A few months ago, we raved about ($799 list), so we wondered how the $1,299 list AVR 630 could possibly be worth the extra loot. Now that we've spent some time with the new model, we're happy to report that it offers a host of really useful features and, yes, even better sound. Thanks to cutthroat Internet pricing, this relatively high-end receiver can be had for only about $150 more than Denon's excellent --which lacks the Harman Kardon's extensive bass-management and video-upconversion features. If you're a power user who craves that kind of capability but can't afford to take out a second mortgage, the AVR 630 makes a worthy compromise. Receivers, even high-end ones, too often look bland, but the AVR 630 is a gorgeous hunk of industrial design. Its pewter-gray-and-gloss-black faceplate is sleek and modern, but the crisp styling doesn't impede its ergonomics or functionality one bit. Measuring an imposing 17.3 inches wide, 6.5 inches high, and a healthy 17.1 inches deep, the Harman Kardon AVR 630 qualifies as a full-size receiver. It weighs a hefty 41 pounds, though we did note that the metal top cover felt kind of flimsy.
The remote takes its sleek styling cues from the receiver, and it's fully backlit, so we could easily navigate the buttons in the dark. Harman provides a second, smaller remote, along with an IR blaster system, for multiroom operation.
The AVR 630 uses Harman's EzSet feature. It simplifies setup chores by automatically balancing the volume levels of all seven speakers, but curiously, it neglects the subwoofer's volume: you still have to set that by ear. The setup routines in some Pioneer and Yamaha receivers, such as the and the , provide better automation. They not only adjust the volume of all of the speakers, including the subwoofer, they also determine the speakers' size and measure listener-to-speaker distances. This receiver's amps deliver 75 watts to each of the 7 channels, and its processor handles the complete gamut of surround modes, including Dolby Digital, EX, and Pro Logic II; DTS ES, 96/24, and Neo:6; and Harman's proprietary Logic 7, a stereo-to-surround scheme similar to Dolby Pro Logic II. The AVR 630 also incorporates High Definition Compatible Digital (HDCD) decoding circuitry that improves the sound of HDCD-encoded CDs. Headphone users will appreciate the Dolby Headphone processor; it delivers increased ambiance and spaciousness through standard stereo headphones.
Today's video displays and scalers have to do a lot of processing, and sometimes, their pictures lag behind the audio track. Lip-Synch group delay is a rare but useful feature designed to compensate for such devices. The AVR 630 allows up to 80 milliseconds of delay on all channels, continuously adjustable in 1-millisecond increments. You can even assign different delays to different video sources if required.
Another highlight: the AVR 630's bass-management (BM) settings--especially critical for small sat/big sub systems--are available for use with every multichannel format and source, including Dolby, DTS, and SACD/DVD-A. You can set a separate crossover point for each set of speakers: one for the front left and right speakers, a different setting for the center, and another for the surrounds. The AVR 630 is the first receiver we've tested with this level of versatility. Just be aware that to accomplish bass management for SACD/DVD-A, the AVR 630 reconverts the player's analog output back to digital, where the BM takes place. Alternatively, you can turn off the AVR 630's BM for SACD/DVD-A and send full-range signals to all of your speakers. We'd recommend listening both ways to see which sounds better in your system.
The AVR 630's well-endowed back panel sprouts four inputs and two outputs for A/V/S-video sources; an 8-channel SACD/DVD-Audio input, four digital inputs (2 optical, 2 coaxial), and optical and coaxial digital outputs. An 8-channel preamp output can be used for connection to a separate multichannel power amplifier. The cluster of front-panel A/V inputs and outputs provides a handy connection route for a camcorder or a portable MP3 player. We also counted two HDTV-compatible component-video inputs. Heavy-duty speaker banana-plug-compatible connectors are used for all channels.
This model also offers numerous multiroom connectivity options, including an RS-232 port for use with computers or specialized remote control systems. IR (infrared) inputs and outputs are also available, so you can control the receiver from another room using the smaller remote. The AVR 630's refinement became obvious during our late-night listening sessions. It delivered breathtaking clarity at all volume levels; with this receiver, you won't need to blast the volume to feel the sound. And don't worry about the 75-watts-per-channel rating; the AVR 630 felt at least as powerful as typical, optimistically rated 100-watt-per-channel receivers when we played the Master and Commander DVD. This disc's extreme dynamic range assaults the endurance of many receivers, but the Harman Kardon AVR 630 sailed through unscathed.
Listening over a set of Sennheiser HD-280 Pros, we found the Dolby Headphone processing reasonably effective. The sound opened up and no longer occupied only the space between our ears. If you're a regular headphone user, it's a nice perk.
And finally, we confirmed the effectiveness of the AVR 630's bass management with David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust DVD-Audio disc. The receiver nicely integrated the bass from Atlantic Technology System 1200's wee satellites and big subwoofer--certainly better than we've heard before. The dazzling holographic 5.1-channel mix brought out the best of this SACD's clarified sound. We could pick out little details and textures in the acoustic strums that open "Starman," and we discovered subtle new inflections in Bowie's vocals.