TEAC Reference AG-H300mkIII Receiver
Audiophiles are interesting in that many of
them tend to eschew simplicity in favor of complexity, as demonstrated by the sheer number
of separate boxes some use to handle each function of a system. The reason for doing so is
obvious: an outboard DAC, dedicated CD transport, outboard phono stage, separate pre- and
power amplifiers, and tuner (not to mention the various cables necessary to hook them all
up) allow the listener to tweak the sound of a system at any point in the chain.
Admittedly, in this regard, my own system is very non-"audiophile." For my
reference integrated amplifier, I use a Bryston B100SST that features both an onboard DAC
and MM phono stage. That leaves only the speakers, turntable, and something to spin CDs on
to affect the sound of my stereo. I prefer to keep things simple.
For this reason, I was pretty curious when the assignment
came to review TEACs Reference AG-H300mkIII stereo receiver ($349 USD). This little
box, only half the width of most standard components, costs roughly one-twentieth the
price of my reference integrated, yet manages to handle all the same functions (except
that it has an AM/FM tuner but no DAC). Even I, who values simplicity and a more
integrated design approach, was surprised by what such a small box at such a
bargain-basement price is claimed to do. I wanted to know what the tradeoffs were.
The AG-H300mkIII is claimed to deliver 35Wpc into
impedances of 8 to 16 ohms; TEAC recommends that it not be used with speakers rated at
less than 8 ohms. This gave me pause -- my own speakers, the PSB Platinum M2s, are rated
at 4 ohms. Still, the SoundStage! Networks measurements
of the PSB Platinum M2 show that it doesnt really dip below 5 ohms, and
instead hovers, for the most part, at or above 8 ohms. My listening bore out that this
wasnt really a problem for the AG-H300mkIII, which commendably drove the M2s.
The AG-H300mkIII measures 8 7/16"W x 4 5/16"H x
12 1/16"D and weighs just under 9 pounds. It comes with a remote that controls all of
the receivers functions, and also operates TEACs PD-H300mkIII CD player
(review forthcoming) and R-H300mkIII tape deck. The remote has a dimmer button for
adjusting the brightness of the display, and a sleep timer for those who enjoy dozing off
to music but would like the receiver to shut itself off after a predetermined length of
Around back are five inputs, including CD, phono, tape,
CD-R/MD, and auxiliary, as well as two outputs for recording with the tape or CD-R/MD
functions. An AM loop antenna and an FM antenna (both included) also plug in at the back.
In addition, there is a reset switch should the receiver be shut down by a power surge.
The lone pair of speaker posts can accept bare wire or banana plugs.
At opposite ends of the faceplate are two large knobs: one
for selecting the source, the other for adjusting the volume. There is also a dial for
channel balance, and tone controls for ±10dB bass and treble adjustment. In addition to
the five dials and a headphone input are buttons for Power and Standby, FM Mode (mono or
stereo), Tuning/Preset controls, Tuning Mode (Manual or Preset), Band (AM or FM), and
Memory (to program radio-station presets). The combination of the small faceplate and
large display, which also indicates which input has been selected, means that the front of
the AG-H300mkIII is busy, to say the least.
The TEAC wont win any beauty contests, but its small
size and overall symmetry help make it pleasing to the eye. Furthermore, its large display
can be easily read from across the room. Holding the AG-H300mkIII in my hands, I was
impressed with its relative solidity, due in part to its thick front panel of brushed
aluminum. And I was surprised by how many features you get for $349. I couldnt help
thinking that the AG-H300mkIII might be ideal for someone buying his or her first
component system, or someone assembling a smaller second system for the office or bedroom.
I connected the TEAC AG-H300mkIII to my PSB Platinum M2
bookshelf speakers using AudioQuest Type 4 speaker cables terminated with banana plugs,
and linked my NAD C542 CD player to the TEACs CD input via Kimber Kable Tonik
interconnects. Finally, using AMX RCA interconnects, I hooked up a Thorens TD-160HD
turntable, fitted with a Dynavector 10x5 high-output moving-coil cartridge mounted in the
Thorens-modified Rega RB250 tonearm, to the TEACs phono section.
I had some reservations about using the PSB Platinum M2s,
but little reason to worry. When listening to CDs, I rarely turned the volume dial up by
more than 25% to play as loudly as I could tolerate (with LPs, the volume ended up closer
to 50%). At higher volumes, the PSBs started sounding hard and the bass became really
loose, but I never drove the TEAC into clipping, and I suspect I had some headroom to
spare. The little AG-H300mkIII was more powerful than its size and price indicate.
And a good thing, too -- lately Ive been listening to
more hip-hop, a genre I tend to play relatively loud. Here the AG-H300mkIII demonstrated
good pace and rhythm, making A Tribe Called Quests The Love Movement (CD,
Jive 01241-41638-2) a great toe-tapping, head-nodding experience. When I switched over to
vinyl, the TEAC had me fixated squarely on the music as I played Madlibs beats and
MC Dooms lyrics from their 2004 collaboration, Mad Villain (LP, Stones Throw
STH2065). The AG-H300mkIII produced "fat"-sounding bass from both albums,
something very conducive to the re-creation of the sound of hip-hop. The bass wasnt
the best-defined Ive heard, but it was full in a way that easily filled my room with
enough low-end energy to bring about the sort of visceral experience that is so integral
to this music.
