I got a pair of Wharfedale Sapphire Blue 87 bought from Ubid earlier for $250. As soon as H/K was in place, it revamped my Wharfedales. Since then, I can not completely agree to any bad opinions about my bi-wired Wharefedale. With H/K, it's very well sonically balanced for the money. I do know the sound of Paradigm Atom and Acoustic Energy Aegis One. I can admit they give better image with less coloration but their upper(bigger and pricier) models suffer from the advantages of their little brothers unless there's another zero at the price tag. So does my Wharfedale simply because of its size and price. However, big ones can handle bigger music better and this H/K wondefully support it. If you want to know potential of your speaker, this H/K is the way to go.
THX mode was a big plus for me as well. I didn't realize that how crummy Dolby ProLogic surround was before I got this H/K.
Listening to any CD music through built-in PCM D/A converter was also a quite pleasure. It gave much more refined and neutral sound.
One small drawback was very short tick sound whenever the volume changed. This can be quite annoying for someone wants to change volume setting quite often.
Overall ergonomics is not as good as other competing brands, specially the remote. But this one is a learning remote which beautifully handles my 2 VCRs, a DVD player, a TV, and H/K.
For the the price I paid, $350, this one was an absolute steal and furthermore, its price was quite spouse friendly.
After having this receiver, I hadn't do much things except just listenning to the music and watching movies at home. This receiver is really something! It is Awesome!. Needless, to say much. It helps producing clean warm powerful bass, too. This receiver is one of the amazing products on the market so far. I bet who got this receiver will not have much time to sleep like I do. I will surely and gladly recommended this receiver to who would like to have the theather sound at home. As the matter of fact, it does a better realistic sound job than some of the theater I had went in some areas. Thus, why not all 5! then.
I had this receiver for around 3 years. When I bought it, it sounded really good, much better than the other receivers I had heard and on par with some Adcom separates owned by a friend of mine. There was really good definition in the sound, and THX processing was a treat, even with my less than optimal speakers.
Unfortunately, this receiver was chock full of problems. The first thing that cropped up was that the on-screen volume indication started popping up every so often. You would have to get up and manually move the volume knob to try to get it to stop that. Second, I had it twice beep at me. I didn't know it could beep at all, but there it went, thinking it was a smoke alarm. Only unplugging it stopped that. Third, it would occassionally just shut off--not clip, but shut off. Fourth, and this is the reason that made me start aggressively trying to get it fixed (attempts which failed), it started buzzing--a 60cycle repeating high pitched tick. I tried everything external until 2 authorized repair centers located the problem and told me it just wasn't worth fixing because they couldn't guarantee that it wouldn't do it again. Granted a power surge caused its final death, but it sure was a protracted illness.
The point is that this receiver sounded exceptional, but had so many problems that it just wasn't fun anymore.
Now let me mention the remote. This remote sucked, if I can use the vernacular. Black remote with small identical black buttons labeled with slightly less than black lettering on a black background. Who was the genius who thought this up?! And people think that Pioneer DVD player remotes are bad. At least those buttons have somewhat of a distinctive shape! Plus, H/K pulled the RCA trick of having two different buttons for on and off which made it real difficult to get a better remote.
Now that it has kicked the bucket, I have purchased Outlaw Audio's 1050. The real irony is that that receiver lasted a grand total of 20 minutes before dying! I just can't win. Outlaw promised me another one this week. Hopefully it will last a bit longer because in the time that it *did* work, it sounded better than the H/K at 2/3 the price. When I get one up and running, I will submit a report on it.
Sorry for the length, but I think it best to warn people looking into buying a H/K AVR80mkII second hand.
I wrote this review back in 1997. After 3 years I am still a happy owner of HK AVR 80 MKII. I use it now with the Panasonic DVD-RV80 DVD player (with built in DD and DTS decoders) and it still works like a charm...
