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

If there's one piece of home-theater equipment that uses the most electricity, it's a battle between the television and the home-theater receiver. The AVR1610S, like most of Harman Kardon's line, boasts Harman GreenEdge technology which is designed to cut down on the carbon footprint: less materials and less power usage. Indeed, the AVR 1610S weighs just 10 pounds, making it the lightest AV receiver we've ever tested (the Yamaha RX-V 479 is more typical and weighs 17.9 pounds). And HK says the 1610S uses a maximum of 450W in operation while the Yamaha uses a maximum of 600W.

Setup

The AVR 1610S' manual speaker calibration setup was easy and quick, and we opted for 80 Hertz crossover settings for all of our Andrew Jones-designed ELAC B6 speakers in the front left/right spots, ELAC C5 center channel speaker, ELAC B5s as surround speakers, and a Klipsch R-110SW subwoofer. Our only gripe at this point with the AVR 1610S: the remote control's tiny volume up/down buttons. They're the most used buttons, but they're just crammed in along with the other buttons, so they're not so easy to locate in a darkened home theater.

While there's still no Bluetooth button on the remote, at least we found it easier to set up than its predecessor, the AVR 1610 . We used the source select button on the unit itself, then selected Bluetooth on our phone, at which point the AVR appeared and let us connect.

Performance

As mentioned, Harman claims 85 watts per channel for this receiver, and we found the AVR 1610S played loud enough to shake the walls of the smallish CNET listening room.

Settling in with the Rolling Stones' "Sweet Summer Day" live 2013 concert Blu-ray, the Harman Kardon AVR 1610S receiver filled the CNET listening room. The tonal balance was full and warm, which we liked. Sure, the band members are old and so are the tunes, but the sound was lacking oomph and energy. Turning up the volume helped, but the sound was still missing something.

So we hooked up the Yamaha RX-V479 receiver for comparison, and that one managed to unleash more of the Stones' get-up-and-go. Even when we turned the volume down a bit, the RX-V479's sound was more vibrant. Continuing with the "Avatar" Blu-ray didn't alter our opinion about the AVR 1610S' pleasantly warm home-theater sound. Paired with a set of overly bright speakers, the AVR 1610S might really come alive.

Next, we listened to the AVR 1610S in stereo, with just a pair of ELAC Debut B6 bookshelf speakers playing jazz saxophonist Peter Epstein's "Staring at the Sun" album. There, the AVR 1610S came into its own, and the little speakers' easily handled the drummer's uncompressed dynamic range. We heard a surprising amount of bass, and thought for a second the subwoofer was on, but it was not. The AVR 1610S brought out more bass from these little speakers than we're used to.

The Kronos String Quartet's "Early Music" album was also tonally rich, but we wished for a bit more immediacy and presence in the sound of the cello, viola, and violins. We're not claiming big differences between the sound of the Yamaha and Harman Kardon receivers, but careful listeners might prefer one over the other.

Comparing the Yamaha's MusicCast sound quality to streaming via the Harman Control app we found that the Yamaha system had better control over bass frequencies and was also a little less tiring to listen to. The deep, deep synth line that appears at 2.20 mark in the Beta Band's "Life" was kept in check by the Yamaha but became bloated in the hands of the HK.

Conclusion

The Harman Kardon AVR 1610S is a perfectly adequate AV receiver, but the sound didn't blow us away. It's certainly not harsh or fatiguing, and we're thankful for that. We were also happy to note that, despite its lighter-than-average weight, the AVR 1610S seemed about as powerful as any other similarly priced receiver that's passed through the CNET listening room.

Ultimately, though, there are so many other great receivers -- including the identically priced Yamaha RX-V479 that we directly compared -- that it's tough to recommend the HK unless you're just in love with the design.