The AG-H300mkIIIs ability to render big acoustic
spaces was another of its strengths. I noticed this when listening to several CDs, among
them Eddie Vedders soundtrack to the film Into the Wild (CD, J Records
88697-15944-2). On "Society," Vedders vocals were more forward-sounding
than I ever remember hearing them, but the reverb added to the mix gives the impression
that the song was recorded in a large hall rather than in a studio in Seattle, and works
to good effect. Through the AG-H300, Vedders lyrics were presented clearly, as they
traveled to and bounced back from the distant walls that seemed to surround him.
The TEACs notable re-creation of ambience was also
well suited to Radioheads Kid A (Parlophone 5 27753 2). I find that this disc
creates a more expansive soundscape than any of the bands other albums, and the TEAC
did a good job of helping me follow what was happening in the music while deeply immersing
me in Kid As enveloping sound. Ditto for Great Lake Swimmers wonderful Ongiara
(CD, Nettwerk 0 6700-30691-2), recorded in Aeolian Hall in London, Ontario, Canada.
The AG-H300mkIII convincingly conveyed the openness and spaciousness of the Aeolian,
helping to bring a certain intimacy to the music.
Despite its adequate power and fine re-creation of recorded
space, one of the TEACs shortcomings was its lack of transparency and detail,
particularly in the lower midrange and bass. In practical terms, this meant that I
couldnt hear as far down into recordings. As a result, some information, such
as the trailing edges of notes, was obscured by the AG-H300mkIIIs own noise floor.
Sounds tended to blend together, and distinction gave way to homogeneity. A good example
of this was Elliot Smiths "Going Nowhere," from New Moon (CD, Kill
Rock Stars KRS455), in which Smiths warm voice was easily discernible through the
TEAC even as it blended together chords played on the acoustic and bass guitars and made
them difficult to separate.
Listening to Wilhelm Kempffs recording of
Beethovens Piano Sonata No.14 (CD, Eloquence 469 618-2), it wasnt the poor
decay of the notes that I noticed so much as the fact that the pianos higher
registers tended toward brightness. This made the instrument sound more forward, and the
aggressive tone ended up detracting from the serenity of this beautiful work. Obviously,
one cant expect the world from a $349 receiver.
As mentioned earlier, the TEACs bass sounded very
full -- if you like thick, fat bass, the AG-H300mkIII shouldnt let you down. The
lack of trouble it had in filling my listening room with plenty of low-end energy probably
helped to make this receivers sound seem bigger than it actually was. Unfortunately,
I didnt find that the TEAC always had a firm grip on the PSB M2s 6.5"
midrange/woofers. In fact, those drivers sounded woollier than Id ever heard them,
though their slightly-lower-than-recommended impedance might have been a factor in this
case. More than likely, for the power amplifier section, youd be wise to heed
TEACs recommendation and stick to speakers with impedances of 8 ohms or higher.
The AG-H300mkIIIs tuner section worked well,
particularly the FM band, which was able to lock on to the strongest stations and bring
their signals into my listening room with excellent clarity. I was able to appreciate the
TEACs large display most when using the tuner, because it was so easy to read from
across the room. I wish the remote had allowed me to navigate across the entire FM band
rather than just skipping between a few preset stations -- or had a scan function that
served the same purpose but locked on to only those stations with the strongest signals.
AM reception wasnt nearly as clear as FM; far fewer
stations came through properly. However, people who live in more remote locations, or
concrete buildings in which the indoor strength of the signal is compromised, can use the
AG-H300mkIII with an AM outdoor antenna (not supplied). Although the tuners
performance was mixed overall, its inclusion is a welcome addition to this feature-rich,
The greatest asset of the TEAC ReferenceAG-H300mkIII is
that its a remarkably functional stereo receiver. I was also thrilled when I
realized it had a phono section -- given the recent resurgence of vinyl, the inclusion of
a phono stage isnt insignificant, and lately Ive been spending more time
listening to LPs than to CDs. But the phono section can be thought of as icing on an
already rich cake.
The AG-H300mkIII is the proverbial Swiss Army knife of
audio gear. It packs just about every function you would want or need into a discreet
little box with an absolute minimum of hassle. For most systems, Im at a loss to
think of much that the AG-H300mkIII cant handle. For its $349 asking price, it
offers a lot of features.
In terms of sound quality, it has strengths. I found it
more powerful than its size and price indicate; it surprised me by driving my PSB Platinum
M2s to high enough volumes without running out of steam. It also had an uncanny ability to
sound big -- the bass was full and rich, and it did a good job of re-creating space.
However, there were some weaknesses. Transparency and detail were only so-so, and, when
push came to shove, the AG-H300mkIII couldnt control my PSB M2s woofers as
well as more robust amplifiers can.
I began this review by saying that audiophiles often favor
a separate, dedicated component for each function of an audio system. In that sense, the
AG-H300mkIII isnt an "audiophile" product; however, I dont think
thats what this receiver is all about. Clearly, the AG-H300mkIII was designed to be
a good buy for someone who wants good sound at a low price and requires a good number of
features -- that first-time stereo buyer, or someone who wants to set up a small second
system in a bedroom or office. For those folks, the TEAC Reference AG-H300mkIII delivers a
lot for a low price.
. . . Phillip Beaudette
Price of equipment reviewed