HOME THEATER & SOUND -- www.hometheatersound.com



May
2005

Reviewed by
Vince Hanada
REVIEWERS' CHOICE 2005


Harman Kardon
AVR 7300
Audio/Video Receiver

Features SnapShot!

Description

Model: AVR 7300

Price: $2399 USD
Dimensions: 17.3"W x 7.6"H x 20.5"D
Weight: 55 pounds

Warranty: Two years parts and labor

Features

  • Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround EX, Dolby Pro Logic IIx, DTS 5.1, DTS-ES, DTS 96/24, DTS Neo:6 decoding
  • Logic 7 decoding of two-channel audio

Features (cont'd)
  • Triple Crossover (separate crossover functions for three sets of speaker groups)
  • Multichannel Digital Bass Manager for SACD and DVD-Audio
  • EZSet auto speaker-level calibration
  • HDCD and MP3 decoding
  • Faroudja DCDi video processing
  • 24-bit/96kHz DACs on all channels
  • High Instantaneous Current Capability
  • AM/FM tuner with 56 presets
  • Remote control with built-in SPL meter
  • RS-232 serial port, IR-control input, 12V trigger

Harman International is a large consumer-electronics conglomerate primarily based in Northridge, California, with offices across the US and throughout the world. Notable brands made by Harman include Infinity and JBL speakers, and Lexicon and Mark Levinson high-end electronics, among others. Harman Kardon, Harman International’s mainstream electronics label, competes with Japanese manufacturers such as Denon and Onkyo.

The subject of this review is Harman Kardon’s top-of-the-line receiver, the AVR 7300. At a list price of $2399, the AVR 7300 is significantly cheaper than the top-range Denon and Onkyo receivers but, as we shall see, competes well where it matters most: sound quality.

Description

While unpacking the AVR 7300, what impressed me first was its size. At 17.3" wide, 7.6" high, and 20.5" deep, it takes up a lot of real estate. The chassis is mostly silver, a refreshing change from the usual all-black home-theater components. Two-thirds of the front panel is covered in smoke-black Plexiglas; the bottom third is silver. The faceplate has a clean appearance, with a hinged plate covering some secondary controls. When the AVR 7300 is plugged in, a cool-looking blue light outlines the circumference of the volume control.

The front of the AVR 7300 has pushbuttons for easily selecting surround mode, AM/FM tuning, and source. The hidden controls concern the optical and coaxial digital inputs and outputs, S-video and composite video inputs, and left and right analog inputs. The digital display shows volume level, which speakers are active, and what surround mode has been selected. Overall, I found the AVR 7300 intuitive to operate.

The AVR 7300 is rated at 110Wpc for all seven channels. At first glance this doesn’t seem remarkable compared to many other receivers out there, but HK takes pride in stating that the rating represents "real-world wattage": 110W available to all channels simultaneously, 20Hz-20kHz. They also rate the receiver’s current output at a huge +/-75 amps. The front and rear channels are served by independent toroidal transformers, often used in high-end components for superior performance. A glance through the perforated chassis cover reveals huge finned heatsinks on both sides. These sinks alone evidently don’t provide enough cooling, however; there’s also an exhaust fan at the rear of the enclosure. I’m no fan of fans because of the noise they can make, but the AVR 7300’s fan noise was not obtrusive.

Features

The HK AVR 7300’s feature set is fitting for a flagship receiver. All of the latest surround-decoding formats are present, including Dolby Pro Logic IIx and DTS 96/24. There’s also Logic 7, originally developed for Harman International’s premier Lexicon surround processor. Logic 7 works much like Dolby Pro Logic IIx and DTS Neo:6 in synthesizing 5.1- and 7.1-channel soundfields from two-channel audio signals.

The AVR 7300 has what HK calls a Triple Crossover, a rare feature that I think all receivers and processors should have. With it, you can set the crossover frequency independently for each of three speaker sets: the center-channel, the front left and right speakers, and the surrounds. This level of adjustment will be an asset with 99% of the home-theater speaker systems out there, in which each speaker set has different bass requirements. With the Triple Crossover, bass management and, ultimately, sound quality can be optimized. The crossover frequencies selectable are 40Hz, 60Hz, 80Hz, 100Hz, 120Hz, and 200Hz. The settings can be applied to all inputs, or each input can have its own settings. Another useful feature is EZSet, which allows users to automatically calibrate speaker levels in their systems via a sound-pressure-level (SPL) meter built into the AVR 7300’s remote control.

The AVR 7300’s Multichannel Digital Bass Manager digitizes the analog eight-channel connections and applies bass-management settings to this input. The advantage of this is that you can have the same bass-management settings for a DVD-Audio or an SACD player connected to the eight-channel direct inputs as you can for the other digital connections. For those who argue that digitizing the analog signal will degrade the sound quality, the Bass Manager can be switched off.

The AVR 7300 uses Faroudja’s DCDi process to upsample all 480i video signals to 480p, including the onscreen display. This is a great feature -- the component-video outputs of VCRs, satellite boxes, and DVD players then need only be connected to your HDTV-ready display.

Setup

Using the onscreen display, setting up the AVR 7300 was a breeze. The OSD is clearly laid out, with setup selections for inputs, outputs, audio, video, and advanced settings. The audio setup of my system went smoothly, and I loved using the remote’s built-in SPL meter, which made setting the speakers’ individual volume levels easy. I ended up using the 40Hz crossover setting for my front left and right Mirage OM-9 speakers, 60Hz for the Mirage OM-C2 center-channel, and 80Hz for my OM-R2 surrounds. The remote’s buttons are well laid out, except for one: OSD. This tiny button, the one most often used during setup, is buried at the bottom of the remote’s array.

