At £750, the Harman Kardon AVR 355 is surrounded by stiff competition from the likes of Sony and Yamaha. So can it do enough to justify its position in the AV amp hierarchy?
Well, the Harman is off to a decent start. There's something pleasantly refreshing about the unit's clean-cut fascia: chunky buttons and knobs are welcome by their absence.
Speaker calibration is achieved using Harman's EzSetEQ – it's easy to implement although it does take an age to finalise all the settings. Further help is provided by the AVR 355's slick graphical menus, which look superb and could be operated by the most worrisome of technophobes.
Well, they could be if the monstrous accompanying remote didn't try its hardest to undermine what's otherwise a great user experience.
Features include HD audio decoding, video upconversion and upscaling (which is actually rather good) but the trio of HDMI inputs seems rather stingy at this price.
iPod dock included as standard
The AVR 355 comes with The Bridge II iPod dock, which simply plugs into a socket on the rear of the amp. Select the input on the remote control and you can navigate through the menus on your iPod, and pick tunes to play.
The '355 delivers bass with a real sense of solidity. During the high-octane chase scenes of Death Race each car collision sounds hits home with bone-jarring brutality, although the best amps at this price and even some cheaper models provide greater weight and scale.
The Harman does a good job of dispersing surround effects around your listening position during Wall-E and Eve's touching dance amongst the stars, complete with fire extinguisher.
But, compared to the class-leaders at this price, the AVR 355 can't call upon the same levels of clarity and insight. There's a lack of openness and transparency to the sound that prevents movie soundtracks from fully expressing themselves.
There's no doubt the AVR 355 has ability, but it isn't a consistent performer and can ultimately be bettered by cheaper machines.