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Harman Kardon SoundSticks III review: Harman Kardon SoundSticks III

Capacitive-touch volume buttons may have blown skirts up back in 2000, but the inability to view incremental volume levels is pretty irritating today, and on multiple occasions we found ourselves pumping the volume up to eardrum-piercing levels by accident as a result of the ultrasensitive buttons. We can only hope that Harman Kardon will wise up and build the next SoundSticks with a dedicated volume knob.

Another gripe is the lack of a headphone jack, although you can purchase a dual-sided 3.5-inch audio cable for the output jacket. Finally, the bass-level controls are on the subwoofer itself, and the dial also doubles as a power button, which is annoying to turn off every night if you like to sleep in total darkness.

The SoundSticks continue to garner positive marks from users after 10 years because they're not just a pretty design--the 2.1 speakers are resistant to distortion even at extremely loud volumes, and our bass-centric test track (Skrillex's "First of the Year ") sounds crisp and balanced despite a rather limited frequency-response range of 44Hz to 20Hz, compared with competing speakers like the Audioengine 2 speakers.

We also noticed zero added hissing on sibilant consonants and very little audible static between tracks. The SoundSticks III sound equally powerful when playing 192K-encoded MP3 music tracks, during PC gameplay, and most especially in scenes from the most recent silver-screen version of "King Kong." In each instance, we pushed the maximum volume up incrementally and found no degradation in sonic clarity and bass rumble.

Harman Kardon drops the price of the SoundSticks III from $200 down to just $170, earning our buying recommendation for music fans and dedicated Ive followers alike. Despite a few shortcomings, the SoundSticks system remains one of the best-sounding, and best-looking, PC speaker systems under $200.

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