Video

Most of the AVR 7300’s settings are similar to those of most other receivers, except for the video parameters. The HK has the most sophisticated video setup I’ve seen. Not only can you toggle the Faroudja DCDi processing on and off, you can even toggle film-mode detection on and off, and optimize the output for different displays, such as LCD, CRT, or projection. And HK has gone over the top in providing a multitude of video test patterns for helping to optimize video quality.

Despite all this sophisticated video circuitry, I at first preferred the direct connection from my DVD player to my InFocus X1 projector, which has Faroudja DCDi built-in. I adjusted all of the settings, but still couldn’t get a satisfying picture. Then I switched off the HK’s Comp Video Enhance, and presto -- the picture quality improved immensely, becoming less pixelated, more filmlike. From then on, images looked as gorgeous as through my direct connection, with punchy colors and a smooth, filmlike picture. When I watched the parade scene in chapter 12 of Ladder 49, the natural colors of the faces stood out as perfectly reproduced. With video settings available for all types of connections -- composite as well -- I’m confident you’ll find that the AVR 7300 produces a gratifying picture with all your sources.

Sound

The AVR 7300’s sound quality was first-rate. Contributing to its excellent performance were this receiver’s high-powered amplifiers, which could easily control the demanding loads of my Mirage OM-9 speakers. In chapter 6 of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, a great dogfight rages through the streets of New York City. The roar of Sky Captain’s airplane was panned through each channel and reproduced with authority by the combination of AVR 7300 and Mirage speakers. The bullets from the aircraft landed with convincing thuds between the surround-speaker locations. The AVR 7300 played back every demanding DVD I threw at it without running out of power or finesse.

One important aspect of any receiver’s performance is how it handles two-channel audio. I’ve traditionally been a purist in this regard, never appreciating the various surround enhancements of two-channel audio available from today’s processors and receivers. However, the more I listen to these modes, the more I like them. In fact, I now prefer certain two-channel discs with surround processing on. The AVR 7300 includes three very good surround-sound processes: Dolby Pro Logic IIx, DTS Neo:6, and Logic 7. I was curious to see how Logic 7 would compare with the other two.

One album that I enjoy listening to in surround is Dire Straits’ Love Over Gold [Vertigo 800 088-2]. This 1982 CD is tailor-made for surround sound. In "Private Investigations," there were subtle differences in the use of the surround speakers. Logic 7 provided a middle ground between DPL IIx’s less reverberant sound and DTS Neo:6’s higher reverberation. In terms of bass response, Logic 7 again split the difference between DPL IIx (too much bass) and DTS Neo:6 (too little).

Comparison

I compared the AVR 7300 with my Sony STR-DA5ES, a top-range receiver from a few years back. Although lacking some of the newer formats, the STR-DA5ES has some terrific Sony DSP modes that I often use for home-theater playback. I’m not too fond of Sony’s music-enhancement modes, such as Jazz Club and Disco, but it, too, has DPL II and DTS Neo:6. Sony rates the STR-DA5ES the same as the AVR 7300 -- 110Wpc -- but to my ears, the Sony didn’t output anywhere near the power of the AVR 7300.

This lack of power forces me to make compromises with the Sony that I didn’t have to make with the HK. When playing back the fire scenes from Ladder 49, I set up the Sony and HK with identical crossover frequencies. But I couldn’t duplicate these scenes’ dynamics with the Sony until I raised the crossover frequencies 10-20Hz for each speaker, so that more bass was offloaded to my powered subwoofer. The HK delivered more power and better sound into lower frequencies.

Listening to two-channel music with surround-sound processing, I didn’t find the too-high bass levels present in DPL II processing through the Sony receiver compared to the HK AVR 7300. In back-to-back comparisons using the HK’s Logic 7 and the Sony’s DPL II, I found that Logic 7’s 5.1 Enhance mode provided the best results -- a sweeter sound. The disc I used was Barenaked Ladies’ Disc One: All Their Greatest Hits 1991-2001 [Warner Bros. CDW 48075]. While listening to "Lovers in Dangerous Times," I thought the strings sounded more realistic through the HK’s Logic 7 mode.

Conclusion

Although it lacks some conveniences found in other flagship A/V receivers, the sound quality of Harman Kardon’s AVR 7300 never disappointed me. I was blown away by the dynamic power of this receiver. With all of the DVDs and CDs that I threw at it, it never broke a sweat. Add the conveniences of needing only one video connection to my display device, Faroudja DCDi processing, and an SPL meter built into the remote control, and I can conclude only that this receiver is a winner that deserves its flagship status.

Review System
Speakers - Mirage OM-9 (mains), OM-C2 (center), OM-R2 (surrounds), OM-200 (subwoofer)
Receivers - Outlaw Audio Model 1050, Sony STR-DA5ES
Sources - JVC XV-721 DVD player, Sony DVP-NS650V SACD player
Cables - Sonic Horizons, TARA Labs, Nordost
Monitor/Projector - JVC 32" direct-view TV, InFocus X1 front projector
 

Manufacturer contact information:

Harman Kardon
205 Crossways Park Drive
Woodbury, NY 11797
Phone: (516) 255-4545
Fax: (516) 682-3520

Website: www.harmankardon.com

 


PART OF THE SOUNDSTAGE NETWORK -- www.soundstagenetwork.com

All contents copyright Schneider Publishing Inc., all rights reserved.
Any reproduction, without permission, is prohibited.

Home Theater & Sound is part of the SoundStage! Network.
A world of websites and publications for audio, video, music and movie enthusiasts.