Product: Harman Kardon GLA-55 2.0 Speakers
Rating: Strong Recommend**
There are only a few items we've reviewed that we'd categorize as true conversation starters, products that invite unsolicited opinions and curious inquiry. The diamond-cut design Harman Kardon GLA-55 offers an aesthetic presence which splits opinions strongly between love and hate, with few falling inbetween (you can put us in the "love" demographic, but that's partially because they look so naturally at home in our home office). What isn't obvious until you connect the pair to an audio source is their impressive audio capabilities, proving the system offers more than looks.
When friends would drop by during our review period with the GLA-55 system, the first two comments often heard upon inspecting the speakers were, "Wow, those are some cool/weird looking speakers!" and "How much did they cost?". Both comments are directly related to the eye-catching transparent PMMA acrylic cabinet (a material used in aquarium housing and 60's-70's era mod clear furniture), a design that is a one part Tiffany's jewelry shop and another part Superman's Fortress of Solitude. On our shallow depth desk, the glamorous pair took up a good deal of space ontop, but instantly added a…ahem…facet of class previously absent we appreciated immediately.
Lift one of the units, and the heft of the speakers indicate the quality build of the GLA-55 speakers; each 5.5" x 10.6" speakers has a dynamic duo of audio hardware, comprised of an Atlas woofer and CMMD tweeters, rated 56 watts per satellite with four separate channels, two for each speaker within and two more for treble and bass, with most all of this hardware visible. The system connects to your computer or MP3 device via a 3.5mm stereo jack, with touch-sensitive volume controls available on the right speaker unit and chunky external power supply supplying the tandem.
Inside the clear cabinet a 24-bit digital signal processing unit shaped nearly every song we pumped through the pair with clear and natural effect (especially FLAC recordings). Even with their modest bookshelf size, the tandem can exhale a considerable volume, most notably on the low end even without the aid of a sub (a sub-out connection is available) and we had to dial back down our usual volume levels.
Compared to our current Bowers & Wilkins MM1 speakers, the GLA-55s felt confidently more substantial, operating almost too robustly for our small space apartment. With such room-filling performance, the system performed admirably for entertaining purposes, if not overkill for everyday low-mid volume listening while working. We especially liked the performance when listening to bass heavy tracks, which carried a pleasant undistorted heft, with similarly unclouded and pleasing abilities with symphony recordings.
Now we come back to the price: at a list of $999 the Harman Kardon GLA-55's are a luxury category product with limited appeal despite their excellent capability. Are there are monitor/bookshelf options out there that could meet or beat the GLA-55's when comparing performance alone? Certainly, and that's the strongest knock against this speaker system. You're paying a premium for the unique design. But then of course, these speakers aren't catering to the pure performance crowd.
As much as we love these speakers, the exclusivity of the 2.0 system's price makes them a niche item aimed at a very specific customer…one who loves dramatic design, expects audiophile-like performance and has the bank account to afford such an option. We unfortunately only meet two of the three criteria. We ended up teetering back and forth between a "Recommend" and "Strong Recommend" for the issue of cost. Yet despite the price, we can't deny we loved every moment listening to music through the GLA-55s; we're certainly sad to pack them up and bid them farewell. So if you can sport the premium and are looking/listening for a category defining desktop audio product, we wouldn't hesitate to mention the Harman Kardon GLA-55's as a strong contender for best in their class. Just get ready for a lot of curious peeks and questions about them.
Pros: Striking aesthetic presence, confident and clean sound, significant bass even without sub (in apartment setting), excellent construction
Cons: Price, would have preferred non-touch volume controls, large power supply
Apartment Therapy Media makes every effort to test and review products fairly and transparently. The views expressed in this review are the personal views of the reviewer and this particular product review was not sponsored or paid for in any way by the manufacturer or an agent working on their behalf. However, the manufacturer did give us the product for testing and review purposes.