My trusty, beloved, first-generation Harman Kardon SoundSticks finally died recently – probably from heavy metal overload – after twelve faithful years. I loved them so much I decided to replace them with the latest wireless version imaginatively called Harman Kardon SoundSticks Wireless. I’m really glad I did becauseI haven’t been disappointed.
A lot has been said about the design of the SoundSticks since they were launched in 2000 and that remains much the same. And why not? It was the first computer speaker system to win a design award (the Industrial Design Excellence Award) and SoundSticks have a place in the permanent collection at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Far ahead of its time, this system still looks fabulous sitting next to your Mac 15 years later. No surprises there: Harman Kardon partnered with Apple to design SoundSticks – with the inimitable Jony Ive (now Sir Jony) at the helm of Apple’s industrial and mechanical design team. I still find them beautiful.
There have been some small but welcome changes along the way. The on/off switch on the woofer added to the second and subsequent generations, along with the volume controls on the right speaker, really should have been there all along. The black feet and speaker stands look more stylish than their predecessors and don’t get discoloured (those on my first generation set went a bit yellow). The biggest change to the latest rendition, though, is – of course – that they are wireless.
Now let me make something immediately clear to those of you jumping up and down in your seats imagining that they are totally cable-free. They are not. In fact they connect to your Mac just like the previous generations – with wires from each speaker going into the woofer, a cable from the woofer to the Mac (not USB like the first generation; this one’s a 3.5 mm mini-jack that goes into your headphone port) and, of course, a power cable. Hence when you use them with your Mac there’s no difference in that respect to the previous versions. Except that they sleep and wake automatically (assuming they are turned on). You will still have just the same cables to deal with on and around your desk.
The difference is that Harman Kardon SoundSticks Wireless allow wireless audio streaming to your iPhone, iPad (or other phone/tablet), laptop or other compatible device – as controllers to play music, movies, game sound et al – from anywhere in your house that’s in range! So, once you’ve set them up – which is quick and easy – (see my post on setting them up with your Mac, here, and pairing with your iPad, here) you can lie back on your sofa with your iPad and swap between your iTunes playlists and YouTube videos, streaming the sound through your SoundSticks at the other side of the room (or beyond).
So, how good are they? Well, the 15 centimetre sub-woofer (that’s 6 inches to you folks over the pond) aims sound down (instead of sideways) allowing it to adapt to different rooms scenarios and there’s sufficient bass adjustment (using the on/off knob) to work in harmony with the speakers whether you’re sitting far away or close up. The SoundSticks’ 8 full-range drivers and 40 watts of amplification give you a rich, pleasing sound, whatever you want to listen to. The speakers themselves tilt (see the photos above) for subtle adjustment, too. If you’re sitting at your computer you’ll want them tilted toward you to so you can pick up the subtleties of the music. Sound-wise they’re pretty hard to beat for speakers in their category and price range.
As for the Bluetooth function, some people have complained of having problems with crackling and drop out. It’s true that very occasionally when they wake from sleep there’s a slight crackle. But I’ve never had any problems with streaming – either from my iPhone or iPad. Mine do just what I wanted them to do, just how I wanted them to do it. If you’re not bothered about streaming audio wirelessly, though, you can get SoundSticks III which are the same, without Bluetooth and are cheaper.
Oh, a little bit of advice about insects! If you leave the power on all night the light in the woofer can attract moths and other flying things, which can get trapped inside. I’ve even heard of people releasing butterflies from theirs. It’s pretty easy to free them (although it’s a little fiddly and involves taking the bottom off!). I recently emancipated a very frustrated insect from mine. The trick is… Oh but that’s for another post.