Harman Kardon AVR 7300 Receiver 
Home Theater AV Receivers AV Receivers
Written by Andrew Robinson   
Saturday, 01 October 2005

If you’ve ever visited an audio/video store, chances are you’ve heard of Harman Kardon. HK is one of the oldest and most established brand names in the audio/video industry. Over the years parent company Harmon International has grown to include other brands such as JBL, Infinity, Mark Levinson, Lexicon and Revel, just to name a few. While their product lines run the gamut from entry level to ultra high end, the name Harman Kardon has remained somewhat entrenched in the entry-to-mid-fi markets. However, their new flagship AVR 7300 audio/video receiver is out to challenge that perception in a big way.

Out of the box, the AVR 7300 is a sight to be seen. At a retail price of $1,299, the AVR 7300 makes a real splash with regards to looks, sporting a stylish black Plexiglas and brushed aluminum front. Its controls glow a pale blue and add a pleasing sense of sophistication to a darkened room. In fact, it’s the only receiver I’ve had in my system that I didn’t immediately want to try to hide from view. Measuring 17.3 inches wide by seven-and-a-half inches tall by 20.5 inches deep, its size is a bit imposing. Tipping the scales at 55 pounds, the AVR 7300 can only be classified as a beast. However, its massive size is easily downplayed by its slick industrial design. Focusing my attention on the back of the AVR 7300, I noticed a slew of connection options laid out neatly and arranged in a very well-thought-out albeit intuitive manner. The AVR 7300 has three component video inputs, with a component video monitor out, making for a total of four component video jacks. The AVR 7300 has a total of six inputs and three outputs including monitor, composite and and S-video inputs as well. As far as audio connections are concerned, the AVR 7300 has over a dozen standard RCA connections, as well as four digital coaxial and four digital optical inputs, all of which can be assignable by the user. No high-end receiver is complete without five-channel direct inputs and complete seven-point-one preamp outputs, of which the AVR 7300 has both. Complete the package with above-average five-way binding posts for all of its seven channels and a detachable power cord and you’ve definitely got the makings of a serious receiver. While looks may appease the spouses, all of us are well aware that it’s the performance that counts most.

As for the audio portion, the AVR 7300 boasts seven channels capable of 110 watts of continuous power into eight ohms (all channels driven), jumping up to 125 watts of continuous power in stereo mode. It features all of the latest surround sound decoding options from Dolby and DTS, as well as numerous others, including Logic 7 and Harman’s own VMAx sound technology. VMAx , like Logic 7 and some of Dolby’s own music settings, is geared towards providing a realistic surround sound feel from traditional two-channel stereo sources. In keeping up with the latest trends, the AVR 7300 also offers a bevy of options aimed at the multi-channel music listener, such as full bass management and a quadruple crossover for its DVD-Audio and SACD direct inputs, as well as for its standard inputs. The AVR 7300 will also decode HDCDs and MP3s and includes Dolby’s latest headphone processing. The AVR 7300 also has multi-room or multi-zone capabilities, allowing you to enjoy different movie and music sources in various rooms of your home. Lastly, the AVR 7300 features Harman Kardon’s EzSet technology, which will automatically set and calibrate the 7300’s sound levels for optimal playback for both music and movies via its remote. That will be music to the ears of anyone looking to get 100 percent from their AV setup without having to hire a pro to achieve this.

Switching to the video side of things, the AVR 7300 most notably features Faroudja’s latest DCDi video processing and upscaling. In a nutshell, the Faroudja processing ensures that your video will be void of jagged diagonal lines motion artifacts. The AVR 7300 also comes equipped with complete video switching and up-conversion to the AVR 7300’s component outputs. Lastly, all of the AVR 7300’s component inputs are high bandwidth HD-compatible.

Departing from the AVR 7300’s seemingly flawless design, the remote leaves a lot to be desired. It’s pretty traditional in the sense that it’s rather large, bulky and completely cluttered with countless buttons and controls. Laid out in no real discernable order, it does however feature backlighting and a built-in SPL meter, which is used in conjunction with Harman’s EzSet programming for calibrating speakers. Overall, this remote is very functional but nevertheless awkward.

