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A great boom box is more than a just a way to hear music, it's a declaration. It's a way to tell the world to put down those anemic-sounding speakerphones and the cute fold-flat iPod docks, and make room for a portable sound system with substance.
Making its debut in 2006, Harman Kardon's Go + Play transformed its user into an instant public nuisance. With its head-turning design and 120 watts of menacing power, it was a feast for both the eyes and ears. Unfortunately, the iPhone, iPod Touch, and subsequent generations of the iPod broke compatibility with the original Go + Play, or simply wouldn't fit in the dock. The titan of iPod boom boxes eventually phased out.
Reborn as the Go + Play Micro, Harman Kardon is putting a new spin on its iconic premium portable speaker system. But don't let the word "micro" fool you; the size of the boom box is nearly identical to its predecessor, losing only a half-inch in depth and 1.5 inches in width. There's also nothing small about the $399 retail price.
The sad truth is, the only things that have shrunk in the Go + Play Micro are the sound quality and the features. Some changes have been made for the better, and overall the Go + Play Micro still succeeds as a top-tier portable audio solution. Still, we couldn't help reminiscing over the Go + Play's former glory.
Like its predecessor, the Go + Play Micro has an unmistakable alien beauty coupled with a durable construction. The bulk of the system is housed in matte-black plastic, with brushed aluminum accents for the speaker grilles, buttons, and feet.
The most striking aspect of the design is the metal handle that arcs over the full length of the boom box. Not only is the handle aesthetically beautiful, but its inch-thick diameter is easy on your hands. Considering the Go + Play weighs in at around 8 pounds, a comfortable grip really helps.
One of the few gripes we had over the design of the original Go + Play was the horizontal iPod dock, which effectively blocked you from seeing the screen. The Micro solves the prior design problem by placing the dock at a forward slant, keeping your iPod or iPhone screen in full view while still keeping your device relatively secure. An adjustable screw within the dock helps to ensure a snug fit for whatever model of iPod or iPhone you're using. The downside to all this snugness is that the side walls of the Go + Play Micro can't accommodate the extra thickness added by iPhone or iPod cases (with the exception of the iPod Nano). If the thought of taking the case off your iPhone gives you a panic attack, then this isn't the speaker for you.
On the back of the Go + Play Micro you'll find a battery compartment for eight C-cell batteries, along with ports for the power adapter, USB pass-through, video output, and aux input. The nifty pop-out remote control storage compartment on the back of the original Go + Play has vanished. There's no use for it anyway, since the sexy little sculpted RF remote included with the original has been replaced with a forgettable IR remote. Usually we're just happy when a manufacturer includes a remote at all, but considering the price of the Go + Play, it seems a little skimpy for Harman Kardon to downgrade to a generic IR clicker.
The Go + Play Micro has a fair number of features for a portable speaker system, but they're not the features we typically think of. There's no AM or FM radio, and no EQ adjustment beyond the capabilities included on your iPod or iPhone. Instead, you get features such as composite video output and a USB pass-through port for syncing to a computer. These are cool features, certainly, but they don't exactly match up with our notions of mobile audio.
Other features such as the included power adapter and aux audio input are fairly standard and expected. The included remote control--though not as pretty or responsive as its predecessor--does offer the advantage of iPod menu navigation controls, as well as buttons for volume and track skip. Oddly, the remote control doesn't offer a power button.
Some people will be fine with shelling out $400 for the Go + Play Micro purely on the basis of its design. The rest of you probably expect the sound quality to be commensurate with the price.
Rest assured that this is one of the better-sounding portable speakers you can buy for your iPod or iPhone. The dedicated woofer tucked into the bottom of the unit offers extended low range, and the four front-facing tweeters deliver the kind of crisp detail that few competitors can match.
There are some great-sounding competitors, though. In particular, the Altec Lansing Mix thunders over the Go + Play Micro, is priced $100 less, and includes extra features such as FM radio, remote storage, EQ, dual aux inputs, and a dock that can handle cases. It's arguably not as pretty as what Harman Kardon has to offer, but looks can only take you so far.
Really, the most damning criticism of the Go + Play Micro is that it's a boom box that lacks actual boom. With 120 watts of ear-crippling power, the original Go + Play could knock the stink off a pig. After the Micro makeover, the Go + Play now works with half the total wattage, and the sound just isn't what it used to be. We noticed that some of the more sparsely arranged songs we played, such as the meandering percussion of Susana Baca's "Resbalosas" or dark melodies of "Crystalized" by the group XX, cut through a little louder than denser rock songs or electronic, and delivered noticeably punchier low end. This could be a fluke of our perception, or possibly some of the digital signal processing technology Harman Kardon built into the system. The manual states that the Go + Play Micro uses both COE (computer-optimized equalization) and OCT (optimized compression topology) to enhance the sound of incoming audio signals, so perhaps the discrepancy we noticed in perceived volume can be attributed to those intervening technologies.
As far battery performance goes, the manufacturer estimates approximately 18 hours of continuous audio playback from a fresh set of eight C-cell batteries.