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test report BY DANIEL KUMIN

Harman Kardon
AVR 510 Digital Surround Receiver

arman Kardon’s AVR 510 boasts And check out this unusual wrinkle: the The receiver’s back panel has a healthy

H
several intriguing features. It’s the front-panel A/V jacks not only provide a assortment of inputs and outputs. All video
first digital surround receiver we convenient extra input for a camcorder or paths offer a choice of composite- or S-
have reviewed that incorporates videogame console, but an onscreen menu video connectors, and there are two sets of
stereo decoding for MP3-format lets you convert them to outputs for feed- component-video input jacks, hard-wired
digital audio files. Of course, it ing a recorder. An adjacent LED indicator to DVD and Video 2. (Like most receivers
also does Dolby Digital, DTS, and Pro turns red when the jacks are in output with component connections, the AVR 510
Logic decoding for surround sound, and mode, reverting to green for input whenev- cannot send onscreen menus to its compo-
there are additional surround modes, in- er the receiver is turned off and on again. nent output.) Other highlights include pre-
cluding Harman’s own Logic 7. The front panel also sports a pair of digital amp outputs and power-amp inputs for all
Neat feature No. 2 is an all-new prepro- audio connectors, one optical and one co- five amplified channels as well as a 5.1-
grammed/learning universal remote con- axial, which normally function as inputs. channel analog input for a DVD-Audio or
trol that incorporates a microphone and Like the analog jacks, the coaxial input can multichannel Super Audio CD player. (As
sound-level meter so you have everything also be converted to an output. Talk about
you need to automatically balance the lev- flexibility! fast facts
els of the five main output channels. Har- The AVR 510 has the same handsome
man Kardon calls this feature EZSet. design Harman Kardon has used for sever- RATED POWER 70 watts x 5 into 8
Like most A/V receivers in its class, the al years, with black glass covering the top ohms from 20 Hz to 20 kHz with less than
0.07% THD, channels driven individually
AVR 510 also provides a set of fully inde- half of the front, including the large, three- DIMENSIONS 171⁄4 inches wide, 61⁄2
pendent line-level stereo outputs for a sec- part display. A big volume knob sits above inches high, 171⁄8 inches deep
ond zone along with a multiroom infrared three small knobs for bass, treble, and bal- WEIGHT 35 pounds
(IR) control input so you can select pro- ance — I’m seeing fewer and fewer such PRICE $999
PHOTOS BY TONY CORDOZA

MANUFACTURER Harman Kardon,


grams and control volume from the remote easy-to-use rotary controls these days. The
Dept. S&V, 250 Crossways Park Dr.,
room. Harman Kardon even includes a tone controls operate in all surround modes Woodbury, NY 11797; 800-422-8027;
separate, basic remote control for use in as well as in stereo, but only on the front www.harmankardon.com
the second room. left/right channels.

