Harman Kardon has upped the ante with its sumptuous new generation of receivers, including the AVR 330, which stands in the middle of the lineup. We found this $799 unit's sound to be richer and more confident than that of most like-priced models. Yes, it's rated at a mere 55 watts per channel, but to our ears, it sounded more like 100 watts. Unlike its less costly little brother, the, the AVR 330 has a feature package that's unusually complete, highlighted by a limited automatic setup function and two-zone operation. It would have scored an even higher rating for features, on a par with 2003's , but HK's auto setup is a step behind the competitions' this year.
Style is always a matter of taste, but we loved the AVR 330's cool and contemporary edge. The blue-halo volume-control ring adds a distinctive motif, and the oversize display imparts highly legible information, telling you which surround-processing modes and speakers are active. The receiver measures a manageable 15 inches deep.
We couldn't help but be impressed by the 330's extensive setup flexibility. You can preset surround modes for each input--say, Dolby Pro Logic II for CDs and Dolby Digital EX for DVDs--and even preselect a higher subwoofer level for DVDs than CDs. Another neat feature, Triple Crossover, allows you optimize the sound of a system made up from differently sized speakers. If you have medium-size bookshelf speakers in the front left/right positions, a slightly smaller center speaker, and tiny surround speakers, for example, the AVR 330 can assign each set its own crossover frequency. In this hypothetical example, the left/right speakers might sound best with a fairly low crossover point of 60Hz, while the center takes 80Hz, and the bass-challenged surrounds lock in at around 120Hz. Most receivers make do with just one crossover point (say, 80Hz), and you wind up with less than optimum sound quality from all speakers.
Harman's EzSet feature automatically balances the volume levels of all five speakers but curiously neglects the subwoofer's volume; you still have to set that by ear. Harman better step up to the plate; some Pioneer and Yamaha receivers, such as theand the , offer far more extensive auto setup and calibration systems. They not only adjust the volume of all of the speakers, including the subwoofer, but determine the speakers' size and measure listener-to-speaker distances.
The remote is fairly easy to program and use, though it crams in too many buttons; at least the "source" controls are backlit. Harman includes a second, smaller remote that's intended for use in another zone (or room).
No doubt some buyers will be concerned about the AVR 330's modest 55-watt power rating. That's why we'd like to bring up another specification we find a more reliable predictor of true power: the receiver's weight. The AVR 330 tips the scales at a hefty 30.6 pounds, which is right up there with most similarly priced 100-watt-per-channel receivers. Onkyo's six-channel, 100-watt TX-SR701, for example, weighs 27 pounds.
Surround-processing modes extend beyond the everyday 6.1-channel Dolby and DTS to include Harman's proprietary Logic 7 and VMAx modes. The former powers 5- or 7-channel systems from a stereo source, while the latter simulates surround over stereo speakers or headphones.