Harman Kardon is a company that is in absolute no need for any introduction – has a new speaker system it wants to share with the world. Putting its interior on display using Harman Kardon's signature see-through speaker enclosure design sense, the Nova is a new triple-driver wireless Bluetooth-enabled speaker system that is essentially an all-in-one SoundSticks system jam-packed into a compact and versatile package that can be used in a regular desktop setup environment, or even as your living room entertainment speaker system while also allowing you to pair your smartphone, tablet or portable laptop in order to stream music wirelessly. But why should you spend more on the Nova when you can get Harman Kardon's famed SoundSticks Wireless 2.1 speaker system for less? Let's find out.
Very nice packaging from Harman Kardon. The Nova come boxed inside an easy-to-open rectangular cardboard box very similar to that of the SoundSticks. Inside, the two speakers are carefully wrapped in black fabric cloths. Surely a telltale sign of good things to come. And I can name a few good things that come in small wrapped packages. Nonetheless, it shows that attention to detail is important to Harman Kardon and we always appreciate a quality unboxing no matter the product.
Included with the Nova is this small-ish power brick and power outlet cable, as well as what looks to be an old school ps/2 connector cable which is actually identical to the one included with the SoundSticks speakers as well as the Audyssey desktop speakers we reviewed a while back. This is used to hook up the two speaker units together while just one of the speakers is connected to the included power adapter cable. Yes, unfortunately you will see a few wires running into the Nova speakers and there's nothing you can do about it. However, the advantage to using wireless speakers like these is that you can move your laptop around the house and pair different portable devices without having to be tied down to one spot. It's a matter of convenience and wireless freedom. And for that you're also going to pay more. As of this moment, the Nova will set you back $300.
As with every product release we have seen from Harman Kardon, the Nova is yet another elegant and unique proposition. They definitely have got an original, cutting-edge styling that is both elegant and flamboyant. However, while flashy from every possible angle, the Nova are actually not that interesting to look at head on. It's just like glancing at two spheres covered in black mesh with shiny branding attached in the middle. I suppose you can't get more interesting than the SoundSticks or the exposed colorful speaker drivers of countless other types of speakers.
If you're looking to get above average speakers with Bluetooth wireless pairing features, you have a few good options out there that will cost you less than what you'd pay for Harman Kardon's Nova. Edifier's $200 Luna Eclipse come straight to mind as a note worthy example. There are also the Edifier Spinnaker, Creative T30 and the Logitech Z600. The latter of the four does have the weakest bass response, however. Of course there's also Harman Kardon's own SoundSticks Wireless, which should deliver a very similar Harman Kardon sound signature that the Nova themselves deliver. But what really sets the Nova apart from all of these rivals is the fact that you're getting a terrifically clean, clear and balanced sound quality in a very small form factor. The only true rivals we think are the Luna Eclipse – which are on par in terms of driver power and unique, all-in-one form factor.
Harman Kardon's affinity towards creating speakers with a see-through enclosure has certainly put the company on the map in terms of high-end, modern works of art. While the Nova speakers aren't exactly as impressive as the GLA-55 speakers, they do have their own unique spin on clear enclosure styling. And by spin I literally mean spin. At first glance, the Nova's imperfect dome-shaped enclosures let you peek straight into them yet the actual speaker hardware is still concealed by this plastic turbine engine-looking, spiralling bladed fins that give the Nova their attractive qualities. A design they also shares with Harman Kardon's Aura wireless AirPlay speaker system. And I've gotta say, these are a very pretty set of speakers all around. You'll definitely have guests asking about that see-though enclosure and what exactly that turbine-looking thing in the middle does. When in fact all we know is that the Nova's spiralling turbo fins are purely for aesthetical reasons and not anything to do with having heat-sink properties and what not. They do a perfect job of concealing all the messy driver wiring.
