As a previous owner of its predecessor (the AVR 310), this review of the AVR 325 was of particular interest to me. The AVR 310 is a great machine, and the AVR 325 appears to have done nothing but improve on its already excellent heritage. It's amazing how much the feature set at thistier of the HK lineup has expanded in two years, and still the price remains below the $1,000 mark. For anyone looking for a polished, easy-to-use and great-sounding receiver, the AVR 325 from Harman Kardon is easily near the top of a short list.
In addition to the typical array of bells and whistles you expect to find on modern receivers, the AVR 325 brings some interesting extras to the table. Several receivers on the market today (such as the Rotel RSX-1055, see review on page 70) are capable of processing seven and eight channel soundtracks, but cannot drive all of the speakers without the help of a second amplifier. While many purists would argue that a separate amplifier for your main speakers is the only way to go and the point is moot, this need for external amplification seems contrary to the concept of an all-in-one A/V receiver. In a way, it's not unlike opening a cool, electronic gizmo Christmas morning only to discover that it needs batteries, which were not included. The AVR 325, capable of the latest 6.1 and 7.1 decoding, also offers seven channels of high-current amplification, eliminating the need for another piece of gear. For anyone looking to step up to the world of Dolby Digital EX and DTS-ES 6.1 discrete sound, this is a huge plus.
Unique Features - In truth, the AVR 325 does require (and include) batteries. The batteries are for its two included remote controls. Before you start worrying that this unit sounds far too complicated, relax. The AVR 325 has one primary remote control and includes a second remote for two-zone configurations. If you're not using your surround-back speakers in your main listening area, you can use those powered outputs to drive a pair of speakers in another room, where you can also listen to a separate source component. The primary remote for the AVR 325 is a mixed bag. For anyone who has used HK gear, it should be very familiar. To be honest, I've never been a fan of these remotes. They are not backlit, a bit too thin, and the buttons are far too numerous and small for my tastes. That being said, however, the AVR 325's remote does have one nifty feature that is sure to help many people get the most out of their speakers. HK's exclusive "EzSet" technology uses a built-in sound meter to "automatically set speaker output levels to ensure optimum performance." Adjusting speaker output levels is something most people probably never do, but it can be critically important when trying to get the best sound out of your system. Room obstacles and acoustic nuances can often alter the amount of sound that reaches you from each speaker. I usually rely on my own Sound Pressure Level (SPL) meter and Joe Kane's Video Essentials DVD to dial in my settings, but EzSet did a pretty good job. Most EzSet levels were only off +/- 1 or 2dB from the settings I obtained with the SPL meter.
On the subject of speaker adjustments, it should be noted that the AVR 325 also excels in another area fraught with consumer confusion: bass management. The bass management frequency is the point at which low-frequency bass information is directed to the subwoofer instead of the "small" speaker that might be receiving (and can't handle) the signal The AVR 325 uses what HK calls its "Triple Crossover" system, allowing you to adjust the crossover frequency for the mains and center as well as the surround channels. Where some receivers don't let you adjust this crossover at all, the AVR 325 gives you many choices, ranging from 40Hz-200Hz. This is a major step forward in flexibility, since many receiver/speaker/subwoofer combinations greatly benefit from the tweaking of this crossover. Selecting the proper crossover for your particular speakers and subwoofer will ensure that you avoid low-frequency "holes" in your sound spectrum.
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Installation/Setup/Ease of Use
Once I got the AVR 325 set up and the speakers dialed-in, I began looking through some of the other on-screen menus. The menus are simple to navigate and intuitively laid out. I have to give HK credit for their attention to detail. My two favorites in the Small Details Department have to be the adjustable display brightness and turn-on volume. The Harman Kardon AVR 325 allows you to dim and even completely turn off the main information display on the receiver, which can otherwise be very distracting when trying to watch a scary movie in a pitch-black room. Even more useful though, is the adjustable turn-on volume. Have you ever gone to wash your hands expecting nice cool water, not knowing that the last person who used the faucet was attempting to burn a hole to the center of the Earth by way of your kitchen sink? This same problem can arise when you want to listen to the soft, soothing sound of Norah Jones, oblivious to the fact that the last thing your receiver did was blast the pod race sequence from Episode One The AVR 325 takes care of this problem (if you choose), by resetting the receiver to a pre-determined volume every time the power is turned on. Now if only HK made faucets.
When it comes to performance, the AVR 325 has everything I've come to expect from HK receivers. With 50 watts x 7 channels, this baby has more than enough power to rock the house. Watching the opening battle sequence of Gladiator in DTS-ES discrete 6.1 was a feast for the senses, and it was hard to imagine better sound from that many speakers at this price.