Harman Kardon AVR-330, review

October 20, 2004

avr-330In the interest of full disclosure, I used to think Harman Kardon, for lack of a better word, sucked. This goes back to the days when they were still in their “Taiwanese phase”, sometime back in the early 90’s. It had a cheap plasticy, light feel and just didn’t inspire me much. In those days we were a Marantz dealer and at the time Marantz had solid, heavy, good sounding receivers, with black brushed metal faceplates. Obviously both brands have grown, but in all honesty it’s been a long, long time since I took a look at any piece of Harman gear. Well, I’m glad I got off my high horse and gave them another look. This review has been a real eye opener for me, not only in terms of how surround receivers have changed in the last few years, but in how Harman has matured into a viable product range.

The Harman Kardon AVR-330 is a seven channel Dolby Digital EX /DTS-ES surround receiver. The power rating is 55 watts per channel, however this seems to be a conservative rating as it seemed to drive my speakers, as well as receivers rated at nearly twice as much. The receiver also has two in one out component video switching and multi room capability. I won’t spend a lot of time discussing every last button and mode, as many of these bells and whistles may look good on paper, but rarely get used once the newness has worn off.

Right after I finished the connections and fired it up, I started surfing through channels on Voom and caught the beginning of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), and thought all right this is worth a few yuks, scary flick worth a look if you get a chance. Anyway already preparing myself for the worst, I was caught off guard when the narration started during the opening sequence. The dialogue was intelligible, breathy, and defined. It kind of took me by surprise and I thought it was a fluke, no HK receiver could sound “right” fresh out of the box and with no tweaking. I have to admit I was wrong, because we actually watched the whole movie through, with no desire to twiddle around with settings. This was a good sign

Ok I must be tired, I thought to myself, this is too good, but when the first few notes of ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ came through I was again surprised. This time by the fact I was tapping my foot along with the music, something I rarely do with movie soundtracks at home. After the “van incident” I was still engaged but began to notice that maybe the voices between the five actors lacked a tiny bit of tonal separation. Nothing major, but the actors voices just didn’t seem to sound as “different” from each other as I’d noticed on my Denon AVR-3802. Again this was a minor difference between the two receivers, not a deal breaker by any means, as the Denon retailed for quite a bit more when it was new.

I wanted to check out some DVD material so I popped in “Star Wars: A New Hope” from the recent box set. The opening battle sequence had plenty of low end presence but still portrayed the subtleties of the orchestral soundtrack at the same time. Aboard Leia’s ship, the storm troopers foot falls in the halls had a pronounced ‘click clack’ I hadn’t noticed before. The ‘swoosh’ of doors in the ship opening and closing, had an almost analog sound to them, again something I hadn’t remembered hearing with the last two receivers in my setup.

With my Dolby Digital performance curiosity satisfied, I wanted to move on to DTS testing. I don’t know about you but I’ve got a lot fewer DTS discs in my collection than Dolby Digital, I do however have a favorite. Master and Commander is one of those rare discs that have a fantastic soundtrack, that doesn’t involve any motorcycles missiles or laser beams. With an obviously superior soundtrack to the previous films mentioned, it was odd that the scene I was most impressed with starts with complete silence. In chapter 4, right between the flash of cannon fire in the fog from the Acheron to the time Capt. Aubrey yells “Down! All hands Down!” there is near silence. From that point on the AVR-330 showed no sign of weakness portraying the deck of the Surprise being shattered by the cannon fire. This kind of dynamics is impressive in any receiver especially in one that retails at $699.00.

Overall, I was really impressed at what the AVR 330 had to offer. It’s a solid value for its price range and would likely satisfy most home theater aficionados. Was it perfect? No. The remote isn’t fully backlit and the buttons are on the small side, but hey that’s what universal remotes are for right? Another minor annoyance was the EZ-Set feature, which basically plays test tones and a microphone in the remote checks volume level and adjusts the channel level accordingly. I got mixed results with this feature. Two out of three tries I got worse results than I could have achieved tuning by ear. It might be useful for a quick setup, but I’d still recommend using a SPL meter to dial in the final settings.

So in closing, if you’re looking for a decent, entry to mid level, surround sound receiver that won’t break the bank, yet offers current surround sound decoding modes, the Harman Kardon AVR-330 is definitely worth a listen.

Posted by Bryan Greenway | | Filed Under Reviews, Surround Receiver Reviews


  • jr

    I have a new HK, hooked it up and the sound is muffuled. Vole knob won’t work on receivers. Volume is all the way up on TV and it sounds like its only half way. Please help****

  • jr

    I have a new HK, hooked it up and the sound is muffuled. Vole knob won’t work on receivers. Volume is all the way up on TV and it sounds like its only half way. Please help****