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Disappointed with HK AVR-135

 

Dullhead
Unregistered guest
I needed an inexpensive 3.1 HT system, so after plenty of research on this site and others, I settled on Harmon Kardon's AVR-135 6.1 channel receiver for my Athena AS-B1s. Got it all hooked up yesterday to my computer (Turtle Beach Santa Cruz operated both in 2 speaker analog and 4.1 Digital output format). Several things I noticed:

With no signal going to the HK unit, there's audible humming at the loudest volume. I did not expect this from a $300 receiver. I do not hear this hum in my office from a $150 Altec Lansing MX-5021 system.

I got the speakers first. It was a couple weeks before I had the receiver. During the time I had the Athenas, I hooked them up to the MX-5021 system in my office. They sounded so good. Rich sound, defined bass even with the SW module turned way low.

Hooked up the Athenas to the HK yesterday and was completely disappointed. Complete lack of bass, and sound is a bit bright. I thought the HK was a good match for the Athenas?

I did notice a slight difference in loudness and bass when I operated the HK on a digital coax from the sound card (Digital 4.1 mode) compared to analog 2 speaker input into the receiver.

My question: Am I doing the setup wrong? I have the receiver set in Surround Off, 2-speaker mode (since I have only 2), and I've set the speakers to large (to get the full range signal) and SW to "none". Are there further adjustments to be made? I was looking for rich sound with decent bass. It seems I got more from the Athenas hooking them up to an Altec Lansing computer speaker system than the HK. Any advice on improving the system is appreciated.
 

edster922
Unregistered guest
The 135 is HK's entry level so I wouldn't expect all that much from them. For an extra $100 I'd return it and get the Pioneer 1014.

The lack of decent bass is not surprising though coming from bookshelves---just goes to show just what a difference even a bottom-rung computer subwoofer can make. The reason your Athena sounded better hooked up to the computer system is because the Altec Lansing probably sends all the low frequencies to the sub and only the mids and highs to the bookshelves, which is really about the only thing most bookshelves can handle.

If you want better bass I'd get the Polk R15 or especially the R20 but neither one will have very good mids or highs. Which is why I would first look into getting a cheap sub to use with the HK which you could pay for when you eBay the Altec Lansing system.
 

Dullhead
Unregistered guest
I started off wanting to get a Marantz 4500, but I really don't have that extra 100 bucks to spend on the receiver (I've budgeted that for a cheapo Dayton 10" or Yamaha 8" sub).

I know bookshelves can't pump out bass, but I guess the Athenas hooked up to the Altec Lansing produced a more "pleasing" sound than I have now. I think I now understand the difference between warm and bright sound.

You may be right about the Altec Lansing system sending all low frequencies to the SW unit. I guess I can find someone who would be able to lend me their SW for a few days and I can test it out at home (or even take the Altec SW home with me).

As for giving up the Altec Lansing - no way. I love the little thing. It'll stay. It's the only thing that keeps me going when I work on the weekends...I'll have to find another way to finance my HT purchases for the apt.
 

edster922
Unregistered guest
Hm, I'll bet you the Athenas will sound 100% better with the HK135 as soon as you hook it up to a cheap sub and set the speaker setting to "small."

 

edster922
Unregistered guest
Hm, I'll bet you the Athenas will sound 100% better with the HK135 as soon as you hook it up to a cheap sub and set the speaker setting to "small."

Even w/o a sub, try the "small" setting now and see how different it sounds.

 

New member
Username: Ahramlee

Post Number: 6
Registered: Feb-05
I would also suggest you use heavy gauge speaker wire. Look at 12 or even 10 gauge and give your system ample time to "burn in".
 

