This week we reviewed the Harman Kardon Citation One, Citation 300, Citation 500 and Citation Tower speakers, four models from the American manufacturer Harman Kardon’s new range of connected and multi-room speakers.
Harman Kardon Citation: the brand
Created in 1953 from the combination of the founders Sidney Harman and Bernard Kardon’s names, the brand Harman Kardon was hugely successful right from the 1950s with iconic amplifiers such as the Harman Kardon D1000, the Harman Kardon Festival TA230 and the Harman Kardon Citation II. In the 70s, the brand introduced the first audio cassette recorder to feature a Dolby noise reduction system (Dolby B). The brand only became known to the general public in 1970 after marketing a range of powerful A/V receivers. For several years now, Harman Kardon has specialized in the design and production of portable Bluetooth speakers, smart speakers and more recently multi-room speakers with its new Citation multi-room range that includes eight different models, four of which we tested this week.
Harman Kardon Citation: a comprehensive range
The Citation range marks a historic turning point for the American brand by providing an exhaustive ecosystem blending elegant Scandinavian design with cutting-edge technology. Featuring a wide range of connectivity options, the speakers in the Citation range are all compatible with WiFi, Bluetooth and Chromecast Built-in, and feature the Google voice assistant, allowing you to easily control music playback and all of your connected devices by voice command. Highly comprehensive, the Citation range includes several compact speakers, a soundbar, surround speakers, a subwoofer and floorstanding speakers. The real strength of this range is that it offers a completely wireless system in which each speaker can be used either individually or simultaneously as part of a multi-room configuration in order to achieve stereo pairing or listen to music in different rooms. This range’s second advantage is that it allows you to create a wireless home theater system without an amplifier by combining the Harman Kardon Citation Bar soundbar with the surround speakers, subwoofer and floorstanding speakers.
Harman Kardon Citation: presentation
For our review of the Harman Kardon Citation range, we concentrated solely on a hi-fi application with the Harman Kardon Citation One, Citation 300, Citation 500 and Citation Tower speakers.
Harman Kardon Citation One
At 188mm high, 140mm deep and weighing 2kg, the Harman Kardon Citation One speaker is the most compact model in the Citation range. This small 2-way speaker that sells for €199 features a digital amplifier with an output power of 40 watts RMS tasked with powering a 3.5” mid-bass driver and a 3/4” tweeter. Like all of the other Harman Kardon Citation models, it only includes WiFi and Bluetooth connections to stream music from a mobile device or a computer. It provides a mono restitution, but can be used as a stereo pair with another Citation One. Designed to be controlled primarily using a smartphone or tablet, its control interface is minimalistic with only five buttons to play music, turn the Bluetooth connection off and adjust the volume.
Harman Kardon Citation 300
Sold for €399, the Harman Kardon 300 speaker is the first model in the range to provide stereo sound. To do this, it integrates a class D amplifier with an output power of 100 watts RMS to power two 3.5” mid-bass drivers, combined with a large passive radiator and two 3/4” tweeters. The Citation 300 also features a color touchscreen on the top to start and pause playback, change tracks and adjust the volume if you don’t wish to use a smartphone or voice control.
Harman Kardon Citation 500
The Harman Kardon 500 is the most powerful compact speaker in the Citation range. It features a class D amplifier with an output power of 200 watts RMS to power two 5” mid-bass drivers, combined with a passive radiator and two 1” tweeters. It has a price tag of €649 and also features a color touchscreen on top.
Harman Kardon Citation Tower
Very different from the compact models, the Harman Kardon Citation Tower speaker is the most imposing, but also the most powerful in the Harman Kardon Citation smart speaker range. Each Citation Tower integrates a 200 watts RMS amplifier to power a 1” tweeter positioned in between two 4” mid drivers. These are combined with a large 8” woofer loaded in a bass-reflex enclosure using a port on the back of the speaker. Designed as a genuine stereo system, the Citation Tower is only sold by the pair for €2499. The duo is comprised of a master speaker and a slave speaker that is automatically paired as the left speaker.
Harman Kardon Citation: Google Assistant
One of the Citation range’s advantages is undoubtedly the integration of Google’s voice assistant in each model. Thanks to multiple microphones, each speaker is capable of hearing your demands, even when they are placed in a noisy environment or at the other end of the room. Very easy to use, you simply need to ask one of the speakers to play a certain song, playlist or radio station which Google Assistant selects from the music services previously saved during the speaker’s setup via the Google Home app. Then, during playback, all you need to do is ask Google to turn up the volume, change tracks or pause the music and the voice assistant will execute your request. Naturally, each speaker has a control to disable the microphones. This cuts off power from the microphones to prevent Google Assistant from hearing commands, therefore respecting your privacy. In this case, music is streamed using Bluetooth or Chromecast from any music app (Spotify, Deezer, Tidal, Qobuz, Google Play Music, etc.).
