Harman Kardon has been the pioneer one of the most iconic computer speaker designs since the last 15 years. Taking this one step further, they launched the new Harman Kardon Nova, a stereo speaker pair that features both wired connections for your PC and Bluetooth for your smartphone or tablet that has visually stunning translucent design and a new shape and purpose. Unlike the SoundSticks series, it lacks a subwoofer, which can result in some distortion issues on tracks with deep bass at maximum volumes.
At first glance, it’s easy to wonder which panel of the Nova’s near-spherical speakers is supposed to face you. Roughly 6.5-by-5-inch-deep, each speaker looks like a miniature version of the subwoofer for the SoundSticks III. ith the ends cut flat. The body of each speaker is made with transparent plastic to show you the sea-shell-like innards, and a small circular rubber stand is built into the bottom of each enclosure to stabilize it. Unlike the sub, the speakers sit angled on what appears to be their sides, with the flat black grilles facing you. On the SoundSticks’ sub, this panel is actually the base upon which the speaker rests. The back panel for each satellite has a passive bass radiator which, like the grilles, is emblazoned with the Harman Kardon logo. Inside the enclosures, a 2.5-inch driver and a 1.25-inch tweeter deliver 20 watts per channel of power.
Capacitive touch controls for Power, Volume, audio sources, and toggling a Bass Boost mode sit on the top edge of the right speaker’s front panel. The Volume control works with your Bluetooth source’s volume rather than independently, so if you adjust the volume on your phone the volume LEDs on the speaker will change accordingly.
While the touch sensitive buttons contribute to the clean, spare look of the Nova, they can be a little annoying at times. The Power button isn’t easy to operate, and didn’t always register when I pressed it. Ironically, the Source button on the other side of the speaker is quite sensitive. Hidden from view, it’s placed in the perfect spot for your fingers to inadvertently tap it if you’re attempting to move the speakers, and accidentally pause your music or switch to a wired source from a Bluetooth source. It’s easy to avoid once you know it’s there, but the overall layout and operability could still be a little more user-friendly.
The connections for the Nova are located primarily on the right speaker’s back panel. Here, you can connect the included power supply, the cable that sends audio to the left speaker, and (if using it as a conventional PC speaker set) the 3.5mm audio cable (also included) for wired playback from computers and mobile devices. An optical audio input can accept a wired digital signal, but you’ll have to provide the optical cable yourself. The left speaker holds a 3.5mm headphone jack on the edge of its front panel.
Besides wired connections, you can wirelessly connect to the Nova over Bluetooth. We had no trouble quickly pairing an iPhone 5s with the Nova, and after powering the speakers down and back up, the system automatically re-paired with the phone. You can also use an NFC-enabled device to pair with the system by tapping it to the NFC zone between the Power and Volume buttons.
On tracks with intense sub-bass content, like The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” the Nova does a nice job of conveying lows regardless of whether the bass boost function is enabled, though it isn’t particularly generous with the bass; it’s duly represented, but the Nova gives the spotlight to high-mids and highs. At high-to-maximum volumes, the Nova distorts noticeably in both modes. The distortion only occurred on this track of our testing suite, so it’s not a given that every deep bass track will have issues. But between that and the greater focus on high-mids and highs, you may wish to consider a different system if most of your music library involves throbbing lows and thumping beats.
On Bill Callahan’s “Drover,” you get a real sense for just how bright these speakers can sound. His vocals and the guitar strums in this track glisten with treble. This isn’t a knock against the Nova; in the era of Big Bass, I love that there’s a speaker set that delivers so much clarity in the high-mids and highs. Perhaps for some the Nova is too bright because of this focus, especially if you disable the bass boost feature. On this very track with the bass boost mode enabled, the treble still reigns supreme; the drums get a little extra help from the bass boost and Callahan’s baritone goals get a little added richness, but nothing over-the-top. With the bass boost on, this is a balanced, lovely system with striking, clear highs.
The kick drum loop’s sharp attack rules the mix in Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild” until the vocals enter and claim everything for themselves. This doesn’t mean the sub-bass synth hits sound anemic; the lows are in there. They’re just not subwoofer-level lows. This system packs a resounding bass punch particularly at high volumes, but bass lovers looking for a club PA system-like deep bass experience will still be disappointed. The bass is part of the mix with the Nova, not the star.
On classical tracks, like the opening to John Adams’ “The Gospel According to the Other Mary,” the higher register strings and brass rule the show alongside the vocals. The lows get some nice richness, but even with the bass boost engaged, the Nova doesn’t bring out the booming bass like more sculpted-sounding systems do.