Home Toys Review
- September 2005 -
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Harman/Kardon's fine AVR 630 receiver was still in my equipment rack when the mother of all HK receivers, the AVR 7300, arrived at my door. At $2,399 list price, the AVR 7300 costs considerably less than competitors' top-of-the-line offerings, but it was still nearly twice the price of the AVR 630 (now replaced by the AVR 635). I was curious to find out what the venerable A/V company had put into its flagship product.
At first glance, the AVR 7300 shares many of the attributes with the AVR 630. In fact, visually, the products are almost identical (particularly from the front). The AVR 7300 is 1 inch taller than the AVR 630, and 3 ½ inches deeper (which made rack mounting a little challenging).
The 7300 weighs in at 55 pounds (14 pounds heavier than the AVR 630), and while that doesn't seem particularly heavy in the abstract, I realized that it is as much as my daughter weighs (and I wouldn't try squeezing her into a 19" wide rack space).
You don't need to be a rocket scientist to understand the weight difference. The AVR 630 is rated at 75 watts/channel x 7, while the AVR 7300 can produce 110 watts of continuous power x 7, all channels driven simultaneously.
I struggled to imagine a real-world circumstance under which I would be pushing seven channels that hard at the same time. The closest I came up with was playing multi-channel music through the five main channels at concert volume (the SACD version of Dark Side of The Moon for example), while the wife simultaneously danced to Oingo Boingo in the other room, using the remaining two channels and the multi-zone capabilities of the AVR 7300.
The other main differences between the two receivers are in processing abilities. The AVR 7300 adds Dolby Pro Logic IIx, allowing seven channel playback of material originally encoded for two-channel reproduction. But the major addition is Faroudja's DCDi processing for video sources.
Besides video switching, the AVR 7300 will de-interlace 480i video from various sources (DVD, VCR, cable, etc.), sending 480p to the video display through its high-bandwidth component video output. So, you can use composite video, S-Video, and component video sources, which all will exit through the 7300's component video output to your display. In some cases, the de-interlacing provided by the Faroudja chipset may surpass the de-interlacing capabilities of your source, so you should experiment to see which de-interlacer gives you the best picture.
I had been very impressed with the AVR 630's ease of set-up, and the 7300 was just as user-friendly. The 7300 sports the familiar blue front panel lights (with three-level dimmers) and idiot-proof speaker symbols showing which speakers are in use. The back panel has even more available real estate than the AVR 630, and thoughtfully spreads out the seven sets of heavy-duty speaker binding posts along both sides of the unit.
The AVR 7300 offers six assignable digital inputs (three each digital coax and Toslink), and five analog stereo inputs, plus pre-outs, a 7.1 channel analog input, RS-232 port and A-Bus capability for audio and video multi-room systems.
The AVR 7300 has three high-bandwidth video inputs, and will upconvert composite or S-Video to component video. Most importantly, if you have a display capable of reproducing progressive scan images, the AVR 7300 has a full suite of video features anchored by the Faroudja DCDi chipset. Unfortunately, my 50" Toshiba RPTV is of the dinosaur/analog variety.
The set-up routine was essentially the same as that of the AVR 630, including the EZSet remote control procedure for setting speaker levels. Most of Harman/Kardon's new line of receivers (the x35 series) have an upgraded set-up feature called EZSet/EQ, that also automatically sets delay times and corrects for room acoustics with a built-in parametric equalizer. Unfortunately, the AVR 7300 does not include the expanded EZ/EQ capabilities, and there are no plans to make these features available via software upgrade. The video capabilities unique to the AVR 7300 involve a separate set-up routine.
The AVR 7300 includes the usual alphabet soup of processing modes, such as Dolby Pro Logic IIx (which was not available on the AVR 630), creating seven-channel playback of two-channel sources. HK also has a proprietary seven-channel mode (Logic 7), and I enjoyed both of them, particularly when watching program material created in Dolby Pro Logic (the old Matrix Pro Logic). Another upgrade from the AVR 630 is a software change that mostly eliminates the audible delay cutting off the beginning of a music or movie soundtrack when locking onto a digital signal.
What I was really interested in was finding out whether there would be any noticeable difference in sound quality between the two Harman/Kardon products.
And so . . . the Sound
I spent quality time with the AVR 7300, and found that it delivered clean sound, with a noticeably quieter noise floor than the AVR 630. My front speakers (B&W CDM NT7 and CNT) are rated at a moderately efficient 90 dB/w/m, but those speakers do love watts. Also, while I noted some brightness in the AVR 630's sound, the AVR 7300 did not seem nearly as aggressive on the top end. I would still describe the 7300 sound as slightly on the bright side of neutral, but the high frequency detail never produced listener's fatigue.
I put the AVR 7300 through the paces with large doses of hi-rez multi-channel music, which actually place a more consistent load through five channels than most film soundtracks. For example, Fleetwood Mac's Rumours (DVD-A Warner Brothers) makes heavy use of all five channels. My favorite test track, "You Make Loving Fun," includes a chorus with cascading vocals floating in counterpoint throughout the five main channels, then coalescing into a single harmony at the end of chorus. The individual vocals were crisp and distinct, with excelling imaging. And yes, I did crank up "Time" from Pink Floyd's Dark Side of The Moon (SACD Capitol) and was not disappointed. The various ticking of clocks, followed by a cacophony of bells and chimes, were crystal clear, each ringing tone fading into infinity.
The AVR 7300's performance on films was similarly impressive. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World has some great battle scenes, but I paid attention to the quieter moments, such as the creaking of wood, swells lapping against the side of the hull, and sails flapping in the breeze. The 7300 effectively reproduced the ambience of the ship's deck, placing the various aural cues throughout the sound field in a realistic, lifelike fashion (which is also a testament to the sound editor, considering those were likely Foley effects added in post-production.) The high-energy Tom Cruise thriller Collateral features lots of gunshot transients, and the AVR 7300 reproduced them faithfully, causing me to twitch every time Cruise dispatched a hapless victim. Dialogue was as good as the source material, without any coloration added by the receiver.
If I had one nit to pick with the AVR 7300, it was the persistent whir of its cooling fan. I am moderately sensitive to fan noises (having never quite adjusted to the constant hum of my DirecTV Tivo box). The 7300's fan runs continuously, from the moment the receiver is powered up. The cooling fan was audible during quiet film scenes from my seating position 12 feet away, where the receiver sat behind the closed perforated metal door of my StudioTech equipment rack. If you are sensitive to such sounds, careful placement of the AVR 7300 is a must.
The AVR 7300 delivers excellent sound quality, with ample power for most listening environments. It also includes Faroudja video processing, offering video capabilities not found in many other receivers. The AVR 7300 does lack the new Auto EQ found in some products out there, but is still a tremendous value at less than $2,400.
For more details and lab tests you can find the complete review here.