(Pocket-lint) - Harman Kardon's Citation range of smart speakers is extensive - and getting more extensive all the time. Up to this point the range's performance-to-price ratio has fluctuated between 'quite good' and 'really very good indeed' - but with the Citation Multibeam 700 it may have got closer to the perfect balance than with any other part of the range.
Certainly the Citation Multibeam 700 (it's a catchy name, isn't it?) is a more compelling proposition than Harman Kardon's original Citation Bar - but that's only a little part of the battle. Is the 700 as compelling as the best soundbars in this price range?
- Dimensions: 65 x 790 x 130mm
- Weight: 3.7kg
- Power: 210W
No two ways about it, the Citation Multibeam 700 looks as neat, discreet and contemporary as these things ever get. Its compact proportions mean it'll fit tidily under a 40in TV, its minimal height means it won't foul the bottom of the screen when it's doing so, and the wool covering (it's acoustically transparent, stain-resistant wool from the ubiquitous Kvadrat) looks good. It's yours in grey or black, and it's impeccably built and finished.
There are a couple of brief, slim rubber pads on the bottom of the 'bar to make it stable on a shelf, or it can be wall-mounted. There's a bass reflex port at the rear of the cabinet, next to the cutaway containing the Multibeam 700's few physical inputs - these amount to an HDMI ARC socket, a digital optical input, a 3.5mm analogue input, and mains power.
The Harman Kardon is designed to replicate (as far as possible) the effect of a full surround-sound speaker system but, should you decide a proper multi-channel system is the way forward, the 700 can be instructed to act purely as a centre speaker.
- Google Home and Chromecast compatibility
- Dual-band wi-fi, Apple AirPlay and Bluetooth 4.3
- 2x 25mm tweeter, 5 x 50mm mid/bass driver
Harman Kardon wants the Multibeam 700 to sound far wider, and more enveloping, than the physical dimensions of the 'bar itself would seem to allow. To this end, it's deployed its 'multibeam' technology - which is a fancy-pants way of saying the drivers are angled to offer a degree of reflection from the walls alongside the soundbar in order to spread the sound as widely as possible.
So at either end of the 700 there's a view of a 25mm tweeter sitting in what's a variation on the classic hi-fi 'horn' arrangement. The idea is to throw the higher frequencies out at an angle, creating an impression of width to the Harman Kardon's presentation. Across the front of the 700 there are five 50mm mid/bass drivers, charged with delivering all the necessary heft and substance to the sound.
As well as the physical inputs, the 700 is ready to deal with all manner of wireless inputs. It's equipped with dual-band Wi-Fi, Apple AirPlay, and the lesser-spotted Bluetooth 4.3 codec, and works with Chromecast too (setup is via the Google Home app, and it's as swift and painless here as it ever gets).
There's a total of 201 watts of Class D amplification on board - and while Harman Kardon isn't exactly making with the specifics, you don't need much of a grasp of maths to work out that's 30W per driver. Which ought to prove adequate in any realistically sized listening room.
- Google Assistant voice control
- Full-function remote control
The Multibeam 700 is that rarest of products - a soundbar with a remote control that doesn't lower the tone of the whole experience. The handset supplied with the Harman Kardon is weighty, features reasonably sized buttons, covers every operational eventuality and feels quite nice in the hand.
If a remote control is a bit too retro, though, you can also use the 700's touchscreen - it's a small OLED display on the top of the soundbar. Like the touchscreens on the rest of the Citation range (although not every Citation product has one) it's bright, too small and not as responsive as it should be.
'Not responsive' is not the way to describe the way Google Assistant is implemented here, though. There's a mic built in to the 700, so you don't need any other Google Assistant speakers on the network to get your bidding done by voice alone - but it's not above being triggered by something uttered in the course of the film or TV program you're watching. Happily, it can be defeated altogether - and there's a setting in the Google Home app to increase or reduce sensitivity to “Hey Google”, but sadly it's not yet supported by the 700.
Within the parameters of what is isn't - it isn't very big, it isn't very expensive, it isn't pretending it can deliver full-on Dolby Atmos surround sound - the Harman Kardon Multibeam 700 is an almost entirely successful device.
Select the most appropriate equaliser (EQ) setting using the remote control - there's Standard, Movie, Music and News (this last one thrusts the midrange forward significantly, all the better to hear the details of today's particular global catastrophe) - and the 700 wastes no time in proving it sounds much, much better than your TV.
Given the best chance to shine, with the expensive-sounding and accomplished soundtrack to Jordan Peele's Us, the Harman Kardon is a genuinely enjoyable listen. Sure enough, the sound it delivers is much wider than the 'bar itself, and has appreciably less of a point-source than the TV it's sitting beneath. There's good staging and separation to the sound, sufficient dynamism to put proper distance between 'quiet tension' and 'noisy action', and more than enough midrange dexterity to load dialogue with detail and character.
Despite its impressively wide spread of sound, the 700 doesn't smear or blur soundtracks. Instead, it offers decent focus and a good impression of separation to its soundstage. There's more than enough space to follow the individual threads of a soundtrack, even if the action is ramping up in the busiest scenes, and enough subtlety to make the silences as eloquent as the shouting.
It's not quite as adept as a music-maker - even with the EQ set to Music and with surround setting switched off, the 700's desire to impress you with the width of its sound means elements of a recording can sound just a little estranged from each other. Detail levels remain high, dynamism remains more than adequate, but overall music can sound as if it's been spread a little thin.
In terms of tonality, the Multibeam 700 is, broadly speaking, nicely judged. Despite all the onus placed on those side-firing tweeters, the top of the frequency range strikes a good balance. There's plenty of attack to treble sounds, but they're never in any danger of getting bright or shouty - even if you're playing the Harman Kardon up near the top of its considerable volume limits. The midrange is open, balanced, loaded with detail and, consequently, very communicative. The real subtleties of a voice, whether it's speaking or singing, are laid out by the 700, and it makes for an absorbing listen.
And it's possible that many a listener will find the Harman Kardon's bass reproduction perfectly enjoyable too. In truth, the 700 overplays its hand somewhat where the lowest frequencies are concerned - there's a degree of bass adjustment available via the remote control, but even when backed off to its lowest level the bottom end here is over-confident.
Don't doubt that the Multibeam 700 controls the low-end stuff well, doesn't let it bloom or ever threaten to dominate the midrange - but there's too much of it, and it's too far forward. As a result, bass can sound slightly removed from the rest of the sound - and that can be particularly noticeable when playing at lower volumes. This is more of a trait than an outright shortcoming, though. Balance it against everything the 700 gets right and it's not all that much of an issue.
The Harman Kardon Multibeam 700 is a likeable and capable soundbar. It's usefully compact, very thoroughly specified, and unless you've paid an arm and a leg for your television it'll be a big sonic improvement on your set's sound.
Add in discreet good looks, accomplished finish, the ability to form part of a multi-room system, or part of a more traditional surround-sound speaker setup, and the Multibeam 700 becomes a compulsory audition.
The one the Multibeam 700 has to beat, of course. Sonos' bar is ideally sized, supports voice assistants, and sounds very agreeable indeed. It can form part of a surround-sound system just as easily as it can involve itself in a multi-room setup. And overall it's probably just a smidgen better balanced than the 700 where its audio characteristics are concerned. But the Harman Kardon does enough to make sure this isn't a cut-and-dried decision.