Harman/Kardon AVR 340 7.1 A/V Receiver
- Codecs: DD, DPL-II, DTS, DTS-ES 6.1, DTS Neo:6,
- Weight: 24.4 Pounds
- MSRP: $899 USA
Harman/Kardon historically has been a brand that produced quality components. I remember being awed as a youth at a family friend's rig that included high end H/K equipment. Not only did it perform, but it looked cool as well.
In the last
several years, they have added entry and mid-level products to their lineup.
The Harman/Kardon AVR 340 receiver is a mid-level unit that includes some
excellent features for the MSRP of $899, and a street price even lower. I
took it for an extensive test drive, and found a lot to like.
Upon un-boxing the unit and putting it on my shelf, the AVR 340 instantly appealed to me. It conforms to Harman/Kardon's current two-toned style and svelte, minimalist look. The front panel features a blue electroluminescent readout accompanied by blue backlit logos for the various surround and DSP modes as well as the currently active speakers. To top it off, the volume knob is lined with a glowing blue light. As should be the case, you can either dim the display or turn it off completely. The bottom line is that this receiver looks great.
I made all of my standard connections, including my HD DVR, HTPC, SACD, and DVD players. The AVR 340 has a multitude of inputs, though no DVI or HDMI. It has two component video ports (I would have preferred to see three at this price point) and will up-convert all video signals to component output. In addition, it will send the on-screen menus over the component outputs, which I found to be particularly handy in that I only needed to run one cable from the receiver to my projector. However, the currently selected source must be 480i/p, as the 340 cannot overlay its display onto a higher resolution format.
The manual recommends certain device types be plugged into the first three video inputs as those device types are pre-programmed into the remote. However, you can label any input in any manner you choose, so if you do not plan on using the included remote control as your universal remote, you need not worry about where you plug in which device. For each input, you can actually give it any label you choose. You have access to a full list of alphanumeric characters. The benefits of this are obvious.
The AVR 340 also has 7.1 analog inputs most likely to be used by for SACD, DVD-Audio, HD-DVD, or Blu-ray player. These inputs have become standard on A/V receivers, mostly because of the next-generation audio formats that have not reallly taken off yet. However, with the next-generation video disc formats, the digital sound format decoding process has moved back to the player from the receiver (at least for the short term). The new surround formats such as Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Digital Plus, and DTS-HD cannot be decoded by any receivers at the moment. Thus, the limited number of players that are out there can do some of this decoding, but must pass the resulting discrete audio channels to the receiver either via HDMI (using uncompressed PCM), or by analog RCA cables. In the end, the analog inputs that were included in current receivers by and large for DVD-Audio and SACD have found new life due to HD-DVD and Blu-Ray. Of course, whether or not these disc formats will suffer the same fate as their audio brethren has yet to be seen.
Once connected and configured, it was time to try out the EzSet/EQ automatic speaker configuration program. Such a feature was limited to higher-end receivers only a year ago, and it is a welcome sight to see it trickle down into the more moderately priced models. I attached the supplied omni-directional microphone included with the 340 and began the set-up routines. After a couple of minutes, it was finished. I reviewed the settings and found them to be quite accurate. It identified all of my speakers as small, which is correct; and the distances were good as well. It did set my center and surround channels to a 100 Hz crossover, which I adjusted down to 80 Hz. To compare, I manually configured the 340 with my SPL meter and the Avia Home Theater set-up DVD. I found the few differences to be all by 1 dB up or down except for the sub, which was 2 dB louder with the auto-configuration. Each input has its own speaker configuration settings that can be saved. However, I prefer to begin with them all having the same baseline configuration, and then, if possible, adjust with source material played through each input. Overall, I was very pleased with the results of the Harman/Kardon auto-configuration.
Click on the photo above to see a larger version.
