Harman Kardon AVR 3700 AV Receiver

Harman Kardon AVR 3700 AV Receiver

The Harman Kardon AVR 3700 AV receiver found its way into Adrienne Maxwell's home theater system, where she put the receiver to the test to see where it would succeed and where it would fail.

AVR3700.gifAs I sat down to write my review of Harman Kardon’s current top-shelf receiver, I took a look at our review archive and was surprised to discover that we haven’t done a feature review of a Harman Kardon receiver since … well … ever. The most recent quick review we did was back in mid-2009, of the HK 3390 stereo receiver. Some of that is likely due to oversight on our part, but it also seems like the Harman Kardon brand doesn’t have as much industry presence as it did earlier in my career – perhaps taking a bit of a back seat to other Harman brands like Revel, Mark Levinson, and JBL. The company is still active in product development, offering new multi-channel speaker systems, soundbars, wireless speakers, headphones, and of course receivers. The AV receiver lineup runs the price gamut from $300 entry-level models up to $999.95 for the AVR 3700 being reviewed here. Take one look at the AVR 3700’s features list, and you’ll see that it’s quite competitive with offerings from Onkyo, Yamaha, Sony, and Denon. How does it measure up in terms of performance? Let’s find out.

Additional Resources
• Read more AV receiver reviews from HomeTheaterReview.com’s writers.
• Explore more reviews in our Blu-ray Player Review section.
• Find Bookshelf Speakers or Floorstanding Speakers to connect to the AVR 3700.
• See more reviews in our Subwoofer Review section.

This 7.2-channel receiver has a listed 125 watts per channel with two channels driven at eight ohms, with 0.07 percent total harmonic distortion. It has all the latest audio and video perks, including 4K pass-through and upconversion, 3D pass-through, high-resolution audio decoding, dual HDMI outputs, powered zone-two capability, network connectivity of both the wired and wireless persuasion, vTuner Internet radio, and built-in AirPlay and DLNA streaming. Dolby Pro Logic IIz and Dolby Volume are included, as is HK’s EzSet automatic setup and EQ tool.

The AVR 3700 has an all-black chassis, as opposed to the two-tone silver/black chassis found on some of the older HK receivers. The top half of the front panel sports a large LCD that’s easily readable from across the room and a large volume knob, with a white backlight that’s also too easily seen from across the room (thankfully, you can turn down the brightness in the setup menu). The bottom half has a brushed-black finish with just the company logo and a small push-out door that hides a headphone jack, USB port, and HDMI input. Positioned oh-so-subtly between the two halves is a long row of slender black buttons for things like power, setup, exit, OK, navigation, and various AV adjustments. Overall it’s a very clean, elegant look. The chassis measures 17.3 inches wide by 6.5 inches high by 15 inches deep and weighs just 17.6 pounds.

Harman-Kardon-AVR3700-AV-Receiver-review-connections.jpgThe back panel boasts seven more HDMI inputs, as well as dual HDMI outputs (both with ARC support). Other audio inputs include two optical digital, one coaxial digital, and two stereo analog. There’s only one component video input, plus two composite ins and a composite monitor out. (The receiver will transcode and upconvert analog video to be output via HDMI.) The network connection can be made via either the wired Ethernet port or by attaching the supplied WiFi antenna to the appropriate back-panel jack to utilize the internal WiFi card. A set of seven-channel preouts are available, if you’d like to connect the AVR 3700 to external amplification, plus there are two subwoofer preouts, allowing you to use two subwoofers to improve bass response in your room. Seven pairs of binding posts will accept bare wire, spade lugs, or banana plugs (my connection method of choice). Finally, there are RS-232 and IR input/output for both the main zone and the secondary zone.

The AVR 3700 comes with two different remote controls. The primary, backlit remote measures about 10 inches long and includes lots of direct-access buttons to quickly change inputs, surround modes, video modes, audio effects, and more. The secondary remote is designed for zone two; it’s shorter and thinner and lacks backlighting, but it includes the important core buttons and thus would also work in the main zone if you prefer something a little less bulky on your coffee table. Harman Kardon also offers a free remote app for iOS and Android that includes all of the important control options. The iOS app that I auditioned integrates your device’s iTunes library and lets you launch AirPlay directly, so you don’t have to leave the Harman app and go to your iOS music player. It also finds other audio systems on your network and lets you select the one through which you want to play the music files stored on the device.

