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Harman/Kardon AVR 2600 review: Harman/Kardon AVR 2600

Harman/Kardon AVR 2600

Matthew Moskovciak Senior Associate Editor / Reviews - Home theater
Covering home audio and video, Matthew Moskovciak helps CNET readers find the best sights and sounds for their home theaters. E-mail Matthew or follow him on Twitter @cnetmoskovciak.
Steve Guttenberg
Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.
Matthew Moskovciak
Steve Guttenberg
7 min read


Harman/Kardon AVR 2600

The Good

Four HDMI inputs; solid graphical user interface; analog video upconversion; 3D-compatible (with firmware update); 7.1 analog inputs.

The Bad

Lackluster audio performance; auto-setup was inaccurate in our test environment; missing advanced HDMI features like audio return channel and standby pass-through; no out-of-the-box iPod connectivity.

The Bottom Line

The Harman Kardon AVR 2600 is a handsome 7.1 audiovisual receiver with a great GUI, but it's hard to recommend with its high price and comparatively lackluster performance.

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.

Front-panel connectivity
There's front-panel connectivity under a pop-out cover.

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.

AVR 2600 graphical user interface
The Harman's GUI is easy to navigate, even it doesn't have any flashy graphics.

AVR 2600 GUI
We found it simple to assign inputs and complete other setup chores.

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
Warranty 1-year
The AVR-2600 is well-appointed with standard AV receiver features. It matches its competitors with features like analog video upconversion and a two-year warranty. And, as mentioned, it goes a step beyond most midrange AV receivers with its GUI.

HDMI features
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.

Video connectivity
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 Yamaha RX-V667, Onkyo HT-RC260, and Pioneer VSX-1020-K offer more. Altogether, you can connect and switch between six HD devices on the Harman Kardon, which is slightly fewer than most receivers we've tested recently.

Audio connectivity
Optical inputs 3 Coaxial inputs 3
Stereo analog audio inputs 6 Multichannel analog inputs 7.1
Minijack No Phono input No

Audio connectivity is a strength for the Harman. It has six total digital audio inputs (thanks to both optical and coaxial front-panel inputs), which is considerably more than any other competitor. The AVR 2600 also includes 7.1 multichannel analog inputs, which is a relatively rare feature these days. If you need 7.1 analog inputs, be sure to check out the Yamaha RX-V667 as well, which is the only other receiver we tested this year with that feature.

Additional features
iPod connectivity $80 dock Satellite radio Sirius
USB port 1 IR input/output Yes
Other: None

One of the major drawbacks to the AVR 2600 is its lack of out-of-the-box iPod connectivity. Many competitors now include this feature, and while Harman does offer an $80 iPod dock that works with the AVR 2600, that's a lot to ask after you've already spent $600 on an AV receiver. Note that while the AVR 2600 does have a USB port, it's used only for firmware upgrades, not digital media playback.

Multiroom features
Line-level 2nd zone outputs Yes Powered 2nd zone outputs Yes

Like most midrange receivers, the AVR 2600 has second-zone functionality, using either line-level RCA audio outputs or powered, speaker-level outputs.

Audio setup
The AVR 2600 uses Harman Kardon's proprietary EzSet/EQ system to determine speaker sizes and speaker-to-listener distances, set the volume levels of the speakers and the sub, calculate the subwoofer crossover point, and equalize the speakers' sound.

The receiver's chrome-plated EzSet/EQ measurement microphone certainly looks cooler than the usual black plastic mic, and it has a 6.3mm plug (instead of a 3.5mm plug). The EzSet/EQ microphone plugs into the AVR 2600's headphone jack, which functions as both headphone and mic receptacle. Harman's new onscreen menu system looks great and it's a breeze to navigate and use. The EzSet/EQ program sent an unusually loud series of tones and whooshes over our Aperion speakers and subwoofer; the whole process took just a few minutes. EzSet/EQ takes measurements from only one microphone position, so you can leave the room as soon as the tones start.

After the EzSet/EQ had run its course we checked the results. It correctly set all five Aperion speaker sizes to "Small," though we were surprised by the odd subwoofer-to-speaker crossover choices: 80Hz for the Intimus 4T tower speakers, and 60Hz for the small Intimus 4C center and Intimus 4B surround speakers. The 4Ts should have been set to 60Hz and the center and surrounds perform better with 80Hz or 100Hz crossover settings. The speaker-to-microphone measurement distances were all off by around 2 feet; the AVR 2600 was less accurate on that score than most receivers we've tested of late.

We also noted that after setup the AVR 2600's Dolby Volume was turned on, the Tone controls were active (set "flat"), and the EQ was turned on.

Audio performance
We started our listening sessions with music, and immediately noticed the subwoofer volume was much too loud. Not just a little too loud; it was turned up almost all the way. The bass balance was no better with movies, so we ran the EzSet/EQ again and got the same result. At that point we turned off Dolby Volume (Dolby Volume automatically maintains a more consistent soft-loud volume level for movies) and the EzSet/EQ's equalized sound. That was a little better, but we still felt the AVR 2600's sound wasn't right.

While we've used all of this year's receivers' auto-setup sound balances for our evaluations, we could not do that with the AVR 2600. The sound was that far off, so we started over and did the full manual speaker setup. The whole procedure took less than 5 minutes, and the sound was much better.

We resumed our auditions with the "Kill Bill, Volume 2" DVD. The scene where The Bride (Uma Thurman) is thrown into a plywood coffin, which is hammered shut, and is buried alive sounded scarily realistic. The Bride's panicked breaths within the coffin, the sounds of the nails being driven into the wood, and dirt being dumped on the coffin were heard from all five of our speakers. It's a great audio demo, if you can stand the claustrophobic effect it has on some people.

At this point we compared the AVR 2600 with a Denon AVR-1911 receiver with the "Black Hawk Down" Blu-ray. The front-to-rear imaging and surround immersion were exceptionally good with both receivers, but the AVR-1911 sounded more powerful and delivered a bigger wallop with grenade explosions. The AVR 2600's bass definition and control were no match for the AVR-1911's. It was easier to follow dialogue in the battle scenes with the AVR-1911. The AVR 2600 sounded strained when we turned the volume way up; the AVR-1911 sounded better when played at very high volume.

Dan Auerbach's excellent "Keep It Hid" CD's soundstage depth and spaciousness were constrained by the AVR 2600, compared with what we heard from the AVR-1911. It was much the same story with classical music CDs.

The AVR 2600's inaccurate auto-setup and below-average audio performance made for a rather poor showing in a receiver field crowded with more attractive alternatives.


Harman/Kardon AVR 2600

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 7Performance 6