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Harman Kardon AVR 1610S review: A good-looking but feature-challenged AV receiver

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The Good The 10-pound Harman Kardon AVR 1610S won't warp your furniture or shelving, and it's got the requisite basic feature set including Bluetooth audio and five HDMI inputs. Sound quality is decent considering the price.

The Bad There's no built-in Wi-Fi. The remote's teensy volume control buttons might be a challenge to find in a darkened home theater. The user interface is severely outdated. And the identically priced Yamaha trounces it on features and sound quality.

The Bottom Line The Harman Kardon AVR 1610S is a decent AV receiver, but it pales in comparison to plenty of far better alternatives at the same price.

6.9 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 7
  • Sound 7
  • Value 6

Every year, most audio brands churn out a new line of AV receivers, adding incremental new features and maybe a power bump here or there. Some manufacturers, however, are more languid. Brands like Harman Kardon and Rotel have seemingly concentrated on sound quality, releasing new models every couple of years, rather than participate in the features arms race.

Indeed, Harman Kardon's new AVR models for 2015 are updates of the company's 2013 line. And Harman has opted for an iPhone-style naming scheme, simply adding an "S" to the three upgraded receivers: the 1510S, the 1610S (reviewed here) and the 1710S are upgrades of the 1510, 1610 and 1710, respectively. Despite the low expectations inherent in such a subtle name change, however, the feature upgrades are both plentiful and useful: the 1610S adds Spotify Connect and five HDMI 2.0 ports, while retaining its predecessor's support for wireless Bluetooth streaming and $400 price point. Sadly, though, there's no Wi-Fi; it's Ethernet only. (Incredibly, Harman doesn't offer Wi-Fi until you step up to its $1,000 offering, the AVR 3700.)

Home-theater playback is excellent, creating a soundfield every bit as enveloping as competitors'. Music replay is also passable, though the Yamaha RV-X479 does a better job, especially at reproducing the bass lines of rock and dance music. The Yamaha receiver also adds multiroom music capabilities -- including wireless! -- making it a better rounded package than the Harman Kardon. However, if you're a fan of the HK's style -- and it does have a great look -- the AVR 1610S is a solid, if a little flawed, buy at the price.

Design

harman-kardon-avr-1610s-09.jpg
Sarah Tew/CNET

If you like design minimalism, then the AVR 1610S should probably be in your sights. The receiver is the spitting image of its predecessor, as the addition of an "S" would suggest, though this is actually a good thing. Height-wise, the 1610S is halfway between the ultratrim Marantz NR receivers and the rest of the category pack at 4.75 inches (12cm).

harman-kardon-avr-1610s-10.jpg
Sarah Tew/CNET

Unlike similar brands there is only one knob on the HK, and it does exactly what you'd expect it to do: adjust the volume. While other receivers offer a source dial, or even better direct buttons, the AVR 1610S only has small source up/down buttons.

harman-kardon-avr-1610s-14.jpg
Sarah Tew/CNET

The remote. Oh, the remote. It's terrible. The buttons are small, and it's easy to accidentally start controlling the disc player, for example, without realizing and then wondering why the buttons don't work.

harman-kardon-avr-1610s-04.jpg
Sarah Tew/CNET

The menu system is also horribly dated with a 480i interface and spindly white text. While it's actually just as usable as other receiver menus, the looks aren't such a problem: most people will use the menu only to set up their system and then never look at it again.

Features

The Harman Kardon AVR 1610S is capable of 85 watts per channel in stereo, though it doesn't give a true rating with five channels driven at once. Unlike competitors, HK uses a digital amplifier in its AVR1610S which accounts for the low weight. This is compared with analog designs like the Yamaha RX-V479 which need a hefty transformer. (Once upon a time, Harman Kardon made a big deal about its conservative power ratings, even as competitors pumped up their reported wattage to more unbelievable levels.)

harman-kardon-avr-1610s-13.jpg
Sarah Tew/CNET

The AVR includes five HDMI 2.0 inputs (including one that's MHL-compatible), so support for 4K video standards is possible. You also get two analog AV inputs, one each coaxial and optical digital inputs, plus a front-mounted USB port.

harman-kardon-avr-1610s-12.jpg
Sarah Tew/CNET

Harman's "TrueStream" Bluetooth technology allows for wireless streaming from any phone or tablet. An Ethernet port provides wired networking support, but there's no Wi-Fi -- though you could always add a $35 Chromecast Audio for that.

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Ty Pendlebury/CNET

While the HK's competitor is all about the wireless multiroom streaming in the form of its MusicCast technology, the 1610S will only support Spotify Connect, vTuner Internet radio and UPnP/DLNA streaming from your network. While there is a Harman Control app that enables you to stream music to the device, it's not as slick as competitors' efforts.

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