(Pocket-lint) - The Harman Kardon Citation Bar is a 3.1-channel soundbar, which forms part of the manufacturer's collection of Citation sound products. It looks the business thanks to a lifestyle-friendly finish, and has built-in Google Assistant voice control, too, meaning it can double-up as a smart speaker.
The Citation Bar comes as a single unit with a subwoofer built-in, and it boasts an eye-catching full-colour LCD touchscreen. Despite featuring Google Assistant, there's also a remote control for non-verbal controls, along with three HDMI inputs and support for Chromecast.
That's a solid set of features, but at £899 this soundbar isn't cheap – especially given it doesn't support object-based audio, such as Dolby Atmos, and there's no separate subwoofer included. There's better-specified competition at this price point, such as the Polk Command Bar, so does the Citation Bar deliver another level in terms of sound quality?
- Measures: 1150 x 64 x 115mm / Weighs: 4.1kg
- Finishes: Available in black or grey
The Harman Kardon Citation Bar sports a sophisticated design, emphasising a blended wool fabric that covers the front, top and rear of the soundbar. This comes in a choice of grey or black and is both dirt-repellant and fire retardant. It gives the overall look a pleasing elegance that will seamlessly blend into any modern living room.
The use of metal end-plates enhances the sense of a premium product, with excellent overall build quality. However it's the full-colour LCD touchscreen that really grabs attention (even though it's not actually visible when sat down – but that's a good thing). It allows you to select features, choose outputs or control playback, and even displays album art when available.
- 3.1-channel configuration
- Decodes: Dolby Digital and DTS
- Google Assistant built-in
The Harman Kardon Citation Bar is built around a three-channel layout, with a 20mm tweeter and two 100 x 50mm racetrack woofers for each speaker. There's a decent amount of power, with 150W of amplification driving the three. Thanks to the layout, the soundbar delivers precise stereo separation, while the dedicated centre speaker ensures clear dialogue.
However, while this 3.1-channel layout means that while the Citation Bar can handle both Dolby and DTS multichannel audio, it doesn't support object-based audio formats like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. Not only does it lack upward-firing drivers, but Harman has also chosen not to go the psychoacoustic route to create the illusion of immersive audio.
The lack of a separate subwoofer means the Citation Bar will struggle to reach sub-sonic depths, but if you want to boost the bass then you can pick up the optional wireless Citation Sub for £699. Harman also offers the Citation Surround wireless speakers (£399), but that means a simple 5.1-channel system will cost nearly £2,000 all-in.
The headline feature is Google Assistant, which turns this soundbar into a fully-functioning smart speaker. As a result you not only benefit from hands-free voice control, but can also enjoy all the advantages of an AI-enhanced smart speaker – which means you can ask the Citation Bar questions, play music, organise your day, control your smart home devices, and more.
Connections & Controls
- 3x HDMI input; HDMI output with ARC
- Optical digital audio input; 3.5mm analogue input
- Wi-Fi; Bluetooth; Chromecast
The Harman Kardon Citation Bar has a decent set of physical connections, located in three recesses at the rear. In the first recess there's an Ethernet port for a wired connection; in the second there's a connector for the included IR repeater, an optical digital input, a 3.5mm auxiliary input, and two HDMI inputs; while the final recess includes a third HDMI input and an HDMI output with support for ARC (Audio Return Channel).
We must say, it makes a nice change to review a soundbar that actually has a meaningful number of HDMI inputs. Each HDMI connection is version 2.0 with support for 4K/60p, High Dynamic Range (HDR10 and Dolby Vision but not HDR10+), and HDCP 2.2 (to ensure compliance with 4K broadcast).
As far as wireless connections are concerned, the Citation Bar offers a choice of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, plus there's support for Chromecast. This means you can stream music via a connected Bluetooth device or from your local Wi-Fi network using Chromecast.
