H/K AVR-520 Intermediate User's Review

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Rob_Pierce, May 9, 2002.

  1. Rob_Pierce

    Rob_Pierce Second Unit

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    Well, after much researching and debating, I decided to purchase the Harman/Kardon AVR-520 two weeks ago. I was seriously considering the Onkyo TXDS797. I should mention that I had $200 in gift certificates to Circuit City so this limited my choices, but after speaking with friends, many home theater retailers, and listening to dozens of models, these two would have been my choice anyway.

    I am definitely not a home theater expert, but I know the basics and appreciate quality, reasonably priced products. I love movies and video games and was looking for an all-around quality receiver that will be flexible into the future. My main concern was the overall quality of the sound, not really any special features—just good, clean sound.

    I purchased the 520 for $729 at the Circuit City in Lexington, Kentucky. The open-box model had never been used (the remotes were still in their original wrapping), but the box was damaged during shipping. It had been sitting on the shelf for three weeks and was in perfect condition. I have had the receiver hooked up for two weeks and am ready to give a brief review for other members considering a receiver in the $700-$1,000 range.

    Here’s my setup:

    Mains: Definitive Technology BP 2000s

    Center: Definitive Technology CLR 2002

    Rears: Definitive Technology BP2Xs

    No separate sub due to built in subs in the 2000s

    TV: Toshiba 32”

    Remote: Home Theater Master MX-500

    Environment: I live in a town house with the living room about 20 feet deep, with the front stage about 10 feet wide. The left wall includes a sliding glass door, the right wall opens up into the kitchen (a total of about 25 feet). The entire room has a very large vaulted ceiling.

    I use about 60% home theater, 35% video games, and 5% music.

    My initial impressions were pretty good. The receiver is obviously well-built and weighs about 35 pounds. The back of the unit is nothing special, but I really liked the front “Video 4” input, as well as both the 3rd Digit Coax and 3rd Digital Optical inputs on the front panel (for a total of 6).

    I hooked up my television, digital cable, VCR, DVD player, Playstation 2 (which is beautiful in component video, by the way), and Nintendo Gamecube. My first DVD selection was the Apollo 13 launch—a sample that I have heard a million times on a million receivers. It sounded pretty good, then I realized I hadn’t set up my BP 2000s to “large”. Once I did—wow. The receiver presents a much, much tighter and deeper sound that my previous receiver (a basic Pioneer) and sounded much better than in the store, as I though it would.

    I then listened to the depth charges in U-571 and almost cried. The explosions were very loud and powerful, but not out of control. This particular scene goes from very quiet to very loud, then back to very quiet—I was very impressed that no distortion, hissing, popping, or anything else at all could be detected other than what was on the movie.

    I then tried Rogue Squadron 2 on the Gamecube—wow. Even though the Gamecube is only capable of Pro Logic 2 at best, the difference was phenomenal. TIE fighters were screaming everywhere behind me and I think I actually felt the dark side. The Playstation 2 is even better, especially with the toslink connection. I played a period of NHL 2002—the DTS Interactive 5.1 surround was great—the crowd sounded perfect.

    Finally, I tried the digital cable. Of all the features of the AVR-520, the difference in TV viewing is the most unexpected surprise. The three Pro Logic 2 and two DTS 6.1 settings were a great improvement, but the H/K Logic 7 is AWESOME. This setting was much fuller and deeper than either the Dolby or DTS settings—the Logic 7 cinema setting makes TV viewing SO MUCH BETTER. I really didn’t expect this at all, but the added bass is very “real” and doesn’t sound fake as I thought it would. I have read on these posts that the Logic 7 was great, but to actually hear it is quite impressive. I then tried the Logic 7 again with Rogue Squadron 2—even better than before.

    By the way, if anyone has suggestions for me as to the best hookup for my digital cable, I would appreciate it. There is no digital out on the box, but I have to run the cable through my VCR—this results in a terrible loss of picture quality and sound. But, I can’t find a better method. All suggestions appreciated. Back to the post…

    I finally tried a CD in 2 channel stereo. I listen to CDs through my DVD player, but I don’t listen to enough music to purchase a dedicated CD player. I listened to MTV Unplugged Volume 1 and almost passed out. The acoustic songs were beautiful and the voices were so discrete it almost sounded like two systems were playing at the same time. I tried some Notorious BIG next (don’t ask), and the bass was enough make my chest hurt.

    Needless to say, I was very, very happy. However, the best test took place a few hours later when my wife came home from work. After listening to only the TV, she really was impressed, not just supportive wife impressed. We watched the opening sequence to “The Prince of Egypt” and were both thrilled. Believe me, if my wife said this receiver is worth the money, then the receiver is worth the money.

    Since that time, I’ve tried every bell and whistle. Here’s the skinny:

    Positives:

    75 watts per channel is plenty—these are 75 “real” watts per channel

    6 digital inputs, (2 can be assigned out)

    Component video switching (2 inputs)

    The Logic 7 decoding. I mentioned this earlier, but it is fantastic

    Many surround modes. Each one is significantly different and they’re fun to play

    around with. I keep everything on Logic 7, but Pro Logic 2 is also pretty good.