Dullhead
Unregistered guest
Well, a Yamaha 8" SW-215 is on it's way. Let's see if the SW was the missing piece. I am currently using 16 gauge wire I think. I will have to see about using heavier wire. The Athenas sounded fine when hooked to the Altec Lansing (it uses about 20 gauge wire I think, thinner than even appliance wire). If the SW does not do it, the wires are next, and finally, the HK AVR-135 itself. The SW is arriving in 1 week. We'll see how this goes...
 

edster922
Unregistered guest
Keep us posted, I'm very curious...

Unless you're running the speakers 20 feet away, 16 gauge wire should be fine, though I suppose with the tiny difference in price going down to 12 gauge wouldn't hurt. Just don't waste your money on any of that silly Monster stuff.
 

Anonymous
 
My experience with even HK's 535 was terrible, my Kenwood sounds fuller, and has more headroom. Try the sub, if that doesnt work, exchange the amp.
 

Anonymous
 
Anon

Do you mean the HK 635?

I don!t know what happened if I don!t post as anonymous it will post as Abe Lincoln. I did not enter that when I registered.
 

Dullhead
Unregistered guest
I had to get the HK because it's supposed to be one of the receivers warm enough for Athenas. My first choice was Marantz, but I had to save money someplace, and went with the HK. The Yamaha sub is here and shall be installed tonite. Hope it adds something to the sound.

Meanwhile, the Turtle Beach sound card fried itself, so I had to remove it from the computer. With no wires going from the sound card to the receiver inputs, I checked at full volume. The humming sound was gone. I guess it was from the soundcard - perhaps because it's not shielded and the PCI slots sit close to the CPU fan and the power supply?

Anyway, I can't seem to get 5.1 with my old Soundblaster card, and I don't know if getting a new Turtle Beach is going to do anything, so I've decided to take the Turtle Beach back to Circuit City and use that money for el-cheapo DVD player. I'll use the DVD player instead of a soundcard for all audio needs, and send a composite video to my computer monitor instead of sending (or trying) to get 5.1 out of the soundcard.

Another report tonite after the SW is hooked up.
 

edster922
Unregistered guest
So you had the receiver hooked up to the PC just to listen to CDs/DVDs? I thought you were using it for Internet radio or had a huge MP3 collection on your hard drive.

If not, having a separate DVD player is a much better idea---the Toshiba 3960 (see referenceaudiomods.com) is supposed to deliver very good musical performance and can be had for as low as $50 online, the other cheap mass market CD players that are supposed to be very good for music are Pioneer and Sony.
 

Dullhead
Unregistered guest
Edster, yes. I had the receiver hooked up to the PC for just about all my audio/video needs. I watch TV and DVDs and listen to music all using my PC in my little 15x12 bedroom. Everything has to fit on my dinky little IKEA desk, and that's just one of the many problems I'm facing building this 3.1 system.

In my old setup:
1. TV audio-out went into soundcard's line-in
2. Soundcard speaker-outs went to receiver discrete 5.1-inputs

Only thing is that I'm not sure the Soundblaster puts out true 5.1. When I check the device properties, I am able to set up as 5.1, but when I run "Creative AudioHQ", it only allows Quadraphonic. The digital-out socket on the card is supposed to be center/SW channel info, but of late, I have not even able to get anything from the digital-out socket (the one supposed to supply center/SW info). I don't know if the card is damaged or what. Turtle Beach is supposed to be capable of 5.1, but died on me. Anyway, that's another story - I decided to skip soundcards altogether.

Installed the Yamaha SW and a Hitachi DV-P745U DVD player and here's what I noticed. Movie audio is definitely improved. The SW does add a bit of punch, even at the low volume I'm operating it - does what it's expected to do, and I'm happy with the results for the money I paid. Of course, using composite video-in for connecting the DVD player to the TV card means the DVD picture quality has gone to hell. I just can't win here I guess.

Music is a different animal. At first I was not sure if the LFE channel was even on when playing music. So I waited till the SW went into standby, then popped in a Pink Floyd CD. The SW was activated within a few seconds...the experience was however simply not as clean as my office setup with the Altec Lansing. Music sounds much better in my office cube. I don't know. Perhaps room dynamics. My office is a tiny tiny 8x8 room and perhaps sound just resonates better in there.