The Nova are entirely constructed out of plastic. And there's nothing overly premium about plastic is there. You've got clear shiny plastic around the middle flanked by matte black plastic which has a soft-touch rubbery finish to it and a plastic, mesh speaker grille faceplate. If you've ever came across the SoundSticks speakers, the Nova are as well built as Harman Kardon's see-through wonder speaker towers. Though at $300 I would actually expect a more impressive build quality and use of materials. Even the Audyssey Wireless Bluetooth Speakers (sadly discontinued) use finer plastic, and have a more robust built quality in comparison. I'm neither disappointed nor am I in awe with the Nova's construction. At $300 they're just...meh.
The base at the bottom is actually made out of a thick silicone rubber which works really well in absorbing the vibrations and providing plenty of surface traction for the speakers.
The cable connecting one speaker to the other is anything but subtle. The connector plug and cable are of a very thick gauge, not something you’d expect to find in such an elegant bit of kit. It almost reminds me of the Matrix plug scene where the connector is plugged into the back of Neo’s head. Apparently this cable does also provide power to the left speaker unit along with audio from the right master speaker.
One of the awesome things about these speakers is the fact that there are no physical button controls anywhere. It's all touch-sensitive controls with very responsive capacitive touch input. You can control the volume directly from your device of course, but you can also control the volume from the right speaker unit using touch just like the SoundSticks. A set of white LED dots appear at the top of the speaker from left to right denoting the volume level intensity. As you slide your finger to the right across the soft coating surface of the plastic ring, the volume increases and more dots gradually appear. Doing the exact opposite will decrease the volume. It's also worth noting that the volume is synchronized on both devices so when you change the volume on the device you're using to stream audio, the audio also changes on the speakers. The brightness of these white LEDs isn't intrusive yet still legible. It looks sharp.
Right below the volume control are more touch-sensitive buttons on either side. The power button lights up amber when the speakers are turned off or in standby mode, and solid white when the speakers are switched on. Underneath the power button is a bass boost button which is on by default. But more on that later.
The Nova offers a few options for connecting an audio source to them. The most obvious is of course Bluetooth. But you can also connect virtually any audio source using either a 3.5mm audio cable or an optical audio cable which makes the Nova versatile as far as device compatibility. This allows you to connect the Nova even to your Apple TV, Roku, DVR, TV, gaming consoles and a lot more. The Nova's audio inputs are located around the back of the right main speaker unit. And although the Nova come supplied with a standard 3.5mm to 3.5mm audio cable, they don't come with an optical audio cable so you'll have to use your own.
Switching between the three types of audio input connections (Bluetooth/AUX-in/optical-in) can easily be done using the Nova's multi-function touch-sensitive audio source selection button. The button assigns different LED light colors to each source: Blue for Bluetooth source, green for auxiliary source, and white for optical source. You can use this source selection button to pair your Bluetooth device with the Nova or if you've got an NFC-enabled device - you can actually tap to pair with the Nova speakers. Both methods have functioned flawlessly during our testing.
Bluetooth works phenomenally even during standby mode and with every iOS device, Mac and Android device we used to test the Nova's wireless streaming reliability. The speakers will usually go into standby mode after a certain period of time when no audio is being played in order to conserve energy - which means that they are in fact off and disconnected with your device. However, as soon as your paired device is turned on again or starts playing audio, the speakers automatically turn on as if they were always powered and connected to your device which is really great. Also, Bluetooth streaming is crystal clear and clean of interference and static distortion within the 30 feet range.
Just in case you want to get intimate, you can plug in your headphones into the Nova's headphone port to continue listening to your music or watch the rest of the movie with your headphones on.
When you're paying as much as $300 for a set of speakers, I think it goes without saying that you should have high expectations with regards to sound quality. And fortunately the Nova did not disappoint and has indeed live up to the prestigious brand name they originate from. They may be small, self-contained orbs of sorts but they're more mightier than you'd think.