I am not an audio-nut or a video-freak. I do not have a Laser Disk Player hooked up to a 60” projection TV, nor a $10,000 audiophile’s dream complex mounted in the basement of my house (along with a power substation to feed it and mine fields to protect it). I just like music and movies and I don’t mind seeing quality things around me, if they fit nicely in my budget and give back some pleasure in exchange for the money I’ve spent on them. A month ago I started looking for a receiver for my Home Theater Complex (quite a big name for a 32” TV in a10’x16’ living room) and, eventually, I was sucked into the adventure of my life…
Let us first talk briefly about the audio aspect of a home theater and Dolby Surround as a major part of it.
Dolby Surround is a two-step, encode/decode process involving both recording and playback. When a Dolby Surround soundtrack is produced, four channels of audio information left, center, right, and mono surround are encoded onto two audio tracks using equipment manufactured by Dolby Laboratories. These two tracks are then carried on stereo program sources such as video tapes and TV broadcasts into your home, where they can be processed by a Dolby Surround decoder to recreate the surround sound experience. If you listen to them over a regular two-channel stereo system, they will sound much like any other conventional stereo programs. With a Dolby Surround decoder, however, you will retrieve the "missing dimension" that lies within the encoded soundtracks: sound from all around you that brings you into the action on the screen.
A home theater system with Dolby Surround can take many forms, and need be neither elaborate nor expensive (although there is no limit to what you can do). If you have a television set and a stereo music system, you can simply add a few extra speakers and a decoder/amplifier or an audio/video (A/V) receiver equipped with Dolby Surround decoding. Some speaker manufacturers offer packages featuring a specially designed center speaker plus a pair of surround speakers for just this purpose.
As you might already know, there is a more advanced system of movie sound reproduction which adjusts a Dolby decoded signal to the specifics of home listening. It is called a THX. A Home THX controller adds three electronic enhancements after Dolby Pro Logic decoding: Re-Equalization, to adjust treble frequencies for the home viewing environment; Decorrelation, that splits the single surround channel into separate left and right signals; and Timbre-Matching, to maintain the character of sounds as they move from front to rear. It although gives an option of hooking a subwoofer to the dedicated low-frequency channel which carries a deep bass information subtracted by electronic crossover from all the other channels.
I want to specifically bring to your attention a Re-Equalization process (you will see later why). It just happened that movies are mixed in movie studios with a controlled high frequency roll off, called the "X-Curve". This curve is an international standard and a part of every mixing and movie theaters' playback system. It's there because we expect a high frequency roll off from sound sources that are far away from us. Sound mixed under the "X-Curve" sounds too bright when played back through flat response speakers at home listening distances. Since the "X-Curve" is designed only for big rooms, THX uses a special Re-Equalization Curve, designed for home environments, to restore the correct tonal balance of a movie soundtrack.
THX Sound System gives you true-to-life, realistic AV combination at your home theater with a variety of sound advantages including dialog intelligibility, front sound localization, diffuse surround sound, full and flat frequency response, dynamic range, and evenness of pans along all axes. You probably would not appreciate the previous statement unless a jet-fighter, controlled by Arnold, flies over you taking off with a blast of full 105 dB, or unless you find yourself literally on the lower deck of the vibrating Boeing 747 watching nasty terrorists through the fiberoptical device. I was trying to keep my budget low but only to the point where I was caught in the middle of the attack on the Vietnamese village with napalm explosions and machine-gun fire to each side of me. Regular Dolby Pro-Logic is good, but only for someone who has never experienced a THX sound. After watching any one movie with a THX receiver you will find that Basic Pro-Logic is hopelessly flat, dull and outdated. THX mode is a quality step forward which is absolutely worth money you paid. And you can definitely take advantage of it even with a moderate set of speakers (your rear ones have to be able to reproduce down to 80Hz though).
