Taking advantage of demand for Bluetooth speakers, Harman Kardon is using its expertise and leveraging previous successful designs. We have with us the Harman Kardon Aura - an expensive speaker with good looks and the promise of great sound quality. There are cheaper alternatives, so we want to find out if it is worth the money.
Design, Features and Specifications
There is no other category of products we review that can match the sheer number of eccentric designs of speakers. The Harman Kardon Aura is no different. Those who remember Harman Kardon's popular Soundsticks series will find the Aura familiar. It resembles the cylindrical subwoofer of the Soundsticks, with transparent polycarbonate body that could easily pass off as glass. The speaker itself is mounted on the bottom and is covered by a premium black cloth. The Aura's design is striking, and it managed to turn quite a few heads in our office.
A black strip runs around the circumference of the unit, and houses the cool looking volume slider and source button. There is also a ring of light around the speaker's core that changes when the volume is raised or lowered. The source button lights up in blue or green depending on the mode you select. On the lower back are the AC power socket, digital optical input, 3.5mm aux input, and a USB port called 'Service'. The 'Service' port can be used to for firmware upgrades and the manual specifically states that it cannot be used to charge devices. We sorely missed the absence of an aux cable inside the box.
The Aura also has wireless connectivity options: Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and AirPlay over Wi-Fi. The company hasn't included NFC pairing which is a bit of a downer. Pairing a phone to the speaker is simple, especially over Bluetooth. AirPlay worked absolutely fine as well. We downloaded the HK Remote app and found it rather intuitive. In fact, it is the best looking remote app.
Inside the speaker are six 1.5-inch high-frequency and mid-range drivers along with a 4.5-inch subwoofer. The Aura operates in the frequency range of 50Hz to 20KHz and has a signal-to-noise rating of 98dB.
Despite our tendency to be critical and find technical niggles when we review speakers, we also try to get a feel of the sound. We groove. We sing along. We cringe at the sound of bones breaking. We try to involve all our senses in the auditory experience. Emotions should be generated whether or not the speaker can produce great sound.
Unfortunately, the expensive Harman Kardon Aura just couldn't evoke any emotion within us. We wanted to feel like dancing to Kieza's Hideaway but the low frequencies overpowered the mids too much. We wanted to feel the groans of Spartan soldiers in 300 but the mids were too flat. The Aura was consistently disappointing.
The story is not all bad, though. Music that demands and thrives on bass sounded good. There is no bass control on the speakers but one can tweak it via the app. We suggest not going overboard with the settings since anything beyond 20 stops sounds unnatural. Surprisingly for a single-unit speaker, the channel separation was decent, and we could hear sound moving from side to side clearly. On the other hand, sound staging was really bad.
The Aura gets really, really loud and doesn't distort at high volumes, but what is the point of shouting if the message is unclear?
The box price of the Harman Kardon Aura is Rs. 34,990 but it is selling for a discount of Rs. 5,000 on Harman's official website. We don't think its performance warrants even that price. The Harman Kardon Nova, which is cheaper, might be a better option. You should also consider the Marshall Stanmore, which costs only a shade more than the Aura at Rs.35,000.