Harman AVR 430 7.1 Channels Receiver Reviews
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Harman AVR 430 7.1 Channels Receiver

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A Significant Upgrade in Sound and Quality

Apr 26, 2004 (Updated Apr 21, 2005)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review
  • User Rating: Excellent

  • Sound:
  • Ease of Use:
  • Durability:

Pros:Excellent, clear crisp sound and beautiful, elegant looks

Cons:Remote a bit unwieldy

The Bottom Line: Highly recommended -- excellent sound, beautiful machine, easy to use and fine-tune, and excellent construction.

[UPDATE 4-21-05]: Just a quick update: I'm set up for 7.1 now and the receiver handles it beautifully, even when "matrixing" 5.1 material. Also, I downloaded the upgrade from the H/K site and the upgrade was relatively straightforward (you hook up the serial port on your PC to the back of the receiver). The added features of the upgrade are great (you can disable auto polling, for one, but you also get Dolby Pro Logic IIx and the short delay when a new digital signal gets decoded is reduced significantly). Also, during the upgrade H/K continued to live up to the high level of customer service they have spoiled me with. On a bad note, however, I had trouble using the H/K DVD-22 with this receiver, and H/K worked with me very hard to resolve it but ultimately conceded that there were compatibility troubles between their own DVD-22 and the AVR-430. Wierd. And too bad, because the DVD-22 is an excellent DVD player.

I bought this receiver to complement our new dedicated “home theater” room. Our old AV receiver, an Onkyo TX-SR575, had done a great job in the living room when the surround setup was a compromise, sharing duties with the social room of the house (with speakers tucked away wherever they would fit). Now that we have a room built around the home theater we wanted a sound system worthy of our new widescreen (see my review of Toshiba’s 51” rear projection). We looked at several receivers (the Denon AVR 2803 and Onkyo TX-SR701 in particular) and settled on the AVR 430…

This is my first foray into this caliber of audio equipment. I can only compare it to my earlier receivers/amps and a few of its competitors I listened to in stores.

To my layman ears it sounds amazing. I have it hooked to a set of KEF Uni-Q Q35s, and at all volumes the sound is crisp, vibrant and clear. There is no “muddling” like I experienced with my Onkyo (especially during movie soundtracks in scenes with simultaneous sound effects, dialogue and music). I was not able to listen to its competitors in enough detail (or in my home): the Denon seemed to have equally superb sound while listening to CDs, and the Onkyo 701 was a close second.

In surround it is a head above my old receiver. There is no loss of clarity no matter how much is being asked of it during a movie (the can-can scene from Moulin Rouge is one of my test scenes: dialogue over pounding music with sound effects and a wild variety of musical styles all in one scene).

Sound Modes
I currently have it configured as a 5.1 system, although it can be set up for 7.1. It takes DTS-ES and Dolby Digital EX and integrates the additional channel into the 5.1 channels seamlessly. It will also play DTS 96/24, DTS 6.1 Matrix, DTS Neo:6, Dolby Pro Logic II (but not the newest version “IIx” - but a free upgrade is coming soon according to H/K as of 8-12-04), Dolby 3 Stereo, Dolby Virtual Surround Headphone modes, and several proprietary modes like Vmax and Logic7, as well as a few “generic” surround modes for music. It also has 6 and 8 channel inputs for DVD-Audio, SACD or any other format you want to play through it.

Either the Logic7 mode is truly amazing or DSP modes have gotten a lot better since my last receiver, because it really brings CDs to life. DTS Neo:6 does a very nice job converting 2-channel audio to surround in music and cinema modes, but for music the Logic7 is substantially better (in my opinion). I was pleasantly surprised, since most proprietary features don’t live up to their marketing – it may be that I’m not used to brands like Harman/Kardon.

It can also decode MP3s if you send them in their digital un-decoded format from a device like your computer. It will not play HDCD format out of the box, but accoridng to H/K a free upgrade will soon be available (I’m not sure how widely used this format is or will be, but the AVR 630 does have the ability to play it out of the box, and if you have a high-end CD or DVD player that can decode HDCD then you could still get the full sound of it via the analog inputs).