I found the AVR 7300 pretty darn easy to connect to the rest of my system. True, its size did make it difficult to get onto the top shelf of my rack, but once it was there, making the proper connections was a snap. Harman Kardon earns high marks for not excessively cramming the back panel with all of its inputs. Everything is clearly labeled and, with the help of Harman’s quick-start guide, I had everything connected and ready to go in record time. I connected the AVR 7300 to my recently reviewed Definitive Technology ProCinema 80 speaker system. I connected my Panasonic PT500U HD projector to the AVR 7300 via its component monitor out. As for a source, I opted for the Denon 3910 universal player feeding the AVR 7300 both music and movies. I’d like to point out that the Denon 3910 has both DVI and HDMI capabilities. However, since the AVR 7300 offers neither of those options, I had to go with a standard component connection.

Out of the box, the AVR 7300 is ready to rock, but if you’re buying a top of the line receiver, you’re going to want to tailor it for the best possible playback in your system. Enter the countless menu and set-up options. Whether you’re a newbie or a seasoned pro, it is often no easy task calibrating a receiver. Harman has stepped up to the plate with their EzSet feature. Anything to expedite the set-up process – I gave it a whirl. It’s easy enough to get started; however, I never got it to work 100 percent and eventually opted for a manual set-up. Make sure you have the manual handy, because the AVR 7300 possibly has more set-up options than the reactor at Los Alamos National Labs. If you’re at all squeamish when you see even a DVD menu, then you should have your dealer calibrate your AVR 7300.

Music and Movies
I started my evaluation with the AVR 7300 in a more traditional two-channel role. Given Harman Kardon’s history in audio, I had pretty high expectations, so I fed it one of my current favorites, Coldplay’s A Rush of Blood to the Head (Capitol). On the track “In My Place,” the AVR 7300’s enhanced power in stereo mode allowed for the music to flow effortlessly from my speakers. Chris Martin’s vocals were rich and creamy, which was a new experience for me as I’ve always found his voice to be a bit lithe. All of the details were present, but I found the overall sound to be a bit full. Imaging was good for a receiver, but as the music became more dynamic and complex, I noticed some sonic “bunching” or compression around my speakers. Bass was quite good, with solid impact, yet it lacked some weight with some music selections. Moving on to the track “Warning Signs,” the vocals were spot-on, focused and very airy, showcasing Martin’s vocal talents. Again during simple passages, the AVR 7300 had a wonderful center image, but like before, as the music became more dynamic, the AVR 7300 seemed to hide within the speakers’ boundaries. I also found myself having to adjust my sub to get proper bass response. I was always able to achieve an appropriate balance, but it did get to be a bit trying having to constantly make the trip to and from my listening chair and my sub. Overall, I found the AVR 7300 to be a bit on the soft side. It never quite made me feel as emotionally engaged with this album as I have in the past.

To further test the AVR 7300’s strengths, I chose Wheatus’ debut self-titled album (Columbia). Wheatus rose to fame with their catchy pop-rock track “Teenage Dirtbag,” which was featured in the not so hit film “Loser.” On the opening track “Truffles,” there is a ripping guitar track that the AVR 7300 did well with, yet failed to rock my world. Again, all of the music was there, but it just didn’t move me. During the track “Teenage Dirtbag,” I was able to achieve proper bass response, and while it was a long time coming, it was well worth it. It was tight and well-defined and plunged low enough for me to feel it in the seat of my pants.

All throughout my two-channel listening, I noted that while I wouldn’t accuse the AVR 7300 of editorializing, it did seem to cast a greater light on certain elements of the music, mainly the midrange. It was never fatiguing, nor did it ever to threaten to shake my pictures off the wall. All in all, it reminded me a lot of some vintage tube gear that I grew up with, which was a nice trip down memory lane.

Moving on to multi-channel audio, I opted for the DVD-Audio disc of The Best of REM (Warner Brothers). On the track “Man on the Moon,” I immediately noticed a huge improvement in bass in both impact and depth. The rim shots also showed off the AVR 7300’s sudden increase in detail. Michael Stipe’s vocals were rich and inviting. One thing that kind of took me by surprise was the AVR 7300’s somewhat diminished soundstage, causing even more bunching to occur around the speakers. This was undoubtedly caused by dynamic compression, the result of over-driving the amplifiers.

I moved on to movies and threw caution to the wind and went with the U.S. version of “Godzilla” (Columbia/TriStar). The creative duo of Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich must really have a hate for New York, because they just kick the crap out of that city in every film they make. The AVR 7300 provided an excellent surround sound experience, allowing all the devastation to unfold in a very realistic 360-degree space. I would have liked a little more energy in the high frequencies to better solidify the sense of doom and destruction, but what was there was good. Godzilla’s ominous growl ultimately failed to get my pulse pounding the way I’ve experienced in the past. Time and time again, the AVR 7300 proved to be more or less casual in its presentation, opting to speak softly yet never threatening me with a big stick.

