Harman Kardon BT review: Excellent sound without the wires

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The Good Unique design; excellent fit and finish; impressive sound quality for Bluetooth headphones; built-in rechargeable battery offers decent battery life (12 hours); the Harman Kardon BT fold flat (a nice carrying case is included); works well as cellphone headset; can also be used as wired headphones.

The Bad A bit bulky for mobile headphones; the battery charging cable is not a standard Micro-USB cable.

The Bottom Line While its design may not be for everyone, the Harman Kardon BT is one of the best-sounding Bluetooth headphones available.

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8.1 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Sound 9
  • Value 8

Harman Kardon makes a few different full-size headphones, including the Classic (CL), Noise Canceling (NC), and Bluetooth (BT). They all offer excellent sound quality and have very distinct designs, with a modern take on an old-school double headband and square earcups that harken back a little to the Bowers & Wilkins P3 and P5 headphones.

The BT model reviewed here looks almost identical to the over-the-ear NC model, but it features wireless audio streaming for smartphones and other devices that are Bluetooth-enabled. At $250 list, this is considered more of a high-end Bluetooth headphone, but it does cost significantly less than other high-end competitors such as the $400 Parrot Zik, Sennheiser MM 550, and Denon Global Cruiser.

Aside from its excellent fit and finish, the big thing the BT has going for it is its sound quality. It's a well-balanced headphone, with good clarity and tight bass, making it one of the better-sounding Bluetooth headphones currently available.

The Harman Kardon BTs have memory foam in their earpads. Sarah Tew/CNET

Design and features
As I said, the headphone has a very distinct look; it's a modern take on an old-school design and won't appeal to everyone. The build quality seems robust, with the top portion of the headband made of metal. Here's what's interesting: Harman includes two sizes of that metal piece, and you can easily swap one band in for the other, depending on the size of your head.

I personally don't have a very big head (at least I didn't think so), but as with the company's CL headphones, which feature the same headband design, the default small band didn't feel great, especially over longer listening sessions, so I swapped in the larger one. It made a significant difference.

The headphones fold flat. Sarah Tew/CNET

I prefer over-the-ear headphones to on-ear models, so it's not surprising that the overall comfort level of this model felt better to me compared with that of the CL. Like the NC, the BT features memory-foam earpads that conform well to your head and offer a tight seal. The only issue I had was that I though the headphone was a tad weighty -- and yes, that heft helps contribute to the impression that the BT is solidly built. The BT weighs 0.62 pound, which is a touch less than what the NC weighs with the smaller "metal bow" headband. By comparison, the popular Bose QC 15 comes in at 0.44 pound.

The headphones don't fold up, but they do fold flat -- not as much so as the smaller CLs, but still fairly flat. While the included carrying case is fairly large in terms of height and width, since the headphones fold flat there isn't a lot of depth to the package. It stows away nicely in a laptop bag or backpack, or potentially, in your suitcase.

As with virtually all stereo Bluetooth headphones, the BTs have a built-in microphone for making calls. The three-button remote is integrated into the back of the left earcup and can easily be operated by feel. You can adjust the volume up and down, answer and end calls, and advance tracks forward and back (you tap the call answer/end button twice to jump a track forward and tap it three times to go back a track).

The three-button 'remote' is integrated into the left earcup. Sarah Tew/CNET

It's also worth mentioning that these headphones are apt-X enabled. For those who've never heard of apt-X, it's a bit of technology that's supposed to make Bluetooth audio sound better. However, it works with only a small (but growing) list of devices such as the Samsung Galaxy S3 and Galaxy S4 that support apt-X (currently, no Apple iOS device supports it). With certain tracks, particularly uncompressed "lossless" tracks, apt-X can make your music sound slightly more dynamic.