With all that in mind and knowing that I want an A/V receiver (which incorporates Dolby decoder, THX controller, several amplifiers, input/output controls and AM/FM tuner) I looked through a lot of magazines, manuals and Internet Web Sites. I visited numerous stores and spoke to a bunch of knowledgeable and not so much sales people, I called quite a few mail order places…
… And I understood that no one can provide ultimate advice without trying to push a product they have to sell or the name of a company which has sponsored “an independent review”.
So I conducted my own research to determine if quality and/or some additional features of a receiver, can really make a significant difference for the medium-to-low budget home theater, and which brand and model can fairly service my needs for under $1000.
I have a 32” JVC 32730 TV, a Quazar VHQ580 HI-FI VCR (made by Panasonic), a Sony CDP-C545 CD Changer and a Sony TC-KE500 tape deck. I am using Advent “Heritage” for front R/L (Exceptional speakers for the money, - wide frequency range, smoothness and ability to handle peaks of 600W (they had been selling for $370 a speaker, but you can buy them in PC Richard for $160 each because they are discontinued as of 1997)), Yamaha package NS-AP150 for C/Surround ($149), and two Yamaha YST-SW150 powered subwoofers ($349 each - samples of the rear breed - could reproduce down to 20 Hz). It is a widespread myth that you can not determine a location of low-frequency source and therefore could use only one sub anywhere in your room. I’ve tried different subwoofers in all combinations and possible locations -- the difference is like night and day between having one sub or two.
Denon was not included because AVR2500 and AVR3600 do not have THX, and AVR5600 costs way over $2000.
I had all of them in my possession for 2-3 days each within a month, so I could “play” with all the functions. Each of the receivers was fine-tuned in the Pro-Logic mode using a digital Radio Shack 33-2055 SPL (Sound Level Meter) – an extremely helpful and fairly inexpensive device which allows you to precisely adjust speaker levels and establish linearity of the front speakers/subwoofer combination on the low frequencies.
I listened to a variety of musical and video programs. Audio sources included Denon Audiophile HI-FI Check CD, Surround Sound Demo CD, several classical, jazz, disco, rock CD’s. I am not a strong believer into DSP modes, so I listened in a plain “Stereo” mode with tone controls in the middle position (or “Tone Defeat” engaged).
Video was represented by VHS tapes of “Twister”, “True Lies”, “Apocalypse Now”, “Executive Decision”, “Aliens”.
Speaking about the stereo music reproduction – nothing stands close to Yamaha 2090 and 2092, (100W per channel, 0.015% of THD 20Hz-20kHz) probably because of the extremely high linear damping factor (200 as supposed to 30-70 of the other models and/or brands). Sound is very clean, bright (you can hear how a bow touches strings of a violin and that is something that is very-very hard to reproduce), and powerful - no audible distortion on the nominal levels whatsoever, tight bass without “booming”, precisely reproduced mid-bass.
Harman Kardon AVR80 was the second one in the row with the performance quite acceptable to my ears. It has enough power and high-current drive capacity to make your neighbors down the block hate the moment you had moved into your house. Its treble was bright and airy and its bass did not make me feel uncomfortable. Vocal was clearly distinguished during listening to most of the programs. Overall appearance of this unit is rather conservative (but not outdated) on one hand and very logical and user-friendly on the other. Tuner can be set into the auto-scan mode so it will go through the whole band and memorize every station without your involvement at all (other receivers require much more of your participation). Learning remote is not overcrowded by buttons and it is quite easy to use with all your equipment. I would have loved to see HK equipped with a loudness control (defeatable in Pro-Logic and THX modes), but none of the tested receivers (except Onkyo) has this highly desirable feature, and this is quite a pity…
Being at the bottom of the group, Technics has a very “soft” sound which someone could like, but not me and on the other hand it just “dies” at the higher volume levels (probably because of the weak power supply).
All others are somewhere in the middle, so if you are not a big music fan and use your receiver just for movies they will fit your needs in one way or another.
