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Harman Kardon AVR7300 Review (Long and Sad...)


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#1 of 13 OFFLINE   Rosty

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Posted November 30 2004 - 03:47 AM

An American Muscle Car of Receivers (Unfortunately, Power is Nothing without Control…)

I've been a huge fan of H/K products since I acquired an AVR 80 MKII seven years ago. When speaking of sound quality nothing can beat their high-end receivers and amplifiers. The AVR 7300, which I bought to set up a Home Theater of my dreams, is no exception to this rule. It is built like a tank – heavy and commanding respect. It performs like a good set of separates. Power is abundant; sound is warm, clean and transparent. All DSP modes work flawlessly. Logic 7 brings an extra dimension to the tried and true stereo recordings, and the Faroudja video processing up scales and de-interlaces 480i video signals with flying colors. What else one could ask for?

Here is where my frustrations begin to unfold… BIG TIME. Yes, AVR 7300 has great potential – the hardware is solid. Sadly enough, though, its user interface and general usability leave much to be desired.

The EZSet feature is very inaccurate. I tried it several times and it simply does not work correctly. I guess I will not be retiring my RadioShack SPL meter any time soon.

The receiver does not have a “Master” channel level setup feature. To set up channel levels, one has to go into each possible DSP mode of each input (it’s up to you to figure out how many possible combinations exist!) and set channel levels there. And, in order to do this, one must make sure there is an input signal present while adjusting the channels, since there is no way to engage certain DSP modes when no signal is coming in. For example, you cannot adjust the DTS channel levels unless there is a DTS encoded DVD currently playing. What a nightmare!

Sometimes I wonder, do they even have an interface designer at Harman Kardon?
I mean, someone who actually "plays" with the new products and comments on user friendliness (or complete lack of one) of their receivers? Is there someone who would notice that there is no way to correctly identify buttons on the front panel of the unit in a dark room? (Come on! It’s a AV Receiver. It’s supposed to be used in Home Theater, where it’s usually dark, right?) Is there someone who would point to the fact that two large round buttons on the remote (up/down/left/right and channel/volume) are almost indistinguishable by touch? How about someone who would be annoyed by the fan noise coming from the receiver, even when no input signal is present (and therefore no extra heat dissipation is required)?

I bought AVR 7300 for its 7.1 capabilities. Why does it always default to 5.1 decoding when a DD5.1 or DTS signal is detected??? It allows me to store my preference of Dolby DPLIIx or Logic 7 for two channel sources. Why does it insist on initially selecting pure 5.1 decoding with 5.1 sources then???

To make matters worse, when in DD 5.1 mode, it forces me to circle through six (6!!!) absolutely useless Dolby modes (2-SP, 4-SP, etc) and only then allows me to select "Movie" or "Music" post-processing (Dolby Digital PlIIx "Movie"/"Music"). Needless to say, it not only takes time, but also interrupts sound from the speakers every time a "Dolby" button on the remote is pressed! And, try to find this bloody button in a dark (so much for the "backlighting" they provided)!

I went through the expense of setting up seven speakers and a subwoofer (I am sure there are many other consumers who either did or are planning to do the same thing). I indicated to the receiver during the setup that I DO HAVE SEVEN SPEAKERS connected to it. Wouldn’t it mean that I am determined to get most use out of this setup?

How about implementing a simple logic:

A. When 5 speakers are connected, disable 7.1 modes
B. When 7 speakers are connected, remember the last 7.1 mode (or 5.1 or 2
channel stereo) used per input PER SOURCE ENCODING TYPE (PCM or bitstream DD 2 channels or DD 5.1 or DTS) unless the EX flag is present (perform a DD EX or DTX EX decoding then). If this is not technologically possible then, PLEASE, default processing of the 5.1 source to Dolby Digital Pl IIx "Movie" when 7 speakers are connected.

This way, when a DD 5.1 signal is present and someone does not want to have 7.1 post-processing, he/she can press the "Dolby" button on the remote once or twice and get pure DD 5.1 as opposed to what was described by me above - the pain of circling through multiple useless DD modes the other way around.