Back at the apt, the mids and highs are clear and the Athenas also do a decent job at mid bass. The Yamaha has added a little more, but the two are just not integrated as well with each other as with the system in the office. It's hard to explain, but I think anyone would be able to point out the difference. Personally, I prefer the Altec Lansing for music. However, the system I have at home is not unbearable by any means. Waaay better than the muddy sounding shelf system I had before this. I guess it just will take some tweaking. I'm almost tempted to use the line level speaker inputs and outputs on the SW to see if that integrates it better with the main speakers, but it seems like a pity to put the signal from a Harman Kardon through the SW crossover. Not to mention the mess of wiring it'll create on my floor - but I'm sure I'll feel compelled to try it someday. Just not now. For now, I'm tired of crawling under the computer desk to hook up wires etc. I just want a break for a few days...

Thanks for all your suggestions guys.
 

edster922
Unregistered guest
Sorry about your DVD picture quality, I didn't know you were using a computer monitor. Maybe the next upgrade could be a cheap 20" Panasonic curved tube, they run around $100, the flat 20" CRTs would probably be $150 and up.

How is your DVD player connected to the receiver? In my experience using a digital coax or digital optical connection produces much better sound than analog RCA connnections.

What is your receiver's crossover set to? I would try having frequencies under 80 Hz sent to the sub if it's not set there already. I don't think Yamaha subs are very good for music, they do OK with movie explosions though but they tend to be a little too slow with music---can't keep up so they can sound a little "off."

How are your speakers positioned? Optimal for bookshelves is having the tweeter at least ear level with your listening position or higher---I find for me that higher tends to create a more open sound, probably in part because my listening room has 20 foot vaulted ceilings. I'd suggest at least 1/3 of the height of your ceiling. And if the speakers are rear ported, at least 2 feet from the rear wall. Also, the distance between the speakers should be no more than half (some people say 1/3) the distance between them and your listening position.
 

Dullhead
Unregistered guest
Edster, getting a tube TV is out of the question. My computer and my home theater have to be one and the same due to space constraints. Therefore, my computer monitor will have to do. It's not that bad, but of course, the pic quality is much worse than playing the DVD on WinDVD. I don't send video to the receiver. I send the coax digital audio out to the receiver and the composite video straight from the Hitachi to the composite in on the TV card. Since I'm sitting right there in front of the computer desk, using the remote or manually switching audio separately and video separately does not matter to me. I save one video wire this way.

I haven't gotten around to tinkering with the AVR. I think crossover settings can be changed only using onscreen display, and I don't have an S-video in on my TV card or my video card. I'll need an S-Video to RCA adapter, but that's for later. The default is supposed to be 100 Hz for all channels per the manual. I think this is where the rub is. The Athenas can handle up to 50, per the manual, and I think the X-over should be set to atleast 60 or 70 to allow the Athenas a chance to put some bass out. The SW can do the rest.

The Yamaha has a high cut filter, which I've set to 80. Now that I think about it, that's a 20 Hz hole I have. 30-100 Hz is going to the Yamaha, but I've set it to high cut at 80. I've fixed this now by setting the Yamaha to 120, but the new problem is that I can locate the bass. I can sense where its coming from (it's not part of the soundstage), and that's a bit distracting.