SOUND & VISION JUNE 2001 51


test report

darned good and considerably ing of 70 watts


key features better than most users could per channel, it
● Dolby Digital, DTS, and digital-domain do by ear. The caveat? While proved quite pow-
Pro Logic decoding you hold the remote at the erful, too. (Remem-
● Decodes MP3 data fed to digital inputs in listening position, it must ber, in terms of sound
standard (SPDIF) digital audio format
● Logic 7 surround modes for music and
have a clear line of sight to level, the difference be-
TV/movie sound the receiver for its infrared tween 70 and 100 watts is
● 1 Theater mode, 2 Hall modes signals. If the receiver is located well just a bit over 11⁄2 dB — hardly
● Level/bass-management settings stored to one side instead of being in the meaningful. And the AVR 510 ex-
separately for each surround mode
front of the room, EZSet won’t ceeded its rating by a generous mar-
● Decodes HDCDs
● VMAx virtual surround for two-speaker work properly — but it also won’t gin anyway.)
playback give you an error message. In full-range stereo music listening,
● Front-panel A/V and optical/coaxial digital Harman Kardon has built a bit more without a subwoofer, the AVR 510 played
audio inputs; all but optical jack can be flexibility into the AVR 510 than many re- very loud without distortion — almost as
converted to recorder outputs
● 3 A/V inputs, 2 A/V outputs on back
ceivers offer, so it demands (and rewards) a loud as the 150-watt-per-channel receiver
panel, all with S-video, 2 with component bit more planning on the part of the user. I’d been using previously. Pushed too hard,
video For one thing, any of the six digital audio however, it began sounding “hazy,” and
● 2 optical and 2 coaxial digital audio inputs, input jacks — counting those on the front when I forced it a couple of decibels fur-
1 optical and 1 coaxial output on back;
as well as the back — can be assigned free- ther out, it distorted on large transients.
can be assigned to any digital source
● 5.1-channel external analog audio input ly to any source. For another, the receiver Performance with standard 5.1-channel
● 2 analog audio-only inputs, 1 tape loop remembers your surround-mode, speaker- material was first-class, as on the energeti-
● 5-channel pre-out/main-in jacks size, and channel-level settings individual- cally mixed (and surprisingly good) sound-
● Headphone jack ly for each assigned source. track of the Rocky and Bullwinkle DVD
● Multiroom stereo audio output and IR
control input
You could, for instance, set up the DVD (all right, all right, so it was family night at
● AM/FM tuner with 30 presets input with Dolby Digital as the default sur- the Kumin residence . . .). The series of
● Binding posts for all speaker outputs round mode, “small” speakers plus a sub- well-done helicopter flybys at the start of
● Preprogrammed/learning main remote woofer, and channel levels calibrated for Chapter 8 were impressively tight and
control with microphone and sound-level
movies, while leaving the CD input set up smooth in both the Dolby Digital and DTS
meter for automatic EZSet speaker
balancing; 5-macro capability for stereo and “large” (full-range) front soundtracks, as were the film’s innumer-
● Simplified second-room remote control left/right speakers. These two inputs might able sound and musical effects.
even be supplied by the same component The receiver’s additional surround modes
— a DVD player’s optical digital audio are all variations on ambience extraction
with every receiver we know of, the multi- output could be assigned to the DVD input as opposed to ambience synthesis — no ar-
channel input signals go straight to the am- and its coaxial output to the CD input. tificial reverb is added. Among the most
plifier section, bypassing the bass-manage- What’s more, each surround mode stores engaging are Logic 7 M (music) and Logic
ment circuitry.) All this combines to earn its relative channel levels individually, so 7 C (cinema), intended for stereo music
the AVR 510 a solid A grade for flexibility you might use the calibrated balance dialed and surround-encoded TV sound or movie
— maybe an A+. in by EZSet for Dolby Digital while setting soundtracks, respectively. The two are sim-
After introducing the receiver to my us- the surround channels in the two Hall ilar, though with the music mode there was
ual suite of reference speakers and source modes a couple of decibels higher. more ambience from the surround chan-
components — setting all speakers to All this makes the AVR 510 highly cus- nels. With Logic 7 M, live acoustic music
“small,” with bass directed to my subwoof- tomizable if you’re prepared to take the recordings were naturally spacious and vo-
er — my first order of business was to put trouble. The downside is that it’s more cals sounded excellent in the center chan-
its EZSet auto-level-balancing gizmo to complex to set up, particularly since you nel, both contributing to a consistently be-
the test. Simply hold the remote upward at must set the channel levels and bass man- lievable front soundstage and a restrained
arm’s length while you’re in the main lis- agement individually for each input you but spacious surround. The music mode
tening position, keep it steady, and hold in want to use. did a great job on studio recordings, too.
its SPL (sound-pressure level) key. The re- The AVR 510 sounded excellent in both As far as playing MP3 files, Harman
ceiver automatically cycles twice through two-channel stereo and surround modes — Kardon claims that the AVR 510 can con-
the five channels, playing level-set noise and despite its relatively modest power rat- vert MP3 data received at any of its digital
and robotically fiddling levels up and down
while an LED on the remote changes color
from red (too loud!) or amber (too soft!) to
green (j-u-u-st right!).
The system worked very well, but with
one caveat. The final levels were all within
1 dB of those I arrived at by performing the
same task manually using my tripod-
mounted sound-level meter — pretty

