Harman Kardon Citation Bar Review
The perfect assistant
What is the Harman Kardon Citation Bar?The Harman Kardon Citation Bar is a three-channel soundbar that forms part of the company's new Citation line-up. This range is designed to combine a sophisticated and attractive design with cutting edge features and superior sound quality.
The Citation Bar supports multiroom functionality thanks to Chromecast and includes Google Assistant built-in. There are also three HDMI inputs, which makes a nice change on a soundbar, a remote for those who won't embrace hands-free control, and a full colour LCD touch screen.
The Citation Bar doesn't come with a separate subwoofer (Harman Kardon claim it delivers deep bass on its own), but there's an optional sub and surround speakers. However, it doesn't support immersive audio and it's not cheap, setting you back £899 as at the time of writing (June 2019), so it had better sound good.
DesignThe Harman Kardon Citation Bar might be pricey, but at least it looks and feels like a premium product. It's fairly big, measuring 1150 x 64 x 115mm (WxHxD), and weighing in at 4.1kg. This ensures the Bar not only delivers a superior level of sound quality but is also able to complement larger screen sizes of 65-inches and above. However, its subtle design and curved edges soften the appearance so, despite its size, it doesn't dominate the front of your room.
The build quality is excellent, with metal end plates and a blended wool fabric that covers the front, top and rear. This comes in a choice of grey or black and is both dirt repellant and fire retardant. The overall effect is of a soundbar that will blend seamlessly into a modern living space. In terms of placement, you have the option of positioning the Citation Bar beneath your TV or wall mounting it using the provided brackets and paper template.
Harman Kardon has included some lovely design touches to the Citation Bar that differentiate it from much of the competition. On the top, there's a full colour LCD display that allows you to select features, choose outputs and control playback. It's very responsive and also shows information such as the volume, sound mode, titles, and even album art when available.
The only issue with the display is that it's on the top, so you can't actually see it when sat down (although it would be hard to read from a distance). The volume can be adjusted using two physical buttons just below the display, although they are actually quite hard to see (especially on the black version). However, that's not an issue because, as I'll discuss later, this soundbar has no shortage of other control options.
Finally, there are four LEDs at the front that are used to indicate the status of Google Assistant. If they are white and flashing slowly it means Google is listening, if they are white but flashing fast then it is responding, if they are a constant amber the is mic muted, and if they flash white three times that means the power is on and the system is starting up.
This is an attractive soundbar, with a colour LCD display and a lovely fabric finish
Connections & ControlThe Harman Kardon Citation Bar has all of its physical connections located in three recesses at the rear. The first recess has an Ethernet (RJ45) port for a wired connection, although it also has built-in Wi-Fi (802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, 2.4GHz/5GHz) and Bluetooth 4.3.
The second recess has a connector for the included IR repeater, an optical digital input, a 3.5mm auxiliary input, and two HDMI 2.0 inputs. The third recess has another HDMI 2.0 input, and an HDMI 2.0 output with support for ARC (Audio Return Channel). All the HDMI ports support 4K/60p, High Dynamic Range (HDR10 and Dolby Vision), and HDCP 2.2.
The inclusion of three HDMI inputs is good to see on a soundbar, it's a shame more manufacturers (including Samsung, which actually owns Harman Kardon) don't provide as many HDMI inputs. This enables you to connect three lossless sources, which is useful given that the Bar doesn't support Enhanced ARC.The included remote is attractively designed, comfortable to hold thanks to its rounded edges, and styled to match the soundbar itself (black or grey). The button layout is fairly intuitive, making the controller easy to use with one hand.
There's a power button at the top, with the various inputs below. The volume control is in the middle, and around that are buttons for mute, microphone on/off, selecting sound modes, and activating Google Assistant. Towards the bottom of the zapper are playback buttons and keys for selecting the surround and night mode. There are also controls for adjusting the bass and correcting any audio sync issues.
You get a well designed remote control and three HDMI 2.0 inputs
Features & SpecsThe Harman Kardon Citation Bar boasts an excellent set of specifications, with a three-channel layout that uses a 20mm tweeter and two 100 x 50mm racetrack woofers for each speaker. This arrangement delivers excellent stereo separation, wide dispersion across the front of the room, and ensures a dedicated centre speaker for dialogue. The nine drivers are powered by 150W of digital amplification.
