As more and more consumers are turning to home entertainment rather than going out on a Friday night, the demand for high-performing yet affordable products is increasing. While not gone, the days of super-high-ticket receivers are dwindling, making way for more affordable solutions that up until now have been thought of as entry-level or half-baked. Take for example the new Harman Kardon AVR 354 reviewed here. It retails for a manageable $799 and is available almost everywhere, from Best Buy stores to online giants such as Amazon.com.
Beyond the specs and connection options, the AVR 354 is compact for a receiver of this caliber and is finished in one of the more attractive casings I've encountered in a long while. To make life even easier, its size and, more importantly, weight are very manageable, allowing it to fit into spaces most receivers can't. However, the AVR 354 does run a bit warm and should be properly ventilated, but a huge piece of A/V equipment this is not.
Read about the high points and the low points of the AVR 354 on Page 2.
• The AVR 354 possesses a smooth, rich, dare I
say, somewhat relaxed sound that makes it soothing and enjoyable, as
opposed to overtly digital or harsh like many receivers costing less
than a grand.
• The AVR 354's two-channel performance is first-rate,
possessing a terrific soundstage in terms of width and depth, with
surprising imaging for a budget receiver.
• The AVR 354's ability to
pack in next-generation audio codecs, such as Dolby TrueHD and DTS
Master Audio, at such a low price point is staggering.
• The day-to-day livability and interface is a breeze, making this one of the easiest receivers to live with long-term.
• The Faroudja video processing helps bring legacy sources into the modern era, though don't expect your videotapes (or even standard-definition DVDs) to rival Blu-ray.
• The 75 watts that the AVR 354 brings to the party are more than enough for many speakers on the market today and powered my somewhat thirsty Meridian in-walls nicely.
• The AVR 354 is a bit light on HDMI inputs. Three just doesn't cut it if you're trying to remain competitive in today's receiver marketplace.
• The onboard auto EQ works, though it is not as good, or as simple, as offerings from Audyssey or Yamaha. I really wish Harman, as a whole, would abandon their auto EQs and partner with a third-party brand, for I think it would be hugely beneficial.
• The look of the AVR 354 is first-rate, though upon closer inspection, there are bits and pieces that are truly bargain basement and not of flagship model quality.
Harman Kardon receivers have always held a special place in my heart. I always enjoy my time with them and find them to be among the best-sounding and most feature-laden receivers out there. It's just there are always one or two things about them that make me absolutely crazy. For instance, the AVR 354's lack of HDMI inputs and somewhat useless auto EQ are enough to drive me mad. I know Harman can make a receiver that fulfills every need imaginable, for others are doing it, yet time and time again, they come to market with a receiver that is just shy of the flagship status they tout it as having. I like the AVR 354, I do. I just wanted to love it.