(Pocket-lint) - When Harman Kardon launched its new Citation range, the aim was to offer a full suite of speakers. Smart, connected, and in various sizes - it's a family that's designed to take on collections like those from Sonos.
But within any set of speakers there's always an outlier. For Sonos it's the Sonos One and for Harman Kardon, it's the Citation One - a speaker that's designed to be smart before anything else.
Designed with Kvadrat class
- 140 x 188 x 140mm / 2kg
- Comes in black or grey
The Citation One stands 188mm tall, a squashed cylinder wrapped in Kvadrat fabric. It's an elegant look, with fabrics now very much being what people expect. That's what you get from the Apple HomePod or the Amazon Echo Studio, for example.
The top is flat, however, with the openings for the microphones and a range of touch controls present. There's a seamless quality to touch controls, meaning this speaker is clean and free of buttons. At the same time, however, those touch controls can be slightly indistinct - especially the volume.
Tapping the volume control is still fairly common on such devices, even when voice control is an option. The reason being that if you want the volume quieter, it's often because you can't hear something else - and shouting at the speaker to turn the volume down then feels wrong. But while touching the volume up and down button does indeed adjust the volume, it's not very tactile - and the changes are reflected visually via the four lights on the front.
Those four lights - also the acknowledgement that Google Assistant is listening - sort of reflects the volume range in four stages, which for a speaker as powerful as the Citation One feels a little abstract. That's quiet, not quiet, loud and really loud.
The power cable plugs into the rear of the speaker, with an LED indicator above it that will let you know if the speaker is connected to your Wi-Fi network. There are no other physical connections - this is a speaker designed to stand alone.
Talking of stands, there are also a couple of screw holes in the bottom, suggesting you could use this with a floor stand.
It's a Google Assistant speaker first and foremost
- Setup via the Home app
- Native Google Assistant control
- Spotify Connect, Google Cast
- Bluetooth also offered
As a Google Assistant speaker, the Citation One offers all the advantages of being a part of Google's ecosystem. That means you set it up using the Home app on your smartphone - a process that's quick and easy - and that you control it via voice.
That's a strong starting point as Google Assistant is perhaps the best performing of the smart voice assistants out there. It's easily better and more functional than Apple's Siri, and it seems to have better access to information than Amazon's Alexa - even if it doesn't quite have the same friendly and natural hotword. Saying "Alexa" humanises a speaker; saying "Hey Google" doesn't.
That this speaker doesn't support Alexa might come as a surprise given that cross-platform support has become something of a trend recently - and it's something that Sonos worked hard to include in the Sonos One. Here, you don't get to choose.
As part of the Google system, however, you can use casting to play on your speaker, meaning you can send content from a range of sources directly to the speaker. Ask Google to play something from Spotify and you'll be able to control that with your phone, skipping tracks and pausing if you like, as well as being able to control anything that's streaming over Wi-Fi, if you're using an Android device. Spotify Connect support is offered too.
What you're also able to do is add the Citation One to groups with other Google Assistant speakers. That means you can group it with a Google Home, for example, so you're playing the same music in more than one room. That's one advantage that Google is offering on this system: you can mix and match speakers to suit different areas of your house.
The downside if you're an Android user is that you'll likely find your phone and the speaker will respond at the same time - especially if you have Google Assistant activate on your phone when it's locked.
In terms of connectivity, we've found this speaker to generally hold onto a Wi-Fi connection and perform seamlessly.
Sound quality and performance
- 1x 20mm tweeter, 1x 89mm woofer
- 40W RMS
The thing that really defines the Citation One is bass. With a tweeter firing forwards from the speaker and an woofer mounted in the rear, it's a speaker that delivers much more meaty bass than many of its rivals, like the Google Home. It has bass that will rumble through your room, filling it with sound.
Turn the volume up and the Citation One doesn't distort, so if you do want louder music without losing your bass, then this speaker will certainly do that, so it's a great party piece.
Naturally, there are more sophisticated speakers in the Citation range that will offer more - like the Citation 300, which moves to a stereo arrangement of drivers - but as a single point speaker the Citation One performs well across a range of audio types, not just music but talk radio and those other smart speaker functions too.
The heavy bass delivery might not suit all tastes and you can't do anything to change that output - there's no equaliser (EQ) adjustment. On the whole we can't see that being a huge problem: you'll buy this speaker because you want a bass-heavy delivery and impact.
The microphones also do a good job of detecting voices and even with the music turned up; the Citation One didn't struggle to hear what we were asking it to do, turning the music down slightly to listen and provide a response. We could talk in a normal voice across the room, over the top of the music and get the result we wanted.
What it misses out on is the 360-degree audio delivery that many of its rivals offer. That might be an issue if you want to put this speaker in the middle of your room, but stick it next to the wall like most people will and that won't matter.
The Citation One is a welcome addition, providing a quality alternative for someone wanting to get Google Assistant in a speaker that's better equipped to deliver music than some.
With a full range of Citation speakers on offer, there's certainly some appeal if you want to have matching speakers across your rooms - perhaps a Citation Bar in your living room and the One in your kitchen.
But Amazon is moving aggressively with smart speakers, so compared to the new Echo or the new Echo Studio, the Citation One looks expensive. It seems to be priced to compete with the Sonos One - the latter a speaker that aims to do a whole lot more, offering a choice of voice assistants, Sonos' own music solution and AirPlay 2 as well - so there's plenty of tough competition.
If you're committed to Google Assistant, then the Harman Kardon Citation One offers an elegant and bassy speaker that's dedicated to the task. It looks great and it sounds great.
Alternatives to consider
What the Amazon Echo offers is performance at a price. This third-gen Echo uses the speaker setup from the Echo Plus, with 360-degree sound, Alexa powering things and pretty good bass - although it's no match for the Citation One. It is half the price, however.
Sonos was one of the first to offer multiroom speakers, but in the One it gives you Alexa or Google Assistant. That's on top of the smart options that come with Sonos' own networking - as well as supporting a wide range of connection options, like Apple AirPlay. It is expensive, however.