Among the first things you'll notice about Harman Kardon's AVR 635 receiver are its price and modest power ratings. The seven-channel, 75-watt-per-channel receiver has an MSRP of $1,299--stats that stand out in a crowded field of 100-watt-per-channel receivers with list prices of $500. Don't let the numbers throw you, though. A closer look at the AVR 635 will reveal a host of important features, such as full autosetup calibration, room equalization, and a bass-management system that covers SACD/DVD-Audio inputs. The real bottom line for pricey receivers is sound quality, and we think the AVR 635 ranks near the top of its class.
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.