Harman Kardon

The Harman Kardon Esquire is a Travel Speaker Done Right.

Harman Kardon has been on a tear lately with a slew of killer products featuring clean functional design. From headphones to speaker systems, they have been setting the high bar in terms of visual design aesthetic and materials used.

The new Esquire speaker is a great example of the new Harman Kardon product line up. This little, portable speaker not only features Bluetooth, it has NFC for all those Android devices that are packing that technology. At $250.00 it isn’t cheap, but if it’s anything like the Aura speaker system I own, it’s worth the money.

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Esquire is a wireless audio system with designed with travel in mind. The speaker has dual drivers, a built-in bass port, and can be used for music listening around the house, office, or on-the-go. In addition, Esquire can be used with Bluetooth-enabled smartphones to make clear, no-fuss conference calls. Esquire uses custom-tuned microphones and noise cancellation technology to improve call quality even in noisy environments.

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Prepare totravel in a completely different way. The Harman Kardon Esquire is your new, on-the-road, wireless audio system. Esquire is a Bluetooth®-enabled speaker with a built- in conference phone system that redefines how you take your music with you. This durable, portable speaker is crafted out of fine materials with a leather panel and metal finish on the outside. On this inside, it’s pure Harman Kardon engineering, with dual drivers and a built-in bass port for clear sound, as well as custom-tuned microphones and noise cancellation technology for clear conference calls from your Bluetooth®-enabled smart phone. Top performance and outstanding design, this exquisite, portable speaker from Harman Kardon is substance and style. It looks as good as it sounds.

Aura.

The Harman Kardon Aura is a sleek, modern, wireless speaker system, that is in my opinion a show stopping design. The small footprint and lack of wires allow it to be placed anywhere in your home as long as you have a power outlet close by. Distinctive design, and robust audio make this little speaker a winner. I’ve been using the Aura for a couple of weeks, and while it isn’t perfect, it’s a serious contender in the wireless speaker game.

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The image of modern design.

In a crowded market it is imperative that your product stand out from the crowd. Over the years speaker designs have come and gone, but for the most part, speakers are, or look like a wooden box with a grill. In short, they aren’t that interesting to look at. The Aura with its dome shape, and transparent sound chamber, is a piece of industrial design that says “look at me”.

The Aura is built on a circular footprint with a diameter approximately 10 inches, and a height of about 12. The physical size makes it perfect for desktops, shells, or on the floor. One thing is certain, you won’t want to hide this fantastic piece of visual design.

Inside the clear plastic dome is a single ring of light that illuminates the center of the speaker. The light functions as a visual indicator for the volume level allowing the listener to a get a quick visual read on how loud things are going to get. Buttons are kept to a minimum, and like the original Soundsticks, volume control is a touch sensitive slider on the base of the speaker housing. Aside from that, the only other indicators, are power, WiFi, and Bluetooth lights discretely hidden on the base.

My one gripe is that these buttons give no real feedback when pressed. Just a few audio chimes to indicate the speaker is doing something. The only clue as to what is going on is, the connection button is green for WiFi, and blue for Bluetooth. The QuickStart guide tells you this, but not much else. For the most part the speaker is pretty straight forward.

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Connectivity

Harman Kardon sells the Aura as a wireless home speaker, but in addition to wireless connectivity, there are USB, Optical, and a Mini Stereo input ports. All of these are good, because if you wanted you could hard wire the speaker to your TV or another device and take full advantage of improved audio quality. Aura’s wireless connectivity is its main selling point though, and the primary reason I picked one up. Aura provides Wi-Fi connectivity through DLNA, AirPlay, and Bluetooth.

Pairing via Bluetooth was a snap. It took less than 10 seconds on both my iPhone and iPad. WiFi was another story all together. Using the Mac Mini, Bluetooth will often grab the signal before WiFi can establish a connection. iTunes has a tendency to fire up and attempt to connect and play even though it’s been set not to. And sometimes the WiFi and Bluetooth signals get confused and simply cut all audio feed to the speaker system. The frustrating part of this is, you want to stream via WiFi if you can. It’s a lossless way of sending the audio signal

Sound quality

Aside form the connectivity glitches, the audio quality is absolutely top notch, as it should be for a $400.00 speaker system. Once again Harman Kardon’s renowned excellence in producing high quality products shows. The sound that is delivered from such a small compact system is really pretty impressive. Because of the design, audio is rendered in an omni directional pattern, filling the space with an overall balance of audio.

This omni directional audio wave is achieved through six one and a half inch drivers that have been tuned to handle different frequency ranges for mid and high audio. In the base is a down facing 4.5 inch subwoofer that produces a deep warm bass tone that really fills out the sound quality. Audio levels are crisp, well separated, and full with no distortion even when the volume is cranked. What is really interesting is because of the design, the system sounds great no matter where it is. I have had it placed on the floor all the way up to an almost ceiling level height, and Aura just sounds great no matter where it is in the room.

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Bottom line, I simply can’t find fault the Aura’s sound output. It’s loud without being overbearing, it sounds good at all locations, the audio quality is rich and full, and it fills the space with rich high-fidelity sound.

So Harman Kardon has produced a pretty sweet little speaker system. Stunning looks and impressive audio quality make the device a winner in my book. If Apple can work out the connectivity issues with Harman Kardon, and if Harman puts together a more comprehensive product manual, Aura would be hard to beat.

These Bluetooth Cans Look Great.

When you think of headphones, the phrase “sexy design” is probably not the first thing that comes to mind. Thanks to Harman Kardon, that might change. This is one sexy looking pair of Bluetooth headphones. Sleek retro styled over the ear cans, made with supple leather, and brushed stainless steel. Seriously, these look great. The tech specs on them aren’t bad either. 40 hours of wirless playback, full spectrum sound with a dynamic range of 16Hz to 20kHz from a 40mm driver. Harman Kardon has always delivered great design, and solid audio quality. They are a bit spendy but these look like a winner to me.

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Soundstick It.

I actually own a set of the original Harman Kardon Soundsticks. I’ve had them for about 6 years and I really do love them. The clear plastic design helps them fade away into the background of the room, and they put out some solid sound. (at least my rock scarred ear drums think so. I’m probably not the best judge though thanks to my punk rock years) Like all speaker systems, actually like all modern electronics, one thing that has always bugged me are the wires. With the original Soundsticks there are copious amounts of cable, but now Harman Kardon SoundSticks have been updated into a wireless version.

SoundSticks III now use Bluetooth technology to deliver a signal to the six-inch subwoofer, and two satellite  speakers with eight full-range drivers. The speakers still deliver 40 watts of amplification which won’t blow the windows out of your humble abode, but will fill a good sized room with lots of sound. Harman Kardon Soundsticks III can seamlessly stream audio from any of your Bluetooth enabled devices. No word on iPhone 5 support, so I know I won’t be buying these right away. They will be going on the wish list though.