The inclusion of Google Assistant means that this soundbar is a smart speaker as well. What this essentially means is that along with offering full hands-free control using your voice, you also have all the benefits of a smart assistant. As a result, you can interact with the Citation Bar to get answers, play music, organise your day, control your smart home, enjoy your entertainment and more, all with your voice.
The Citation Bar supports both Dolby and DTS multichannel audio, but out of the box you are obviously restricted to a three-channel configuration. If you want to run a genuine 5.1-channel system, you will need to add the optional Citation Sub (£699), and Citation Surround (£399). That means to build a full 5.1 system would cost just under £2,000 in total. That's a lot for a system that doesn't even support Dolby Atmos or DTS:X.
It's also designed to stream music, either via a connected Bluetooth device or via your local Wi-Fi network using Google Chromecast. In addition, the soundbar can be instantly turned on and ready to play music at a moment's notice but, in order to do this, the Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connections remain constantly active. The Citation Bar works with Google Home for easier set up, and will enter into sleep mode (networked standby) after 20 minutes without operation, after which it can be re-activated via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi.
The inclusion of Google Assistant makes this model smarter than the average soundbar
Setup & OperationThe Harman Kardon Citation Bar is easy to set up, all you need to do is download the Google Home app (iOS or Android), and then follow the instructions. You'll have the wireless connection set up and Google Assistant talking to you in no time. After that, it's merely a case of connecting any physical sources via HDMI, optical digital, or 3.5mm analogue inputs, and pairing any Bluetooth devices. Then just connect the Citation Bar to your TV via HDMI-ARC using the high speed HDMI cable provided by Harman Kardon.
For testing, I connected various devices directly to the soundbar via the HDMI inputs: Panasonic DM-UB820 UHD Blu-ray player, an Apple TV 4K and a Humax FVP-5000T set top box. I also tested the HDMI-ARC (Audio Return Channel) capabilities by sending audio from the LG 65C9's built-in tuner and video streaming apps back to the soundbar. For music, I paired an iPhone X via Bluetooth, as well as streamed content from my Wi-Fi network via Chromecast.
To activate Google Assistant when connected over Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, you can either speak directly to the soundbar using the normal wake-up commands of "OK, Google" or "Hey, Google", or press the dedicated button on the remote. However, if you're connected via AUX, optical or one of the HDMI ports, Google Assistant will be muted (prompting four amber dots to appear continuously on the front of the soundbar). In this situation, you have to press the dedicated button to talk to Google Assistant.
If you fancy listening to music via Google Chromecast, all you need to do is run a Chromecast enabled app on your smart device, press the Chromecast icon and select Citation Bar. Then press play in the app and you're off and running. Chromecast provides access to over 300 music services and high-resolution music streaming. You can also create groups with Google Home and use Chromecast to play music on different speakers in multiple rooms.
There are 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 standalone soundbar).
Finally, you can adjust the brightness of the LCD display, and once connected to your Wi-Fi network the Bar will automatically update the firmware when a new version becomes available. You can also restore factory settings, and check system information like the current firmware version.
Thanks to Google Home and Chromecast, this soundbar is easy to setup and use
PerformanceThe Harman Kardon Citation Bar wears its pedigree on its sleeve, with a superb audio performance that makes the most of the three speakers and 150W of power. Kicking off with music, this soundbar immediately revealed the benefits of its larger cabinet and wide dispersion drivers. The soundstage is spread across the front of the room, creating some excellent stereo separation and imaging.
I listened to a range of music and the Citation Bar did an excellent job of reproducing each track with precision. The width of the unit itself ensures that the separation of instruments is nicely defined, while the stereo imaging delivers a sense of scale that suited the orchestration on Suede's Still Life. The Music mode gave the audio a little more size but, in general, I preferred using the Standard mode.
The gravelly lower tones of Nick Cave's vocals on O, Children are rendered with skill, and the soundbar had sufficient bass to deliver the hammer blow of Red Right Hand. However, the tweeters also handled the higher frequencies necessary to reproduce Kate Bush's Wuthering Heights, and the midrange did an excellent job of delivering the vocals on If You Tolerate This, Then Your Children Will Be Next by the Manic Street Preachers.
