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January 26th, 2000


Harman/Kardon SoundSticks
Contact And Other Information
Manufacturer: Harman/Kardon
Product Home Page: SoundSticks
Description: 3-piece USB speaker system
Address: Harman Multimedia
8500 Balboa Boulevard
Northridge, CA 91329
USA

Price: US$199.99 at Apple Store

US$179.95 at Outpost.com

Telephone: 877-266-6202
Fax: None
Requirements: USB-based Mac
Mac OS 9 minimum

System Used For Testing: Dual processor G4 (450 MHz)
Mac OS 9.0.4
256 MB RAM
[Review]
SoundSticks, Crystal Clear And Crystal Looking

Harman/Kardon SoundSticks
by Michael Munger

Introduction

At MACWORLD Expo (New York) in July 2000, Harman/Kardon introduced the SoundSticks. Codesigned by Harman/Kardon and Apple, their claimed frequency range is 44Hz - 20kHz. The system is made of a sub woofer unit, and two satellite speakers which we will call the Sticks.


Installation

The SoundSticks do not require any additional drivers, they are self-powered and they have their own amplifier. All you have to do is to connect the power cord, connect the Sticks to the sub woofer and connect the latter to a USB port of your Mac. The Sticks will use the USB drivers of the Mac OS to function, thus not playing the startup chime but taking over your audio once your USB functionality kicks in.

Harman/Kardon rightly recommends, for the sake of performance, that you place the sub woofer under your desk (on the floor) and the Sticks besides your monitor. We found that the more you spread the satellite speakers, the better the surround effect, but the lesser the bass effect. It can be quite a trade off.


Design

Of course, the first thing that struck us when unpacking the SoundSticks was their style. They are gorgeous. The clear plastics and their shape is quite amazing when you consider that those are... speakers. The sub woofer looks great as well.

Both have the Harman/Kardon company name printed discreetly on the front of each part, and everything is well-integrated to fit with the design.


Sound quality and reproduction

The sound is crystal clear without audible distortion. When we played music CDs, we found that the speakers reproduce sound with high fidelity. They also take advantage of quality MP3 files. When we played high-quality trailers from movie sites, we really enjoyed the surround effect of the satellite speakers. It did not equal movie theater quality, but for a pair of speakers made for a computer, we got more than we expected.

For DVD experience, the Sticks responded well. We appreciated hearing the reproduction of "detail" background sounds that you can hear with a home movie system or at a theater.

The flip side is that the SoundSticks will let you know if your sound and movie files are... crap. When we stumbled upon low quality sounds, we often heard the background noises included in those low-quality sounds. For example, a few sounds that applications (such as AOL Instant Messenger) use are not necessarily top-notch quality and the SoundSticks will reproduce the background noise that a bad pair of speakers would seemingly conceal. In other words, the fidelity is high enough to reveal the best and worst qualities of your multimedia. When the quality is excellent, the Sticks will let you enjoy it.

What surprised us most was turning up the volume to its limits and feeling the floor (and desk) vibrating. Those Sticks are very powerful and if you are not careful, they will get your neighbors to call the police and complain about your audio habits :-)

The bass reproduction is excellent. In the back of the sub woofer, there is a grey button that you can use to adjust the bass level as you please. We opted for what we call "full blast" because it simply gave us the sound reproduction we wanted.

The SoundSticks did beat our mini-stereo system, but it could not possibly rival high-end home audio systems. They are first-rate computer speakers.


The price

The only problem we have with the SoundSticks system is its price. $199 for a speaker system is expensive. The bottom line seems to be that you can get equal quality at a better price somewhere else, but that the SoundSticks will give you stylish design that no other computer speakers offer. It is a trade off, but people who fall in love with artful design will say that there is a price for elegance.


Conclusion

The SoundSticks look great and their performance is excellent. They come at a price, but we have the impression that you will not regret your purchase once you use them.


Final Score (Maximum Score is 5 Thumbs Up)
4 1/2 Thumbs Up
Pros Excellent sound reproduction
Decent surround effects
Great bass reproduction
Powerful for computer speakers
Cons High price for style



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