Harman Kardon isn't like other AV receiver manufacturers. The company generally doesn't roll out new products every year, its line of receivers has a distinctive look, and its prices are generally a bit higher than the competition's. The Harman Kardon AVR 2600 may have come out in the fall of 2009, but surprisingly it's still competitive, thanks to a firmware update that makes each of its four HDMI inputs 3D-compatible. The AVR 2600 also has one of the better graphical user interfaces we've seen, and it still includes 7.1 analog inputs--a rarity these days.
However, none of that is enough to justify the AVR 2600's heavy $600 price tag, which is considerably more than many of its competitors. We were willing to live with the price if it boasted excellent sonics to make up for it, but instead we found its audio performance to be mediocre. If you're buying a receiver strictly on looks, the AVR 2600 is one of the best we've seen, but otherwise it's hard to recommend it over its competitors considering its price, features, and performance.
Harman Kardon receivers may cost more, but they always look better too. The AVR 2600 is no different, with a handsome two-tone look. The top half has a glossy black finish, with a bright LCD display in the center of the unit. The bottom half has a gray matte finish, with additional connectivity in the lower right, hidden behind pop-out covers. There's a large illuminated volume knob in the upper right, although luckily you can turn off the illumination in the settings menu. In all, it's right up there with the Marantz NR1601 in terms of looks.
The remote feels oversized, even by AV receiver standards. It has a lot going for it, with its relatively uncluttered design and main buttons like volume and mute clearly separated from the rest of the remote. While the remote gives the appearance of being backlit, actually only the setup button in the lower left lights up--strange. We would have liked larger buttons for choosing inputs, but since the AVR 2600's GUI can be used to select inputs, it's not a big loss.
The AVR 2600's GUI may look primitive compared with the high-def menus offered on newer Blu-ray players, but it's one of the better AV receiver interfaces we've seen. While it's largely just text, it's nicely laid out and we appreciated the occasional onscreen reminders of what certain menu options did. It's certainly a big step up from the shaky-text user interfaces on the Denon AVR-1911 and Marantz NR1601.
|Key AV receiver features|
|Channels||7.1||Analog video upconversion||Yes|
|Graphical user interface||Yes||Automatic speaker calibration||Yes|
|HDMI version||1.4a||3D pass-through||Yes|
|Audio return channel||No||Standby pass-through||No|
HDMI 1.4 has given manufacturers the ability to add more functionality to their HDMI ports, but since many of the features aren't mandatory, seeing "HDMI 1.4" doesn't necessarily guarantee you anything. For example, the AVR 2600 technically has HDMI 1.4a ports (after a software update), but lacks audio return channel (ARC) capability, which is available on the majority of competing receivers at this price. That's not a huge omission in our opinion--especially since you need a newer HDTV with ARC compatibility to take advantage of it--but it may be confusing for buyers who assume it's automatically included with products with HDMI 1.4. The Harman also lacks standby pass-through capability, which many competitors are offering.
|Audio decoding features|
|Dolby TrueHD||Yes||DTS-HD Master Audio||Yes|
|Dolby ProLogic IIz||No|
|Other: Logic 7; Dolby Volume|
Like nearly every AV receiver these days, the AVR 2600 has onboard decoding for both Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio. Unlike some other midrange receivers, the AVR 2600 doesn't support Dolby ProLogic IIz processing or any Audyssey sound processing modes. It does, however, offer Harman's proprietary Logic 7 sound processing mode, which converts stereo signals to surround sound.
|HDMI inputs||4||Component video inputs||2|
|Composite video inputs||4||Max connected HD devices||6|
Video connectivity is on par with most midrange AV receivers. The AVR 2600's four HDMI inputs should be enough for most home theaters, although it's worth pointing out that the