52 JUNE 2001 SOUND & VISION


test report

tive — not even volume and mute — un-


less you program a “punch-through” com- HIGH POINTS
mand for them. (You can also program Very good amplifier performance.
punch-through commands in the opposite Flexible full-system remote control.
direction for channel up/down and DVD/ Excellent Logic 7 surround mode
CD transport controls.) for stereo music.
Harman Kardon’s midprice AVR 510 is Automatic channel balancing.
clearly targeted to people who are serious Front-panel A/V and digital audio
about home theater. It has fewer bells and inputs can double as record outputs.
whistles than many other receivers in its
price range, but all the important stuff is LOW P OI NTS
there: Dolby Digital, DTS, an excellent all- No 6.1/7.1-channel operation.
purpose surround mode for music, another No video for remote-zone output.
The AVR 510’s performance was first- for stereo or surround-encoded TV or mov- Worse AM performance than usual.
class with the energetically mixed ie sound, a well-thought-out remote con-
Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks of trol, and outstanding input/output and ex-
the Rocky and Bullwinkle DVD. pansion options. One omission is 6.1- small number of DVDs that have Dolby
channel decoding, but we’re just beginning Digital Surround EX or DTS-ES sound-
audio inputs to analog stereo audio. I was to encounter this in midprice receivers, and tracks. In nearly all respects, the AVR 510
unable to test this because I couldn’t find it’s certainly not something most people is thoughtfully designed, and its 5.1-chan-
any component that could feed MP3 data are concerned with given the relatively nel excellence is beyond dispute. S&V
in standard (SPDIF) digital audio format to
the receiver. Neither of the two MP3-capa- in the lab
ble CD-R/RW recorders I tried would do it
— and one of them was a brand-new Har- DOLBY DIGITAL PERFORMANCE Distortion at 1 watt (THD+N, 1 kHz,
All data were obtained from Dolby Labs’ Dolby 8/4 ohms) .............................................0.03/0.03%
man Kardon model! Not to worry. The Digital test DVD using dithered test signals,
company says that its forthcoming DAL Linearity error (at –90 dBFS)................1.25 dB
which set limits on measured distortion and
150 USB-to-SPDIF audio converter ($119) noise performance. Reference input level is –20 Noise level (A-wtd)..............................–74.5 dB
will do the trick, but until then we’ll just dBFS, and reference output is 1 watt into 8 ohms,
Excess noise (with/without sine-wave signal)
obtained with the volume control set to –7 dB.
have to take its word for it. 16-bit (EN16)..............................+1.25/+1.25 dB
All are worst-case figures where applicable.
The AVR 510’s main remote control is quasi-20-bit (EN20).......................+14.9/+15 dB
Output at clipping (1 kHz, 8 ohms)
densely filled, but the keys are thoughtfully Noise modulation ..................................0.6 dB
one channel driven..............123 watts (21 dBW)
arrayed and have a variety of shapes and one channel driven (4 ohms)...............185 watts Tone-control range
sizes. Overall, I liked this handset a good five channels driven .........74 watts (18.75 dBW) 100 Hz..............................................+9.9, –9 dB
deal — especially its Light key, which illu- Distortion at 1 watt (THD+N, 1 kHz)
10 kHz .......................................... +9.7, –9.4 dB
minates every button, almost all of which 8/4 ohms...........................................0.05/0.06% Frequency response (tone controls off)
have function labels printed on top where Noise level (A-wtd, 16-bit data)...........–69.8 dB
20 Hz to 20 kHz +0.3, –0.2 dB
you can see them. Another subtle but use-
Excess noise (with sine-wave signal) TUNER PERFORMANCE
ful touch indicates that somebody actually
16-bit (EN16)............................................6.6 dB All figures FM only except frequency response.
gave ergonomic issues more than a passing
Frequency response Sensitivity
thought in the remote’s design. Dolby Dig-
all channels.......20 Hz to 20 kHz +0.1, –0.15 dB (50-dB quieting, mono/stereo).......21.2/41.9 dBf
ital night-mode dynamic-range compres-
sion is always available directly, in two lev- Subwoofer-output frequency response Capture ratio (at 65 dBf) .........................1.5 dB
18 dB/octave above –3-dB point of 82 Hz
els, via a dedicated key. (Some manufactur- Selectivity
ers bury this useful feature beneath layers High-pass-filter frequency response (alternate/adjacent channel).............58.6/6.4 dB
12 dB/octave below –3-dB point of 80 Hz
of onscreen menus.) Noise level
The remote’s preprogrammed library Maximum subwoofer output (from 5.1- (at 65 dBf, mono/stereo) ............–71.9/–66.6 dB
channel, 31-Hz signal at reference volume
worked fine on a Toshiba TV and an RCA Frequency response
setting) ..................................................9.2 volts
DirecTV receiver, but none of its Sony- FM ......................20 Hz to 15 kHz +1.2, –1.6 dB
Subwoofer distortion (from 5.1-channel, 31- AM ...................58 Hz to 3.18 kHz +1.0, –6.0 dB
brand codes succeeded in operating my 3-
Hz, 0-dBFS signal; master-volume at reference
year-old DVD player. Fortunately, its learn- level; subwoofer trim set to 0) ..................0.95% The AVR 510 easily exceeded its specified
ing capability covers that sort of omission. power with one or two channels driven and more
To pick a few nits: The important OSD STEREO PERFORMANCE, modestly with five channels driven. Other results
key, for calling up the onscreen display, is DIGITAL INPUTS were about what we expect in this price range
Volume setting for reference output level was –7 (very fine), with one curious exception: in Dolby
buried below the ten numeric keys, and the dB. Speakers were set to “large,” subwoofer off. Digital mode, the front left/right channels were a
mute key is up in the corner, four rows few decibels noisier than the other three chan-
Output at clipping (1 kHz, both channels driven)
away from the volume arrows. If you switch nels. FM weak-signal reception was only medi-
8 ohms ...........................118 watts (20.75 dBW)
the remote to control another component, ocre, and AM reception was poor. — D.K.
4 ohms ................................................158 watts
none of the receiver commands remain ac-

54 JUNE 2001 SOUND & VISION