The receiver does not remember the Tone In/Out setting per audio input. For example I, personally, prefer to listen to the music from a CD player with Tone Out and watch DVD's with Tone In (-6 dB Treble to compensate for the overly bright movie soundtracks - "Poor man THX cinema re-equalization"). It appears that whenever I switch between inputs, the Tone In/Out setting gets carried over. I would be hard pressed to find an audio enthusiast who likes using the same tone settings both for Home Theater use and for stereo listening of the music. Every audio purist strives to exclude any tone altering circuits from the signal path when listening to the music. It is a completely different story with movies, since, as you probably know, the audio track there is mixed with the intention of being reproduced in large theatre halls where the high frequency would naturally roll off due to the fact that the speakers there are much further away from the viewers then at home. This is why THX standard calls for "Cinema Re-equalization," simply speaking, reducing high frequencies to compensate for overly bright movie soundtracks. Should H/K designers have chosen to implement separate settings of the tone controls per input they would have brought AVR 7300 a notch closer to the top of the crowd receivers without a necessity to pay licensing fees for THX certification.

As for tone control, it is apparent that H/K designers are unaware that a little consistency goes a long way. Look what is happening:

In order for someone to change the Tone In/Out settings using the remote he has to press the Tone button, then find an Up/Down button, and toggle the current tone mode.

Meanwhile, all DSP mode changing buttons cycle through the available modes without any need to move ones finger to another place on the remote. It would be reasonable to expect the Tone button to work the same way: press it once to see what current setting is, press it second time to toggle the settings. Silly little thing? Maybe. Can it be corrected? Sure! Does it leave a bad impression of the overall design? It is up to you to decide!

Speaking of the remote control, for a flagship receiver to have a remote like AVR 7300 has is simply humiliating. The buttons are absolutely indistinguishable in the dark even with the "backlight" switched on. Most of them have the same shape and size and the button names are written NEXT to them, not ON them so they are not lit when “backlighting” is on. When a Phillips Pronto can be had (refurbished) for $160 mail-order (meaning the actual cost to make one is close to $100), why doesn’t H/K license the remote design from Phillips, slap an extra $100 on top of the receiver’s price, and package this remote with their products? I’ve spent some time with Denon’s RC-8000 LCD PC programmable remote control and while it is still not a Pronto, the RC-8000 is light years ahead of the piece of headache that comes with AVR 7300.

Now, here is another sad point of my story.

I have a Scientific Atlanta Explorer 4200HD digital cable box connected to one of the component inputs of the AVR 7300.

Regardless of the cable box output settings (480i or 480p or 1080i) the signal reaches my TV only when video processing in the AVR 7300 is switched OFF. Otherwise, I get a blank (blue) screen.

So in order for me to take a full advantage of critically acclaimed Faroudja video chip I have to remember to toggle video processing switch ON and OFF every time I switch between my cable, DVD and VCR. Apparently, the H/K “flagship” receiver is not smart enough to detect the HDTV signal and automatically disable video processing circuits. So what should I blame - technical limitations, or (again and more likely) an oversight of the designers?

As annoying the fact that video processing blocks the 1080i HDTV signal is, I could have lived with it if they had implemented a separate video processing ON/OFF settings memory per input. But again, apparent lack of internal user interface critiquing body handicaps this company big time.

I decided to do some more tests regarding the OSD:

When I use my Toshiba SD6200 DVD player and I set the DVD player output to "interlaced" (480i), the signal goes through the AVR 7300 to my TV set both when video processing in AVR is switched on and when it is switched off. With the 480i signal the OSD works well, regardless of the video processing switch.

When I use my Toshiba SD6200 DVD player and I set the DVD player output to "progressive" (480p), the signal goes through the AVR 7300 to my TV set both when video processing in AVR is switched on and when it is switched off, BUT (!) I can't get the OSD to work here regardless of the video-processing switch.

I spoke to the H/K tech support about this issue and they claim that AVR 7300 overlays its menus over the 480i picture, then up converts it if requested to 480p, and then sends the resulting signal to the TV set. If 480p or higher source is used, then AVR 7300 can't overlay the menu over the picture. Their designers did not even try to find a workaround to accommodate thousands of the end users who have the progressive scan DVD players and HD cable boxes!

It appears that they have chosen to deliberately impair a consumer’s ability from making any meaningful setup adjustments when the 480p source is used. Why can't the receiver temporarily block the source when the OSD button is pressed, then show its menus on a blank screen in 480i format and then unblock the 480p source when the OSD is switched off? All other high-end receivers go this route. (I called Yamaha, Pioneer, Marantz and double-checked with them before writing this review. I saw Denon AVR 5803 doing it the right way too). Why H/K designers put their product in this unfavorable situation is beyond my understanding.

A few more problems.

The receiver (at least my unit) does not want to recognize DD 5.1 EX flag on any DVD’s I tried.

It drops audio ever so often for a second or so while watching some DVD’s with DD 5.1 soundtrack (“Star Wars Episode I” is one of those, for example) and I can’t find an explanation for it.

