Amazingly enough, budgetary constraints don't hamper the performance of Harman Kardon's overachieving entry-level receiver, the AVR 125. This superb-sounding unit offers a host of new features, including higher power output, a Stereo Direct analog-bypass mode, and other refinements--at no increase in price over the model that it replaces. Amazingly enough, budgetary constraints don't hamper the performance of Harman Kardon's overachieving entry-level receiver, the AVR 125. This superb-sounding unit offers a host of new features, including higher power output, a Stereo Direct analog-bypass mode, and other refinements--at no increase in price over the model that it replaces.
Entry-level receiver with high-end sound
The AVR 125 is HK's least expensive receiver, but the company didn't scrimp on build quality. Dolby Digital, Dolby Pro Logic II, and DTS 5.1 surround decoding are handled by the sort of leading-edge, 192KHz/24-bit digital-to-analog converter that we usually see in more expensive components. Fussy audiophiles can bypass the converter by selecting the Stereo Direct mode for external analog sources, an option that most comparable receivers don't offer. The high-current, ultrawide-bandwidth amplifier section incorporates discrete output devices; power is rated at 45 watts into each of the five channels.
OK, HK deleted a few standard features, such as a phono input, component-video connections, and A/B speaker switching, but the six digital inputs and the fully adequate video/audio connectivity options should satisfy most buyers. There's a set of analog inputs for hooking up a DVD-Audio (DVD-A) or a Super Audio CD player. Front-panel digital and A/V inputs are ideally situated for gamers and video-camera users, and the color-coded speaker connectors should reduce the possibility of mixing up cable hookups. We also loved the AVR 125's easy-to-use front-panel-mounted bass and treble controls.
The receiver lacks an onscreen display, so we relied on the unit's front panel for information. Luckily, everything about the setup procedure was easy to understand and fairly intuitive. If you have large left- and right-front speakers, you may want to take advantage of the AVR 125's Advanced Digital Bass Manager, which allows you to send the LFE/subwoofer channel signals to the front speakers in addition to the subwoofer.
A quick note about the remote: The slender, preprogrammed clicker is partially backlit, and its different-sized and -shaped buttons are nicely organized.
Open your ears
The Talking Heads' Stop Making Sense DVD sounded very right--the band's rock-solid rhythms pulsed out of our reference Dynaudio Contour speakers with the sort of gusto that we associate with more powerful and pricier components. Detail resolution and air were excellent. Very dynamic DVDs such as Saving Private Ryan did reveal the AVR 125's power limitations but only when we played the system at fairly high levels.
With the home-theater tests squared away, we next listened to a lovely Igor Kipnis harpsichord recital, The Virtuoso Scarlatti, to see how the AVR 125 presented the exquisite sounds of this historic instrument. The harpsichord generates transients and rich harmonics, which can sound rather harsh and zippy on lesser electronics. However, the HK receiver unraveled the beauty of this CD with amazing grace.
Al Green's Greatest Hits on his new DVD-A release sounded very alive and gutsy. We didn't hear any evidence to suggest that the AVR 125's sound quality was hampered by HK's cost cutting. Sonics are remarkably neutral--they're warm, though not as lush as the Denon receivers', and they're richer and fuller than those of the Pioneer and Yamaha models that we've heard.
Finally, we briefly compared the $449 AVR 125 to its bigger brother, the $549 AVR 225, and we heard little difference between them. The 125 is a very good deal for those setting up a modest home theater. But if you're an audiophile or just want to eke out a bit more volume, the 225 is the way to go. It piles on another 10 watts per channel and has onscreen displays, more inputs and outputs, and EzSet functionality, which automates speaker setup to a small degree. Also take a look at the , which sells for about the same price but delivers 70 watts per channel in exchange for fewer features.