Harman/Kardon AVR 171 AV-receiver

Harman/Kardon steps into the crowded, competitive midrange receiver marketplace a merchandise with all the AVR 171, packaged with powerful cutting-edge features and an impressive specification.

The 7.2-channel AVR 171 sits at the very top of Harman's latest range, above two 5.1 versions - the AVR 131 (GBP300) and the AVR 151 (GBP380). Extraordinarily for an AV receiver, it's a matter of beauty, side stepping the hard, boxy lines on most rivals with curved borders to get a softer, more refined look and also a polish-black fascia. The bodywork is not surprisingly heavy and compact also, thanks to a slimmed-down power supply.

Also refreshing is the nearly entire dearth of clutter. The thin buttons are swallowed up from the black finish and sockets are hidden behind a removable flap. Your focus is drawn by a ring of glowing light enclosing the volume dial that is flush, but this, along with the easy-to-read LED display, can be dimmed or turned off.

Behind the flap are a headphone socket (which doubles as an input signal for the set up mic) plus a USB port - the latter may be used to play with music from flash drives and Apple devices. All the AV input signals are found on the back, if you'd like to fast plug in a mobile apparatus which does not help.

The rear selection is acceptable for the money - you get six HDMI inputs, which support 4 and 3D K passthrough. MHL is additionally supported by another one, enabling you to view HD content from tablet computers and Android smartphones. You'll find two HDMI outputs. A lone coaxial and two optical inputs complete the digital contingent; analogue jacks include Zone 2 sound and twin subwoofer outs.

Network connectivity is Ethernet-only (whereas many competitions are providing WiFi that is onboard only at that degree), but built-in Bluetooth makes it easy to broadcast music wirelessly. It functions well in most cases, pulling on music from connected servers with minimal fuss.

On the theatre side, 100W is claimed by it into each and, naturally, decodes Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio. Moreover, proprietary Natural Sound Processing (NSP) aims to create a 'surround listening space' from two channel sources.

It's comparatively quick, and checking the results afterward shows accurate volume levels that are practical and space settings.

AV receiver menus are not pretty at the best of times, but the AVR 171's are especially crude, plonking a simple list of choices over the image.

The remote is not fantastic - the all-important volume controls are buried amid a bunch of similar appearing buttons at the base, and the keys all have a sticky, unresponsive feel unbefitting a receiver at this cost. You are better off with the remote app for Android and iOS apparatus. Appealing, slick as well as practical, it makes day to day control a breeze.

When faced with Cloverfield's incredibly raucous DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack, the AVR 171 handles the carnage head-on. Or head-off as the case might be, because when the creature sends the Statue of Liberty's severed bonce careering down a New York street, you get an immediate awareness of impact and the Harman's exceptional ability.

As it clatters into the side of rolls and a structure down the road, each impact is accompanied with a forceful crunch and an explosive bass 'whomp' that slams right during your intestine. By the time the animal starts smashing up the bridge, you are ducking for cover from the crunching of carving concrete and bridge wires that are whipping. This level of strength and vigour makes the AVR 171 such a convincing performer and sets it up there with exceptional power-purveyors like the Pioneer VSX-923 and Onkyo TX-NR626.

The AVR 171 additionally exhibits topdrawer organisation, laser-guided steering that is speedy and effects positioning. As the military storms down the road shooting in the animal, bullets zip upon the soundstage and there is real fizz to the machine guns and missiles. There's also a terrific awareness when the monster lumbers away in the distance. Roars that are booming and its thumping footsteps have depth and heft.

It is not all about power - the AVR 171 also handles more quiet, atmospheric stuff competently. As the group travel during the subterranean tunnel, you'll be able to hear the echoes bouncing off the walls as well as the rustle as a horde of rats scurry past them. Voices may also be clear and life-like.

That said, if you're seeking bubbling levels of transparency and subtlety then you should check out something such as the Marantz SR6008, which includes a laid back but more refined and educational sound.

Music fans will not feel let down.

But there's no arguing with thrilling sound and its stunning appearances.

Harman/Kardon AVR 171 AV-receiver photo