And again, the cooling fan makes a distracting noise.

Whatever…

I am really very sad. The AVR 7300 reminds me a lot of a classic American Muscle car – plenty of raw unadulterated power coupled with mediocre handling characteristics. Sure, that car can cover ¼ mile very fast but no one would use it in a World Rally Championship to compete on a twisty mountain road…

Ironically, the H/K website has Dr. Sidney Harman's quote on their website: "We were determined that our products should look pleasant and be easy to use. I argued that if you could do it with one knob, what's wrong with that. The one knob idea is that the engineering-the technical part should be transparent. You use the brilliance of the engineer to make the thing very simple for the user."

I wish Dr. Harman could have personally tried to use the “flagship” receiver of his company and give a user interface related feedback to the designer team (in strong words)…

Anyway, H/K designers must roll off their sleeves and spend significant time re-working all issues pertaining to AVR 7300 usability if they want to keep the sales on par with the flagship receivers of other manufacturers.

Until then – I give up. I returned the unit to the dealer after exchanging more then 30 emails with various H/K tech support people. I guess I’ll be looking for a deeply discounted now Denon AVR 5308 in a few days.
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#2 of 13 OFFLINE   NickSP

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Posted November 30 2004 - 05:11 AM

Rosty, an excellent review of the HK Flagship and am sorry to hear that you are somehow unhappy about it's functionality.
A lot of negatives you have described may actually be seen as positives for many of us here. While I understand that having a "Master" channel settings does help, I'd rather prefer to set all my masters independently. I'd hate to have the same settings for DD/DTS/DPL etc. Simple reason being everytime I watch a movie in DTS, I'd be adjusting the channel levels especially the LFE. Then, when I watch a DD movie, I'd be changing them again. I'd rather have the HK system where once I setup for the individual DSP I'm done! No more fiddling around!
The "Tone" control works similarly in many receivers in the way that you described but here again, the HK will remember those for every setting which is ideally prefered, at least by me. So I gather from your review that it would take very long to setup the HK but once you get it right, it's all good from that point on. If I truly love the sound and power capabilities of the HK then I'd not worry about much else.
I don't know why HK has stuck with the EZ setup as that is pretty cheap instead of throwing in a mic based setup with a parametric EQ like many other receivers do. But IMHO, if you are good with a SPL meter then that should be enough.
AS far as the remote goes, none of these receivers get it right but I do feel I got a pretty good remote with the 2012K but since I have a Pronto I rarely ever use it.
I hope you keep the HK and enjoy it! Posted Image
Too much power is never an overkill!

#3 of 13 OFFLINE   Kevin Alexander

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Posted November 30 2004 - 08:11 AM

Sorry about your experiences w/ the H/K, but on the other hand, I wish more people did reviews like you did. All of the quirks aside, how was the sound?
"What does God want with a Starship?" - Captain Kirk from Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.

"For the first few minutes of the film, I had accidently listened to the Dolby Digital track." - Ron Epstein (HTF)

#4 of 13 OFFLINE   JackS

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Posted November 30 2004 - 08:48 AM

Agree with Nick. Complications will keep your receiver interesting for a long time to come.
Abilities supersede ease of set-up and use.
If my next upgrade is still a receiver, HK might be it.

#5 of 13 OFFLINE   John Garcia

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Posted November 30 2004 - 09:20 AM

I don't think there is one manufacturer that has all the bases covered, at any price, in a receiver. There's always one feature it doesn't have that another manufacturer offers, and vice versa. Sounds like what you want is a Yamaha in terms of config? Yamaha gives you the option for each input to select automatic signal detection or "last": use the last selected config for that input.

My Marantz 8300 left something to be desired in terms of configurability, but I don't mind it's simplicity and ease of setup, and the sound was the deciding factor for me. Could use a bit better amp section for the price though. The remotes are basically Prontos and I hate them all. I'm using my old Marantz RC2000 MkII still Posted Image (and it already has 90% of the codes for the 8300 to boot).

Nice review BTW.
HT: Emotiva UMC-200, Emotiva XPA-3, Carnegie Acoustics CSB-1s + CSC-1, GR Research A/V-1s, Epik Empire, Oppo BDP-105, PS4, PS3,URC R-50, APC-H10, Panamax 5100 Bluejeans Cable
System Two: Marantz PM7200, Pioneer FS52s, Panasonic BD79
(stolen) : Marantz SR-8300, GR Research A/V-2s, Sony SCD-222ES SACD, Panasonic BD-65, PS3 60G (250G)

Everybody is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it’ll spend its whole life believing that it is stupid.” – Albert Einstein

 


#6 of 13 OFFLINE   Wayne Ernst

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Posted November 30 2004 - 09:57 AM

Quote:
I don't think there is one manufacturer that has all the bases covered, at any price, in a receiver.

