Provides: 2.1 stereo wired and wireless audio reproduction
Minimum Requirements: Audio device with 1/8″ stereo or Bluetooth output
The first time I reviewed a set of Harman/Kardon speakers, it was the original SoundSticks USB Speaker System back in August of 2000. As a testament to their quality and durability, those speakers are still in use, hooked up to my mom’s Mac mini. She may not fully appreciate the sound and design, but it says something that after all the computer speaker systems I’ve reviewed in the past 12 years, I’ve found no reason to switch her over to anything else.
Unfortunately for my mom, she won’t be getting the Harman/Kardon SoundSticks Wireless anytime soon; I’ll be holding onto these for quite some time.
Those who have owned or even seen the SoundSticks before will notice that little has changed. The satellites are still two clear, rounded tubes with four speakers in each, and the subwoofer is still a clear jellyfish-like contraption that’s too cool looking to be dumped on the floor under your desk. You’d think the clear design would be outdated at this point (it made sense sitting next to the old CRT iMacs), but I’m really having a hard time picturing the SoundSticks any other way.
The two 10W satellite speakers sit above a heavy, black ring that can be placed directly underneath for straight display or flipped behind so you can angle the speakers back (a more logical choice). Each “stick” stands a little over 10″ high and contains four 1″ transducers that kick out sound as clear as the speaker cabinets themselves. The right speaker also contains touch sensitives buttons for adjusting the volumes.
If I had to make a complaint, it would be that these provide no feedback as to the volume level. There’s also no headphone output, so you’ll need to unplug them from your computer in order to switch to headphones.
The 20W subwoofer also measures just over 10″ high and is just over 9″ in diameter. It has a separate volume knob for bass adjustment, which is powered by a 6″ downfiring transducer. No matter at what level I set the subwoofer (or the speakers), there was no rattling, no audio hiss…nothing but clear, clean, Harman/Kardon sound. The satellites could be tweaked for better support for high range reproduction, so music playback isn’t perfect (I especially noticed this when playing classical music), but the SoundSticks are all over movies and games.
Of course, there’s the wireless to consider, as well. Pairing the SoundSticks is a simple matter of telling your Bluetooth enabled to device to find them, as they automatically enter pairing mode when on. When the connection is made, a blue LED on the subwoofer will light up, and you’re all set (another reason to keep the subwoofer up on your desk). I found the Bluetooth audio to be nearly indistinguishable from that coming directly through the Mac; no pauses, pops or delays. And although you likely won’t need much range for a desktop computer speaker system, you should also have no trouble moving your Bluetooth audio source around the house.
At $230, you’re paying a premium for the wireless capabilities; you can get the same design and audio quality without wireless in the $170 SoundSticks III. I’d be tempted to just point you in that direction, but considering so many devices are Bluetooth ready these days, do you want to cut them off from such a great sound system? Perhaps, if your speakers are relegated to a room you rarely use. But if that room is also used for viewing movies or playing games on your iPad, for entertaining groups with your iPod touch’s playlists, or for whatever uses you find for Bluetooth audio, the Harman/Kardon SoundSticks Wireless will give you clean, room-filling sound with the right technology to keep them in use for the next dozen years.