The AVR 3700 has two standby power modes. In the regular Standby mode, you can wake up the receiver through your network connection, via the control app or when sending it an AirPlay source. The Eco Standby mode draws less power, but you can’t wake it up over the network.

Harman-Kardon-AVR3700-AV-Receiver-review-EZset-eq.jpgThe Hookup
I have a traditional 5.1-channel speaker system that consists of RBH’s MC6-CT tower speakers, MC414C center, MC6C surrounds, and TS-12A subwoofer. As such, I did not utilize all seven amplifier channels or the second subwoofer preout. You have the option during setup to assign the sixth and seventh amplifier channels to surround back speakers, front height speakers for Dolby Pro Logic IIz, or zone two. You can perform a manual speaker setup to adjust level, crossover (from 40 to 200 Hz), and distance, or you can let EzSet/EQ handle it all for you by connecting the supplied microphone to the front-panel headphone jack. The setup/EQ process takes only about five minutes; it does not give you the option to skip the EQ stage and only set up the speakers, although the resulting EQ can be easily turned off via the Audio Effects sub-menu if you don’t like the results. When I ran EzSet, I got some odd results for my speakers; it set the L/R towers for 40 Hz and surrounds for 60 Hz, which was logical enough, but it set the center channel and the sub mode (which the manual recommends you match to the setting of the front L/R speakers) at 200 Hz. No automatic setup program I’ve ever run has set my center channel that high. I ultimately changed the center and surrounds to 80 Hz and matched the subwoofer mode to the towers’ 40Hz crossover.

I have two primary sources in my gear rack: a Dish Network Hopper DVR and OPPO BDP 103 Blu-ray player. Thanks to the AVR 3700’s built-in AirPlay, it was also very easy to incorporate my MacBook Pro and iPhone as sources. As is common with many AirPlay receivers, the AVR 3700 doesn’t have a direct AirPlay source button. Once you add the AVR 3700 to your home network and select it as the destination audio player through the iTunes AirPlay control tab, the receiver will automatically switch to AirPlay mode and begin playing back the source; you can control volume via either the receiver remote or iTunes volume control. This is nice and convenient; however, if you have to switch away from the AirPlay source for any reason, it’s not quite so easy to jump back. Within iTunes on my MacBook, I had to de-select the HK receiver as a destination, then reselect it and restart the audio playback to get the AVR 3700 to switch back to the AirPlay source. The AVR 3700’s DLNA support lets you access non-AirPlay-friendly media servers via the Network source input, and I had no trouble streaming music from a Samsung tablet using the AllShare DLNA app.

I also experimented with a basic zone-two setup, passing analog stereo audio from my OPPO player through the zone-two analog output to a powered speaker system in the adjacent room. I encountered no problems with this configuration, although I’d appreciate it if the receiver remote or front panel had a button to quickly enable/disable zone-two audio; as is, you have to go through the onscreen menu to do so.

I appreciate the inclusion of Dolby Volume for use with cable/satellite sources. The AVR 3700 allows you to activate Dolby Volume per source input, but it’s worth noting the function is turned on by default for every source. The Dolby Volume implementation features both a Modeler that tries to preserve and present all of the detail of the soundtrack at lower volume levels and a Leveler that evens out the level jumps between, say, commercials and TV shows. You can choose to activate only the Modeler or activate the Modeler along with varying degrees of Leveler, plus the ability to calibrate to suit your speakers. I only used Dolby Volume with my Hopper DVR source and, after some experimentation, went with the Medium setting that employs both the Modeler and a lower amount of Leveling. I was perfectly satisfied with the results I got.

Read about the performance of the Harman Kardon AVR 3700 on Page 2.