Speaker positioning is an item over which I have no control since I have no room to play. I cannot place the speakers 2 ft from the wall. There's just not enough room to do that. And there's also not enough space for me to be sitting at a distance which is twice that between the speakers as suggested in the Athena manual. There's only so far I can back up in a 15x12 room which also has my bed and other furniture. The speakers are also sitting a little higher than ear level right now, so I'm having some crude speaker stands built for them. The other thing is that the SW is not sitting between the 2 speakers due to space constraints, and that's probably another reason the bass from the Yamaha is not integrating with the music. I'll have to play with this as best as I can...the tweaks are definitely helping. Bit by bit, it's getting better.
 

edster922
Unregistered guest
The sub doesn't have to be between the speakers at all, in fact it's usually recommended to have the sub in or near a corner of the room to get the most bass out of it, or at the very least have it no more than 2-3 inches in front of a wall...kind of the opposite of speakers. Where you DON'T want the sub is, floating smack in the middle of the room.

If you're sitting only say two feet from your Athenas then I can understand why the Altec Lansings sound better---computer speakers are designed for such near-field listening whereas most bookshelves are not. If there's absolutely no way for you to move the speakers say eight feet BEHIND your seat, then I'd suggest doing a wall mount with the speakers maybe 12" from the ceiling and pointing downwards.

The Yamaha's high pass filter only works if the sub is set on "Normal" mode, otherwise in "LFE" mode it will play whatever frequencies the receiver's crossover is sending to it. At least that's how my JBL sub works, I'm assuming it'd be similar on the Yammie too. The other switch you might want to play with is the Phase Control switch, sometimes that can make a difference.

I'd be really surprised if the HK doesn't allow you to change the crossover without an OSD---that would be MIGHTY retarded of them! Oh well, from what I've read HKs are not known to be very user-friendly or have a well-written owner's manual, one of their few weaknesses.
 

Dullhead
Unregistered guest
I do have the sub in a corner of the room right now. But due to the fact that I'm able to place the sound from the sub, it's a little distracting. I guess the bass from the sub is not as tight as the Altec Lansing.

I'm at the office now, and I have the sub under the desk, by my feet, and the speakers at the ends of my desk, about 6-ft apart. I'm sitting say 2 feet back from the desk. Only with the bass volume at the highest levels can I detect the sub and then only because the space under the desk becomes sort of an echo chamber. At all other bass levels, the Altec Lansing sub is undetectable. It completely blends in with the satellites.

I've not been able to achieve that at home yet. I think I have a lot more tweaking to do at home, even with my limited placement options. This morning, I noticed that in Tuner mode, the HK puts out much louder bass than in DVD/CD or any other mode. I guess not only do I have to tinker with the crossover, I also have to tinker with speaker levels to make sure each input type (DVD/CD/Video/Tuner) has the proper matching volume and crossover settings. I guess factory defaults are not cutting it in my small room.

I've tried the phase control switch and it did not do much. The problem is like you put it - The Yamaha is a little slow for music - it has a tendancy to resonate a bit too much and makes itself visible. Not a problem for movies because I want that rumble to last. But if I'm playing techno or dance music for example, the Yamaha would probably make a mess of it. I've played such music at the office and the Altec Lansing handles it beautifully - the bass punches in and out real quick and stays in pace. The Yamaha is a bit slow probably, and a bit boomy for music.

Anyway, I've realized this is going to take a lot of tweaking. I'll also have to reposition the speakers. I plan on setting them about 4-ft high (should be about ear level at seated position) and toed in a bit to get that soundstage. Will keep you posted.

It's kind of funny. I started this post with the title "Disappointed with HK AVR-135" but this has turned into more of an "ignorance on my part about tweaking" kind of post. I just finished going through the AVR 135 manual online and it does not have crossover adjustment using remote / keys only. It must be done with OSD. But I did find out that it has a composite video out for OSD, which means I can unhook the DVD player tonite and use the composite video cable for setting up the AVR bass management.
 

edster922
Unregistered guest
Yowsers, I totally forgot about changing the speaker settings---yeah, due to the fact that you are so close to the Athenas you probably WILL have to change the speaker settings to reflect that, though I'm not totally sure how much that can offset the inherent design differences of them as bookshelves vs. computer speakers.

