Harman Kardon AVR 630 Receiver 
Home Theater AV Receivers AV Receivers
Written by Matthew Evert   
Saturday, 01 May 2004

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.

Music and Movies
My accompanying audio equipment to the AVR 630 was a Marantz DV8400 DVD player, Polk Audio LSi Series speakers, and an Energy ES10 subwoofer. A few of my audiophile pals have been raving about the latest DTS version of Diana Krall’s Love Scenes (DTS Entertainment), so I thought I would try it out for myself. “All or Nothing at All” sets the stage for what one expects from Ms. Krall. A modern day Billie Holiday, Krall makes listeners swoon with her soft and soothing voice. There is a noticeable echo to her voice that is well reproduced by the AVR 630. This track was light on the high frequencies, but did explore the midrange extensively with the piano and electric guitar interludes. Russell Malone on the guitar shows off his talent by imitating a popping cork sound and a bongo-like instrument with his guitar. “Peel Me a Grape” continues to explore the jazz singer’s artistic talents by having her find a half-dozen ways to croon about peeling a grape. Her voice sounds lush and the creeping sound of the bass guitar is well expressed by the AVR 630. There is a great sense of transparency and an overall sense of ease that is not typical in this price class.

Those familiar with the electronic music genre might know Armand Van Helden. Starting as a DJ at the age 15, Van Helden quickly became a renowned re-mixer for artists such as Tori Amos, Janet Jackson and the Rolling Stones. Van Helden’s 2Future4U album (London Records) is a prodigal compilation of some of his best remixes to date. “Mother Earth” is a nice challenge to the audio range of the AVR 630, demanding much in terms of bass. The pumping bass characteristic to most house music and the thunder clasps in the background is definitely present with the AVR 630. Meanwhile, the dynamic use of bass does not hamper the ability of the receiver to emit the siren-like cries of the female singer in the background at all. “Psychic Bounty Killaz” ups the ante by creating a faster tempo and adding lots of samples that quickly start and stop. The pace and tempo of the bass is never sluggish through the AVR 630 and my head continued to bob with satisfaction with this track as well. The amp was not pounding my chest with bass, but it did manage to bring me into the music and not fatigue my ears at all. I must point out that the Polks are not particularly easy to drive, and yet this moderately-rated receiver had some low-end authority.

For movies, I began with the action thriller “XXX” (Columbia/TriStar Home Entertainment). Vin Diesel plays a street punk adrenaline junkie who turns secret agent. This James Bond wannabe flick has its moments of incredible stunts, but lacks the polish and charm that we are used to with 007. Diesel’s acting is just as bad as it was in “The Fast and the Furious,” but he is a hunk, so he draws the crowds (my girlfriend’s opinions, not mine). The opening scene of Diesel stealing a senator’s Corvette is classic, crunching the shifter into reverse and peeling out of the valet area with metal music jamming in the background. The sound of smashing glass squeaks out of the surround speakers as Diesel crams the ‘Vette into a corridor obviously not sized for the side mirrors of the car. The ‘Vette launching off the bridge is intense. The movie silences nearly all sound as the car soars through the air. Wind whistling and a eagle’s cry are all that remains until the car explodes into the ravine. Then the Drowning Pool’s “Let The Bodies Hit The Floor” starts jamming. Sweet, the senator is punished for banning rap music and video games, right? Wrong. This stunt leads to Diesel’s character being forced into a training program and transformed into a secret agent (yeah, right). On the bright side, the snowboarding scenes and explosions are great. The exploding of the Columbian drug lab was so realistic that it filled my room with detailed rumblings and concussion waves from all six speakers.

“Kill Bill Volume One” (Miramax) was so awesome in the theaters that I had to review it with my audio equipment on DVD as soon it came out. Those with weak stomachs need not apply, as this movie is very violent. It is ridiculously gory at times as part of the comical mind of filmmaker Quentin Tarantino comes to light. The movie is a spoof on the Hong Kong action and old-school western flicks of time gone by. “Kill Bill” is a story about revenge and the code of the modern-day samurai. It does have some cool fight scenes, starting with Copperhead (Vivica A. Davis) and Black Mamba (Uma Thurman). This knife fight has it all, whistling noise as blades cut through the air while the girls are grunting and blurting out some Karate talk in Japanese. Heck, my eyes winced as I heard the cracking of Black Mamba’s knee with a wooden table leg wielded by Copperhead. There are lots of breaking glass noises throughout this scene to test both bass and high frequencies of your audio system. The Harman Kardon AVR 630 does an excellent job extracting the most finite of details and plays very loudly without signs of dynamic compression. The mosquito flying around as Black Mamba lies on the floor of the church and in the hospital bed is great for testing the surround sound of your system. That bug seemed to travel right, left, behind me and all around me. It seemed so real that I was tempted to get up and find the swatter. The sound of squirting blood from the dismembered Crazy 88 henchmen body parts is like an open fire hydrant erupting on hot summer day. This may seem grotesque to some people, yet comical to others. Just remember kids, it’s just a movie so don’t try this at home.

