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Amplifier Harman Kardon HK1400 review

There was a time when Harman Kardon’s feature-packed amplifiers lacked the simplicity of decent speaker switching or even a source direct option. So the blank facia of its line-only HK1400 marks quite a significant change in attitude. Tone, balance and loudness controls have all been discarded, together with the headphone socket, subsonic filter and phono disc stage.

This leaves the bare bones of an HK amplifier with localised input selection for seven line-level sources, including two tape decks. The only twiddly-bit is a switch that reduces the preamp gain by 10dB (about a third) to accommodate the higher output of CD players or outboard DACs.

Left in normal mode, HK’s preamp section (before the volume control) provides a necessary boost to lower-level sources like tape decks and tuners. Importantly, however, the final maximum power output of the HK1400 remains quite unchanged. My one complaint is that the screw-down speaker terminals are not as compatible with 4mm plugs as HK would have you believe.

Sound quality

Relaxed but powerful, music seemed to flow in a remarkably even-handed way with this amplifier at the helm. The kettle-drums and horns of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony were no less detailed than with the Audiolab 8000A, for example, but neither were they muted by any overt sense of control or discipline. So rather than sounding frayed or sloppy, the HK1400 exhibited what was described as a relaxed confidence, an engaging quality that’s especially apparent in its -10dB setting.

Tonal colours were reflected in a very natural fashion, allowing favourite instruments to be picked-out from within an orchestra without destroying the overall structure of the piece. Nevertheless, the HK1400 tended to restrain the dynamics of the busiest material rather than sound spitty or aggressive.

Vocals remained just as tangible but accompanying instruments often failed to break free under these circumstances. Yet as soon as the pressure backed off, the soundstage opened right up again to reveal a fresh, snappy and enthralling performance.

Conclusion

It’s a sad fact that the simpler things become, the more expensive they seem to get. So it is with Harman’s HK1400, an amplifier that’s no more powerful but considerably less versatile than older and cheaper models like the HK6300. Fortunately, its easygoing sound quality and brave specialisation go a long way to justifying this premium, ensuring the HK1400 is heartily Recommended for modem, CD-based systems.

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