AVR3700-1.gifPerformance
I began my audio demos with some music: CDs and SACDs from my OPPO player and AIFF files streamed over AirPlay from my computer. I would characterize the AVR 3700’s sonic nature as being very neutral. I didn’t detect it adding any significant footprint to my RBH speakers, neither warming up the sound nor overly sterilizing it. The AVR 3700 had plenty of juice to power my large towers (which have an 87dB sensitivity) at high volumes. With dense tracks like Peter Gabriel’s “Sky Blue” and Rusted Root’s “Back to the Earth,” I was able to push the volume beyond what I consider to be comfortable without the receiver seeming to flinch, although I had to push the volume control to the top 25 percent to get there.

Those who really like to push the dB level may run out of volume clicks. The remote’s “Surround Modes” button makes it very easy to jump between output options, such as auto select, two- or five-channel stereo, Logic 7 Music, Dolby PLII Music, and DTS NEO:6 Music. Of the latter three, I preferred Logic 7 Music to the Dolby and DTS choices, feeling it offered a cleaner presentation with a more natural balance and distribution of sounds around the soundfield. Going back to power capabilities, when I jumped from two-channel stereo mode to Logic 7 Music, pushing all five channels at very loud volumes, I did not detect any laboring on the part of the receiver.

I played around with the AVR 3700’s EQ control, turning it on and off throughout my demos to see which mode I preferred. Ultimately, I felt that the auto-EQ profile offered some very subtle but good differences with music, particularly in vocal reproduction. The EQ eased some of the hissy sibilance and brought vocals forward just a tad, making them cleaner and more focused. This was most noticeable on some of the brighter recordings I demoed, like Chris Cornell’s “Seasons” or Rage Against the Machine’s “Bombtrack.”

The bass level achieved through the auto setup process was ideal for music tracks like Ani DiFranco’s “Little Plastic Castles,” The Bad Plus’s “1979 Semi-Finalist,” and Tom Waits’ “Long Way Home” – very controlled and laid back, with no boom to overtake the rest of instruments, which made for a great blend that again allowed me to push the volume without feeling that any one element overwhelmed the whole.

When I switched over to movie soundtracks, though, I felt the bass was just a little too mellow and subdued to properly convey the full impact of explosions in The Matrix (Warner Bros.), U-571 (Universal), and Iron Man (Paramount). I wound up ticking up the RBH sub’s manual volume just a few notches, which did the trick.

Once again, the AVR 3700 had excellent dynamic ability to bring to life the various Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD MA movie soundtracks I auditioned at high volume. Interestingly, I had the opposite reaction to the EQ control with movies that I did with music. With EQ engaged, the soundstage seemed just a tad smaller and more compressed, and vocals a bit too forward and sterile. Turning off EQ produced a better sense of openness and space all over the stage, with better blending between the center, front, and surround speakers. It’s a good thing that HK makes it so easy to quickly turn the EQ on and off via the remote’s “Audio Effects” button; as with the Surround Modes, you can very easily switch options to get the performance you desire with any particular source.

In the video arena, the AVR 3700 can be set up to pass through source video at its native resolution to let your TV or external scaler handle any upconversion, or you can let the AVR 3700 scale all the way up to 4K. I didn’t have a 4K-capable display on hand at the time of the review, so my processing tests were limited to 1080p upconversion. A nice perk is the ability to adjust the HDMI resolution setting per input, so you can go with a different option depending on each source’s own processing prowess. If you choose to let the AVR 3700 handle the processing, it will do the job well, provided you set up the receiver properly. Out of the box, the AVR 3700’s Film Mode is not enabled, so the receiver does not properly detect the 3:2 cadence of film sources, and you will see digital artifacts galore. You must enable one of the receiver’s Video Modes (Custom, Movie, Sports, Nature) to access the “Film Mode Detect” control and make sure it is set for either Auto or 3:2. I went with the Custom mode and left all the other video settings as they are, since I usually prefer to make picture adjustments through the TV. Once the Film Mode was enabled, the AVR 3700 did an excellent job, both in upscaling and deinterlacing. It passed virtually all the 480i and 1080i processing tests on the HQV and Spears & Munsil test discs, as well as my real-world 480i demo scenes from Gladiator (DreamWorks) and The Bourne Identity (Universal).