“Powaqqatsi” (MGM Home Entertainment) is an artistic documentary done as a joint venture with filmmakers George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola. Excellent cinematography and brilliant contrast of colors fill this film. Unfortunately, I never understood the purpose of where the directors were trying to take you and got lost in all the images of Third World countries. The soundtrack gets old after a while, but in the beginning has some glaring trumpets and flutes that are sweet and detailed. Scenes of Indian fisherman tossing nets into the roaring ocean next to crashing waves are spectacular. High-frequency sounds, such as tambourines banging, are adequate but not as prominent and detailed as on my Parasound amplifier with the same track. However, for a 75-watt receiver, the AVR 630 performed up to my expectations. Erie oboes howl and the voices of children fill the sound stage as the director moves the film into a Buddhist Temple. If there was one thing I learned from this flick, it is that there is no shortage of mud, corn stalks and brown rivers in India. The contrast of the bright red and orange clothes against these earth tones throughout the movie is stunning.

The Downside
Mostly small tweaks are needed to improve this product to the perfect category. The unit unfortunately uses a little too much plastic on the front panel and I felt like I was going to break the flip-down panel every time I wished to open or close it. Since there is much useful functionality underneath this panel, I would have used metal or a more sturdy plastic design to be more resistant to breakage and/or wear. When I picked the unit up out of the box, I accidentally flipped down the access panel and I felt like I might have broken it. Also, I did not like how all the buttons look the same under the panel. The left/right arrows and the select button should be arrows and not round buttons to make them easier to spot and use.

The back of the unit is not ideally laid out, in my opinion. The audio and video connectors are on opposite sides of the back panel. This means that if you use plastic ties to group your audio/video signals for each component together, it will be harder to do so on this product. Lastly, the main remote is very functional, but a little counterintuitive my opinion. Harman Kardon uses a different scheme for the DVD/CD controls that I have seen before, so it took me a while to get used to it. Of course, if you’re the type who reads the manual immediately, this probably will not bother you at all. Again, I am being picky, since I hope that one day receivers are so easy to set up that I can stop going over to my friends’ houses and doing it for them. Some of the products that are competitive with the AVR 630 are Sony STR-DA4ES, Denon AVR-3805 and Onkyo TX-NR901. The major differences are in the power department, THX certification and Internet radio. The Sony is 110 watts per channel rather than the AVR 630’s 75 watts and is $300 less expensive. Sony makes some good equipment in its ES family of receivers. The Denon AVR-3805 also sports more power (120 watts per channel) and uses the acclaimed Burr-Brown DACs for higher-quality digital conversion to analog. Lastly the Onkyo sports 110 watts per channel, THX certification, and a built-in Internet radio -in. However, I have yet to perform detailed auditions on any of the aforementioned products and specs tell little about overall performance.

The Harman Karmon AVR 630 is a lot of receiver for the money. There are few receivers in this price range with the amount of creative and useful features that this unit possesses. The clever graphical front panel display, the remote with built-in sound meter, the advanced DSPs (especially the ones for the headphones) and the extra multi-room remote all are unique to this receiver. Harman Kardon gets it when it comes to providing a product with features that a user will likely appreciate. The amplifier is rather small on paper at 75 watts per channel; however, the high current design provided more power than most people will need for their home theater demands. My 12-foot by 18-foot listening room was adequately filled with roaring bass and sweet midrange throughout my movie selections. The extra power and the THX certification never felt like it was noticeably missing in my experience. This is a unit that must be among your short list of receivers in this price range.
Manufacturer Harman Kardon
Model AVR 630 Receiver
Reviewer Matthew Evert
# of Output Channels 7.1

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