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Product Review: Harman Kardon SoundSticks

Harman Kardon’s Soundsticks are not exactly a new product, but they’re exceptionally pretty, and with design by Apple’s Jony Ive, how could I resist?

Harmon Kardon SoundSticks

Disclaimer – I’ve wanted these for ages, and while they’re not that expensive new, they’re more than I paid for speakers in the past. I found a bargain on eBay, getting two sets (Soundsticks original and Soundsticks II for 35GBP delivered, but with just one power supply)

So a box arrived at my house, delivered by a man in a van, and I got all excited. First impression – the box was huge and heavy, and when it comes to speakers, heavy is good. I basically shredded the box, and got them set up. I think the amp in the SoundSticks II sub I have is blown, although the LED lights up I get no sound from it or the satellites, but the speakers and sub will become a project down the line (keep your eyes peeled for details on that in the coming weeks). The SoundSticks original works flawlessly.

The main difference between the first and second generations is that the second adds touch volume controls to one of the sticks, and that they run a standard 3.5″ jack for input, where the first generation only accepts USB input, which is fine as I’m running them on my iMac. This is actually really handy for me as I don’t have to switch the input at the back of the iMac now when I need to use headphones, for example when I’m recording a SudoCast for example with Andy – as you can switch from headphones to SoundSticks as your output in the Mac’s preferences.

Looks:SoundSticks and PowerMac G4

These things look stunning. Even though my set are used, and a little beaten up, the design shines through. The satellites are tall, clear and accommodate four tweeters each in addition to an air port near the foot of each, and stand around 9-10 inches tall. They’re adjustable for angle on the circular foot, and I’ve seen them wall mounted by these before too. The subwoofer which also houses all the electrical amp gubbins is a similar height, with a diameter around 10″ too. It contains a single LED to show that its powered on and has just three connections, power in, a single satellite connection which splits after a couple of inches, and the USB connection for data in. All of the cabling feels high quality and has a clear gold sheath, which while it looks slightly dated now, was very much inline with the Macs of the time (The colourful iMacs and PowerMac G4s). These things would look awesome next to the G4 Cube…

With Apple Designer Jony Ive being very involved in the design of these from the outset, they really match beautifully with the older Macs, especially the perspex framed easel style Studio and Cinema displays, the G4 Cube and the iMac G4 (the first flat panel monitor, sometimes known as the Sunflower).

Ease of Use

While the first generation don’t have the touch controls on the satellites, the Sub has a bass level twist knob. While the lack of direct volume control could be a pain for some, on the Mac I simply use the keyboard volume up and down controls. No problems at all for me.

Sound

These things just sound amazing. While I’m no audiophile, I have worked in radio in the past and am very into vocal music. The sound from these speakers is very full and rounded, and never struggles with bass or high notes at all. In general I never get beyond 50% of the Mac’s volume control, but even at full volume there’s zero distortion and the sound is huge.

My previous speakers were JBL’s Creature 2, which have a similar set up of Sub plus two satellites, and I loved the sound they gave. Since I bought the Soundsticks, I can’t listen to them any more. The difference is night and day, the sound now seems thin and lacks any real bass to fill out the sound. The SoundSticks really are that good.

I know one thing. If these ever die, I’ll happily throw down the cash for a brand new set!

By the way – this article has been put together on Linux Mint as a part of my SudoCast challenge – so tune in next week to hear my thoughts on it! :)

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About David Sangwell

David is Head of Design at BWR Associates, restores vintage Apple hardware and works as a part of a stage illusion show. We suspect ADHD.
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