Review: Harman Kardon Citation Bar 5.1

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After having reviewed the Harman Kardon Citation One, Citation 300, Citation 500 and Citation Tower wireless multi-room speakers from the Citation range, this week we reviewed the Harman Kardon Citation Bar soundbar with the Harman Kardon Citation Surround speakers and the Harman Kardon Citation Sub to create a wireless 5.1 home theater system. Can this system rival an A/V receiver and passive speakers?

The Harman Kardon Citation soundbar is compatible with WiFi, Bluetooth, Chromecast Built-in and Google Assistant.

Harman Kardon Citation 5.1: 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 high performance A/V receivers. In 2017, Harman-Kardon merged with Samsung, sharing its expertise with the Korean firm and other brands in the group, such as JBL and AKG. These collaborations resulted in the creation of the Samsung HW-Q90R, Samsung HW-Q80R and Samsung HW-Q70R soundbars, three Dolby Atmos and DTS:X compatible models. Harman also collaborates with LG to develop the audio system of some OLED TVs. 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 the soundbar, subwoofer and surround speakers that we tested this week.

With the Harman Kardon Citation, Citation SUB subwoofer and Citation Surround speakers, it is possible to create a wireless 5.1 home theater system.

Harman Kardon Citation 5.1: 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 and soundbar in the Citation range are all compatible with WiFi, Bluetooth and Chromecast Built-in. Apart from the surround speakers, they all 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 5.1 home theater system without an amplifier by combining the Harman Kardon Citation Bar soundbar with the surround speakers, subwoofer and floorstanding speakers. This is the configuration we decided to test this week.

Harman Kardon Citation 5.1: presentation

During our last review of the Citation range, we focused solely on a hi-fi application with the Harman Kardon Citation One, Citation 300, Citation 500 and Citation Tower speakers. To continue this review, this week we tested the wireless Harman Kardon Citation Bar soundbar on its own, then associated with the Harman Kardon Citation Surround speakers and the Harman Kardon Citation Sub subwoofer to create a wireless 5.1 home theater system.

Harman Kardon Citation Bar 

The Harman Kardon Citation BAR soundbar is an imposing 3.0 channel (LCR) model that is 1.15 meters long and weighs 4.1kg. It features no less than 9 drivers powered by a class D amplifier. The latter provides an impressive output power of 150 watts RMS to accurately reproduce the three front channels of Dolby and DTS soundtracks in movies and TV series. To do this, each channel adopts two 4” x 19” midbass drivers associated with a 1” tweeter. The top of the Citation Bar features a color touchscreen to play and pause music, skip tracks, select a source, modify the sound and pair the soundbar with the surround speakers and the subwoofer, as we will cover later on in our review. Concerning connectors, the Citation Bar features three HDMI UHD 4K inputs and an HDMI output compatible with the CEC control feature and audio return channel (ARC) from a compatible television. A digital optical input and a mini-jack analog input are also present.

The Harman Kardon Citation Bar soundbar features a color touchscreen to adjust and control playback.

The Harman Kardon Citation BAR soundbar comes in a long box containing a power cable, a wall mount bracket with screws, a remote control, an HDMI cable, as well as a concise guide (the full guide is available on Harman Kardon’s website). An infrared sensor is also included to increase the remote control’s range and maintain control of the television if the soundbar is blocking the TV’s IR sensor.

Harman Kardon Citation Surround 

Specifically created to be used with the Harman Kardon Citation Bar soundbar, this surround speaker is a wireless model featuring a 50 watt RMS amplifier that drives two 3” midbass drivers. These drivers are paired with a 1” tweeter for reproducing high frequencies. The Harman Kardon Citation Surround speakers are sold in pairs and come in a single box containing two power cables, a short user guide, as well as two adjustable wall mount brackets. Consequently, they can be placed on furniture, wall-mounted or mounted on optional speaker stands.

Harman Kardon Citation Sub 

The Harman Kardon Citation SUB subwoofer is an imposing model featuring a large 10” driver. The latter is powered by an amplifier rated at 200 watts RMS and is loaded in a bass-reflex enclosure featuring a rear-firing port. It uses digital signal processing that optimizes the restitution across the entire frequency range, from 35Hz to 125Hz. It comes with a power cable, as well as a short user guide.

Harman Kardon Citation Bar 5.1: Google Assistant 

One of the Citation Bar soundbar’s main strengths is the integration of Google’s vocal assistant. Thanks to multiple microphones, the assistant can hear all of your commands, even in a noisy environment or if the soundbar is placed on the other side of the room. Very easy to use, you simply need to ask for a track, playlist or radio station to be played. Google Assistant then selects the content from the music service or services previously saved during the configuration of the soundbar in the Google Home app. Next, during playback, you simply need to ask Google to turn the volume up, skip tracks, or pause the music to execute your requests. The Harman Kardon Citation soundbar features a control to deactivate the microphones. This switches each microphone off completely to stop Google Assistant from hearing demands, therefore respecting the user’s privacy. In this case, the soundbar can be controlled directly via its touchscreen or remote control.

Harman Kardon Citation bar: multi-room

More than just a simple soundbar, the Citation bar can also be used as a wireless speaker to listen to your music on Spotify, Deezer, Tidal, or any other service compatible with Google Home. It is also possible to stream music from a smartphone or a tablet using Bluetooth or the integrated Chromecast. Therefore, it was easy for us to listen to our music via Qobuz and Spotify with a perfectly stable wireless connection. The WiFi connection was handled by the satellite of our Netgear Orbi RBK50 pack.

The Harman Kardon Citation Bar soundbar can be used alone or it can be added to a group of speakers, either speakers from the Citation range or any speakers that feature Chromecast, in a multi-room configuration. Associating the soundbar with other devices can be easily done via the Google Home app for iOS and Android.

Harman Kardon Citation Bar: different listening modes

The Harman Kardon Citation Bar soundbar offers 6 different listening modes. The Standard mode plays the sound across the different channels, the way the original audio stream intended. The Night mode lowers the volume and limits the dynamic shifts in Dolby Digital soundtracks. This means that you don’t have to watch your movie remote control in hand in order to turn the volume down during action scenes. The News mode enhances dialogue (the soundbar’s center channel) by making voices even clearer. The Music mode generates stereo sound. The Movie mode emphasizes the midrange for the center channel and reinforces the level of the subwoofer. Lastly, the Surround mode generates virtual surround sound effects when the soundbar is used without other speakers. All of these settings are accessible via the remote control or directly via the Citation Bar’s touchscreen.

Compatible audio formats

The Harman Kardon Citation Bar is compatible with a large number of audio formats, in particular the different variants of Dolby Digital and DTS through the optical and HDMI inputs. It isn’t a problem if you connect a Blu-ray player that is streaming a soundtrack in DTS HD-MA or Dolby Atmos, as these streams contain a DTS 5.1 and Dolby Digital 5.1 core. Dolby Digital Plus is also supported, which means you can listen to your Netflix programs via the TV’s HDMI ARC.

The Harman Kardon Citation Bar soundbar features an ARC compatible HDMI output to retrieve the television’s soundtrack.

Harman Kardon Citation Bar: configuration

Installing the Harman Kardon Citation Bar soundbar is very easy. Placement is definitely the most important factor in achieving high-quality sound. Harman provides a wall mounting kit so that the bar can be placed at ear-height if your TV stand is too low or too high. For our review, we simply placed it on the Norstone TV stand in front of the television. As soon as it is turned on, the Harman Kardon Citation Bar prompts the user to install the free Google Home app for iOS and Android. This mobile app allows you to enter the WiFi connection password and assign a room to the soundbar (living room, 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 asked. The installation and configuration of the soundbar take less than two minutes, after which it is entirely functional and ready to be used on its own.

The installation and configuration of the Harman Kardon Citation Bar soundbar is done quickly via the Google Home app for iOS and Android.

Pairing the bar with the surround speakers is just as quick. The speakers simply need to be placed on furniture or wall-mounted using the included brackets. You have complete freedom in their placement thanks to wireless transmission: only the power cable is necessary. This does mean that there has to be a power outlet nearby, especially seeing as the power cable is only 2.5m long. For this review, we placed the surround speakers at different points around our listening room and even right next to our sofa, taking care to adjust the volume accordingly. Being able to place the speakers a few centimeters away from you is very convenient, especially to enjoy immersive sound at low volume during the evening. Once the surround speakers are connected to the mains power source, they automatically go into pairing mode. Then all that’s left to do is to go into the pairing options on the soundbar and select Citation Surround for the pairing to be successful: it’s a walk in the park! You can then attribute a left and right speaker, and adjust their volume separately. This is especially useful if they aren’t placed at an equal distance from the listener. Associating the subwoofer is just as simple.

The volume of the surround speakers can be easily adjusted via the Harman Kardon Citation Bar soundbar.

Harman Kardon Citation Bar: listening impressions

For this home theater review, we first listened to the Harman Kardon Citation Bar soundbar on its own, without the subwoofer or the surround speakers. The source we used was the Pioneer UDP-LX500 UHD 4K Blu-ray player, connected to the soundbar’s HDMI-1 input with an Audioquest Cinnamon HDMI cable. The Harman Kardon bar’s Main/ARC HDMI output was connected to a 65” LG OLED TV.

