Harman Kardon AVR 3650 A/V Receiver Page 2

The Special Relationship (DVD, Dolby Digital) precedes its dramatization of the Blair/Clinton bond with a Broadway recording of Cole Porter’s “Friendship.” After that, the soundtrack consists of orchestral music the London Symphony Orchestra recorded at Abbey Road. The contrast between the two was striking: The AVR conjured splashy textures from the swaggering show tune but then went soft and gauzy on the impeccably recorded orchestral score. Clearly, the receiver didn’t apply a one-size-fits-all aesthetic. Surround effects sometimes dropped below the threshold of audibility—I was rarely aware of them except when I sat close to one of the surround speakers. I learned to play the Harman at a higher average volume level than I use for most A/V receivers, which restored soundfield and dialogue perception.

Children of the Corn: Genesis (Blu-ray, Dolby Digital) has a brasher treble in its effects treatment, which made me grateful for the Harman’s polite top end. However, that didn’t prevent me from switching on Dolby Volume (low) after half an hour, which firmed up the soundfield and improved overall listening comfort. It would be hard to overstate the benefit of low-volume listening modes with movie soundtracks in general. If I hadn’t been acting as a critic, I’d probably have kept Dolby Volume on for all movies. Receiver-equalized bass on this selection seemed on the plump side of acceptable, something I’d previously noticed in several informal movie-night sessions. When I checked with Harman, the company told me EZ-Set/EQ does equalize bass.

Legend of the Millennium Dragon (Blu-ray, DTS-HD Master Audio), with its Japanese anime battle scenes, offered more bass effects to show off the receiver’s bottom end (down to the 80-Hz subwoofer crossover). In this selection, it felt right, with war drums and synthesized thunder.

We Can Be Heroes
Lang Lang’s Liszt: My Piano Hero CD combines 10 of the composer’s solo piano works with his first piano concerto, accompanied by the Vienna Philharmonic under the baton of Valery Gergiev. The beautifully recorded Sony Classical CD offers a vivid at-the-piano perspective that made it an ideal, if unwitting, test subject for A/B-ing. For the first time, I turned off EZSet/EQ. This made me realize how great a role it had played in what I’d perceived as the AVR’s laid-back sound. When I turned off the room correction, it produced a more lively top end with easily perceptible gains in harmonic richness and the continuity of decay. Harman’s unadorned amp performed superbly and impressed me with its clean, dynamic sound, its well-balanced midrange, and its high-frequency extension and air.

While I’ve previously used the Yes masterpiece Fragile as demo material—both on vinyl and 5.1-channel DVD-Audio—this was the first time I’ve exploited the DVD-Audio’s 24-bit stereo track (supposedly sampled at 192 kilohertz according to the package, though my Oppo detected only 96 kHz). The high resolution of both content and amp made me more aware of details such as the truncation of cymbal smashes in “Heart of the Sunrise,” the album’s tour de force. There was a noticeable timbral shift when the album-proper gave way to its bonus track, the band’s aggressively recomposed and rocked-out cover of Paul Simon’s “America.” The top end opened up and acquired more sparkle, which let me feast on the variety of Steve Howe’s guitar tones and the crispness of his attack. Having EZSet/EQ off expanded the AVR’s ability to make such distinctions.

On Johnny Hartman’s The Voice That Is!, the receiver imaged the rich baritone so well—in stereo—that I put my ear to the center speaker to make sure it wasn’t operating. I switched among the stereo-to-surround modes to evaluate Harman’s Logic 7. Compared with stereo, it did summon the feeling of a concert hall—but this superimposed effect suffered in comparison with the solidity and presence of Rudy Van Gelder’s original stereo mix. Compared with Dolby Pro Logic II and DTS Neo:6, Logic 7 brought more activity to the surround channels, although the effect seemed both superfluous and inconsistent. It sometimes rapidly activated and deactivated the voice in the surround channels and made it seem as though the singer were darting to and fro between the front and back of the room.

The Harman Kardon AVR 3650’s strongest suit is its amplification. If you spend a lot of time listening to music in unadorned stereo, you’ll find this A/V receiver as rewarding as a well-designed stereo integrated amp. Aesthetics are also sweet—enough to make me wonder why more manufacturers don’t think outside the black box.

The room correction is suitable for movies but dispensable for music. Dolby Volume is always a plus. Altogether, this is the kind of AVR that will impress a music lover, and the impression left by the Lang Lang selection alone will stick in my memory for a long time.

Harman Kardon
(800) 422-8027

LIFE_IS2's picture

Just curious what happened to HK in their power department. I know all my past HK receivers (avr525,avr325) were way underated than the specs given. Has HK gone the cheap route now. Would the Marantz product be a better choice and what makes your personal decision between the two.