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Harman Kardon Soundsticks III Review

Harman Kardon Soundsticks III Review

Manufacturer: Harman Kardon
UK price (as reviewed): £119.99 (inc VAT)
US price (as reviewed): $156.17 (ex tax]

When PCs evolved from office workstations into entertainment centres, they turned from beige boxes into minor works of art. PC speaker designs are rarely as engaging, but one exception is the Harman Kardon Soundsticks III set.

This third-generation design isn’t particularly different to the original, which was developed in collaboration with Apple with an eye to making it blend in with the curvy first-generation iMac. Those iMacs look dated now, but the Soundsticks III speakers are as appealing as ever – an achievement for something that resembles a robo-jellyfish accompanied by a duo of see-through Subway sandwiches.

Harman Kardon Soundsticks III Review
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That’s due as much to the high-quality finish and superb attention to detail as the innovative concept. An LED bathes the subwoofer in a subtle white glow, while the accompanying cables are decked out in silver; even the internal wiring in the satellites looks smart. The touch-sensitive volume buttons maintain the sublime minimalism but aren’t practical, and we can’t believe that adding a headphone output would have spoiled the design.

There are a couple of other design slip-ups too. The power supply is external, and as ugly as ever. This needn’t be an eyesore if you keep the subwoofer out of sight, but this one deserves to be seen. The other cosmetic change over the largely identical Soundsticks II set is the use of sockets on the end of 10cm cables sprouting from the back of the subwoofer. A better idea would have been to run the leads down a longer umbilical cable, terminating in a breakout box that could be hidden.

Sound quality is what matters, of course. First impressions were good, with plenty of high-frequency definition and punchy bass. There was a dip in the frequency response between the subwoofer and satellites’ ranges, though, resulting in a slight lack of warmth.

Harman Kardon Soundsticks III Review Harman Kardon Soundsticks III Review
Click to enlarge

Closer scrutiny revealed other problems, though. These speakers make up for their lack of very high-frequency detail – which nothing at this price can muster – by laying it on thick in the upper-mid frequencies. It’s a common approach, and while it gave some audio sources a satisfying sense of detail and presence, it made others sound brittle and harsh.

We also struggled to find the best position and volume setting for the subwoofer. The downward-firing speaker cone gave a satisfying punch that literally shook the floor in bass-heavy music and games. Putting the subwoofer on the desk cleaned this up a little, but also brought the tangle of cables into view.

Conclusion

The elegant, curvy visual appearance of the Soundsticks III is a little at odds with the aggressive sonic tone. However, the sound from the set was patchy, and some elements of the design weren’t as clean as we’d want from something so visually striking. We’ll stick with our unpretentious Creative Inspire T3130, thanks all the same.

  • Sound Quality
  • x
  • x
  • x
  • x
  • x
  • x
  • x
  • -
  • -
  • -
  • 7/10
  • Design
  • x
  • x
  • x
  • x
  • x
  • x
  • x
  • -
  • -
  • -
  • 7/10
  • Value
  • x
  • x
  • x
  • x
  • x
  • x
  • x
  • -
  • -
  • -
  • 7/10
  • Overall
  • x
  • x
  • x
  • x
  • x
  • x
  • x
  • -
  • -
  • -
  • 7/10
Score Guide

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