Harman Kardon AVR 354 A/V Receiver Reviewed

Harman Kardon AVR 354 A/V Receiver Reviewed

The two channel performance on the AVR 354 is "first-rate, possessing a terrific soundstage in terms of width and depth." The easy interface "makes this one of the easiest receivers to live with long-term." When it comes to the actual performance, our reviewer said it "possesses a smooth, rich, dare I say, somewhat relaxed sound"

harmon-kardon-avr-354-review.gifAs 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. 

Additional Resources
• Read a review of the Harman Kardon AVR 154 from HomeTheaterReview.com Editor, Andrew Robinson.
• Explore over 100 other high performance, HDMI receiver reviews from HomeTheaterReview.com's AV Receiver Archive.
The Harman Kardon AVR 354 is a seven-channel surround sound receiver with Faroudja DCDi video processing and HDMI 1.3a upscaling to 1080p. In terms of overall HD performance, the AVR 354 sits roughly in the middle of the pack when it comes connection options, featuring three HDMI inputs and one out, accompanied by three component video inputs and one out. Between the two, most HD-conscious consumers should be covered, although it would be nice to have more HDMI inputs to simplify things around back. To combat the issue, the AVR 354 upscales all video connections to 1080p to be output via the single HDMI monitor output. The AVR 354 also features Harman's own Bridge II iPod dock, which will not only interface with your receiver but also charge your iPod. I know this seems like a no-brainer, but most third-party iPod docks are usually not included and range in price from $50-$350-plus. The AVR 354 also features Harman's own EzSet/EQ equalization, which is a lot like Audyssey's auto EQ in that it essentially calibrates your speakers to your listening room for the best sound/surround performance. Speaking of surround sound performance, the AVR 354 features both Dolby TrueHD and DTS Master Audio. For your surround sound pleasure, you get 75 watts on tap across all seven channels, which may not sound like a lot, given some of today's receiver specs, but rest assured, the AVR 354 has all the power the average consumer is likely to ever need. If 75 watts proves too wimpy for your tastes, the AVR 354 has a full complement of preamp outputs, allowing you to mate it to a separate power amp or two, turning the AVR 354 into an A/V processor.

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.

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High Points
• 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.

Low Points
• 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. 

Conclusion
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.


Additional Resources
• Read a review of the Harman Kardon AVR 154 from HomeTheaterReview.com Editor, Andrew Robinson.
• Explore over 100 other high performance, HDMI receiver reviews from HomeTheaterReview.com's AV Receiver Archive.

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