Harman Kardon's latest generation of receivers is positively jam-packed with innovative new features. The $899 (list price) AVR 325--the middle-of-the-road model in the lineup and one step above the AVR 225--not only sports a full panoply of surround-processing capabilities, it offers the most extensive lineup of multiroom audio- and video-distribution options we've seen in a midpriced receiver. Its 50 watts per channel don't look too impressive on paper but sound much brawnier in the real world. The look and feel of the AVR 325 is decidedly luxurious. It is, however, a fairly large component; its 17-inch depth might be a tight squeeze on your shelves or in your entertainment center. The variable-speed cooling fan is a nice touch, but it can get fairly noisy when the receiver is rocking out. Even with the fan at maximum, this receiver runs hot.
Versatile bass-management capabilities allow the AVR 325 to extract the best possible sound from a wide array of satellite/subwoofer speaker systems. We also appreciated the receiver's Triple Crossover system, which lets you customize bass crossover frequencies separately for the front, center, and surround speakers yet still dial up just the right setting for the subwoofer. And finally, the front-panel-mounted rotary bass and treble controls make it easy to tweak the sound to your liking.
We have no complaints about the remote. The slender clicker is programmable via numerical codes but can also learn codes from other remotes. Setting up and balancing 6.1-speaker levels in a home theater is a vitally important chore because it ensures you'll be getting all of the sound quality you paid for. But it's a small hassle, and some folks never even bother going through the routine. That's why HK's engineers cooked up EzSet, a semi-automated speaker-balancing system. You first have to input speaker size and time-delay settings; EzSet then automatically adjusts the relative volume level of your front, center, and surround speakers. However, the sub requires manual adjustment. EzSet is reasonably accurate, though we did a better job manually setting the levels with the aid of a sound-pressure meter.
The receiver's big, bold display will keep you fully informed about the Dolby Digital/EX, Dolby Pro Logic II, and DTS/ES Matrix and discrete processing, as well as the two proprietary schemes, Logic 7 and VMAx. Those last two synthesize surround sound from stereo sources such as CDs and FM radio.
The connectivity suite is something special. You get full eight-channel, DVD-A/SACD analog inputs and eight-channel preamp outputs; four digital inputs (two coaxial and two optical digital); two outputs (one coaxial and one optical); HDTV-compatible component-video switching; and a host of audio and video jacks. Front-panel AV jacks are also provided.
A full set of multiroom/multichannel options makes the AVR-325 a whole-house sound source. The receiver's seven 50-watt amplifier sections are assignable for use in either 7.1 or 5.1 operation. Once configured for 5.1-channel operation, the remaining pair of channels can be used to drive the stereo audio and video in a second room. Both the main-room 5.1 system and the second-room system can be fed by separate sources--for example, DVD in the main system and FM radio in the bedroom. HK also includes a compact AVR Zone II remote to control the receiver, as well as other compatible Harman Kardon-source components in the other room. The first disc we played, the Talking Heads concert DVD, Stop Making Sense, immediately demonstrated the AVR 325's well-defined sound. Tina Weymouth's bass snapped to attention, Chris Frantz's drum kit popped, and David Byrne's vocals were remarkably natural.
The sound was warm and inviting, complementing older or less-than-perfect-sounding DVDs. Robin Williams's creepy new DVD, One Hour Photo, has a low-key soundtrack, but it nevertheless maintains a suspenseful edge. Despite its 50-watt-per-channel power rating, this 40-pound receiver has the sort of brawn we associate with more powerful receivers.
That said, the AVR 325 didn't deliver the visceral punch of Denon's more expensive 3800-series receivers. If you watch a lot of special-effects-driven DVDs, such as XXX or Goldmember, and like to play them loud, the AVR 325's power reserves may come up short. Just remember that loudness capability isn't the same thing as sound quality. If you really want to rock out, we'd recommend moving up to the next model in the line, the AVR 525.