If I'm purchasing a receiver in the $400 - $800 range, I can find it acceptable if some things are not perfect. However, the H/K 7300 is a receiver with a list price of over $2,000. It would have been good to see H/K address some of the issues - because, as stated, they sound like a pain.

I thought this was a great review - and pointed out some issues that one should look at and consider before purchasing the 7300. Clearly, magazine reviews don't get this honest - but, it would be a good thing if they did.
"My reality check ... just bounced"

#7 of 13 OFFLINE   JackS

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Posted November 30 2004 - 10:49 AM

I agree, great revue. The point being, everyone has a great range of choices among some very nice equipment. Barring something defective, most people will be happy with anything
regardless of how simple or difficult they choose their equipment to be. When things work as advertised, we should be satisfied.

#8 of 13 OFFLINE   Jerome Grate

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Posted November 30 2004 - 01:09 PM

Really great review, this has been my dream receiver ever since Faroudja got on board and upconverts even s-video to 480p via component. What sells me is the performance as to sound and video. Easy set up I find sometimes to be never really easy, therefore I would be angry about how difficult it is but the performance would definetly get me to say well, not everything is made to be easy. For me, I will still strive to get this baby. I have the AVR 500 and with 70 watts into 5 channels it rocks, imagine 100 in to 7 from the servos of HK. Getting the new Sony HD-RPTV, and two more speakers to add for 7.1 and this receiver would complete the dream. Best of luck, look on the bright side Faroudja and PLIIx are great.
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#9 of 13 OFFLINE   Rosty

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Posted November 30 2004 - 02:24 PM

I don't think there is one manufacturer that has all the bases covered, at any price, in a receiver. There's always one feature it doesn't have that another manufacturer offers, and vice versa. Sounds like what you want is a Yamaha in terms of config? Yamaha gives you the option for each input to select automatic signal detection or "last": use the last selected config for that input.

Well, there is one receiver, at least for me - Denon AVR5803, which has every issue I addressed in my review approached in a right way. With street prices in low $2K currently I don't think it should be passed on...

#10 of 13 OFFLINE   John Garcia

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Posted November 30 2004 - 04:59 PM

But for the original ~$4k price, I'd go separates. I've heard the 5803, and was honestly not that impressed. It sounded no better >in stereo< than my Marantz at half the price. For $2K it would be a good deal though.
HT: Emotiva UMC-200, Emotiva XPA-3, Carnegie Acoustics CSB-1s + CSC-1, GR Research A/V-1s, Epik Empire, Oppo BDP-105, PS4, PS3,URC R-50, APC-H10, Panamax 5100 Bluejeans Cable
System Two: Marantz PM7200, Pioneer FS52s, Panasonic BD79
(stolen) : Marantz SR-8300, GR Research A/V-2s, Sony SCD-222ES SACD, Panasonic BD-65, PS3 60G (250G)

Everybody is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it’ll spend its whole life believing that it is stupid.” – Albert Einstein

 


#11 of 13 OFFLINE   Arthur S

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Posted November 30 2004 - 07:59 PM

The one thing that is NOT ACCEPTABLE in this or any other receiver is an audible fan. S&V also complained about the audibility of the fan under ordinary circumstances. That does it for this thing.

Artie

#12 of 13 OFFLINE   JohnnyG

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Posted December 01 2004 - 04:45 AM

A large number of your 'complaints' are regarding the initial setup of the unit. Once that's done it really becomes a complete non-issue. It is definitely a complicated system, but I've set up so many H/Ks that I could do it with my eyes closed now (figuratively speaking, of course). Since I've not set up any Denon's, I'm sure I'd find that rather confounding at first.

Anyway, just my two cents worth. It's your money and your piece of equipment, so YOU are the only one that needs to be happy here!

#13 of 13 OFFLINE   Rosty

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Posted December 03 2004 - 07:36 AM

Well, if you read my review carefully, then you would have understood that cumbersome setup causes just part of the grief.

Day to day operation of the unit which makes fan noise, does not remember the last chosen DSP mode for a video source, does not show OSD with many video sources, drops audio every 3-5 minutes, has a terrible remote control and is ironically called a "flagshiep" - THIS is a major pain. I am a strong believer that if a manufacturer calls any of their products a "flagship" they must not look for excuses when it comes to ergonimics.

Just my $0.02