Three Ways to Fill a Rack Budget Model: Harman Kardon AVR 147
It is a slight injustice to plug in this Harman Kardon model as our budget receiver choice. After all, the AVR 147 is second from the bottom of the line and, at $449, costs $100 more than the AVR 146. For the extra bucks, it delivers slightly more power—40 watts times five, versus 30 for the lower model. And it adds the newbie-comforting EzSet/EQ function that is trickling down in the lines of several receiver manufacturers and, therefore, becoming accessible to the budget-minded consumer. Harman Kardon receivers look so cool, with their distinctive two-tone color scheme, that it's hard to believe this is a budget model at all based on looks alone.
The EzSet part of EzSet/EQ refers to the automatic setup that glides through some of the most confusing aspects of configuring a receiver. Then there's the EQ part, which refers to an auto room-equalization program that compensates for problems in room acoustics. Just connect the supplied microphone to the front panel, activate the program, and it does the heavy lifting for you.
Like all AVR47 series models in the Harman Kardon line, the AVR 147 is SimplayHD-certified. That means Simplay Labs has tested it for compliance with SimplayHD-certified HDTVs via HDMI. The version of HDMI provided here is for passive video switching only. Harman Kardon has also paid attention to the analog component video connections, endowing them with wide-rage 100-megahertz circuitry to ensure they don't truncate the resolution of high-def signals.
If you want to connect your iPod, you'll need the Bridge. It's a $69 optional accessory—not bad, given that some other manufacturers charge $100. It handles iPod video, as well as audio. The receiver is also XM Satellite Radio ready with an optional antenna that will run you about $20.
Also worth mentioning is Logic 7, Harman's proprietary method of converting stereo signals to 5.1 channels. Dolby Pro Logic II (standard equipment in any receiver) does that too and is more faithful to the feel of the original stereo signals, in my opinion; but run the two modes head to head and reach your own conclusion.
You may raise your eyebrow when you learn that this receiver is rated at 40 watts per channel. Or possibly your other eyebrow. You probably have two. Which one to use is your choice. Anyway, the world is lousy with supposed 100-watt-per-channel models. Why would you settle for less? Because you'll get less when the inflated specs give way to the reality of running five speakers in a real-world system. In other words, many manufacturers engage in specification puffery. For the straight poop, read our measurements. That's the power you're really getting. Harman is more candid than most manufacturers in this regard.
In terms of sound, Harman Kardon receivers always get the midrange right, and this one is no exception. The highs could feel more extended and airy—and your bank account could be a couple of thousand dollars lighter if you sought that kind of high-end performance. But there's nothing vague or reticent about the way the AVR 147 handles speaking or singing voices. It should play reasonably loud in small to medium-sized rooms with speakers of average or better sensitivity (88 decibels and up; 90 dB would be about ideal, if the manufacturer isn't puffing up the numbers). If your home theater is a cavern, or your speakers are power pigs, you need to step up to a costlier model in Harman Kardon's (or someone else's) line.
Harman Kardon AVR 147 A/V Receiver:
• Automatic setup eases installation, noteworthy in budget receiver
• Modest reserve of good-sounding power
• Sleek un-stuffy styling