Black or silver receivers are pretty common, but Harman's receivers, such as this new AVR 635, combine the two with a crisp brushed-metal and glossy-black look. We think Harman's models are some of the most attractive receivers on the market, but this new one's 17-inch depth is a little larger than average. And since it puts out a fair amount of heat, it needs a supply of fresh air to keep its cool. Oh, and we have to mention one other thing: when we first unboxed and used the AVR 635, we noticed its strong "new electronics" odor. Most brand-new receivers have that smell, but the Harman's aroma was more intense and lingered for a couple of days before it disappeared for good.
The Harman Kardon AVR 635 weighs a brawny 41 pounds, and that's probably the best indication of its beefy higher-end build quality. The sole exception is the receiver's paper-thin, metal top cover, which feels a little flimsy.
The receiver's sleek handset is backlit and pretty easy to use; a smaller remote is also provided for a second zone or room.
The AVR 635's 75-watt-per-channel power rating seems a little low for a $1,300 receiver, especially when 500-watt HTIBs go for $99, but we think Harman's engineers are just being more realistic than their competitors. In any case, the receiver feels as powerful as any comparably priced 100-watt-per-channel receiver we've tested. The full regimen of Dolby and DTS 5.1, 6.1, and 7.1 surround modes are present and accounted for, and the AVR 635 offers Harman's proprietary Logic 7 surround processing. Dolby Headphone, which delivers credible surround effects over stereo headphones, is also part of the game plan. The AVR 635's bass-management system covers its SACD/DVD-Audio inputs and simplifies setup chores. Meanwhile, an adjustable A/V-sync delay corrects for tardy video displays' lip-synch problems.
In the past, we knocked Harman Kardon's autosetup process, EzSet, because it handled only satellite speaker-level adjustments. But the new EzSet/EQ also determines speaker size and delay settings and corrects room-acoustics maladies with its parametric equalizer. Great, but EzSet/EQ is a 12-step operation that requires you to place the supplied microphone in four different locations in your room, so it's nowhere as easy to use as, for example, Pioneer's autocalibration system. If the extra work resulted in more accurate setup, we'd grudgingly concede the effort, but EzSet/EQ is no more precise than Pioneer's system. As it stands, we'd recommend sticking with the AVR 635's manual setup routine.
Moving on to the Harman Kardon AVR 635's connectivity suite, there's an eight-channel analog input for SACD/DVD-Audio players, four A/V inputs with S-Video (including three with component-video connections), and one component output. Digital-audio connections are also plentiful. You get six inputs--three optical and three coaxial--as well as one of each type of output. Audio-only connections include CD and a tape loop, but there's no phono input. A fourth set of A/V connections with S-Video can be found on the front panel.
It's worth mentioning that the AVR 635 does have preamplifier outputs, which allow you to hook up the receiver to a burly multichannel amplifier and use the receiver as a surround processor. If you're like us and are happy with 5.1-channel surround sound, you can reassign two of the receiver's 7.1 channels for use in another room.
Multiroom devotees have plenty of options: the AVR 635's rear-end facilities include an RS-232 computer-control port, IR inputs and outputs, and Harman's A-Bus multiroom system.
There's nothing like an over-the-top special-effects DVD to test the fortitude of an A/V receiver, so we popped on The Day After Tomorrow and let 'er rip. The DVD's battery of effects were vividly presented: the tsunami wave crashing into Manhattan, check; countless scenes with windows smashing to smithereens, check; arctic winds so fierce we could sense the granularity of the snow, check--the Harman Kardon AVR 635 consistently unleashed an incredibly realistic sound experience.
Not only did we feel the impacts of the cannonballs on the Master & Commander DVD, the men's boots thumping over the wooden decks sounded like they were in the upstairs apartment! We nudged the volume up and never detected a power shortfall; the 75 watts per channel felt pretty darn powerful.
We next sampled the high-resolution DTS 96/24 sound mixes on Peter Gabriel's Play DVD. The mixes were particularly enveloping, and bass detail and definition pumping through "Games Without Frontiers" added a new dimension to the music. And that's exactly what separates the AVR 635 from the better $500 receivers: the Harman Kardon sounds bigger and more flesh-and-blood present, so it opens up the sound of DVDs and CDs in ways that more affordable receivers can't match.
We heard impressive clarity from the AVR 635 on a series of boogie-woogie piano duets from the Rockin' the Spirit CD. Fully reproducing the sound of a pair of concert grands is an impossible task for any audio system, but when called upon to deliver the instruments' wide dynamic range and weighty presence, this receiver's graceful poise clinched the deal for us.