Video… As you have noticed there are mostly non AC-3 decoding units (except Yamaha 2092) in the list of my “guinea-pigs”. First - in order to get an AC-3 encoded signal you have to buy a DVD player or a DSS satellite dish (extra $500 to $1000). I did not name a LD because it is slowly dying, not to mention the cost of the Laser Disks themselves. Second - there are not too many programs available recorded in AC-3 so far. Third - who knows who will win the battle -- AC-3 or DTS format?… And Fourth - you can always add an external processor to any of the models I describe - they have RCA pre-inputs (DB-25 – Onkyo). In the meanwhile there are thousands of VHS tapes available, even in the good libraries (not speaking about “Blockbuster”), and cable companies offer a variety of channels carrying Dolby-Surround encoded signal.
So I have started with my friend’s old Sony STR-D990 (1992) just to get a feeling of the extent of progress in the Dolby Pro-Logic decoding field over the last years. It sounded OK but was very intolerable to the slight impairments of the incoming signal - worn tape or bad TV reception. I could literally “feel with my skin” moments of hesitation of its decoder.
Yamaha R-V902 was much better, and most of the above mentioned moments were handled by it flawlessly. It has a Cinema DSP (Digital Signal Processing) mode - reproducing a pseudo stereo signal from the rear speakers to increase the “enveloping” of the listeners and works as good as its “senior” sister 2090 for the most part. Yamaha 2092 has a newer DSP chip (YSS-245) which provides so-called “Three-Field Processing” of the post Dolby Pro Logic decoded signal. It adds more to the feeling of being “in-the-middle-of-the-action”.
Cinema DSP is, actually, Yamaha’s attempt to compete with THX standard. Cinema DSP includes elements comparable to Decorrelation and Timbre-Matching. Unfortunately for some unknown reason Yamaha did not implement anything like Re-Equalization in their affordable products (this feature is available only in the top-of-the line Yamaha 3090). To tell the truth, absence of re-equalization leads to a very harsh sound where high frequencies literally “cut your ears” during the movie watching. Brightness and superb ability of the Yamaha’s amplifiers to handle high frequencies make things even worse in this particular case. And that is very sad because from the music reproduction point and ability to create a very precise movie soundfield Yamaha 2092 is really outstanding…
Technics is a so-so performer, even its THX certified SA-TX50, mostly because of inability to reproduce a wide dynamic range without noticeable distortions.
Onkyo 828, Marantz SR96 and Harman Kardon AVR80 share the pedestal of honor being meticulously equal in THX mode. This is not surprising because all of them:
1. have high-current discrete (as supposed to IC in Technics) amplifiers. 2. have very powerful power supplies 3. in order to be certified by Lucasfilm as THX receivers they have had to meet very strict specifications towards signal processing.
More than that if you take a closer look at the fluorescent displays, on-screen display and remotes of HK and Marantz, you will suspect that those two receivers had the same mother, but different fathers…
I liked HK better because it “remembers” DSP modes for each input selection (Marantz does not) and because it reproduces lower frequencies tighter and not as “boomy” as Onkyo. It gives an overall impression of effortless handling of a very wide dynamic range (despite the moderate 85W F/C/L and 60W Surround mentioned in it’s manual). What puts it aside from the other two is the fact that its THD (Total Harmonic Distortions) are even 0.05% in 20Hz-20kHz range for all 5 channels. Onkyo and Marantz show THD only for 1 kHz for rear channels. The price of Marantz is hard to justify, considering it is almost a twin to HK. Onkyo is a good piece if you do not listen to a lot of music. Besides, it allows you to adjust signal-processing in too many ways (and eventually screw up). For an average user this is more harmful than useful.
I understand that my opinion is very subjective, but I have 20 years of experience in the audio field, I know how does a vaccum-tube and a non-NFB amplifier sound and I can determine the difference between different CD-players just by listening with my eyes closed…
And I want to save you a month of sleepless nights…
Because I have lived through one…
I ordered today a Harman Kardon AVR80 MKII through the mail. It will run me $925 with shipping and 5-years of warranty. And with this I have put my soul to the rest…