Review: Harman Kardon HK 3490 Stereo Receiver

The Harman Kardon HK 3490 stereo receiver
The Harman Kardon HK 3490 stereo receiver offers great audio performance. Harman Kardon

Harman Kardon is a legendary name in the stereo and home theater business, with a strong reputation that spans decades. The company produces some of the finest amplifiers, preamps, tuners, and receivers, many of which are still widely used today. We still own and use a Harman Kardon Citation 16 stereo power amplifier – a great-sounding workhorse amp that was purchased in the 1970s! So take that as a testament to quality.

Key Technology of the HK 3490 Stereo Receiver

Harman Kardon is known for their high-current, ultrawide-bandwidth amplifiers; a design that offers extended high-frequency response well beyond 20k Hz all the way up to 110 kHz. Although they were not the only manufacturer to promote this particular amplifier feature, they were one of the very first to ever introduce it.

The average human is considered capable of hearing up to 20 kHz, a frequency that typically applies to younger people and/or those who haven’t yet damaged hearing through excessive volume (e.g. ear buds, loud concerts). However, many music enthusiasts believe that an extended high frequency response contributes to improved reproduction of higher-order harmonics, which in turn leads to better overall music reproduction. Although 110 kHz is well beyond our physiological limitations, it's the harmonics that create a real, perceptible difference in sound.

And this element shows in the HK 3490 stereo receiver's performance.

Features

The Harman Kardon HK 3490 offers most of the features one might look for in a receiver, plus a few extras. There is an input for the Harman Kardon Bridge II docking station, compatible with the Apple iPod or iPod Touch. And the HK 3490 is also XM Satellite Radio ready when used with an optional XM tuner.

The one feature some might miss is a universal remote control, as the remote bundled with the HK 3490 can only operate Harman Kardon components.

The HK 3490 has outputs for two pairs of stereo speakers as well as two subwoofers. Switchable trigger outputs automatically turn the subwoofer(s) on when the receiver has been powered on, switching off once the receiver is no longer in use. This receiver also features preamp outputs and main amp inputs for an external amplifier or a stereo audio equalizer. And if you happen to enjoy listening to vinyl records, the HK 3490 has a moving magnet phono input.

For home theater setups, the Harman Kardon HK 3490 offers three video inputs, Dolby Virtual Speaker for simulated surround sound, and Dolby Headphone for private surround sound listening. This stereo receiver packs 120 W of power (times two) that is able to drive both channels. This is an important spec, as many receivers are rated to drive only one channel, which is an easier task for an amplifier. Rating power with both channels driven indicates how the amp performs under demanding conditions.

The front panel on the Harman Kardon HK 3490 stereo receiver is plain and simple looking – a welcome change from the cluttered front panels found in many other brands of components.

When powered on, the only visible/glowing controls on the HK 3490 are for power and volume. The clearly legible front panel display can also be dimmed or turned off entirely.

Performance

Overall, the Harman Kardon HK 3490 stereo receiver offers a praiseworthy audio performance, especially within the mid to high frequency range – the wideband frequency response (110 kHz, -3 dB) seems to greatly contribute towards the qualities of transparent, open, and detailed sound. One can also note the excellent vocal reproduction, which is equally ideal for movie dialogue.

We tested the HK 3490 stereo receiver with a pair of Paradigm Reference Studio 100 speakers.

The receiver's 120-watt per channel amplifiers have more than adequate dynamic range, capably driving the speakers with ease. The Paradigm speakers feature a medium sensitivity rating of 91 dB, and the Harman Kardon HK 4390 has been able to showcase its reserve power and ability to handle musical peaks, no matter which track was being played.

The soundstage reproduction exhibits an appreciable front to back depth with corresponding width. At times, the Harman Kardon HK 3490 stereo receiver seems to drive the bass a little heavy or strong, although this has mostly been track-dependent. Otherwise, you can expect to enjoy tight-sounding and well-defined bass (so long as the speakers are capable and/or of quality), even without a separate subwoofer.

If you like to listen to terrestrial radio, don't count out the HK 3490's built-in AM/FM tuner! Even in more rural areas, this receiver has been able to pull in even the weaker signals/stations.

Conclusion

The Harman Kardon HK 3490 stereo receiver offers great audio performance and plenty of useful features. Despite the lack of a universal remote control, the HK 3490's hardware and sound quality makes it an easy recommendation as a main home theater stereo system or as a secondary audio system for bedrooms or dorm rooms. It's since been discontinued by the manufacturer, which means you have the opportunity to look for a great deal if you shop wisely.

Company page: Harman Kardon