two component video inputs. There are two digital inputs which accept either coaxial or optical connections, and there is both six and eight channel analog hookup for your DVD-Audio or SACD connections.

For outputs on this model, there are three composite, three S-Video, one component video, and one digital audio output (choice of coaxial or optical) which is used for digital recording on MiniDisc or DAT recorders for example. There is also a full set of 7.1 pre-outs, so you can use this receiver with a stand-alone power amplifier.

A nice addition, from an organizational perspective, is that Harman/Kardon color coded the speaker connectors as well as the pre-outs.

The Remote Control

The remote is a programmable universal unit that is able to control up to eight devices, as well as choose all the set-up options, surround modes, and inputs of the receiver. In other words, it is crammed full of buttons from top to bottom.

The top section of the remote lets you choose which input you want, the middle section allows you the most commonly performed functions such as changing volumes or channels, and the bottom buttons control the surround mode or input specific numbers. While HK's website describes this as a backlit remote, it wasn't obvious how to activate the backlight even after a perusal of the manual. Given there are so many small buttons on the remote, especially where it tapers at the bottom, it can be difficult to use at times, and even more so in the dark.

Another issue I have with the remote is that once you press an input button, you have to press the AVR button once again to control the receiver's volume. You can obviate this by setting up what the manual refers to as volume punch-through. I'd prefer a master volume button on the remote.

Despite the shortcomings with this remote, its features include macro programming and an SPL meter, which are very convenient and useful.

Set-Up

Set-up can be performed using the LED display, but it's easiest to use the on-screen menu (OSD or On-Screen Display), which is available by connecting a video cable from the composite or S-Video monitor-out to your display.

One standout feature of the remote control is the EZ Set SPL meter that's built into the top of the remote. By activating the EZ Set mode, you can hold the remote at arm's length and let it automatically adjust each individual speaker volume with the accompanying test tones. This feature worked pretty well in my tests. Verifying the settings using another SPL meter, most of the speakers were balanced while a couple of them were off by only a decibel or less. This remote would make set-up really easy for those not accustomed to setting speaker levels. Of course, speaker levels can be set manually as well.

Speaker delay is set by inputting the distance to the speaker (settings are in 1 foot increments, up to 30 feet). The AV 235 also has a global delay setting which can offset the sound of all speakers up to 80 ms. This is great for syncing up with video sources in displays that delay the video due to processing. Secret's Benchmark spec for this feature is 60 ms with 100 ms being preferred.

Bass management is done either by setting speaker size to Large or Small or by adjusting the independent crossover. The independent crossover is a thankful addition to this unit as it allows you to set the crossover of each individual speaker to a value between 40 Hz and 200 Hz.

One feature I would have preferred to have, that is missing from this receiver, is the ability to rename the inputs.

In Use

I placed the AVR 235 in my small entertainment room (10'x15'). The sources included a Panasonic CP82 DVD player, an XBox, and a PC Computer. Speakers were the Infinity TSS 750 HTIB system. I performed my evaluation by comparing the sound of an entry level receiver of another major brand to the sound produced from the AVR 235 in the same environment. The other receiver was around $250 or so, and the AVR 235 would be the next pedigree up from that type of unit. I listened to various media using the other receiver and then switched it out with the AVR 235 and then repeated listening to the same media.

After even just a few minutes of sound, the types of improvements the AVR 235 made to the sound quality were obvious. Most notably, there was a lack of distortion that was there previously and there was an exceptional clarity in the treble range. Drum cymbals rang clean instead of having small traces of hiss. Everything sounded clearer and the volume could be pushed much louder without becoming harsh and painful. 50 watts x 7 (All channels driven) doesn't sound like a lot of power, but by using efficient speakers, ample, even excessive volume can be reached with this unit. It was certainly plenty for my ears.

The performance of this receiver with movies and music was excellent. In movies, dialogue was enhanced because of the clean amplifier section, and action scenes were very exciting because of all the clarity and detail in the treble range. In music, all the instruments sound great, with enough clarity to make even very high pitched sounds like hi hats or cymbals sound pristine.

Listening Notes and Comments on Logic 7

I wanted to take a moment to describe the sound of Logic 7, because I found it very entertaining. Logic 7 music sounds full and more aggressive than other sound modes. It is sensitive to the natural characteristics of each instrument. Specifically, sounds like snare drums would go from sounding damped or muted to sounding forward with a nice crisp snap. Listening to the track entitled "Siegfried's Rhine Journey" on Richard Wagner's Opera Gotterdamerung, all the French horns came alive and sounded as they would if you were listening in a concert hall. Logic 7 adds excitement to music listening by enveloping the listener in a landscape of sound. My only criticism with this mode is that it made every instrument sound like it was placed right in the center of the soundstage. I suspect this might be because the center channel appears to be used for a lot of the voicing.

Moving along to Logic 7's Cinema Mode, the main difference I noticed, from standard decoders, was the aggressiveness that sounds would take on. For instance, in Disney Pixar's animation movie The Incredibles, scenes with fast moving objects sounded very sharp and in your face. The types of frequency ranges that are emphasized also add three dimensionality to the sound.

My conclusion on Logic 7's Music and Cinema modes is that they breathe new life into lots of different media and are a fun alternative to the other decoders that are available.

Video Performance with Component Video Inputs

To my naked eye, video performance with the component video inputs on the receiver was good. This makes the AVR 235 a viable choice for connecting two component video sources for use with one display, wired through the AVR 235. In my tests, I set up an Xbox directly to my 27 flat screen television using component cables. A few minutes later, I switched to inputting the Xbox through the receiver's component video inputs and then to the television. To my eye, the image was sharp and retained the color intensity that component connections bring. I didn't notice any problems with blurring or ghosting by using the receiver as a video switcher.

Conclusions

The AVR 235 is a great affordable receiver and has the functionality and sound quality to do the job right. It's versatile enough to connect lots of entertainment devices, and it has detailed set-up options that will please the audiophile. The AVR 235 offers the latest surround modes, and Harman/Kardon's proprietary Logic 7 mode is an entertaining alternative to some of the other popular decoders. Despite a few issues with the remote control and the lack of naming inputs, the AVR 235 is a winning product and one that I would recommend without hesitation.



- Adrian Wittenberg -

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