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Harmon Kardon HS 100 review: Harman Kardon HS 100

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The Good Sleek A/V receiver and DVD-Audio/video player. Wraparound metal-mesh grilles add pizzazz to the five two-way satellites' look. Matching 10-inch, 100-watt, powered subwoofer.

The Bad Middling home-theatre performance. Less than intuitive onscreen menu navigation. Crowded DVD controls on remote control. Slow switching between A/V sources; no HDMI output.

The Bottom Line The Harman Kardon HS 100's elegant good looks and sweet musicality may be enough for some buyers, but the pricey system lacks the oomph for convincing home-theatre duty.

6.9 Overall

Review Sections

Most folks who buy home-theatre-in-a-box (HTIB) systems do so because they're affordable, they're easy to set up, and all of the pieces match. They don't seem to mind that many HTIBs' silver-plastic speakers and electronics look and feel, well, cheesy. With the HS 100, Harman Kardon broke that stereotype -- this sleekly styled receiver/DVD player and six-piece satellite/subwoofer package will look great mated with higher-end plasma screens. Alas, the sound quality isn't as sophisticated as the style: it didn't rise above average for HTIBs but was enjoyable enough for straight dramas and music.

Design
The Harman Kardon HS 100 is a home-theatre-in-a-box (HTIB) package that features a combo receiver and DVD-Audio/video player, as well as a six-piece satellite/subwoofer speaker. What sets it apart from most of its HTIB brethren is its stunning industrial design -- it's easily one of the best-looking home-theatre systems we've seen. The HS 100 has a high-end aura that makes most even pricier HTIBs look and feel rather cheap by comparison. The complete ensemble comes in a muted silver finish.

The solitary backlit volume control on the receiver/DVD player's jet-black front panel is the focal point of the head unit's elegant design; the top front edge of the unit has a few buttons. Its ventilation slots are laid out in a distinct pattern on both sides of the chassis, and instead of the usual round feet, the HS 100 rests on clear plastic rails. Viewed from the front, the receiver/DVD player appeared to float just above the shelf in our A/V rack.

The remote will be familiar to anyone who has used a Harman Kardon design of the last few years. The tapered design's button contingent offers quick access to all of the necessary functions, but the DVD player's transport buttons are squeezed together at the skinny, bottom end of the remote. Operating those buttons was a little awkward.

Wraparound metal-mesh grilles grace the three-sided satellite speakers, which are just 180mm tall. The sats come packed with brackets to facilitate wall mounting. The matching 240mm-wide centre has an integral base, and the speaker can be set atop at TV or on a shelf under the set. The subwoofer mimics the speakers' style on a grander scale: it is 340mm wide, 489mm tall, and 340mm deep. Like the receiver's volume control knob, the LED on the sub's top panel changes from orange to blue when it switches over from standby to operating modes. Beautifully constructed and finished, the sub weighs approximately 15kg. Setup particulars weren't as elegant as other aspects of the design -- we found the HS 100's onscreen navigation less than intuitive. But at least that's not something you have to deal with on a day-to-day basis. The factory default settings for speakers' volume levels were way off -- the centre speaker was much louder than the front and surround speakers -- and correcting the imbalances on the HS 100 was an exercise in frustration. More annoying was the unit's slow response to commands. For example, pressing the Source button on the receiver, we sometimes waited six or more seconds to change sources, say from DVD to FM radio; the switchover is near instantaneous on most HTIBs.

The HS 100 comes with two user's manuals: one for the receiver/DVD player and one for the satellite/subwoofer system. Both offer general setup information but fail to give specific advice for matching the receiver with the speakers.

Features
The Harman Kardon HS 100 emphasis is clearly on design, but it covers the basic features. The single-disc player can spin just about any standard disc format, including DVD video, DVD-Audio, VCDs, SVCDs, and audio CDs. All the standard home-burned disc formats will play as well, including DVD-R/RWs, DVD+R/RWs, CD-R/RWs, and CDs encoded with MP3, WMA and JPEG files. Standard Dolby and DTS surround processing modes are on board.

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