|Harman Kardon AVR 630 Receiver|
|Home Theater AV Receivers AV Receivers|
|Written by Matthew Evert|
|Saturday, 01 May 2004|
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There are few audio/video enthusiasts or even casual consumers that have not heard of the brand Harman Kardon. Founded by Dr. Sidney Harman, Harman Kardon has been contributing innovative hi-fi products to the market for over 50 years. They are responsible for many industry firsts: the first receiver (the festival D1000 in 1953), the first stereo receiver, the first cassette player with Dolby B, and the list goes on. Recently, Harman Kardon released the AVR 630, a cutting-edge A/V receiver that packs seven channels of high-current amplification with all the latest features in home theater technology for a price of $1,299.
The first thing you will notice about the AVR 630 is that it is gorgeous. I love how they ditched the traditional all-black steel chassis and went for the silver finish instead. The plastic front panel has a two-tone color scheme of silver and black with ultra-cool blue LEDs accenting the standby switch and the volume knob. The lower fifth of the panel is a fold-down panel that reveals additional controls and several inputs for various types of audio and video connections. The AVR 630 stands six-and-one-half inches tall, 17-3/8 inches wide, and 17-1/8 inches deep. At 41 pounds, the density of this receiver will be the first thing your back notices about the product. 75 watts of power going into seven channels has much to do with that.
Unlike most receivers, the AVR 630 has front panel controls that are very complete and can do most of the functions that the remote can do. For example, there are manual tuning functions on the front panel, so you do not have to set the presets prior to checking out some local radio stations. I also liked the very detailed graphic lighted display on the front panel. The dot-matrix-based display has a POST (power on self test) function that lights up all the possible settings/DSP modes at once when you power up the unit. This is great for troubleshooting issues if the screen goes out or if you’re just checking out all the modes this baby can do all at one time. There is a graphical virtual room on the front panel display that shows you which speakers are getting signal for that particular listening mode. This is a must for those of you who, like me, hate on-screen displays (OSD). It sure beats walking around the room to every speaker and putting your ear up to it to see if there is sound coming out. I know you’ve done this.
At first glance, the back panel of the AVR 630 looks like a Manhattan telephone switchboard, with inputs and outputs for video, audio, remotes, and whatever else you could possibly think of. Although this may sound intimidating, do not fear: Harman Kardon also pioneered the use of color-coding for connections on the back of its receivers. This greatly facilitates locating the correct plug for each speaker connection. For versatile types of speaker wire connections, dual banana plugs are employed for all seven speakers. A-BUS and RS-232 connections are available for remote zone operation and to enable future upgrades to the receiver, respectively. Harman Kardon components can be “daisy chained” together to create a large multi-room audio system, using a single remote via the remote input and remote output ports. A rare feature is the ability to connect a CD player via the optical output to the AVR 630 to perform HDCD® decoding on capable CDs. Similarly, a computer’s sound card can be connected to the receiver to perform MP3 playback as well.
Inputs include five S-video, five composite video, eight analog audio, three optical, three coaxial, two component video and 7.1 multi-channel inputs. Outputs include one component video, three S-video, three composite, four analog audio, eight channel pre-outs and, of course, the seven speaker connections. As mentioned earlier, there is a flip-down front panel that exposes more buttons to change settings on the receiver and a set of A/V inputs placed in the front of the unit. A set of stereo RCAs, a composite video, an S-video and an optical input all lie conveniently in the front of the receiver to make for easy camcorder playback or video game console set-up. This receiver can be used to power a pair of speakers in a second room or “Zone 2” speakers. These are the surround back left and right channels that are converted in this “Zone 2” mode to be the remote room’s left and right front channels.
The amplifier of the AVR 630 has the expected 75 watts (minimum) of continuous RMS power to each of the seven channels at eight ohms, from 20 Hz to 20 kHz, with no more than 0.07% THD. This figure increases to 90 watts when used in two-channel stereo mode. The Quadruple Crossover system allows for completely adjustable crossover for each pair of speakers (40-200Hz), giving the user customized control of the home theater set-up. Delays can be set for each speaker differences in speaker placement distances. An extensive bass management system is also available for SACD and DVD-Audio playback. You can adjust the amount of speakers that you currently have hooked up to allow you to build your home theater in stages. The coolest feature on this receiver is the EzSet functionality that allows you to easily adjust the output levels of each speaker without using a separate sound pressure meter. There is a sound pressure sensor built into the remote that allows you to adjust outputs to the listening position with ease. This is a feature that has been long overdue. There is no way to accurately set the volume levels without a SPL meter and most people don’t own them.
DSP modes are as plentiful on the AVR 630 as grandmas at a bingo tournament. Various DSP modes for theater and audio compatibility are available on this receiver, the most useful being Logic 7 and Direct Input. Logic 7 attempts to extract maximum surround information from either surround-encoded programs or conventional stereo material. This is very nice and it eliminates a lot of the fussing about with the receiver to find the optimal kind of surround sound for a given audio or video signal. I really like the six- and eight-channel Direct Modes, since these remove any unnecessary signal inference from the digital sections of the receiver when listening to SACD or DVD-Audio via the 5.1 (or 7.1) analog inputs -- better isolation means better sound. Another bonus feature is that the headphone jack has a Dolby Headphone DSP to emulate five-speaker surround through regular stereo headphones.
The digital-to-analog converter provides full PCM 24-bit/96kHz decoding on all channels from the most cutting edge high-resolution digital-audio sources, namely multi-channel Home Theater formats and DVD-Audio. The AVR 630 has built in all the most common home theater formats: Dolby Digital EX, DTS-ES (Matrix and Discrete), DTS Neo 6 and Dolby Pro Logic II.
The remote offers almost all of the unit’s total functionality and can be a very powerful tool for tweaking your home theater’s set-up. For common functions, it is easy to use (except the CD controls) and it features practical items like a light and intuitively shaped buttons. The remote allows the user to navigate through the on-screen display (via your TV) or via the front panel display of the receiver. The two-line LCD screen on the remote makes using the OSD unnecessary and does not add additional signals to your video path. Preprogrammed remote codes (for non-Harman Kardon brands of components) and learning remote functions are critical to using this one super-remote in place of the many remotes that came with all your other components. The macro feature allows you to reduce an operation that normally takes several key presses on the remote to one button press for additional ease of use. The tuner is the best I have reviewed in the $1,000 receiver category. It has excellent reception and the ability to manually tune stations or define up to 30 presets easily. A separate remote is provided for the multi-room Zone 2 speakers, although you may need an additional remote sensor to use the remote in another room.