Your Yamaha is probably similar to my JBL in that it probably has a very narrow "sweet spot" on the volume knob which if you go over, the darn thing is going to resonate and sound like crap, and if you go under then you can't hear it at all. Unfortunately, that "sweet spot" sometimes shifts depending on the type of music.

The Yamaha is downward firing if I'm not mistaken, and I've heard of people experimenting with putting different things underneath it depending on the desired effect: towels if they want to dampen it, rigid flat surfaces if they want to amplify it.
 

Dullhead
Unregistered guest
Finally have the whole thing set up to some decent acceptable level. Was able to set the crossover at 60Hz using OSD. Much, much better output from the Athenas, which do fairly well up to 50-60 Hz I think.

The Pink Floyd CD I played yesterday played much tighter today. I've also dialed in the SW at +2dB for CD play, +5dB for movies (the SW levels were a bit low yesterday), and -5dB for the tuner. Now, radio and CDs sound fine. Movies are OK as well, but at the louder volumes I can point out the location of the sub.

Overall however, setting the Xover to 60Hz has done more than any other tweaks up to this point. I've also adjusted the volume of the Yamaha, and found the same as you - set it too low and you can't hear it. Set it too high and it's too boomy. Finding that just right spot is hard. I have that problem in the office too. Not all CDs play well at the same bass settings. I do have to change the bass and treble and even volume for different CDs in the office, so I guess this is something we all have to live with.

You are right, the Yamaha is down firing, but I doubt towels are going to help, because most of the distracting noise seems to be from the port. I have tried turning the port towards the wall and it reduces the noise a bit. Not perfect, but I think I have a workable system now...
 

edster922
Unregistered guest
glad to hear it...enjoy!
 

Dullhead
Unregistered guest
Edster, thanks for your suggestions. I've managed to locate some free test tones online - www.realtraps.com/test-cd.com - they go in 1 Hz increments, from 10 Hz to 300 Hz. I've burned this to a CD, so it should make for some interesting testing, with different crossover points between the Athenas and the Yamaha. Will also be able to check the Yamaha's high cut filter with this. And will also be able to see the difference (if any) in output between the soundcard, the Hitachi in digital coaxial output mode and the Hitachi in analog 2 channel output mode. Check back in a few days to see what came out of this test, if you wish.
 

Dullhead
Unregistered guest
Ran the test CD and here's what I found:

When speakers are set to "Large" on the HK, the crossover point makes little difference because a full range signal is sent to the main speakers. Therefore, I guess it's best to use this option only for floorstanders. The bass does sound very muddy using this option because the poor reproduction of bass from the Athenas was mixing with the Yamaha and that's what I was describing earlier as "Yamaha not blending in with the Athenas."

When speakers are set to small (for bookshelves) and the signal for LFE is sent to LFE only (not LFE + L/R), the best experience results. I'm not sure if this is particularly true for my system only, but I guess it's generally applicable. I can easily hear the difference in the music when turning the SW on and off. Now the bass from the Yamaha blends in pretty well.

The high cut filter on the Yamaha SW215 works extremely well. I don't have an SPL meter, but to my ears, there was instant drop in sound intensity within 20Hz of the high cut set point using the test tones CD.

Also noticed on the HK that the band of frequencies between 80Hz and 120Hz seemed to have a higher sound intensity with no volume change. What I mean is - 0-60Hz which went to the SW sounded loud, then 60-80Hz played at about the same loudness. 80-120Hz seemed to get louder, then dropped after that going to 300Hz.

It may be that my ears are sensitive to this band, it may be a result of the DSP circuitry in the Hitachi DVD player or the DSP in the HK - I'm not sure. But that's what I noticed. This concludes my quest for a cheap HT system that works to my satisfaction. I have one now.
 

edster922
Unregistered guest
Your test results make a lot of sense. Yeah, that large vs. small setting is ABSOLUTELY crucial when working with bookshelves and subwoofer.

Glad you're happy with what you now have.
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