Harman-Kardon-AVR3700-AV-Receiver-review-remote-app.jpgThe Downside
As is often the case, my AVR 3700 review sample had a few HDMI-related bugs. When switching inputs, I would occasionally get a split second of snow on the screen while the receiver reestablished the handshake. A few times, I lost HDMI audio for no obvious reason and had to restart the receiver. I also noticed a quirk regarding HDMI audio, specifically with my Hopper DVR: if I powered up the Hopper before the AVR 3700, then the audio would always begin playback as stereo PCM, regardless of what signal type was actually coming from the set-top box. Once I changed channels, the receiver would detect the correct format and right itself. As long as I powered up the receiver before the set-top box, everything worked fine from the get-go.

In general, I did not feel the AVR 3700 was as intuitive and user-friendly in setup and everyday use as other receivers, like the Onkyo TX-NR515 I reviewed last year. The menu design is nothing memorable and was sometimes frustrating to navigate. The remote’s Menu button doesn’t take you to the receiver’s main setup menu, despite its prominent placement near the center of the controller; rather, you have to press the small AVR button down at the bottom of the remote to launch setup. (In the iOS control app, HK has included a Home button near the center that does pull up the main menu, which I think is more intuitive.) As I mentioned earlier, it’s easy to launch AirPlay playback but not as easy to switch back to it if you go to another source. None of these is a huge issue in and of itself, but they are little examples of ways the AVR 3700 could be made more user-friendly.

The AVR 3700 has very limited file support for DLNA and USB sources, offering only MP3 and WMA playback. Similarly-priced receivers tout support for formats like WAV, AIFF, and FLAC. AirPlay users get access to any file type that iTunes supports, but that doesn’t include FLAC, either. Additionally, Harman Kardon doesn’t include any streaming music services beyond Internet Radio; there’s no Pandora, Spotify, or the like, which you can find on many receivers that cost less. Once again, AirPlay users can stream some of these services from their iOS/Apple source, but that’s not as clean as an integrated solution. Clearly Harman Kardon made a choice to invest the extra funds in AirPlay licensing at the expense of other licensing fees. For someone like me, who owns a number of AirPlay-compatible devices, that’s great. For those who haven’t embraced an AirPlay ecosystem, maybe not so much.

Comparison and Competition
There’s no shortage of competing receivers, with companies like Onkyo, Yamaha, Sony, and Denon offering similarly-equipped models that come in near or below the AVR 3700’s $1,000 asking price. A few examples of competing 7.2-channel, networkable AV receivers are the Denon AVR-X3000 at $900, the Yamaha Aventage RX-A830 or RX-V775WA at $850, the Onkyo TX-NR828 at $900, the Sony STR-DA2800ES at $1,000, and NAD’s new T 758 at $1,000. You can get more information about all the receivers we’ve covered on our Receiver category page.

Harman-Kardon-AVR3700-AV-Receiver-review-front-small.jpgConclusion
Harman Kardon’s AVR 3700 establishes itself as a worthy contender for anyone shopping for a receiver around the $1,000 price point. From a performance standpoint, I can find little to fault with the AVR 3700, with the exception of some HDMI-related quirks that still seem to pop up in a lot of AV receivers. The AVR 3700 has most of the marquee features we want to see on a receiver at this price, like dual HDMI outs, dual subwoofer preouts, automatic setup and EQ, zone-two options, wired and wireless network connectivity, a free control app, and built-in AirPlay. As I mentioned above, though, the AVR 3700 is definitely AirPlay-centric and not really the best choice for someone who wants to stream a variety of personal media files (including high-resolution audio) over a non-AirPlay setup. Although I didn’t find the AVR 3700 to be as intuitive as some of its competitors, it does allow for a lot of fine-tuning per source and lets you easily move between surround modes and EQ options, which are things the more advanced user will likely appreciate.

Additional Resources
• Read more AV receiver reviews from HomeTheaterReview.com’s writers.
• Explore more reviews in our Blu-ray Player Review section.
• Find Bookshelf Speakers or Floorstanding Speakers to connect to the AVR 3700.
• See more reviews in our Subwoofer Review section.

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