Harman/Kardon SB 16 review: Harman/Kardon SB 16

We have many HDTVs in our testing facility, so we checked to see how many displayed a message; it wound up being about half. New HDTVs from Sony and Panasonic would display a message, whereas new Samsung TVs did not. (An older Samsung TV did display a message, however.) Luckily, you can easily check your own HDTV to see if it's going to be a problem. Just hop into the Setup menu, turn off the TV's speaker (or set to "external speaker"), and then try to adjust the volume. If you see an onscreen message, the SB 16 might not be the best choice for your system.

Thankfully, the SB 16 does have controls on the unit itself (power, volume, source switcher), so you're not stuck if you do have problems with the remote. That said, we would've preferred a small remote to be included, if only because it would make programming a learning remote (such as a Logitech Harmony) much easier.

Setup
The SB 16 doesn't have any speaker calibration setting requirements, but there are sound-tuning adjustments. First, there's a "Trim" switch that sets the input sensitivity in three steps. The unit is shipped with the Trim set to "1," which didn't allow the SB 16 to play loud enough for us, even when the volume control was set to max. Moving the Trim switch to the "2" setting increased the max volume enough so it was loud enough for us. The sound bar also has a "Wall-Table" EQ switch that tunes the speaker's tonal balance for wall or table mounting.

The subwoofer has another set of controls on its rear panel: Crossover, Volume, and a Phase Switch. The first two have a big effect on the perceived sound balance of the SB 16 system. We set the volume control knob three quarters of the way up, and the Crossover at approximately 125 Hertz (it has a range from 50-150 Hz). In any case, you make these adjustments "by ear," and try to produce the smoothest possible blend between the sub and sound bar. Harman recommends setting the Phase Switch to "0," which worked for us. The alternative position, "180," may produce a smoother blend in some rooms. Experiment and see for yourself which sounds better.

While Harman claims the wireless subwoofer can be placed "anywhere" in the room, we recommend placing the sub within 5 or 6 feet of the sound bar for best sound quality.

Performance
The SB 16 had a bigger and fuller tonal balance than any self-amplified (i.e., no AV receiver required) sound bar we've tested in quite some time. Obviously, the large subwoofer was primarily responsible for that, but we never felt the bass was overdone or that the subwoofer called attention to itself.

Putting the SB 16 through its paces with our reference "torture" discs like "Master and Commander" and "Black Hawk Down," we were impressed with the system's poise under pressure. The gunfire and explosions in large-scale battle scenes sounded cleaner and less distorted than what we've heard from most sound bars. Considering the size of the sub, the bass wasn't particularly powerful or deep, but the quality of the bass was excellent. Dialogue was natural, even when we listened to the SB 16 with its "3D Surround" processing turned on. That's rarely the case with stereo sound bar systems' faux surround effects. Harman Kardon's 3D Surround did not generate room-filling 3D surround effects, but it definitely spread the soundstage well beyond the edges of the sound bar.

The film "3:10 to Yuma" further demonstrated the level of the SB 16's sonic sophistication. When the bullets fly and bounce off the armored stagecoach in a holdup, the metallic pings and clangs sounded realistic, as did the rifle shots echoing off the mountains.

Music auditions started with singer-songwriter John Gorka's "The Gypsy Life" Blu-ray. The acoustic music's realistic timbre sounded natural, and the dynamic shadings of Gorka's vocal, piano and guitar, and the rest of the band were more nuanced than what we've heard from most sound bars. The SB 16's treble detail and "air" were also above average, which also played a part in producing a broad and deep soundstage. The SB 16 was nearly on par with what we expect to hear from a bona fide 2.1 channel system.

Rock music on CD revealed the limitations of the SB 16, which started to sound strained with the music turned up loud. Even so, the SB 16 was a little better than average. The SB 16's overall performance is excellent, and there's nothing better in its price class.

Conclusion
The Harman Kardon SB 16 features a premium price tag and some remote control quirks, but its excellent sound quality and exterior design make it worth the extra cash. That said, it's definitely worth checking out how your existing HDTV handles the remote issues we highlighted before you buy.

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Where to Buy See all prices

Harman/Kardon SB 16

Part Number: SB 16 Released: Jan 15, 2011
MSRP: $599.99 Low Price: $499.95 See all prices

Quick Specifications See All

  • Release date Jan 15, 2011
  • Speaker System Type Sound Bar
  • Nominal (RMS) Output Power 100 Watt
    25 Watt
  • Amplification Type active
  • Connectivity Technology Wired
  • Type Sound bar speaker system
  • Speaker System Configuration 2.1-channel