The Bar can be controlled using the LCD touchscreen, while two physical buttons just beneath that adjust the volume. There are also four LEDs at the front, indicating the status of Google Assistant: white and slow-flashing means Google is listening; white and fast-flashing means it's responding; amber means the is mic muted.
Harman Kardon also includes an intuitively designed remote control finished in either black or grey to match the soundbar. At the top are the inputs, followed by volume up/down, mute, microphone on/off, sound modes, and Google Assistant. At the bottom are playback controls, surround and night modes, and buttons for adjusting the bass and audio sync.
The Karman Kardon Citation Bar is excellent for a three-channel unit with no separate subwoofer – and clearly benefits from the company's acoustic experience. Overall there's a sophistication to the audio that matches the soundbar's equally stylish looks. As a result it sounds particularly good with music.
Listening to music
The Citation Bar delivers impressive stereo separation, with stereo imaging that delivers a wide front soundstage and precise placement of instruments. Thanks to well-specified speakers and plenty of amplification the result is a genuinely musical performance.
The mid-range is beautifully rendered, ensuring that vocals remain clear, while the higher frequencies are well defined, never sounding harsh or sibilant. The sound retains a pleasing clarity and detail as well, ensuring that most genres of music sound good.
The only downside is the lack of a dedicated subwoofer, which limits how deep this soundbar's sonic range output can go. So if you like your music heavy, you might be disappointed. However, for most people the Citation Bar will admirably fulfil its purpose as part of a multi-room music system.
Watching TV shows and movies
The Citation Bar is perfect for most TV shows, making full use of the three front channels to deliver an expansive and clearly defined soundstage. The soundbar utilises its width and musicality to allow background music to be effectively reproduced. It also incorporates its dedicated centre channel with skill, ensuring dialogue remains clear and focused on the screen.
As a result less demanding shows such as news and sports broadcasts sound especially good, with narrators and commentators coming across clearly. When it comes to more complex mixes such as TV dramas and movies, the Citation Bar is able to add depth to music, retain clarity in the dialogue, and place effects with precision across the front of the room.
To help boost the overall performance, Harman includes six sound modes: Standard (uses original sound), News (emphasises dialogue), Music (optimises two-channel), Movies (enhances all three channels), Night (reduces volume with Dolby audio), and Virtual Surround (creates surround effect with the standalone soundbar).
In general the Standard mode proves the most useful, retaining the sound's original qualities, although Music is also effective. The News mode is handy if you sometimes struggle to hear what people are saying, making dialogue clearer, while the Night mode is great if you don't want to disturb the rest of the house.
The Movies mode doesn't seem to add much, and neither does Virtual Surround. This brings us to the Citation Bar's main weakness: its inability to deliver any genuine surround presence. To be fair no soundbar is able to create true surround effects without using rear speakers, but the absence of object-based audio support is surprising considering the price.
The lack of a separate subwoofer also limits the soundbar's low-end, and while this is less of an issue with music and TV shows, it's very apparent with movies. There is some bass presence, but the Citation Bar struggles to deliver the kind of sub-sonic impact expected from a modern blockbuster. As a result Avengers: Endgame sounds far from epic.
The Harman Kardon Citation Bar is a well-designed soundbar, with lifestyle-friendly looks that complement any modern living space. And it doesn't just look smart, it's also boasts a high IQ thanks to the inclusion of Google Assistant. Throw in an eye-catching colour display, three HDMI inputs, an effective physical remote, plus Chromecast, and you've got a rather attractive proposition.
This soundbar has power too, with more than enough amplification to drive the three channels. Overall it sounds great, but since it lacks a separate subwoofer the bass is limited. There's also no immersive audio support from Dolby Atmos or DTS:X, which is surprising at this price point. There's an option to add a wireless subwoofer and rear speakers, but that pushes the price up even further.
Overall the Citation Bar is a very good three-channel soundbar, but at this price there are better value alternatives. If there was a sub in the box it would be a different story, as we suspect the complete kit will be altogether more mind-blowing.