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Harman Kardon SoundSticks

/ Jun 12th, 2002 No Comments

Harman Kardon’s SoundSticks are the near-ideal complement for any Mac computer system. From style (they’re beautiful!) to sound (precision your ears deserve) it’s an obvious match.

Macintosh users are known for not going gaga over complex hardware and software installation procedures – leave that for the PC. Here, the soundsticks live up to that ease-of-use ideal.

Installation is a snap. First, connect the subwoofer to a power source (the constantly glowing blue LED lets you know it’s plugged in). Next, connect the two satellite speakers to the sub (which contains the amplifier), with simple RCA-type plugs to save the hassle of positive and negative speaker wire – No messy tangles here! Then plug in the USB cord.

Wait a minute here. Harman/Kardon did something a little different with their computer connection. Most speaker systems connect with an 1/8th inch stereo plug to the back of your sound card (that looks like the plug on your walkman headphones). The soundsticks use a USB connection for a digital link to the amplifier – after all, the music and sound from your computer is digital, right? This offers a huge jump in the clarity of the sound coming to your ears.

The sound from the satellites is very directional. Good thing that they are so easy to move around and adjust. They have a rubber-coated metal ring for a stand, which can either be flipped under the speakers (and have them sit directly upright), or they can be flipped behind and tilted back up to 90 degrees.
It takes a little while to find the “sweet spot” of sound. The subwoofer is under my desk, and its location isn’t too critical, it should have objects to reflect sound off of, in my case, the wall and the underside of the desk. The satellites are about three feet diagonally away from my ears, which is about arms length reaching from my computer chair. The angle is very important. The four (count ’em!) speaker elements within each satellite work together to give out a very directional sound – they don’t blast all over. They take the sound and deliver it where you want it – your ears.

Mine are angled back about 20 degrees. A good test is loading up a song with a lot of high-frequency sound in iTunes and then slowly tilt back the soundstick from the vertical. There will be a point when the clarity just hits you. Wow! This ain’t your father’s speaker system, folks. With the soundsticks, I heard nuances in music that I thought I could only get with high quality headphones.

These speakers are made to be Mac-only, and in the sound control panel, a picture of the soundsticks lets you control the volume to each speaker. This is a really nice touch, no software to install, the operating system (Mac OS 9.0.4 or later) immediately recognized the addition of new hardware and set everything up – I didn’t have to do a thing. There is also a test function in the control panel that aids in getting the right speaker placement and volume in a different way than iTunes does.

What the USB connection and the soundsticks lack in is volume. There’s always a trade-off. You can’t find a Ferrari that gets 50 miles to the gallon or an Escort that can top 200mph.

If you want to blast music or games loud enough to wake the dead (or your neighbors) the soundsticks won’t satisfy. They weren’t made with volume as their primary goal. In this area, many speaker systems use volume to make up for a lack in sonic purity. It’s like politicians who have nothing real to say – they say it LOUDER, and hope that we are distracted by the intensity that covers the lack of anything substantial. These are speakers for users who want to listen and enjoy to the potential of sound that can be produced by their computer, blasters look elsewhere.

Well the soundsticks have something to say – and they say it beautifully. Visually, they blend in with any computer or desk set-up. The clear casing allows you to see the workmanship within. Technically, they stand up quite well.

The satellites have four one-inch speaker elements with a small ported opening at the bottom. They put out a full range of sound at 10 Watts RMS of power each. The sub uses a six-inch woofer (facing down and ported at the top) which puts out 20 Watts RMS, and provides decent “oomph” wherever it is placed. Frequency response for the system is 44Hz to 20kHz.

Dimensions (sub): 9″ diameter x 10″ height5 pounds(satellites): 2″ diameter x 10″ height1.5 pounds each
Overall, I don’t think there’s a better match out there for your Mac. The volume might leave you wanting, but the design and sound quality will win you over.


Dan Culver

Dan Culver

Contributor at Gaming Illustrated
Dan Culver is a long time behind-the-scenes contributor to Gaming Illustrated and has mastered the art of dying in Diablo II beyond all belief.
Dan Culver

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