The more soundbars we test, it becomes more apparent that this particular category is all about compromises. The Harman Kardon SB 30 ($799.95 direct) is a high-end soundbar speaker that includes a small, companion wireless powered subwoofer. The SB 30 sounds better with music than most similar systems, and also delivers a satisfying home theater experience. True bass fiends looking to shake the living room with every passing plane or explosion should probably consider a model with a larger, more-powerful subwoofer, but otherwise, the SB 30 is one of the better soundbar systems we’ve tested.
Design, Connections, and Remote
The SB 30 soundbar speaker measures 3.9 by 45.7 by 3.1 inches (HWD) and weighs 8.4 pounds, while the unsually small subwoofer measures 13.9 by 10.5 by 10.5 inches (HWD) and weighs 19.2 pounds. Both components are finished in a classy black gloss plastic that looks rich. You can mount the SB 30 soundbar underneath or to the side of your HDTV; Harman Kardon also packs in the essential parts for wall mounting.
For connectivity, you get a coaxial digital input and a pair of stereo RCA analog inputs on the rear panel. There’s no HDMI in or out, which is a disappointment at this price. There’s also no on-screen display itself, which makes configuring the system unnecessarily difficult. Regardless, for testing, I had no problem connecting an Oppo BDP-103 Blu-ray player using the SB 30′s optical digital input.
Six oval-shaped plastic buttons across the top of the speaker control Power, Volume, Mute, Input, Surround level, and Dolby Volume (more on that later). A small switch on the back of the speaker lets you customize the EQ for table or wall positioning. You can set the two units to pair wirelessly on one of four channels, although the system comes working just fine set to the first position from the factory.
The tiny credit card-style remote is made of black matte plastic. It contains membrane buttons for the same array of features: Power, Volume, Mute, Source, and a few different controls for surround effects. It’s easy enough to use, although it isn’t particularly flexible; there’s no remote level control for the subwoofer, unfortunately. It’s not backlit, either.
Performance and Conclusions
Inside the main speaker enclosure are 13 separate drivers—six 2-inch midrange cones and seven 1-inch dome tweeters. There’s also an 11-channel amplifier; four channels deliver 40 watts each, while the other seven deliver 10 watts each. The separate subwoofer consists of a downward-firing, bass-reflex enclosure, and contains an 8-inch driver and a 100-watt amplifier. Harman Kardon lists the total system’s frequency response as 40 to 20,000Hz, but without + or – figures, those numbers are essentially meaningless.
In testing, the SB 30 sounded clear and sharp, with a natural, if slightly bright timbre for movie dialog and effects. I tested the SB 30 with the Blu-ray version of Tron: Legacy and appreciated the system’s impressive clarity and soundstaging abilities, although explosions and laser effects had a bit less impact than they did with other systems that had larger subwoofers, such as the considerably less expensive (but not as sweet sounding) Sony HT-CT260. Stereo music sounded particularly good on the SB 30, though; The Knife’s “Silent Shout” featured airy, well-separated synthesizers and tight, punchy bass, although the electronic 808-style kick drum didn’t exhibit quite enough low-end extension. Simply put, this is a great-sounding system.
The SB 30 supports Dolby Digital and DTS surround sound encoding. It lets you choose between three settings for the simulated surround effect: Off, Low, and High, with blue circle LED lights appearing behind the speaker grille that correspond to each setting (one, two, or three). Meanwhile, Dolby Volume compresses the audio to maintain the same volume level in between programming sources, so that a commercial doesn’t blow you out of the living room after watching a particularly quiet and subtle movie ending—which is also nice for watching at low volumes at night.
All told, the Harman Kardon SB 30 delivers exactly the kind of performance you’d expect from the company. It could use a bit more bass; I admire that the sub enclosure is so small and nicely crafted, but even with high-quality drivers, there’s only so much you can do for bass extension without making it considerably larger. (You could also go the Sunfire route, and drive an 11-inch woofer and passive radiator with a 2700-watt amp, but that’s in an entirely different price tier.)
If you want to save a lot money, our favorite low-cost system remains the $300 Sony HT-CT260, which doesn’t sound as clear and detailed as the SB 30, but goes roughly as loud and packs a lot of bang for the buck. If price really is no object, give the $2,200 Bowers & Wilkins Panorama 2 a listen. It offers plenty of bass punch even without a sub, plus tremendous volume levels for a soundbar and beautiful, mirror-like style. But the Harman Kardon SB 30 strikes a nice balance between sound quality and volume for both music and movies.
More Speaker Reviews:
|Wireless Remote Control||Yes|
|Power Rating (Left and Right, Each)||40 watts RMS per channel|
|Power Rating (Center Unit)||10 watts RMS|
|Power Rating (Left and Right Rear Satellites, Each)||10 watts RMS|
|Type||Home Theater, Soundbar|
|Power Rating (Subwoofer)||100 watts RMS per channel|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc