Harman Kardon SoundSticks review: Harman Kardon SoundSticks

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4 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

5 stars 1 user review

The Good Great sound; great looks; easy setup.

The Bad Mac support limited to USB-based systems running Mac OS 9.0.4 or later; limited audio adjustments; limited support for Windows.

The Bottom Line SoundSticks sound a lot better than you'd expect, considering the low price.

8.0 Overall

Can a jellyfish make music? Yes, if it's the jellyfish-esque SoundSticks from Harman Multimedia. This three-piece system sports a pair of transparent, tubular desktop speakers that mate with a transparent, lamp-shaped woofer to provide room-filling sound. The price of the package is $199. Can a jellyfish make music? Yes, if it's the jellyfish-esque SoundSticks from Harman Multimedia. This three-piece system sports a pair of transparent, tubular desktop speakers that mate with a transparent, lamp-shaped woofer to provide room-filling sound. The price of the package is $199.

A Marriage of Technologies
It comes as no surprise that Apple's clever design team worked with Harman on the unique look of SoundSticks. The first product from this duo was the built-in sound system that comes in every iMac with a slot-load CD or DVD drive. Then came the iSub, on which the SoundStick's woofer module is based.

The SoundSticks system is designed for any Mac with USB ports. The manufacturer says the system should also be compatible with many PCs that support USB but won't guarantee it'll work on all models.

To achieve its rich sound, each desktop unit contains four one-inch speakers. The speakers use Harman's Odyssey system, a technology that the manufacturer claims will deliver higher-quality audio from a smaller package. The satellite speakers are optimized for midrange and high frequencies, and they easily tilt on their bases for the best positioning and sound. The woofer is six inches, typical for this sort of product.

Setup and Sound
Installation is a snap: Plug in the desktop speakers to the woofer module, then connect the woofer to the transparent power supply, which plugs into the wall outlet. There's no on/off switch, and the only adjustment on the system is for woofer level.

On a Mac, volume and balance settings are done via the Sound Control Panel. Volume can also be set from the Sound Control Strip and the CD or DVD player applications. There are no adjustments for tone, nor are there any special effects or surround sound capabilities.

Although Harman Multimedia and other manufacturers of computer speakers persist in calling their woofer modules subwoofers, in fact they don't plumb the depths of the bass region anywhere near as well as those real subwoofers that grace home audio systems.

The advertised frequency range is 44 Hz to 20 kHz. We didn't subject the system to a full set of audio measurements to confirm the claims, but we were able to hear a genuine 50-Hz test tone generated from a CD, though the level was slightly reduced.

How does it all sound? After giving the Harman SoundSticks a dose of computer games, classical and rock CDs, DVDs, and MP3 files, it's clear that this is a first-rate sound system. It can be loud without distortion, and it's able to fill a decent-sized room with superlative sound. SoundSticks even compare favorably to a regular home audio system, high praise for any speaker system designed for computers.

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