Harman Kardon SB16 Sound Bar Review: How Much Is Good Sound Worth?

At $US600, Harman Kardon's SB16 sound bar is intended for someone who isn't quite impressed with a $US200 soundbar, but doesn't want to drop $US1000 on one that will inspire envy.

Harman Kardon SB16 Specs Price: $US600 Weight: 19kg total Drivers: Two 3/4-inch silk-dome tweeters, four 3-inch midrange cones, One 10-inch, wireless subwoofer. Power: 150W total Dimensions: Bar: 4-5/16 H x 36-1/4 L x 3-1/2 D inches, Subwoofer: 18-7/8 H x 13-3/8 L x 13-3/8 W inches Inputs: RCA, TOSLINK, Coaxial

Like

With the volume turned up, the SB16 transforms into a sound monster. It roars. I had the SB16 set up in a fairly spacious room (4.5m x 9m) with raised ceilings, and the SB16 could easily fill it with sound (and then some). Standing nearly 0.6m tall, the 10-inch, 100-watt wireless subwoofer pushes air with a purpose. The phase and cutoff controls on the woofer are also a nice touch for getting smooth sound. The 3D sound processing definitely expands the soundstage, but whether or not you consider that 3D is a whole other story. The SB16 isn't flashy in terms of design, but it's got a nice, tubular look to it, and the rounded geometry of the subwoofer gives it a nice retro-future look.

No Like

My criticisms of the sound quality are few, but the main one is that the SB16 has a pretty narrow zone in terms of optimal sound. But the issues here are mostly lie in the finer details. When it comes to products with sizeable price tags, it's normally the little details that make it worth the extra cash. Aesthetics, sound customisation, extra inputs, UI design. The SB16 misses the mark with the latter two, and only provides limited sound tweaking (mostly limited to the subwoofer). The buttons feel cheap and do a terrible job of indicating what mode the sound bar is in. There's no indicator at all for volume. Strangely, there's no remote, and its method of programming your own remote is even more strange; it doesn't have a universal remote code, instead, it hijacks the signal of any remote, universal or otherwise. So when I set it up, my TV still picked up the signal and displayed annoying on-screen. With only three inputs (RCA/Optical/Coaxial), Harman Kardon clearly intends you to run all your inputs through your TV. This limits the versatility of the SB16, especially for music-related purposes. It's not totally fair to expect custom room calibration from a $US600 sound bar, but there aren't even presets for room arrangement or bar placement.

Verdict

The SB16 finds itself in a strange postion. It's neither a product for those who are just looking for ANYTHING better than what their TV spits out. Nor is it a product for home theatre enthusiasts who want something in a compact form factor. But that's not to say its bad or not worthwhile. If your main objective is getting great, out-of-the-box sound from a speaker bar, the SB16 is winner (albeit a pricey one). But if you're expecting something with better, more advanced (or customisable) features, you may want to look elsewhere.