Harman Kardon Citation Bar on its own 

With the Blu-ray of Mad Max Fury Road, the Harman Kardon Citation Bar offered a rich soundscape, with each front channel distinctly separated. The center channel was very expressive but not very directive; it doesn’t overwhelm the listener at high volume and isn’t detrimental to the depth of the soundstage. Voices were restituted with conviction and just the right amount of power when necessary. The two lateral front channels generated by the Harman Kardon Citation Bar soundbar were very efficient. The different sound effects really seemed to come from both sides of the room. Already excellent, the spatialization could have been even better by assigning the restitution of these two channels to the Harman Kardon Citation Tower speakers. However, we never managed to pair them with the soundbar.

The Harman Kardon Citation Bar soundbar offered a rich soundscape, with each front channel distinctly separated.

Used on its own, the Harman Kardon Citation Bar was disappointing when it came to recreating realistic explosions. During the frequent explosions in Mad Max, the bar provided weak low-mids. Even by turning the bass level all the way up, we didn’t manage to achieve a balanced sound. Only the Virtual Surround mode helped reinforce the bass a little. The surround sound effects provided by this mode were rather impressive, especially during soundtracks, as long as the volume was turned up a little. For this reason, you can’t expect to enjoy effective surround sound at low volume when watching movies late at night. Moreover, the background sounds, when Mad Max is speeding through the desert for example, didn’t really seem to come from behind us. This mode provided slightly better immersion than a stereo configuration, but it was still far from being able to replace a true home theater system with physical speakers, as will be the case with the Citation Surround speakers.

The surround sound effects provided by this mode were rather impressive, especially during soundtracks, as long as the volume was turned up a little.

Harman Kardon Citation Bar + subwoofer

To accentuate the intensity of the lows, we paired the Harman Kardon Citation Bar soundbar with the Citation Sub subwoofer. The sound immediately seemed more realistic, with genuine physical sensations, so much so that we had to lower the volume of the subwoofer so it didn’t saturate our 20m² room. During the explosions and once it was correctly calibrated, the subwoofer was incredibly effective, without going over the top. The chase scenes were also superbly restituted with realistic sounds and purring engines.

Harman Kardon Citation Bar 5.1 

To wrap up our review, we associated the Harman Kardon Citation Bar and the Citation Sub subwoofer with the Harman Kardon Citation Surround speakers to create a genuine 5.1 wireless home theater system. Still with the Blu-ray of Mad Max Fury Road and its Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, the spatialization of the soundstage was immediately enhanced, with the sound effects perfectly distributed across the different channels. The soundstage was encompassing and each subtle detail was superbly restituted. Another advantage is that the surround speakers provided a very similar tonal balance to that of the soundbar, creating perfect harmony. The wireless transmission was excellent and we didn’t notice any interference or the slightest delay between the sound and the image. Very practical on old movies filmed in stereo, we were able to enjoy a particularly convincing multi-channel restitution by activating the soundbar’s virtual surround mode, which then simulates the rear sound effects and sends them to the surround speakers.

With the surround speakers, the spatialization of the soundstage was immediately enhanced, with the sound effects perfectly distributed across the different channels. The soundstage was encompassing and each subtle detail was superbly restituted.

Harman Kardon Citation Bar: compared to…

JBL BAR 5.1: the JBL soundbar has the advantage of being equipped with battery-powered surround speakers, meaning you have complete freedom in their placement. However, this also has a drawback, as they frequently need to be recharged (10 hours of battery life). Therefore, the Citation Bar comes out on top in terms of practicality.

Polk Magnifi Max SR: the Polk soundbar also features wireless surround speakers and provides wide sound placement and clear dialogues, with voices that benefit from a bit more substance. However, these wireless speakers are one-way models, resulting in a less precise sound than with the Citation Bar’s two-way models.

Harman Kardon Citation Bar: conclusion

Used on its own, the Harman Kardon Citation Bar soundbar is powerful but doesn’t measure up to the competition, especially in the low frequencies. It only reveals its true potential when used in a 3.1 or 5.1 configuration with the wireless surround speakers and subwoofer, thus becoming a credible alternative to many compact speaker systems that include a subwoofer and an A/V receiver. The wireless speakers provide great freedom of placement, as well as personalized listening conditions. The subwoofer provides a lot of energy and rapidly proves to be essential for a balanced soundstage. As a whole, its wide spatialization, reactive subwoofer, multi-room streaming features and Google voice assistant make it an impressive ready-to-use solution for any living space up to 50m².

What we liked: 

  • The wireless speakers and subwoofer 
  • The easy setup
  • The voice assistant
  • The touchscreen  
  • The design
  • The powerful subwoofer

What we would have liked:

  • An Ethernet port on the surround speakers and subwoofer
  • A longer power cable for the surround speakers 
  • A more compact subwoofer
  • For the synchronization with the Citation Tower speakers to have worked 

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