One set-up issue I did have with this unit was that when playing a source with a digital audio connection, as soon as a new surround format was detected in the digital bit-stream, the receiver would quickly switch to that format. For example, if I set the AVR 340 to Dolby Digital + PLIIx (meaning it uses the Dolby Digital signal for the discrete 5.1 channels, and then derives the two rear surround channels from the two main surrounds), and then played a DVD with a Dolby Digital track, it would switch back to pure Dolby Digital and the two rear surrounds would be turned off. This annoyed me quite a bit, but upon further examination of the manual I found that this is actually a feature in the advanced options menu called "Default Surround Mode". Basically, engaging this setting will cause the 340 to default to whatever surround mode is detected on the currently playing input.
If you put in a DVD with a Dolby Digital EX soundtrack it will automatically switch to that mode. However, if you prefer that additional processing of Pro Logic IIx, you need to turn this feature off if you don't want to manually switch to that mode every time a Dolby Digital EX signal is detected. I would have preferred for this to be the default behavior, as it is with my everyday receiver, but once I found this setting and turned it off, all was well.
Interesting and Unique Features
The HK340 has an excellent feature set for this class of receiver. In addition to the already covered AutoEQ, it has some some other great attributes that had previously been found on only higher-end units. Being in the Harman International group does have its benefits. As a cousin to the Lexicon family, the AVR 3430 has their proprietary Logic 7 processing. Much like Dolby Pro Logic II/IIx, or DTS Neo:6, Logic 7 takes a two-channel signal and derives either 5.1 or 7.1 channels of audio to create a full surround sound experience. I had wanted to hear Logic 7 processing for some time, and was excited to try it out. Since the competing formats came out several years ago, I have found that I prefer Pro Logic IIx processing to DTS Neo:6 for basically all sources that require such multi-channel extrapolation, but I hadn't yet heard Logic 7 in action.
The H/K limits you as to your surround formats based on what signal it detects. For instance, you cannot apply Logic 7 processing to a signal encoded with DTS or Dolby Digital. The receiver also features a mode called VMax, which creates a surround effect using just the two front speakers. There is both a near and far setting to create a smaller and more spacious effect, respectively. Dolby Headphone settings are also included.
Another great feature that many custom installers will appreciate is the second zone functionality. Included in the package is a small remote for controlling the second zone. You can attach a remote IR input to the receiver and drive two channels in the remote zone. Of course, if you choose to use to do this, you sacrifice internal amplification of the rear surround channels. You can add a separate two channel amplifier and output your second zone L/R channels to it via standard RCA connections. The 340 also is A-Bus compatible and can connect to such systems via Category 5/5e cabling with RJ-45 jacks.
One of the most interesting features of this receiver is the ability to plug in what H/K calls the "Bridge". Basically, it is a docking cradle for an Apple iPod that interfaces with the receiver so you can both control the iPod with the receiver's remote and also see what is playing on the receiver's display. Additionally, you have the option to let the 340 charge the iPod while it is docked. This is a very cool feature for those with the popular portable music jukebox (which, according to market share statistics, includes quite a few of you!).
The cradle fits all iPods that have a docking connector. It includes inserts for the cradle that create a snug fit for the iPod. There was no insert for my Nano at the time they sent me the Bridge, yet it would still lock into place on the dock and work perfectly. I am sure they now include such an insert. I have worked with several different types of home audio servers and network connected systems, and there are definitely advantages to that type of setup. However, one cool little trick about docking an iPod is that if you are out and about, and create an on-the-go playlist that you want to hear right away when you get home, all you have to do is pop the iPod into the cradle and select that playlist. Since the connection is via the dock connector, there is little, if any, loss of sound quality when playing the iPod in this fashion. Sure, it is most likely already in a compressed format such as MP3 or AAC, but it is still a superior method of connecting your iPod to your quality receiver than using the headphone jack. All in all, being able to integrate the iPod into your home theater is becoming a popular option among mid- and upper-level receivers, and is a very useful feature for the millions of people who have one.