There are two sides to every story and the video portion of the AVR 7300’s presentation may just be worth the price of admission. Again, looking to “Godzilla,” the AVR 7300 in conjunction with its Faroudja processing really began to flex its muscle. During the diner scene just before Godzilla comes to town, Matthew Broderick’s movie girlfriend is watching the news. Not only were the colors of the diner vibrant and beautifully saturated, the AVR 7300 had a way with skin tones as well. My projector has a tendency to go a little red, yet with the AVR 7300 in the chain, I was able to achieve a harmoniously rich palette of natural skin tones without making people look like they’ve just stepped from a Coppertone ad. The AVR 7300 was also great at differentiating multiple layers of action, never once giving me a sense of spatial compression. Regardless of the scene, the AVR 7300 always presented a warm, rich and well-defined image full of vibrant colors and detail with excellent black levels.

Moving on to the film “Cast Away” (20th Century Fox), I was treated to absolutely everything the AVR 7300 had to offer. Not only was the sound to die for, but the picture was also a delight. First off, once Tom Hanks is stranded on the tropical island, the film is all about sonic subtlety. The AVR 7300 proved its prowess in digging deep and retrieving every little bit of the beautiful DTS soundtrack. I could hear every rustle of the palm trees, even those deepest in the forest. In the scene when Hanks awakens with his face in the sand, I could make out every individual grain without them seeming overly pixilated. I could see and make out the varying shades of Hanks’ sun and windburns as the film and his time on the island progressed. During the scenes when he is trying to escape, the foaming white tops of the waves never once showed any signs of pixilation. I really enjoyed what the AVR 7300 brought to the table with this film, so much so I stopped taking notes

The Downside
For starters, while I liked the overall appearance of the AVR 7300, I found that it might become an issue keeping it free of fingerprints and smudges. Also, I found the small flip-down drawer on the front, hiding the front AV inputs, to be a bit flimsy and possibly prone to damage. I’d like to point out that I found the external packaging box of the AVR 7300 to be a significant issue. For a flagship product, I felt by no means that the AVR 7300 was packaged appropriately.

The AVR 7300 has an internal fan to keep the Faroudja processors cool, and while I’m happy that the designers have taken the AVR 7300’s heat issues into consideration, I found the receiver still got warm to the touch. Temperature aside, the biggest issue with the fan was the fan itself. It is loud and, during even moderate listening sessions, it could be heard whirring from across the room. I recommend placing the AVR 7300 in a well-ventilated cabinet to counter the noise issue.

I took issue with the remote. It lacked the intuitive layout found on the rear of the receiver. Also, while it has a backlight option, it manages to light most of the remote’s controls without illuminating most of their labels, making it a chore to operate in the dark.

As for Harman’s EzSet feature, which was designed to make set-up a breeze, it never worked as advertised. Although I applaud the design philosophy, it failed to live up to its hype.

With an all-new format war looming between HD-DVD and Blu-ray, one thing that is certain is the need for HDMI and DVI inputs and switching. While the AVR 7300 performed very well with video and DVD sources, it in no way matched the quality of the picture I got straight from my Denon 3910 via its DVI output. I was told that HDMI switching is in the plan for the next generation flagship receiver from HK, but that doesn’t help here. While other receiver companies have multiple HDMI inputs, which allow you to flawlessly and simply switch your D-VHS deck and HD-DVR today, with room to add an HD disc player and an HD video game down the road, the HK AVR 7300 leaves you needing a switcher box.

The AVR 7300 is Harman Kardon’s latest attempt at a no-holds-barred audio/video receiver amidst some stiff competition. While the built-in Faroudja processing definitely helps propel the AVR 7300 beyond your typical Best Buy find, its lack of HDMI/DVI support keeps it from being truly state of the art. The AVR 7300 doesn’t quite pack a wallop as far as sound goes, but if your tastes lean toward the Norah Jones or Diana Kralls, the AVR 7300 may be for you. Careful speaker matching is a must, as you will want to match the AVR 7300 with at least moderately efficient speakers. There is no question the look and sound are the reason why you invest in a Harman Kardon AVR 7300. Careful consideration about future formats and how you use your theater is a must before you plunk down your platinum card.
Manufacturer Harman Kardon
Model AVR 7300 Receiver
Reviewer Andrew Robinson
# of Output Channels 7.1

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