    Future expandability. DTS-ES, 7 & 8 channel compatible

    Remote translated perfect to my MX-500; no problems at all

    Most important: quality of sound. This sounds obvious and is a matter of taste to

    everyone, but this receiver really produces very warm and clean sound. Absolutely no humming, hissing, or distortion at even the very highest volume. I knew it would be clean, but I didn’t expect it this clean.

    Negatives:

    No Dolby Digital EX. I don’t need it now, but might regret this later

    The remote is terrible. Who designs these things? Fortunately, it didn’t matter as

    I programmed it into my MX-500 and put it away.

    Faceplate. This is picky, but it is pretty bright, especially in the dark. Metal

    would be much better than the plastic

    I haven’t had any problems at all, but many on these posts have had problems

    relating to the receiver shutting off.

    Heat. This sucker needs to be well-ventilated. After testing it loud for about 2

    hours during Star Wars Episode 1, it was very hot to touch on the top. This is not really a negative, but needs to be watched closely.

    I hope this is useful to enthusiasts that don’t have too much money, but are looking for a quality receiver. I can say that I would definitely purchase this model again if given the opportunity. I will likely keep this model for 4-5 years and look to upgrade at the same time I get an HDTV. Please leave any comments about my post, especially if you can help with my digital cable problem. If you have any questions about this receiver for me, I’d be happy to help.
     
  2. StevenK

    StevenK Second Unit

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    That's the exact same impression I have of my 520...well (i'm not as fond of Logic7)...

    Unfortunately, those negatives are too much for me to handle. I don't have another uber-remote, so I'm stuck with this one. The faceplate also drives me nuts. I'm trying to sell mine now.
     
  3. John_VI

    John_VI Second Unit

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    Hey Rob, are you sure you didn't sit in my living room when you wrote this review?? I have almost the identical setup that you do, except that I have the 2006's vs. the 2000's. And I added a SVS 25-31PCi, so the bass just SMOKES!!! Question for you. Did you split the LFE out of the receiver and run it into the two towers? And are you running your towers as large? Also, I agree with you on the faceplate brightness. I am considering changing the glass in the front of my entertainment unit, going with a smoked glass instead of clear just to cut down on the lights from the AVR. And I added a couple of auxiliary cooling fans to my entertainment center to help with cooling.

    StevenK - Sorry you're not satisfied with yours. Have you considered getting a better remote like the MX-500? It really is a wonderful remote. It's the first remote that my wife LIKES. If you do finally decide to sell it, I really hope you can find something that suites your tastes. Good luck!!
     
  4. Tommy Rodgers

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    Regarding digital cable-

    Never run any coax cable line through your VCR, this is the worst case scenario for picture quality. Use a composite connection to your TV (yellow video cable), this will improve things a bit. On the other hand, sometimes it pays to ask your cable company what hardware they offer. I have Charter Communications cable and they use a Motorola box (total piece of crap) but if you ask for it, you can request a version with S-Video output as well as digital coaxial output. I had to ask 4 different customer service reps before I found one who had any idea what the hell I was asking for, then I picked it up myself because I was afraid they would send me the wrong thing. Much better han the alternative.

    -Tommy
     
  5. Rob_Pierce

    Rob_Pierce Second Unit

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  6. Scott Pagac

    Scott Pagac Stunt Coordinator

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    My biggest nag is the lack of DD-EX but it was not a deal-breaker at all. Second nag is the fact that the speaker terminals are not standard...I had to "break apart" all of my dual bannana plugs to get them installed.

    Rob: on the subject of bright faceplates...have you tried using the 50% dimmer option in the advanced menu of the OSD? It does come back at full brightness the next time you turn it on, but it will help a bit (or, once you get to where you want to be, turn the display off).

    I am also running my digital cable through my TV and back out to the receiver for better sound (on the non-digital channels).

    For a big eye-opener, go to OneCall.com and order up the H/K PA2000 power amp for around $300. I am using it to power my mains and there is no going back.

    Eventually, I will be replacing this unit with an Outlaw 950 (or whatever they decide to come out with next). Until then, I will be perfectly happy with the 520/PA2000 combo.
     
  7. StevenK

    StevenK Second Unit

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    I've considered getting a better remote. But I figure instead of spending another $150, why not just get another receiver with the DD-EX feature and a better remote. This will be blasphemy to some, but to me, DD and DTS decoding is pretty much similar on all receivers at this price point since the movie soundtrack is so dynamic. As for music, I use direct pass through and have my Newcastle amps do the driving, so I don't really have any preference for H/K's musical qualities (besides, I didn't find them as extraordinary as some say it is...not even approaching my old, cheapo NAD stereo receiver). I honestly would really like to keep this beast if it weren't for the remote. Some might say that $150 is nothing compared to the cost of a receiver. But $150 is a shitload compared to $0. [​IMG]
     
  8. Earl Simpson

    Earl Simpson Supporting Actor

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    Nice job! Keep us posted on the heat problems, and if they have any negative effects in the long run.

    I still say for $598 online, this is a great middle level unit. Do any of you guys have your unit totally uncovered on the top with at least 3 feet of open air? My 3802 is on my top open shelf. You get more dust this way but it does provide great ventilation.
     
  9. Rob_Pierce

    Rob_Pierce Second Unit

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