In fact, the Nova were fitted with all the right drivers to output extraordinary good sound. On the front of each speaker is where a 2.5-inch (63mm) woofer and a 1.25-inch (35mm) tweeter cover the basis of the highs and mids, while around the back of each speaker is a fairly large 3.5-inch rear-firing passive bass radiator that ensures every beat is respectably hit on the head with a sledgehammer. In other words the bass on these speakers is banging.
The Nova’s sound quality is for the most part, faultless.
The Nova's sound signature is very similar to the 2.1 SoundSticks in that the Nova speakers are bright yet still warm sounding thanks to their well balanced driver arrangement. The detail and clarity is utterly fantastic. It's really amazing how much detail and clarity there is to be heard which gives you the impression of realism and depth to what you're listening. The vocals are especially clearer than your average crystal thanks in part to the separated tweeters and Harman's custom tuned DSP audio processing technology which gives the Nova that extra polished sound quality. The Nova’s sound quality is for the most part, faultless. I wouldn’t expect any better nor any less at this price range.
Usually when we test small 2.0 speaker systems, bass is often the missing component that may either be lacking or simply too thin. The Nova on the other hand may be small, but I couldn't ask for anything more than what it already present. I feel like the Nova has plenty of bass, and not just powerful bass but bass that's fluffy and full all the way through. Mid-level and low-end bass is pretty much phenomenal. What's great is that you've got a bit of control over the bass amount and strength with the Nova. While it doesn't offer precise tuning as the external subwoofer unit of the SoundSticks, you can lessen the bass response with a touch of the Nova's Bass Boost button feature found right on the speaker unit itself.
When on, the bass deepens and grunts even more. It's on by default and you'll likely love the deep low-end so much you'll never want to turn it off. But don't think of it as your artificial, gimmicky bass boost you'd find on downmarket audio equipments. Harman Kardon has essentially designed a proper one-touch bass adjustment feature on the Nova that simply offers an idiot-proof alternative to a subwoofer adjustment knob. I'd also like to mention that the Nova's passive bass radiators have a stiff aluminum diaphragm (arguably superior to flexible materials), which is beautifully finished with this machined radial texture.
Essentially what happens is that you can go from desk-shaking bass to window-shaking bass. It's seriously impressive how deep and powerful the Nova speakers can serve up bass like that. To be clear, the bass while easily capable of getting down very low, the highs remain intact and perfectly clear with no distortion across the midrange. I must admit though that when really blasting the volume up high and listening to 23 by Mike Will Made It (purely for testing reasons), the Nova’s woofers try their best not to distort but the bass is simply too epic and you’ll hear a bit of cone rattling resonating from the radiators during the low-end bass drops. To be fair though, the Nova handle this particular track like champs at normal to high listening volumes which is more than you’ll ever crank unless you’re hosting a in-your-house-club night. You can of course ease up on the bass by turning lowering it down a notch using the bass boost button.
Sonically, the Nova sound way better than the average 2.0 stereo Bluetooth speakers. In fact, they’re possibly one of the best performing 2.0 Bluetooth speaker systems currently available. I've got a hard time imagining the possibility of the Nova ever sounding better than they do right now without increasing their footprint. It really doesn't get any better than this. However, I do think that Harman Kardon needs to bring the price down just slightly. The sweet spot would be $150 - $200. And that's basing it on the $200 SoundSticks Wireless speakers which as we all know offer a bigger bang for your money. The question is – are you getting the most value for money going with Harman Kardon's Nova? No, you’re not. But that doesn't mean the price should deter you from picking up these handsome orbs.
Maybe you prefer the look of the Nova, or perhaps you think that a 2.0 speaker system is a more sensible and space-saving choice - whatever it may be, the Nova is an attractive triple-driver wireless speaker system that sounds terrific and is capable of delivering a richly balanced and full-bodied sound experience despite having everything packed under one compact-ish enclosure. It's what makes these a worthwhile compromise if you're short on space but haven't given up on high quality audio and the wireless freedom of being able to stream audio from every Bluetooth-enabled device at your disposal. For that reason the Nova merit a general recommendation.