Harman Kardon SB16 Soundbar and Wireless 100 Watt Subwoofer Price: $599.99 Rating: *Recommend Sometimes you just feel like you have better things to do than set up a massive, complicated and aesthetically disruptive surround system. Maybe you don’t have the money, maybe you don’t have the time, or maybe you don’t have the niche knowledge to pull it off anyway. Wouldn’t it be great if there were an easy “speaker” that you could just hook your TV up to so you could get an outstanding audio experience while watching movies and gaming?
Harman Kardon is an old name in the biz and currently supplies audio systems for many of the top auto manufacturers like Mercedes Benz and BMW. Their roots and strengths lay in home audio though, offering a track record of consistently high quality over the years with the exception of a few multimedia speakers and odd merchandising exercises. They recently offered us an opportunity to test out their latest 2.1 soundbar plus subwoofer combination to see if they can keep up their track record going with their space saving Harman Kardon SB16 Soundbar and Wireless Subwoofer home theater system. First of all, the design: the duo looks great. I wouldn’t call them design award spectacular, but they are designed to disappear in a room and they accomplish the effect. I know that humans are supposed to like round, organic shapes, but in general rounded designs just do not stack very well. The rounded soundbar blocks my Microsoft Kinect unit and without mounting one of them on the wall, I would be hard pressed to set up all my surrounding gear for everything to exist in working harmony. A good thing is the sub is wireless, so you can place it anywhere. The piano finish is sublime and makes you want to show it off. Being as shiny as it is, it kind of becomes part of the surrounding décor, as evidenced by the pic above. So do they deliver in the audio department? They are pretty spot-on, actually. We did note that the SB 16/120 were not optimized for pure audio listening – we streamed (which almost never sounds really good, anyway), popped in a few CDs (remember those?) and tried a couple mid-level density mp3s and found the speaker placement to be a little narrow for this type of listening. Sounded decent, it was obvious the SB 16/120 wasn't designed for music. Moving onto the SB 16/120's strengths in the realm of movie and gaming sources: first let me start by saying that I don’t like fake surround, but I will put up with it if it is well done. I have spent years listening to fake surround because I moved a lot and didn’t always have the opportunity to wire up a full system. Harman seems to understand this common limitation and they haven't created one of those echo-laden boxes characteristic of early soundbars. Whatever jingo-jango they employed to engineer their surround effect, the results are very natural and create a real feeling of open envelopment audio. Contrast that with some modern systems which make you feel like you are the victim of a high-tech, aural shock and awe attack of deadly deathly death. And adopting the philosophy of "less is more" (hurrah!), there's only one setting for surround sound. There’s no “hall”, “orchestral”, “outdoor” or any of the common artificially tweaked, limited appeal settings often crammed as a feature; it’s just “surround” or not. Wireless. We love it for its convenience, but sometimes we hate it for its patchy performance. In this case it is only being used with the subwoofer so any misses in connectivity weren't evident. Holy cow, it's awesome not to have to wire the sub to the main soundbar. You can put the wireless subwoofer anywhere there is an outlet and within 50’ of the base unit. This is an excellent example of where wireless shines. However, I found that I had to really pump up the bass on some streamed movies to get even natural levels of the stuff. I had to make adjustments to the signal from the source (in this case, my TV) in order for the bass volume to reach satisfying effect. A little odd considering while streaming music playback this bass deficiency wasn't evident, being as thumpy as I wanted it to be. With DVDs, not an issue: normal bass levels. I even tried using my Xbox to play both movies and music and found that music gave me a full spectrum of bass volume while some movies didn’t. That all said, if you’re like me, you don’t want to blow the doors off your apartment to prove that you got some junk in the home theater trunk so the sound is actually perfect. Pros: Great piano black finish, great overall sound for movie/gaming, natural surround effect, easy install, with amazingly easy set up of wireless sub. Cons: Cost, sub could be a little smaller, music listening suffers from small soundstage (not its intended usage, though). Our Ratings: Strong Recommend Recommend* Weak Recommend Don't Recommend 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.