The HD-720 started by sounding harsh, but it smoothed out a good deal after a week or so of playing in to reveal a wide sound stage, complexity of sound, and good dynamics, though never the sweetness and ease that one used to associate with Harman Kardon.
Even less like HK was the infuriatingly flimsy plastic transport, not even worthy of a $15 CDRW drive, and inadequately shielded thin internal wires. Soon, to no one's surprise, the unit started to have moments of CD non-recognition, silences with a flickering display in the middle of play, audible distortion if *anything*--even the paper-thin aluminum case itself!--was too close to the skimpy wires leading from the transport to the circuit board. All these preposterous problems were intermittent enough that an in-warranty inspection might not have yielded anything, and HK wouldn't have paid for it. Even if something had shown up to a tech person, the problems are so systemic to the terrible design that I doubt they could ever be solved--and I'm pretty experienced. I don't think this was just a "lemon": the model itself is a disaster. I haven't mentioned yet that one of the skimpy unshielded wires broke off from the 5-pin plug and I had to solder it back, voiding the warranty anyway.
Finally, after four months, the problems made the unit unusable and I discarded it. For a unit with good electronics and sound to be defeated by the destructive cost-cutting of a non-transport, in a $350 list-price player, is an inexcusable scandal. Even the face-plate was a cheap plastic replica of the solid brushed metal one on its good predecessor, the HD-710. I should have paid attention when people told me that after the mid-1990s--at the very latest, HK was to be avoided. No wonder virtually all dealers have dropped them. If you see a post-1995 Harman Kardon, run the other way!
My favorite CD player since 1995 has been the Harman Kardon HD-710. My ancient second-system player, an old Magnavox CDB-482, died last July--RIP. I have been seeking to replace it ever since. I started with a Teac CDP-1250 which, despite a surprisingly sweet sound, died right after the labor warranty period expired; the horribly flimsy tray should have clued me in to its toy-like transport: $80 down the drain (take my premature positive review on this site as a warning). I have been using a Toshiba SD-1800 DVD/CD player. Very cheap, surprisingly well-built, plays everything, sweet if not a very complex or detailed sound; but it's difficult to manage as a CD player: virtually everything is on the remote; some things don't read out, like total tracks; it takes ages to load and close-and-play is absurdly mandatory.
Harman Kardon no longer makes single-CD players. Imagine my delight when a Harman Kardon HD-720--the direct descendent of my great HD-710, appeared last week on Ebay from Sound Seller, for $99 brand new! Apparently it had been languishing in Sound Seller's warehouse for several years.
The HD-720 arrived today. First inspection revealed it to be identical to its older brother the HD-710. Sadly, the similarities end with the first inspection. For whatever reason, HK decided suddenly to use a transport rather frighteningly similar to that of my dead Teac CDP-1250, complete with a drawer so flimsy that it's terrifying to touch. The front fascia is also plastic, a cheesy replica of the metal design on the HD-710.
Positive characteristics: unlike the HD-710, you can scan backwards when the CD is inserted on the HD-720, a convenience. The three read-out display levels actually work: normal-dim-off, while the HD-710, claiming to do this, only has normal-off (I tried four units). The HD-720 remote, while embarrassingly shoddy, works from any angle; the HD-710 remote, though more solid, has to be pointed directly at the unit from the proper angle to have any effect, so I never use it. And the power switch on the HD-720 can actually turn the stand-by light off, which was impossible with the HD-710, so unlike the HD-710, one doesn't need to plug it into a switched outlet to keep the light off (and to keep it from burning out). Stand-by is a feature only on the HD-720 remote, which in this case is a relief. There's also a switch in back to turn off "instant play" when the unit is switched on with a CD in it; the lack of optional defeat of "instant play" is an annoynace on the HD-710.
The circuitry on the HD-720 is supposed to be better: Burr-Brown vs. the Bitstream of the older HD-710, and 8x oversampling compared to the 4x of the HD-710. But the HD-710 sounds far better: sweet, open, easy, and detailed, with a great soundstage. At least now, the HD-720, while detailed, with a wide soundstage, is way too bright, forward, brittle, and not easy to hear. My little Toshiba is a bit muted by comparison, but even it's easier on the ears. Hopefully the brashness of the HD-720 will smooth out over time, but I never had to wait with the HD-710. I think that if I had paid the original $349 price for this player, I'd be very angry. For $99, I'm just disappointed that this is the model where Harman Kardon changed from pseudo-audiophile to pseudo-junk--and for a similar list price. I also expect that with the flimsy tray, it will end up in the trash before very long. I hope that at least the sound sweetens up a bit before that, but I doubt it.
To the reviewer just below this one (Marshall, Aug 1, 2002): if you saw a Harman Kardon HD-710, you'd understand what everyone else is complaining about with regard to the HD-720.
I don't get these reviews. I had to check a couple three times to make sure I had the same model these reviewers have. I picked up a demo at Fry's because the price was right for my purpose: have a unit on my desk at worked hooked to a Musical Fidelity X-Cans headphone amplifier. Plastic build quality??? What are people talking about? My top is made of metal. Flimsy tray??? That is one of the things that impressed me, for crying out loud! Silky smooth and silent. But the main thing I was interested in was the sound quality and I certainly have no complaints about that.
I bought this CD player online, sight unseen. If I had known how cheaply it was constructed, I would not have even considered it.
The entire player, case and all, weighs maybe 4 lbs. The top flexed under the heavy weight of a full CD wallet. The remote control made creaking plastic noises when I pressed the buttons. The clear faceplate over the display never lined up right. I worried that the CD tray would break every time I used it.
However, I was wrong, none of those things broke. What broke instead was the driveshaft and/or gearing of the electric motor that spins the disc. I figure that 300 hours of playing time before it died would be a generous estimate.
It really seems wasteful to me to put together a pretty good set of electronics, upper end Burr-Brown DACs, a good headphone jack amplifier circuit, etc, and then pair that up with such a cheap and flimsy remote and housing.
Well, they got my money this time, but Harman Kardon will never see another dime from me.
I'm a brand new owner for a couple days
and am very pleased. This thing sounds
good. I can hear now more and
clearly details in music
than before with my Pioneer PD M426changer. Stereo field is good