Is Harman the Mercedes-Benz of the audio business?

Harman's engineering muscle, long history of building iconic audio designs, and impressive sound rank it at the top of the heap.

Steve Guttenberg
Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.
Steve Guttenberg
2 min read
The Mobile Showroom has audiophile-grade two-channel and home theater systems. Harman

There are surprisingly few multinational audio companies.

I'm talking about big companies that just make speakers and audio electronics, so that leaves Sony and Panasonic out of the picture. Bose and D & M Holdings (Denon, Marantz, Boston Acoustics, etc) come to mind, but Harman International has a longer reach. Harman owns AKG (headphones, microphones), Harman/Becker Automotive Systems, Crown (professional audio), Harman Kardon (receivers), Infinity (speakers), JBL (speakers), Lexicon (high-end electronics), Mark Levinson (car and high-end audio electronics), Revel (speakers), Soundcraft (professional audio), and Studer (professional audio).

Some brands, like JBL and Lexicon, make consumer and pro gear, and in the case of JBL, speakers for every budget, from entry-level hi-fi and home theater all the way up to recording studios, movie theaters and stadium sound systems.

I was thinking about all that because the Harman Mobile Showroom was in NYC last week for the Architectural Digest Home Design Show. It may soon be in a town near you, or you can take a virtual tour and see and learn more about Harman's Mobile Showroom.

I liked the sound at the Mobile Showroom and chatted with Todd Packer, a technical product and project manager for Harman, about the gear. The company's intention, "To make a strong design statement," came through loud and very clear.

I love what tiny high-end companies can do, but I'd be the first to admit they're all working with limited resources. Harman is very much a quality-oriented brand with real engineering muscle. No other audio company can touch Harman's reach into consumer, professional recording, and concert sound system markets.

Harman's mission right now is getting Americans to care as much about sound quality as European and Japanese audiophiles do. Take theJBL K2 S9900 speaker, it's a staggeringly good high-end design, but JBL sells 50 of them in Japan for every one sold here!

I was shocked to learn the iconic JBL L100 speaker (aka model 4311), originally introduced in the U.S. in the early 1970s to great success, is still being manufactured for the Japanese market. They should bring it back to America!

Harman is redoubling its efforts for its home market, and I can't wait to hear its next design.