The receiver is loaded with connectivity options. It can handle 7 speakers subwoofer (or 5 speakers sub and 2 speakers in another room playing a different audio source – hence it’s vaunted “multi-room” capability). It has 2 optical 2 coax digital inputs, and 1 optical 1 coax output (the front has 1 of each, and they can be configured to be either inputs (default) or outputs – nice touch!). It also has 6/8 channel inputs, and full 8 channel pre-outs. There are 3 video inputs with S-video (and two of them have both in & out jacks), and 2 component video inputs, as well as a video out (with s-video) and a component out. All speaker connections have “banana plug” connections. It’s also has an A-BUS jack, which is part of the multi-room functions, and several H/K remote connection options.

It has a full array of the usual RCA jacks for CD, Tape, and DVD.

I hooked up my components and speakers and plugged it in, and it sounded great right off the bat. There is a very friendly OSD menu (“on-screen display” right on your tv screen!) that made adjustments a cinch.

The remote has a microphone that allows it to serve as a quick speaker level calibration tool. This is called the EZ-Set function, and is indeed easy. The first time through it worked like a charm (for more on that, look at my comments on the remote).

Look and Feel
The AVR 430 is, in my opinion, one of the most attractive receivers on the market. It lacks the imposing black metal front “grill” that many AV receivers have, and instead offers a sleek, elegant panel with no clutter. The volume dial has an inset blue light which matches the power button, and the display has two lines for text and a plethora of indicator lights, including a useful speaker indicator that informs you of how many channels are set to play and which ones are receiving signals. The display is all in white light, and can be dimmed (but will reset to full after you power off -- which is slightly annoying). It can also be set to fade out completely, leaving only the blue volume and power lights illuminated (which is ideal for watching films in a dark room – it lights up when you use the remote, then fades again after a user-selectable amount of time). Compared to the Denon AVR 2803 and similar receivers, the display is much easier to understand and provides much more information, in part because of the 2 lines of text but also from the well-designed speaker indicator lights.

The case is very deep – be sure you have a shelf that can take it. It’s as deep as it is wide (roughly 17”x17”) and weighs an astounding 39lbs.

The front panel is made of a sleek glass upper portion and some material I can’t identify for the lower half – some metal alloy or possibly plastic – it looks very nice, with a soft silver sheen, although not as rugged feeling as the brushed aluminum panels on many other receivers (it does not feel cheep or flimsy, don’t get me wrong).

The volume knob is my only source of concern – it is a hollow “wheel” made of some light metal alloy or plastic, and although it feels nice it might not survive much abuse (since the volume knob sticks out from the panel on receivers, it also tends to be the part that gets bumped the most). I have this receiver in the corner of a dedicated home theater, and don’t anticipate any trouble, but someone with kids putting this receiver out in the open in the living room *might* run into trouble (I would suggest an audio cabinet with a door :)

Lastly, and this is really as “setup” feature, it lets you name the video inputs. This means when I select Video 2, which is my Playstation2, is displays “Playstation 2” on the receiver front panel. It does not allow you to rename the “set” inputs like DVD or CD, since they already have a label. I put this under looks because I always hated looking at the receiver and seeing generic info like “Video 3” displayed – also, if you cycle through the input sources, it helps you find it (instead of remembering that it’s on “Video 2”).

It comes with 2 remotes – the main remote and a second “multi-room” remote. The main remote is (depending on your tastes) either a thing of pure aesthetic beauty or a terrifying ode to 1980’s sci-fi films. Personally, I like its looks. It is sleek and silver, the buttons light up when needed, and the two-line LCD display is backlit (when the “light” button is pressed). It does have a lot of buttons and they aren’t all in the best place. You can tell a lot of thought went into it (it is a universal learning remote and even has a built-in microphone that helps you to calibrate your speakers).

A few things jumped out at once that concerned me: there was no “tv/video” button. The dual “d-pad” style pads are counter-intuitive in that they share a “set” button between them that is the equivalent of the “enter” key, rather than having their own (or better yet, letting you press down in the center of the pad to “enter”). There is no “quit” or “cancel” button, just a “clear” button that doesn’t always work as the quit/cancel key.

You can program it to do almost anything, however, including macros, punch-through, and even button renaming. It has pre-programmed codes for most components and the ability to learn commands if not. And it has 4 unnamed buttons at the bottom that can become the missing “tv/video” and other buttons if you want to program them to do so.

Most of these issues can be overcome with a mix of gained familiarity and some programming. The LCD screen is very useful, and I love that it is backlit (and the buttons as well) when you need it in the dark.

