Harman Kardon celebrates its 50th birthday this year, and is one of the biggest names in premium home entertainment... at least, it is in America. Oddly the brand - the parent company of which owns numerous high-end electronics companies such as Lexicon and Mark Levinson has never really built a UK following. But with this exciting new flagship receiver the situation could be about to change.
For starters the AVR 7300 is gigantic! It may have neither the height nor weight of Denon's back-busting AVC-A1XV, but it is much deeper. In terms of sheer presence, it's more than a match for any of the price comparable competition: in situ it looks massive, and getting it in situ, it feels massive.
Big but beautiful
Amazingly, Harman Kardon has still managed to maintain a touch of design flair here, with the brand's now trademark blue-lit circular volume control resplendent on the fascia, and a front profile that doesn't look overwhelming. The top two-thirds of the AVR 7300 are decked out in a single sheet of black plastic, which also covers the display, while the bottom third is resplendent in a brushed metal finish. (This flips down to reveal a selection of extra inputs, some of which are switchable between input and output).My only complaint is that the buttons that run along the bottom of the large, clear display are a bit difficult to see in low light.
Harman has obviously put a lot of thought into the remote too, or I should say two remotes, because that's just what you get. The larger of the two handsets supplied is an odd-looking, complicated beast,destined for main system duties; the second, simpler controller is for second zone operation. The main handset has a built in microphone, and is an integral part of Harman's proprietary EzSet speaker calibration-level calibration system. The setup procedure is sophisticated, and produced very good results with the bare minimum of tweaking. Cleverly, if you set the remote into manual mode it also doubles as a stand alone SPL (sound pressure level) meter.
Backside video connections are many. There are three assignable component video inputs, six S-video inputs and six AV inputs. Unfortunately, there are no HDMI or DVI inputs. Audio support includes eight digital audio inputs (3 coaxial electrical/3 optical on the rear panel plus a bonus digital input/outputs on the front fascia), 6/8-channel direct audio inputs with bass management.
Beneath the smart-looking chassis is a cutting-edge selection of high-end AV electronics... and more. At the very heart of the 7300 beats a Cirrus Logic CS49400 processor, chosen because it not only offers dual 24-bit fixed point DSP engines plus a 32-bit audio post processor, but it also allows the Dolby Digital and DTS pull-up tables to be stored on-board rather than in external memory. Thus allows faster loading and, apparently, increased accuracy. This was borne out in my listening tests, where the 7300 performed in a precise, articulate way, giving the impression that what you hear is what's on the disc. The chip also allows HK to offer surround modes such as Dolby Headphone, Dolby Virtual Speaker, HDCD Processing and DTS 96/24, as well as the band's proprietary LOGIC7 processing technology.
Your flexible friend
Harman Kardon has really gone to town on bass management. This is vital for getting the most from DVD-Audio and Super Audio CD disks as well as home cinema, and the new Quadruple- Crossover Bass Manager allows you to choose from up to six frequencies for the front speakers, centre speaker, and two separate sets of surrounds. This provides you with amazing levels of flexibility. It also allows you to set different speakersize configurations for different inputs, which lets you optimise your system for both movie and music playback.
Power amplification is meaty but not muscle-bound. The seven high-current amplifiers are rated by HK at 110Watts each into 8ohms with all channels driven, and an impressive 125W in two channels for stereo. In our Tech Labs, we produced an even more impressive set of figures: 160W into 8ohms with two channels driven, dropping to 140 in five channel mode. The units multi-zone talent means that you can choose to have a standard 5.1 setting in one room, with the surround back amplifiers instead powering a second zone stereo system, elsewhere.
But above and beyond this, the 7300 is the first Harman Kardon receiver to boast an onboard Faroudja 2300 processor with DCDi technology, for providing PAL and NTSC progressive scan images from all sources to your screen. Unusually for a receiver, there's a plethora of video enhancements on board, including options like fleshtone noise reduction and VCR sync fixing. You can even embellish composite video inputs, so that low rent sources look better than if they were sent straight to the screen. Harman boasts that the processing involved here is better than that bundled inside many DVD players but that's underselling the story - few TV monitors offer as much fine tuning. However, the box doesn't offer the latest in video upscaling technology, so in terms of absolute cleverness it's not challenging (the more expensive) offerings from Onkyo and Denon.
When it comes to sound performance, the AVR 7300 is a bold and muscular receiver, with a movie presentation that's immediately likeable. It's pleasingly powerful with a very fast, confident, attack. Drop the volume down, and the detail and neutrality remains refreshing, although there were times when I detected the onboard cooling fan. With a good quality soundtrack it's more than capable of demonstrating the differences between Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks.
I also found it surprisingly comfortable with multichannel audio sources. Using the analogue connections for highresolution audio, the 7300 proved itself not adverse to the temptation of a toetapping DVD-Audio run-through of Ryan Adams' Gold set. As you'd expect, the performance here was much like it was for movies: bold and with a driving force that really worked well with the rocking Adams. However, less raucous tunes were not served quite as well, and multi-channel classical SACDs tended to sound over-polished. Standard stereo sources are enjoyable, with good imaging and an impressive sense of rhythm for a cinema giant.
If you're looking for a speaker match, then I'd probably advise you to try out a big JBL Northridge set as I suspect the AVR 7300 was designed with those in mind for it.
Harman Kardon's AVR 7300 is a receiver worthy of the flagship tag. It's great to look at, inventively featured, and performs well with movies and music. It doesn't quite push the boundaries of technology in the same way that the flagships of Denon, Pioneer and Yamaha seem to be able to do on an alarmingly regular basis, but it compares very favourably to the very best receivers currently available below two grand.