Harman/Kardon AVR 320 Initial Impressions (Long)

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Eujin, Feb 6, 2002.

  1. Eujin

    Eujin Supporting Actor

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    I initially posted this over on another forum, but since some people have asked me for my impressions here, I thought I'd migrate these comments over. This first post occurred late Monday night:

    Well, I just got done setting up my new Harman/Kardon AVR 320 and did some listening. I still need to let the receiver break-in a little bit, but thought I'd post my initial impressions.

    I think the AVR 320 is THE cheap receiver that's on the market right now--it'll be in for a scrap once those Sherwoods and Pioneers (and Yammies) come out. For now, I don't think you could spend your money any better. It's possible to get the 320 for $499+shipping right now (I believe J&R will give you this price if you haggle a bit) and I don't think you can spend your money any better. Here are some key features that I really needed/wanted in a receiver that the 320 delivered on:

    1. Digital inputs--3 optical, 3 coax (2 can be configured as outputs).

    2. DTS-ES discrete and matrix modes.

    3. Pre-amp outputs for all channels--the 320 actually has 7.1 outputs.

    4. Selectable subwoofer crossover frequency

    5. DPLII

    6. Component video switching

    7. Clean, powerful, detailed and punchy audio reproduction.

    Well, other than the component video switching which I don't have the need for yet (I have 2 DVD players and will need it when I add a HD receiver), the 320 fulfills on everything I wanted in spades.

    My out-of-the-box impressions of the sound coming from this receiver is that it is absolutely astonishing: powerful, clear, clean and solid. Bass reproduction seems especially well done--my wife has a very low tolerance for muddy, bloated, "boomy" bass and she was very happy with the rock-solid bass.

    I will post a more detailed report after more listening, but I just want to say that I love the flexibility that this receiver offers. Individual sources can have their own channel level and surround mode settings, with individual crossover settings for the sub too. The EZset function is also extremely user friendly and pretty accurate too--I only had to adjust it manually by 1db or so.
     
  2. Eujin

    Eujin Supporting Actor

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    Ok, I've now spent two nights with my new AVR 320 and I'm still in the honeymoon phase of my purchase. Before I go any further, let me outline my system:

    Mains: Paradigm Monitor 5 v.2

    Center: Paradigm CC-170

    Surrounds: Paradigm Atom

    Sub: Tweaked Sony SA-WM40

    Sources:

    NAD 521 CD player - analog outputs to the 320

    Panasonic RP56 DVD player - Toslink output to the 320

    Malata N996 DVD player - digital coax output to the 320

    Hughes DirecTivo satellite receiver - Toslink output to the 320

    A note about calibration: I initially used the EZset function to set channel levels, but have since gone back and done some manual tweaking. The latest round of tweaks were made with Avia's test tones and the aid of a RatShack SPL meter (analog, C weighting, slow response). Calibration levels are set so that at -15db on the 320's volume setting, I get a 75db reading on the SPL meter. I will make more channel level tweaks as I continue to break-in and experiment with the 320.

    OK. So the vast majority of my listening so far as been regular DirecTV and CDs. Since I'd never had DPLII, Logic7 or DTS Neo:6 in my home before (only done listening sessions at dealers), I've concentrated most of my listening with these "new" surround modes. Right now, I can say that I love both DPLII and Logic7 for different reasons and different source material. As my experience with these formats develop, I might lean towards one or the other, but for now I'm reserving judgement.

    DPLII impressions: I'm not as wildly over the moon as many other people have been. And while I'm aware that the full implementation of DPLII's spec has not been carried out on the H/K line, I think that life as I know it, would have gone on without it. That said, I AM very impressed with this feature. Regular TV viewing is now closer to a Home Theater-like experience with a nice, wide soundstage, excellent centering of dialog and the addition of ambient sounds from the surrounds. I wouldn't mistake DPLII for DD5.1, but it's certainly an enhancement over vanilla Pro Logic. Of the 3 modes that the 320 comes with for DPLII--Movie, Music and Enhancement--I prefer using the Movie mode for regular TV viewing. The Enhancement mode sounds a bit artificial to me, while the Music mode doesn't present a forward enough center channel for dialog. One big difference that made itself noticeable early on is the bass extension in DPLII--it's a huge leap over Pro Logic. In general, the 320 seems to provide sumptious amounts of bass to my sub. One great example happened while watching Seinfeld re-runs. The musical cues in Seinfeld which carry what sounds like bass guitar notes really made themselves felt at a very deep, visceral level--and I mean FELT. Which brings me to Music in general...and Logic7.

