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H/K Signature 2.0
Harmon/Kardon's Signature Series 2.0 is a preamp/tuner/processor for home theater that supports Dolby Surround, Dolby Digital (AC-3), and DTS. (Note that later models of the Signature 2.0 come with DTS, and I hear earlier models can be upgraded to DTS.) The 2.0 can control eight video sources (two S-video, six composite), as well as six audio sources. You can mix and match any audio input with any video input - a great feature that allows you to customize things exactly how you want them. Six digital inputs are also provided - two optical, four coaxial. These digital inputs can be assigned to the six video inputs as well.
The Signature 2.0 is also a classy-looking piece. Not only do you get great funtionality, you get a component that you wouldn't be embarased for people to look at. Some home theater components are downright ugly - the Signature 2.0 is not one of them.
I've had a Signature 2.0 for a couple of years now, and since these can be acquired cheaply on Ebay, I decided to write a review.
The Signature 2.0 is quite flexible. This flexibility comes at a trade-off. You'll take longer to set up the Signature 2.0 than you will to set up a component like Adcom's GTP-760. Luckily, HK has provided a nice owner's manual that walks you through a basic setup - and you can tweak later to your heart's content. Most everything can be set up through on-screen menus or the two line front-panel display. You can name each input - a very nice feature if you're planning on having other people use your system or you're planning on using a fancy third-party remote to control your system. The system will take you a while to set up perfectly, but once you've done that it's quite usable.
The remote? Use it to program a better remote then store it. It reminds me of the learning remotes of 1989 - a gazillion tiny buttons and no backlight. Apparently, the designers were working on the unit and threw the remote together at the last minute. I use a Sony touchscreen remote with my system.
Front-panel controls are sparse. You can step through the sources, change the surround mode, tune in radio stations, and mute the sound. You're meant to do things with your remote control. The volume knob isn't motorized, as it just adjusts a digital volume control. This is nice as you can program the 2.0 to always turn on with a fixed volume level - no getting your ears blasted out in the morning because you didn't turn the volume down after last night's screening of Titan A.E..
The 2.0's front-panel display can be turned off, dimmed, or set to turn off after a few seconds. This is a blessing, as the display is bright blue and can be distracting in a dark room.
Once every couple of months, the 2.0 seems to ignore front-panel button presses. If that happens, turning the 2.0 off and on again via the power-off button fixes it, Software bug?
The Signature 2.0 comes with an AM/FM tuner with RDS. I can't tell you a lot about what data RDS provides, as the only station in the area that provides any data at all is the local country station which provides its call letters. You can preset 30 stations, and the tuner pulls in stations acceptably. It's not a great tuner, but it'll do in a pinch.
The Signature 2.0 is quite flexible in controlling video sources - provided they're all composite. This is perhaps the second biggest flaw of the Signature 2.0 - the fact that only two S-video inputs are provided. If you have reasonably modern components, you'll be buying an external video switcher. Sony makes an automatic switchbox that can be had for $40-$80. If you're getting a Signature 2.0, you'll need it. Go on over to Circuit City or Best Buy now.
You can assign a video input to any (or more than one of) the digital or analog audio inputs. This is good, because it means the Signature 2.0 is perfectly usable with an automatic video switcher. With one of those, the lack of S-video inputs on the Signature 2.0 isn't a very big problem.
The Signature 2.0 has no comb filter, so you'll need to hook a composite cable to your TV if you have any composite video sources.
No component inputs or outputs are provided. Given that this unit is several years old, you can't really blame HK for that.
This unit overall sounds very good. There isn't any detectable hiss or hum from the speakers when the unit is on to detract from the sound quality. You won't hear any hiss at all unless you turn the volume way up. The Signature 2.0 doesn't noticably degrade the sound - it's a clean-sounding preamp. The surround decoding is generally excellent - and with the latest units you get DTS decoding as well.
You can adjust the gain on the analog inputs - this comes in handy for making all the components in your system output at about the same level.
The Signature 2.0 has lots of surround modes. They are given rather unintuitive labels like Music 1 and Movies 3, so it's hard to tell what all these surround modes are supposed to sound like. I typically listen to CDs in 2-channel mode, and movies in Pro-Logic, Dolby Digital 5.1, or DTS 5.1. There is one mode that's nice for mono TV broadcasts or AM radio, though - That's the Mono+ mode, which processes and plays mono signals through all your speakers.
Bass management on the Signature 2.0 is a bit weak - it'd be nice to be able to set the crossover frequency of the subwoofer for small speakers.
We come now to the single biggest flaw of the Signature 2.0 - the delay in locking on to a digital signal. Remember, the Signature 2.0 has six digital inputs. Logically, you'd want to hook up all of your components digitally. However, the Signature 2.0 takes a second or more to lock onto a digital signal. That means that when you track forward on a CD, you lose a second or two of the next track. When you fast forward on a CD, the audio mutes. For that metter, you sometimes lose a second or two between tracks of an audio CD without doing anything at all! This makes the six digital inputs useless for components that don't produce a constant strem of digital audio. You can't hook a Playstation 2 or CD player to the digital inputs of the Signature 2.0 and expect passable results. You'll lose music from the CD and sound effects from your PS2 games. It's a good thing the analog inputs work well.
Note that you can turn off the automatic detection of what kind of digital input you have coming into the Signature 2.0. You'd think that this would mean you could set the CD player's digital input to 2-channel PCM and not have the 2.0 try to re-detect what kind of audio you're listening to every time the CD track changes. However, when turning off auto-detection, the digital audio data isn't recognized at all unless you've already auto-detected the signal since the last time you turned the unit on. This is a huge pain in the butt to do, so you'll likely use the analog inputs with your CD player.
The Signature 2.0 has 5.1 channel in for external audio decoders. I didn't have anything to hook to these inputs, though, so I can't tell you how good they sound.
The Signature 2.0 looks like it's built to last (in the USA, no less) and I have no reason to believe that it won't. I've had an occasional problem with the unit not responding to front panel buttons, but that's resolved easily by turning the unit off and then on - as if you're rebooting a computer. I expect this unit to keep working well for years to come.
The transformer in the Signature 2.0 buzzes slightly. It doesn't get into the speakers, but if you have very sensitive ears, you'll hear it when the unit is plugged in.
Overall, the Signature 2.0 is quite a nice piece that can be had for less than $500 used (on Ebay). It has some flaws (the biggest being the time it takes for the unit to recognize a digital signal), but it sounds good, is very customizable, and otherwise works quite well. It's a bargain!
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|This page was last updated September 10, 2005.|
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