Most receivers look rather drab next to the Harman, with its crisp, new styling. The AVR 130's volume control is surrounded by a sharp-looking blue halo. The front panel's extralarge display provides full disclosure on your selected input, the surround processing, and the number of speakers in operation.
This model's options and flexibility in setup are impressive, but to access those goodies, you first have to deal with the receiver's tricky navigation and its lack of an onscreen (TV) display. We have a lot of experience setting up receivers, but we still became bogged down. We'd start, make some progress, hit the wrong button, get frustrated, then start over again. It took about 30 minutes to square away the details, but we figure you have to do it only once. We hope HK's engineers work out the kinks or throw in an onscreen display with the next-generation models.
The AVR 130's triple-crossover function is the sort of feature we associate with high-end separates, not $450 receivers. It will come in handy if you're running different-size speakers in your home theater--for example, if you have slender towers in the front channels, a midsize center, and tiny surrounds. The AVR 130 lets you dial in the optimum crossover point for each set of speakers. In our case, we'd start with 40Hz for the towers, 80Hz for the center, and 120Hz for the surround speakers. With less flexible receivers, you're forced to pick one compromise setting (say, 80Hz for all of the speakers), but it won't deliver optimum sound quality.
We encountered one minor operational snag: the AVR 130 occasionally clipped off the first second of audio from DVDs when we jumped ahead chapters. Apparently, its digital-to-analog converters were a trifle tardy locking onto the DVD player's signals, so there was a lag between when the video started and when we heard sound (we've seen other receivers do the same thing).
The long, slender programmable remote gets a passing grade; at least the "source" buttons are backlit for your convenience.
The AVR 130 is a five-channel (45 watts each) receiver, and it's equipped with a fairly wide range of processing options, including Dolby Digital, DTS, and Dolby Pro Logic II. You'll also find Harman's proprietary Logic 7 and VMAx modes; the former powers five- or seven-channel systems from a stereo source, while the latter simulates surround sound over stereo speakers or headphones.
Regarding the AVR 130's modest power rating, we'd like to bring up another specification that's almost always a more reliable predictor of build quality and power: the receiver's weight. The AVR 130 tips the scales at 23.8 pounds, right up there with many 100-watt-per-channel receivers. In comparison, Sony's STR-DE895 receiver (110 watts x 6) weighs 21 pounds. That's why we weren't at all concerned with the AVR 130's modest ratings, and our listening tests confirmed that hunch.
On the other hand, the AVR 130's connectivity suite is barely adequate, starting with just three A/V inputs with S-Video and one out. Component-video switching is entirely absent, so don't plan on using this receiver to change between a DVD player and an HDTV receiver.
Digital-audio hookups are more plentiful, with a total of four inputs (two coaxial, two optical) and two outputs (one coaxial, one optical). But stereo analog audio connections are skimpy, as you'll find just two ins and one out. Also, A/B-speaker switching is nowhere to be found. At least the designers didn't forget 5.1-channel inputs for DVD-Audio and SACD players. The front panel sports an unusually complete set of A/V ins: two more digital inputs (one coaxial and one optical) along with stereo analog audio, composite, and S-Video jacks.
Harman backs up the AVR 130 with a two-year warranty.
Any lingering doubts about the AVR 130's skimpy wattage rating vanished when we cranked the volume on the Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines DVD. Whew, the nuclear blast that follows the opening credits instantly demonstrated the AVR 130's heavyweight sonics; bass power, definition, and dynamic punch were all excellent.
Next we tried the new John Lennon video compilation DVD, Legend, and were moved by "Jealous Guy." Obviously, the DVD contains decades-old recordings, but the tasteful Dolby Digital surround mix and Lennon's wistful vocal were beyond reproach.
Full-blown holographic surround effects sounded even better when we took advantage of the AVR 130's direct multichannel inputs to listen to some SACDs and DVD-Audio discs. Beck's remarkable SACD, Sea Change, unfurled a massive soundstage over our speakers. Its swirling orchestral strings, especially on "Lonesome Tears" evoked the Beatles' trippy vibes on "A Day in the Life" from Sgt. Pepper. The purity and naturalness of Beck's sound swept us away. Regardless of its status as Harman's most affordable model, the AVR 130 really rocks.