Since I enjoy sound, you probably have noticed the many speaker reviews on the site. I'm always interested in the unique designs of speakers and of course in search for better sound. For PC users, the typical companies that come to mind when talking about multimedia speakers are Logitech, Creative, Altec Lansing, etc. Today, I present to you a speaker set that should not be left out: it is the Harman Kardon SoundSticks II.
The Harman Kardon SoundSticks II is a set of speakers with a very unique and good-looking design. Admittedly, the design fits well with a Mac, but that doesn't prevent PC users from using it as well. With the 10 Watt satellites and the 20 Watt subwoofer, this isn't exactly the most powerful multimedia speaker set on the market today. However, many will find that these speakers are more than capable.
The product comes in a not-too-large box for a speaker set. The speakers are neatly tucked in between two pieces of cardboard material like the ones you typically find on egg cartons. Right at the top of box when it is opened is a thin setup guide which quickly tells you how to setup the speakers. I will get into the details of setting it up later in this review.
The satellite speakers certainly have a design that you don't really see compared with other multimedia speakers. The satellites have 4 micro drivers that are connected in a line array. When combined, they total to 10 Watts of sound output power. The base of the satellite looks balloon-like at first because of its smooth surface. At closer inspection, it is made of rubber. Because the base is rather heavy, it keeps the satellite speaker standing. When holding up the satellite speaker, you can tell that this is made from solid construction.
The satellite speakers are transparent so you can actually see through the plastic. The wires connecting the individual drivers are neatly wired so that it still looks elegant even though you can see through the speakers.
At the base of the speaker is also a hinge to allow you to tilt the satellite speaker at your desired angle. When the hinge is fully closed, the satellite speaker stands a perpendicular 90 degrees. The ring shape of the base supports the speaker so that it is slightly tucked in. You can only tilt the speaker back to allow you to point the speaker toward your head if you place the speakers at a lower position on your table.
Since the speakers are not labelled, a person can easily confuse whether a satellite speaker should go on the left or the right. The right speaker has a touch-sensitive volume control. You can either tap it to incrementally adjust the volume or you can hold your finger on it to allow it to increase or decrease in volume automatically.
The subwoofer is just a marvel to look at. Typically the port (or hole) is seen on the bottom or side of a subwoofer. In this case, it is right at the top. The driver is actually facing down and the sound goes through the many holes at the bottom of the subwoofer. Because the subwoofer looks good, many will want to put it on their desk given that there is enough desk space. You can still place the subwoofer on the floor if you prefer to feel the bass from the ground up.
Setting up the speakers was very easy to do. Was is interesting about setting this system is that not all the connectors are completely flush into the subwoofer. For instance, one of the connections has a wire hanging out. Instead of using a color coding scheme, this speaker set relies on different sized connector types. One satellite speaker has a larger PS2-like connector while the other one has a smaller headphone sized connector. That way, you don't confuse in figuring out which wire to connect to where. The longest wire protruding from the subwoofer is the wire intended to be plugged into the sound card of your computer.
Essentially, all the connections are made directly to the subwoofer. I found the wires of the satellites to be adequate in length. The only wire that I felt was a bit short was the input wire. Because this wire has to go from the subwoofer all the way to your computer, it may not be long enough if you intend on putting the subwoofer underneath your desk. The sound from these speakers was different than speakers such as from Logitech or Altec Lansing. When playing my typical songs, I found that this speaker set had its own distinct sound which makes it slightly different from other brands. Whether it is listening to music, playing games, or watching a movie, the line array drivers delivers crystal clear sound. In fact, when playing my usual online games, I was able to notice subtle sounds I had not heard before. This reminded me of Logitech's X-530 speaker set which was also very clear with their FDD2 technology which is a good thing. For instance, in the Half-Life mod Natural Selection, I was able to hear the 'clinking' of something on the marine's belt swaying back and forth almost like dangling keychains.
The satellite speakers are quite directional. While I was playing games on my computer, I was able to hear sounds in high clarity because the speakers were pointed toward my face. If you move farther away several feet back, you can still hear the speakers fine, but you don't quite hear the subtle sounds than if you were closer and the volume seems lowered. This effect was also true for movies. Watching movies with several people will require a close listening range, otherwise, the people in the back may not appreciate the sound quality this system has to offer.
The subwoofer has tight, deep bass. The bass can be adjusted via the knob on the subwoofer. This speaker set operatoes from 44Hz-20kHz. That is 4Hz higher than your typical comparable speaker set which begins at 40Hz instead. Those who like music with hard bass such as techno, hard rock, rap, etc may find it a bit unfulfilling when comparing it with Logitech's larger and deeper subwoofers which can produce bass as low as 30Hz. If you disregard that, the subwoofer is still very good. Nevertheless, the subwoofer works well for general music listening of all types.
The Harman Kardon SoundSticks II offers a nice fresh sound different from the usual. At the retail price of $149.99, these speakers don't quite live up to the sound power output numbers in this price range. However, these speakers are for those who place a little more emphasis on sound and design over total output power. The only thing I would have liked to see with these speakers is a headphone jack on the satellite speaker and possibly a volume meter for the volume control buttons. Other than that, these are well-rounded speakers which offer style and sound at the same time.