Last year's Harman Kardon CL headphones were absolute knockouts: a beautiful minimal design plus nearly perfectly clear sound, all for the totally reasonable list price of $US200. With the new SoHo headphones, HK hopes to revise that success in a more portable package, while retaining the sound that made them a smash value to begin with.
It's IFA, and so like a good German company Harman Kardon/JBL is announcing a bucket of gear. We're going to keep all of the personal audio products in this post — so just keep scrolling.
The SoHo headphones feel much smaller than last year's CLs in part because they are. The CL's 40mm drivers have been replaced by 30mm drivers, and the earcups are noticeably trimmer for it. But the new cans also feel smaller because of their new hinged design, which allows the headphones to fold flat. In redesigning the headphones, HK did away with the CL's swappable bows, which need to be changed depending on the size of your head. The SoHos feature an expandable band that slides to fit your dome.
We had a chance to listen to the new headphones, and on first inspection, they've retained much of the overall frequency balance and tonal clarity that made the CLs such a good buy. They're not the best headphones in the world but for the money they'll likely be hard to beat.
According to HK, the SoHos will cost about the same as the CLs, and will ship with your choice of Android or iOS cables. For the time being the CLs will continue on (and they're cheap on Amazon), but HK reps were very careful to specify that this is true "for now".
Harman Kardon Sabre
HK's new Sabre isn't just a $US1000 soundbar — it's an absolutely gorgeous piece of design that turns a humdrum utilitarian product into a seriously covetable item. HK made every effort to slim the Sabre down to just 32mm thick so that we wouldn't have to stare at some horrible box below the TV, and that exercise in minimalism just makes me want to stare at it more. This thing is so slim that it's hard to photograph.
And forget the ottomon-sized lump in the corner of your living room. Here's what the blade's 100-watt wireless subwoofer looks like.
You want specs? The Sabre sports eight independent drivers, three HDMI inputs, Bluetooth connectivity, and support for Dolby and DTS codecs. In a nice touch, the Sabre has an IR repeater that will transport your remote signal through the soundbar to your TV, so that your glorious design piece doesn't interfere with your channel surfing.
Harman Kardon Esquire
After swearing we'd never write about another Bluetooth speaker block, Harman Kardon's Esquire forced us to reconsider. It's still a block, but this time it's a squarish block with a polished metal finish.
It's not a trivial design differentiation. Unlike speakers that are designed to have the drive units pointing either up — like Sol Republic's new Deck — or forwards — like the Jambox, et al — Esquire's two full-range drive units will sound good either standing at attention, or lying down. The built-in microphone (for phone calls, duh) switches between unidirectional and omnidirectional patterns depending on whether it's upright or on it's back. Smart! As with many products at this year's IFA show, Esquire has NFC for easy Bluetooth pairing with your phone. The fully-charged battery is good for 10 hours.
The $US300 speaker is supposed to be a more travel oriented block than its competitors, but you could fool us because it's a lot heavier than its classless plastic counterparts.
The JBL Spark takes the principle of the hanging work light in your garage and applies it to a horn-shaped Bluetooth speaker. Want to hang a speaker in your bathroom? Hang it in the bathroom. Want to hang one above the grill while you cook out? Go for it. This won't be the fanciest speaker you own, but it will be pretty cheap (exact price TBA), and the colourful, translucent plastic design is undeniably fun.