The musicality of this soundbar lends itself nicely to most TV programmes, with the score and effects spread across the front of the room, while dialogue is delivered with a crisp clarity. The dedicated centre speaker ensures the voice overs on documentaries, commentaries on sports broadcasts, and the reporters on the news are defined and focused on the screen. There is a News mode that is designed to emphasise dialogue, but personally, I didn't feel any need to use it because the dialogue was already clear enough.
When it comes to TV shows with surround soundtracks, the Citation Bar continues to impress but there's obviously no surround presence. A show like Star Trek Discovery has a fairly complex multichannel mix, and although the soundbar handles the music, effects and dialogue at the front of the room, the full sense of immersion is obviously missing.
However, the effects are precisely located at the front, the score is delivered with a sweeping sense of drama, and dialogue is clearly focused on the action. The bass performance is good for a single unit, but the deeper impact of a separate subwoofer is missing. On the plus side, the Citation Bar is capable of going very loud without distorting, so if you fancy cranking things up, you can.
When I put on a Blu-ray with a big no-nonsense soundtrack like Aquaman, the soundbar's strengths and weaknesses are immediately apparent. The reproduction of the score, effects and dialogue at the front of the room is excellent, and there's enough power to handle the film's dynamic range. However, the low frequency effects are limited, and there's obviously no enveloping surround effects.
There is a Virtual Surround mode that does bring out the effects slightly, but it also muddles the overall soundstage in an effort to psychoacoustically create fake surround. I preferred the Movie mode, which just emphasised the front three channels, thus creating a big soundstage that suited modern blockbusters. If you're watching TV or a movie at night, there's also the Night mode which reduces the overall volume while ensuring dialogue and effects remain clear, but this feature is only available with Dolby audio.
Unsurprisingly for a Harman Kardon product, the sound quality is excellent
- Fantastic sound quality
- Gorgeous design
- Excellent fit and finish
- Google Assistant built-in
- Three HDMI inputs
- Multiroom capabilities
- Optional sub and surround
- No immersive audio support
- Bass could be deeper
Harman Kardon Citation Bar Review
Harman Kardon Citation Bar VerdictThe Harman Kardon Citation Bar is an excellent soundbar that not only benefits from an attractively modern design but boasts added smarts thanks to Google Assistant being built-in. This means you not only have voice control but a fully functioning smart speaker. Once you include the colour LCD display, excellent remote control, and three HDMI inputs, you have a well-specified unit.
Unsurprisingly for a Harman Kardon product, the Citation Bar also sounds superb, especially when it comes to music. That's just as well because you can access music via a number of methods including Bluetooth and Wi-Fi thanks to Chromecast. The lack of a subwoofer is more apparent when watching TV shows and movies, but there's the option to add a sub and surround speakers, although that does significantly increase the cost.
Ultimately that's the big problem with this product: at £899 it's very expensive for what amounts to a single soundbar that doesn't include a subwoofer or support Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. The set up is easy, the build quality is excellent, and the performance is impressive enough to warrant a recommendation, but the Harman Kardon Citation Bar is going to find itself up against some very strong competition.
What are my alternatives?For a start, if you want a soundbar with a smart assistant as an integral part of its design, you can pick up the Polk Command Bar for just £199. This particular model is not only incredible value but has two HDMI inputs and Amazon Alexa built-in. Granted, the Citation Bar sounds better but the Command Bar comes with a separate wireless subwoofer, so it delivers deeper bass.
If you want multiroom audio and the option to expand the soundbar to a 5.1-channel system at a later date, then the Sonos Beam is an obvious alternative. You can pick this particular model up for £399, and it not only sounds great but also benefits from all of Sonos's steaming expertise. The result is a well-made and sophisticated unit that sounds bigger than it looks.
Finally, if you want a soundbar that can deliver a genuine 5.1.4-channel immersive audio experience, then you should be looking at the Samsung HW-Q90R. This particular soundbar, sub, and surround package includes four upward-firing drivers, and while it might cost £1,499 that's still less than the two grand required to expand the Citation Bar to a 5.1-channel system. The HW-Q90R also sounds excellent, ironically that's partly thanks to the input of Harman Kardon, which is now a Samsung company.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £899.00
Ease of use8
Value for Money6
Our Review Ethos
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