Harman Kardon Citation: personalized music with Voice Match
The Harman Kardon Citation speakers benefit from all the advantages provided by Google’s voice assistant, including the Voice Match function which can identify the voice of each user to provide a personalized experience for each family member. Each user can therefore choose their own music service in which Google will search for content. This function is especially useful in preventing your children’s songs from affecting your music recommendations in Deezer or Spotify, for example.
Harman Kardon Citation: multi-room
Each Harman Kardon Citation speaker can either be used individually or integrated into a group of speakers for a multi-room configuration with other Citation speakers or any speaker featuring Chromecast. Stereo pairing, however, only works between two speakers from the Citation range in order to avoid any problems with audio coherence. For example, the Harman Kardon Citation One speaker can only be paired with another One speaker for stereo sound. It is also recommended to have a WiFi access point nearby that is capable of handling the load created by multiple speakers. For this review, we used a Netgear Orbi RBK50 kit.
Harman Kardon Citation: configuration
As soon as they are turned on, the Harman Kardon Citation speakers invite you to install the free Google Home app for iOS and Android. It is this mobile app that allows you to enter information concerning the WiFi network connection, and assign a room to each speaker (living room, kitchen, bedroom, etc.). Google Home also lets you choose a default music service (Spotify, Deezer, Youtube Music or Play Music) from which Google Assistant will play tracks when it is asked. It takes less than five minutes to install and configure each speaker. With this app, it is also possible to create a group to stream the same music on multiple speakers or to pair two speakers for stereo sound.
Harman Kardon Citation: listening impressions
We started our review of the Harman Kardon Citation range with the Harman Kardon Citation One speaker. After asking Google to play the Dire Straits’ Sultans Of Swing on Spotify, playback began and the One immediately impressed us with its ability to add weight and punch to the low-mids, despite its compact size. It demonstrated a high level of control and even when the volume was pushed to the extreme, tonal balance was maintained and there was no evidence of distortion. The restitution was impeccable, never excessive, and was a lot better than that provided by some larger and more expensive smart speakers…
The One immediately impressed us with its ability to add weight and punch to the low-mids.
We then listened to the Harman Kardon Citation 300 speaker, again using Spotify. Tonal balance was pleasant, with better extension in the lows than with the One. The restitution proved to be dynamic and flattering. However, although it is presented as a stereo speaker, the sound didn’t have enough expansion for the Citation 300 to be considered a true stereo speaker.
To continue our review of the Citation range, we listened to the Harman Kardon Citation 500 speaker, the most powerful compact speaker in the range. This speaker’s impressive size hinted at a strong presence in the lows and we weren’t disappointed. However, the lows weren’t structured enough to be alluring and tended to crowd the soundstage when we turned the volume up. The mids were also slightly more emphasized than the highs. These small flaws could easily have been amended with the help of an equalizer, but unfortunately this isn’t possible, whether it be via the speaker or the Google Home app. That said, the Harman Kardon Citation 500 proved to be fairly appealing at moderate volume, as the tonal balance was more accurate.
The 500’s lows weren’t structured enough to be alluring and tended to crowd the soundstage when we turned the volume up.
To wrap up our review of the Citation range, we listened to the Harman Kardon Citation Tower speakers. Still using Spotify, but this time with Serge Gainsbourg’s album Histoire de Melody Nelson, the Towers provided energetic and pleasantly extended lows, but that were too present compared to the other frequency ranges. Unlike the Citation 500, this problem was quickly solved thanks to the equalizer accessible via the Tower’s screen. The restitution was then much more pleasant and less exuberant. The highs were detailed and realistic, while the mids were very accurate. Vocals were beautifully embodied and highly textured. Stereo synchronization between the two speakers was very efficient. Only a few occasional micro-cuts occured, but that was probably due to our local network which was being heavily used. Other than that, the soundstage was wide and energetic, and each instrument was perfectly delineated.
Harman Kardon Citation: compared to…
Sonos One: this is the Citation One’s direct rival, with a slightly more compact design. When it comes to sound, the Harman Kardon speaker has a big advantage and provides a more generous and powerful restitution.
Google Home Max: the tonal balance of the Harman Kardon speakers is more pleasant, and the functions provided by Google Assistant are identical. The Citation range comes out on top.
Klipsch The Three with Google Assistant: slightly smaller than the Harman Kardon 500, the Klipsch speaker provides a smoother restitution and proves to be better during long listening sessions, as it doesn’t monopolize the listener’s attention as much. However, its lows are not quite as noticeable.
Harman Kardon Citation: conclusion
The connected speakers in the Citation range are easy to use, thanks in part to the fact that they are supported by the Google Home app, a mature and user-friendly control system that makes it easy to configure and create a multi-room system. The integration of Google Assistant makes handling them simple and intuitive. However, if several speakers are placed in the same room, Google Assistant must only be activated on one speaker, or they may all receive your voice commands.
What we liked:
- The voice assistant
- The touchscreens
- The easy setup
- The design
What we would have liked:
- An equalizer for each speaker
- An Ethernet port
- A few more inputs (mini-jack, USB…)