On paper at least, the Harman Kardon AVR 130 receiver's stats didn't wow us. First off, it may be the brand's entry-level unit, but at $449 (list price), it's significantly costlier than most competitors' budget models. The AVR 130 is a five-channel (not six) receiver, and there's the matter of power. This receiver is rated at 45 watts per channel, whereas most similarly priced models claim 80 to 100 watts. But numbers don't tell the whole story. The AVR 130's sound and build quality make it more than competitive with other models in its price class.
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.