    Logic7 impressions: Again, I was very impressed with this format. In listening sessions I'd done at dealers showrooms prior to my purchase, I thought that I preferred Logic7. This is still true, but somewhat different than I expected. I think of Logic7 as a more music-oriented format than DPLII. This isn't based on any initial bias, but from the listening I've done in the last two evenings. Again, this opinion might change with more listening, but it's what I've got now. To my ears, Logic7 has a beautifully smooth sound: very warm and almost liquid in its presentation. The soundstage created is also very wide, but with a more unified feel to it. Unlike DPLII, I didn't feel that Logic7's Cinema mode pumped up the center channel as much. Don't get me wrong, it's still a more forward presentation than the Logic7 Music mode, just not a night and day difference between the two corresponding modes in DPLII. As a result, I found myself preferring to use Logic7 for my music listening. Again, I'm aware that we're getting a stripped down version of Logic7, but then again, we're not talking about a $10K Lexicon.

    DTS:Neo6 impressions: if I'd never heard DPLII or Logic7, I think I'd be quite happy with Neo6. Frankly, it's an underrated format. Sadly, I don't think there's much room for it in the HT landscape. Most people these days will be listening to DPLII simply because of the degree of penetration in new receivers coming to market. Those of us fortunate enough to own H/K and Lexicon equipment know what a treat Logic7 is. No one talks about Neo6 because because it did not make as much of an impact as DPLII with the manufacturers. At this stage of the game, I mostly switch over to Neo6 out of curiousity, and I'm afraid that's what it will be consigned to. Still, I'm sure there are listeners out there who will prefer Neo6 over the other two formats, simply because it meshes a little better with their tastes.

    The Big Differences/Preferences: Like I mentioned before, I prefer DPLII over Logic7 for TV viewing. But I've also preferred Logic7 on occassion for certain shows. One example was "Angel" on the WB on Monday night. For some reason, DPLII made that show sound really weird and artificial: overly bright, etched and "shouty". Logic7's smoother presentation made a world of difference (having Tivo really helps A/B-ing comparisons). The opposite is true on music material. On most things, I've tended to prefer Logic7. However, I've found that this is mostly true with very clean, clear and well recorded stuff. When listening to poorly recorded music or music that has too warm or rounded a sound, Logic7 begins to sound muddy and muffled. DPLII imparts a completely different effect that seems to produce the illusion of "cleaning" up the sound. On "brighter" sounding music, this can become intolerable to my ears and very fatiguing. But on warmer music, DPLII actually sounds better to me.

    I was going to report on the 320's Stereo (surround off) mode too, but I'll reserve that for later as this post is already, quite easily, the longest one I've ever done.
     
  3. peter_anderson

    peter_anderson Stunt Coordinator

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    Thank you so much for posting! I was wondering if anybody had the same receiver/DVD combo as me but i was too lazy to ask so far.

    The question I have for you is about the optical output of the RP56; I also use the optical, but there is a problem with lag. Some of my audio CDs have tracks in which the music starts at the exact beginning of the track, and the first half-second is cut out as the 320 "recognizes" the optical connection (the input letters L and R blink). The problem lies in the fact that the 320 "disconnects" the optical connection if it isn't receiving music, and it takes a split second to re-initialize.

    Eujin; please try a few CDs and let me know if you have the same problem! Something strange: if I select the track manually, there is no lag. The lag occurs at the beginning of the CD and _sometimes_ when automatically moving to the next track.
     
  4. Eujin

    Eujin Supporting Actor

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    Peter,

    How long is the lag that you're talking about? My RP56 is only connected to the 320 via the optical output--I have no analog connections between the two. So far, I've done one session where I compared the Stereo (surround off) mode between my CD player and RP56 and did not notice a lag--but this might be due to the fact that I was often forwarding through tracks to get to specific places within a song or piece of music that I was using for my comparisons. I'll definitely check on that when I get home tonight. I have to say that if you're using the RP56 as a CD transport, you're not getting the most out of your CDs. I'm not snobby about using DVD players as CD transports, but it was pretty obvious that the RP56 was inferior to my CD player. I don't really have time to get into the stereo performance comparison right now, but I'll try to put something up tonight--at least as far as that time lag issue goes.
     
  5. peter_anderson

    peter_anderson Stunt Coordinator

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    literally half of a second. i know the RP56 isn't the ideal CD transport, but i doubt that having a dedicated transport would alleviate the problem since the x10 series were know to have a multiple second lag with the optical connection. hence, the 320 seems to be the problem. it doesn't make sense to use the analog unless the DAC in the transport is WAY better than the DAC in the 320, right?
     
  6. Eujin

    Eujin Supporting Actor

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  7. Eujin

    Eujin Supporting Actor

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    Peter, I've just spent some time checking out CDs on my RP56 and there is no lag time that is perceptible to me. I've tried both direct track input and also letting tracks play through and on to the next one. Everything seems OK to me.
     
  8. peter_anderson

    peter_anderson Stunt Coordinator

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    i can only assume it is due to the CDs you have; the problem would not be noticeable if each track has .5 seconds of silence at the beginning. for the time being, i have switch to use analog for CD playback. someday i will get a good CD player with a better DAC and not worry about this stuff anymore, just enjoy the sound!
     

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