I don't like the fact that after you use another component it reverts to controlling the receiver -- by this I mean that if you press "dvd" then fastforward or pause, after a few seconds the remote reverts back to receiver controls, so if you hit pause again you are now actually controlling the receiver and either nothing happens or something unexpected happens, depended onwhat you pressed. This can be somehwat overcome through punch-through commands. [note: you can use "device priority" to change this setting so that it stays on the device you last told it to use -- thanks to "skif_thebest" for this info]

So far I find that when listening to music or making adjustments to the receiver the remote is wonderful. But when I’m watching movies, I find it to be too cumbersome to use as a true “multi-function” remote. As a universal remote I also worry that it might not survive a fall off the couch (a fate all of our remotes seem to suffer if we use them to watch TV or movies) – it has this “beautiful yet delicate” feel to it that may be misleading.

Our solution so far: we use the simple but easy multi remote that came with the TV and the smaller “multi room” remote to adjust the volume of the receiver. The “multi room” remote operates the receiver perfectly (although it only controls the most basic functions) – it is the opposite of the main remote: small, black, rounded and lightweight.

Last on my remote comments: The EZ-Set feature has not always worked. It worked perfectly the first time I tried it, then wouldn’t work at all (not even a test-tone from the speakers). I believe the receiver has to be set to a 5.1 channel source to test a 5.1 channel setup, but even then I had some trouble. I’ve also had a little trouble programming it to run components: it indicates that it had multiple brands of tape players pre-programmed, but won’t let me scroll past the Harman/Kardon brand. And once I programmed in the DVD player, it would not let me replace it with another code for the same player (I wanted to try a different code because my player wasn’t accepting certain commands like chapter forward/chapter back). It is a somewhat complicated piece of machinery, so some of this may be “user error” but still amounts to frustration. I have no misgivings about the receiver itself, however.

A Few Specs
H/K doesn’t offer complete specs on their site, at least not complete enough for my tastes. Their support, however, was wonderful (quick and courteous e-mail replies) and helped fill in a few gaps. And that was before I even bought the receiver. A great job so far support-wise.

The amps are rated at 80W per channel in stereo, and 65W per channel in surround (all channels). The THD is rated at .07% for all channels at 8ohms. The DACs are all 192khz/24bit. There is no video upsampling, but you can set the audio inputs to upsample when possible. The wattage rating is a little misleading, because it uses a slightly different scale than many receivers: it rates wattage through all frequencies instead of just one, so it is a more reliable rating (the Onkyo TX-SR701, rated at 100W per channel in surround, was actually putting out only 50W when tested in a magazine review I read). They refer to the amps as “high-current, ultrawide-bandwidth” and they are powering my 6ohm KEFs with gusto (my older amp claimed 75W per channel in surround but I had to push it harder than the H/K to deliver the volume level I want).

There is a built-in fan that only comes on when it runs too hot, and after this point some clipping can occur, and after this point the receiver will shut down to protect itself -- but I've been told this will not damage the receiver even if it happened. I power 6ohm fronts and recently watched all 12 hours of the Lord of the Rings trilogy in the summer heat and other than getting very hot to the touch, the AVR 430 handled it beautifully. I have also cranked some music to obscene levels, and not only did it handle it, it was still crisp and clear.

It has an RS-232 connector that can be used to service the unit (or upgrade it through your PC).

It runs off a 32 bit processor, and since all digital processing is powered by the processor it’s reassuring to know it’s a newer 32 bit chip.

It also has a quadruple crossover with six points per speaker location – this is very nice when fine-tuning your setup.

When I asked tech support about bi-wiring my speakers they informed me that the AVR-430 could handle it perfectly.

I remember reading somewhere that the AVR-430 was upgradeable to HD Radio, but I can’t find that in the documentation. It would stand to reason, since one of the features of HD Radio is artist and track info, which the 2 lines of text display on the receiver would handle perfectly: station frequency and name on top, artist and song title on bottom – a dream come true for radio listeners!) -- [I have since discovered that it is indeed upgradeable via an internal slot like a PCI card in your computer]

I highly recommend it. Despite my mild disappointments with the remote, the receiver is outstanding on all levels, with room to expand to all my foreseeable future needs.

Recommend this product? Yes

Amount Paid (US$): 570

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