Can a wireless speaker already be retro? Weirdly enough, that's what the Harman Kardon Go + Play feels like. There's something refreshing about how out-of-step it is.
As a large wireless speaker it totally ignores the trend for every speaker larger than a matchbox to have Wi-Fi and Sonos-impersonating multi-room chops. So while such feature absences make it a wireless speaker dinosaur, it's exactly this style that lets it pack in an 8-hour battery and sound much larger than you otherwise tend to get at the price.
Harman Kardon Go + Play review: Design
The Karman Kardon Go + Play isn't a brand new line. Its daddy was released years ago, back when speakers used to have physical docks you'd plug your iPhone or iPod into. Those were the days, eh?
As you'll only usually find such a dock on the bedside table of a hotel room nowadays, Harman Kardon has ripped it out of the new model. This is a Bluetooth speaker, pure and simple.
It's far larger than the average Bluetooth speaker, though. The Harman Kardon Go + Play is a modern boombox, with an oversized aluminium handle that's a central part of the design. It makes this box portable even though it weighs a forearm-bulging 3.5kg.
Portability is key here (if you're strong enough). If you don't care about moving the Go + Play, it loses much of its appeal. The appeal is real, though.
The battery lasts for up to 8-hours, and if you want something to provide tunes for an outdoor BBQ, this will beat a Bose SoundLink in terms of bass depth and sound scale.
Harman Kardon Go + Play Wireless review: Features
Being so simple means the Harman Kardon Go + Play doesn't have loads of extra features. There's no NFC, no aptX and definitely no Spotify Connect, but there are a few bonus bits. A USB port on the back lets you charge a phone using the speaker's battery, there's a 3.5mm aux input and buttons on the top give you direct control over volume and playback, with the usual slight Bluetooth delay.
There's also a little 5-pip LED indicator on top that tells you how much juice is left in the battery, while dual microphones let you use it as a speaker for calls. As unlikely as that seems.
Two speakers can be hooked up wirelessly and turned into a stereo pair, but with only one to hand, we've not tried this first-hand.
Up close the Harman Kardon Go + Play seems almost toy-like simple compared with some wireless rivals, but it looks pretty smart from a distance. The combo of carry handle and stubby metal feet is striking, while the decision to use a fabric weave on the front rather than per-driver grilles like the alien-looking old Go + Play model is sensible - and much prettier.
The Harman Kardon Go + Play feels tough, too, even though the look is clearly desperate to look stylish. Its fabric covering isn't the kind you'll easily poke a hole in but a sturdy nylon weave. It's not begging to be abused, but will take some punishment. The use of a rubbery bung to cover the ports on the back also gives it some water resistance. You're not going to leave this thing floating in the bath, but it'll stand being sat on soggy grass, festival goers.
Harman Kardon Go + Play Wireless review: Sound
The Harman Kardon Go + Play's decent heft lets it pack in a very solid driver array. Pull off the front grille and you'll see two 3.5-inch drivers, a pair of 1-inch tweeters and, in the middle, a great big circular passive radiator.
Harman Kardon doesn't even mention the radiator on its website, even though it's the biggest audio change between this and its predecessors, which only had active drivers. The radiator is used to extend the Go + Play's bass. It's effectively a woofer that's powered by the air movement created by the other drivers, rather than directly by an amplifier. Most small and mid-size speakers have one these days.
That extra size, and those larger drivers, push the scale of sound you get from the Harman Go + Play from that of most Bluetooth speakers closer to something like the Sonos Play:5. It's a room-filler, and the sound isn't too positional. The tweeters have been angled to face slightly outwards, giving close to 180-degree dispersal of the trebly sound that lets us pinpoint the location of a speaker easily.
This is a big, powerful-sounding speaker that you'd almost certainly have to pay more for if it had Wi-Fi. And even then it probably wouldn't offer battery-powered operation.
The sound is detailed too, and bass power is very strong without, for the most part, acting as a destructive influence. This is a very good party speaker, one that makes us slightly nostalgic for the golden age of iPod docks.
There are some issues with the sound, though. The tuning of the passive radiator seems pretty basic, designed to emphasise the frequencies kick drums pump out. There's a reasonably narrow bass spike that, while effective, makes the bass seem a little disjointed and prone to some boominess when bass drums land square in the radiator's wheelhouse.
The bass is also slightly "slow"; not taut, meaning its decay lags a little. This is not a speaker that suits careful, navel-gazing listening.
Tonally the Harman Kardon Go + Play is otherwise very solid aside from a minor fibrous quality to the mids that gives vocals a bit less relative weight than they have in, for example, the Cambridge Audio G5. That "relative" part is important, though, because there's real satisfaction to a speaker whose larger size gives it greater dynamic range than a lot of the sub-£300 wireless speakers we listen to these days.
Those with picky ears can poke holes in the Harman Kardon Go + Play, but it is one of the few new, sub-£250 wireless speakers to offer both the clout of a main lounge speaker and real portability.
Despite being woefully lacking in the supplementary tech elements many of today’s speakers offer, it's still a solid buy that comes across as fun and vital in use. Not as some sort of tech relic.