Harman/Kardon HK6100 Amplifier
Harman Kardon has revamped its entire amplifier range, beginning with the budget PM635i which has been superceded by this HK6100. However, I think the term 'restyled' might be more appropriate here, since the HK6100 betrays little technical advance on the PM635i, while the aesthetic changes include a new style alloy fascia with a chamfered top edge.
All the input switching, record-out, balance and tone controls are much as before, organised in a row across the fascia with six identical-looking plastic knobs. Only the larger volume control and small loudness switch are easily distinguished, despite the fact that each knob is annotated with a dull gold lettering.
Video, CD and tuner inputs accompany facilities for two tape machines and one (MM) vinyl disc cartridge source. The main power output is still switched via the front panel to either or both of two speaker outlets; this is not an ideal solution, particularly since the switch contacts might deteriorate in time and so degrade the performance.
Elsewhere HK continues to use a discrete vinyl disc stage, as well as the same Toshiba output transistors in the power stage. The regulated power supply looks very similar too.
While not offering a staggering advance on the older PM635i, the HK6100 delivered a similarly tight and detailed account of CDs. The sound was lean, yet punchy, exciting and dynamic, with some loss of purity and slight added hardness throughout the highest octaves, but very little cloudiness or smearing to obscure subtle musical clues. Indeed much of the spaciousness of the PDM digital source was revealed.
Vocals often lacked a little warmth and smoothness, but were nonetheless depicted with surprising poise and clarity. In all this amp gave the impression of being in control. It may have lacked the mellifluous qualities of its peers, yet for seat-of-the-pants excitement with scant brightness or false aggression it was difficult to fault.
The MM vinyl disc input elicited a similarly positive reaction. Light, open and positive, it was unperturbed by the complexity and dynamic contrasts of our classical discs. Once again a tinge of brittleness was detected in the uppermost octaves, but the freedom from muddling or cloudiness was very refreshing.
The HK6100's predecessor fared well in an earlier amplifier test, so it is gratifying to be able to register similar approval and Recommendation one year on. Nevertheless questions over the nature rather than absolute level of distortion remain to be solved; perhaps HK's next generation might then enjoy a significant, rather than marginal, improvement in quality.