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Harman Kardon HK 3490 Stereo Receiver

Strong Performance From a Mid-Priced Stereo Receiver

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Harman Kardon HK 3490 Stereo Receiver
Harman Kardon is a legendary name in the stereo and home theater business, with a strong reputation that goes back several decades. Harman Kardon has produced some of the finest amplifiers, preamps, tuners and receivers and many are still in use today. I still own a Harman Kardon Citation 16 stereo power amplifier, a good-sounding workhorse amp that I purchased in the 1970s.

Key Technology: High Current, Ultra-Wide Bandwidth Amplifier

Harman Kardon is known for their high-current, ultrawide-bandwidth amplifiers, a design that offers extended high-frequency response well beyond 20kHz, up to 110kHz. They are not the only manufacturer that promotes this amp feature, but they were one of the first to introduce it. The high range of human hearing is considered to be 20kHz, and that frequency mostly applies to younger people who haven’t yet damaged their hearing with ear buds and loud concerts.

However, like many music enthusiasts, I believe that extended high frequency response contributes to improved reproduction of higher-order harmonics, which in turn leads to better overall music reproduction. Even though 110kHz is a higher than we can hear, the harmonics make a difference in overall sound. The HK 3490 employs wide-bandwidth amplifiers with frequency response specification extending to 110kHz, and it shows in the component’s performance.

Features

The Harman Kardon HK 3490 has most of the features I’d look for in a receiver, plus a few extras: An input for the Harman Kardon Bridge II docking station for a compatible Apple iPod, or iPod Touch, and it is XM Satellite Radio Ready when used with an optional XM tuner.

The HK 3490 has outputs for two pair of stereo speakers and two subwoofer outputs with switchable trigger outputs to turn on the subwoofer when the receiver is turned on. The Subwoofer Link switches turn off power to the sub when the receiver is not in use.

The receiver has preamp outputs and main amp inputs for an external amp or an audio equalizer. If you listen to records, the HK 3490 has a moving magnet phono input.

The HK 3490 has three video inputs and Dolby Virtual Speaker for simulated surround sound and Dolby Headphone for private surround sound listening.

The HK 3490 has 120 watts x 2 with both channels driven, an important spec. Many receivers are rated with only one channel driven, an easier task for an amp. Rating power with both channels driven indicates how the amp performs under demanding conditions.

The front panel is very simple looking, a welcome change from the cluttered front panels of many components. When powered on, the only visible controls are the glow of the power switch and the volume control. The clearly legible front panel display can be dimmed or turned off.

I mentioned that the HK 3490 has most of the essential features for a receiver. One missing feature is a learning or universal remote control. The receiver’s remote control can only operate other Harman Kardon components.

Performance

Overall, the HK 3490 offers very good audio performance, especially in the mid to high frequencies. Its sound is very detailed and open with excellent vocal qualities. The receiver’s wideband frequency response (110kHz, -3dB) seemed to contribute to its transparent and detailed sound qualities in the midrange and upper frequencies.

The 120-watt per channel amplifiers have more than adequate dynamic range and powered my Paradigm Reference Studio 100 speakers with ease. The Paradigm’s have a medium sensitivity rating of 91 dB and the HK Harman Kardon receiver seemed to have lots of reserve power to handle musical peaks. Its soundstage also had good front to back depth.

At times it seemed as if the bass was a little heavy or strong, but only on a few tracks. Otherwise the bass sounded tight and well defined, even without a subwoofer.

The AM/FM tuner in the HK 3490 is one of the best I've tested. I live in a somewhat rural area and good reception is often difficult, yet the receiver pulled in even weak stations.

Conclusion

Priced at $499 the Harman Kardon HK 3490 stereo receiver offers great audio performance and plenty of useful features. Despite the lack of a learning or universal remote control, its sound quality makes it easy for me to recommend the HK 3490 for a main stereo system or as a bedroom, dorm room or second audio system.
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