- Beautiful build quality
- Alluring gloss black styling
- Polished, powerful sound quality
- Inelegant adhesive pads for table-top mounting
- Fiddly remote and rudimentary operating system
- No HDMI switching or HD audio
- Review Price: £699.99
- Soundbar and wireless subwoofer
- Built-in Dolby Digital and DTS decoding
- 230W power output (100W for sub)
- 13 speaker drivers
- Harman Wave surround processing
The Harman Kardon SB30 is a space-saving alternative to a full 5.1 system that provides a ‘surround sound experience’ from a single soundbar speaker and a wireless subwoofer. That way you get all the excitement of home cinema sound without boxes and cables cluttering up your living room. At £700, it’s more expensive than many of its soundbar rivals (including the Roth Audio Sub Zero) but Harman Kardon usually justifies its higher prices with high-class build quality and impressive sound. Let’s find out if that’s the case with the SB30.
Harman Kardon SB30 Design
From a design perspective, the Harman Kardon SB30 is worth every penny of that price tag. The soundbar’s build quality is beautiful, with a heavy, robust feel to the bodywork, while the alluring gloss black finish is pure eye candy. At 1160mm it’s quite wide but a great size match for TVs between 40- and 50-inches – you can mount the soundbar on the wall or place it on your TV stand.
The shape is almost cylindrical, with a flat rear panel that houses all the connections and switches. On the front, a black mesh hides the 13 speaker drivers and keeps everything nice and low-key – apart from a row of lights that flashes across the front when you change inputs or adjust the volume. A row of buttons is placed along the top.
Harman Kardon SB30 Connectivity
The rear panel of the Harman Kardon SB30 is fairly busy. A small recess houses a cluster of sockets, including optical digital, coaxial digital and analogue stereo input. They’re outward-facing, which could be a slight problem when wall-mounted, but the depth of the recess means the cables have just enough room to hang downwards. You’ll also find a recess for the power lead, an on/off switch and two more switches governing the speaker EQ (for wall or table-top placement) and the wireless channel used by the sub and soundbar.
Although it’s nice to find both types of digital audio input on board, we’re disappointed by the lack of HDMI sockets for the money. This would have allowed you switch between Blu-ray players, digital TV boxes, games consoles and the like (as you can on the LG BB5521A), but for whatever reason Harman has eschewed these ubiquitous connections.
As for the subwoofer, it looks equally dapper in its lustrous gloss black finish and beautiful rounded corners. It stands on four sturdy feet and features a volume dial and phase switch on the back.
Harman Kardon SB30 Features
There’s an impressive line-up of features on board the Harman Kardon SB30. It decodes both Dolby Digital and DTS bitstreams from Blu-ray/DVD players, which allows discrete 5.1 sound to be passed to the multiple speaker drivers. The HARMAN Wave surround mode attempts to deliver a surround sound experience using advanced digital signal processing. A separate Virtual mode widens the soundstage, while stereo mode does what it says on the tin. Dolby Volume maintains the same level across different sources and programmes.
Inside the soundbar are six 50mm Harman Warrior low-frequency transducers and seven 25mm Harman CMMD Lite tweeters, fed by 11 individual amplifier channels with a combined power output of 230W (4 x 40W, 7 x 10W). The sub meanwhile packs a 100W amplifier and a 200m down-firing cone woofer inside its sealed enclosure.
Harman Kardon SB30 Operation
Soundbars are all about convenience, so it’s no surprise that setup is a cinch. OK, there’s a bit of DIY involved if you want to mount it on the wall, but it’s just a case of fixing the two brackets to the wall and hanging the soundbar using the slots on the bottom.
Table-top placement is even easier, but it’s slightly inelegant. You have to attach adhesive pads to the little grooves on the bottom, with an upward curving front section cradling the soundbar. They support it well enough (the unit won’t stand up without them) but some sturdier plastic or metal feet would have been more suitable.
The use of a wireless sub is an absolute godsend, because it means you can place it in the best-sounding spot in the room, rather than being dictated by how far the cable will stretch. Once both the soundbar and sub are set to the same wireless code, they pair automatically, indicated by blue lights on both units.
Operating the system is a little tricky with no display panel on the front. Three lights on the front of the unit indicate the status of the various modes. For example, white lights are for source selection – one light for optical, two for coaxial, three for analogue…. you get the picture. You’ll learn it all in time, but it doesn’t make the process of toggling through them any less fiddly.
It doesn’t help that the remote is tiny and sports unresponsive blister buttons, all cramped together into a small section of the remote. There are volume and source selection keys, plus buttons for Beam Energy (altering the performance for small, medium or large rooms), surround modes (stereo, virtual or ‘Harman’ settings) and Dolby Volume (off, low or high). You also get a sticker for the back of the remote that describes what the combinations of lights mean.
Harman Kardon SB30 Performance
The Harman Kardon SB30’s sound quality is, in a word, sensational. You don’t often find a soundbar that’s able to match the muscularity and finesse of a good separates system, but the SB30 certainly does that.
With a boisterous soundtrack like The Dark Knight on Blu-ray (fed into the SB30’s optical digital input) the sound is vibrant and punchy. The opening bank heist is a pulse-racing riot of aggressive effects and thumping bottom-end, interjected with dialogue that easily cuts through the carnage.
Gunshots snap powerfully into the room, underpinned by tight jabs of bass, while shouty voices boom with authority and echo atmospherically across the soundstage. At the end of the scene, the bus bursts through the wall with a substantial wallop, peppered with the sumptuously crisp sound of tinkling glass.
In fact detail reproduction is one of the SB30’s main assets. It’s a consistently open and airy listen, with even the tiniest background details receiving close attention from the soundbar’s competent tweeters. When married to the smooth midrange and tightly integrated bass output, this is one assured performance right across the frequency spectrum. The soundbar’s left, right and centre drivers are all voice matched and work coherently together.
Turn up the volume and the SB30 doesn’t buckle either. It’s as comfortable blasting out a movie at three-quarter volume as it is playing TV shows down low – a sign of the SB30’s versatility. It’s also worth noting that there’s a distinct shift in the sonic dynamism when you flip between the Beam Energy modes.
If there’s a flaw, it lies with the unconvincing surround performance. The HARMAN Wave mode certainly opens up the sound and spreads effects much wider than the stereo and Virtual modes, yet there’s no real sense of being enveloped. Chances are you’ll be too transfixed by the speaker’s other virtues to care too much, but it does underline the fact that soundbars are rarely a match for a full 5.1 system.
Harman Kardon SB30 Verdict
There’s no question that the Harman Kardon SB30 is a classy soundbar system, boasting stunning looks and sumptuous build quality – not to mention powerful and polished sound quality that puts the vast majority of soundbars to shame.
Where it falls down is its lack of HDMI sockets and HD audio decoding, its fiddly operating system and the lack of surround presence with movie soundtracks, which falls below our expectations at this price. But with sound, build and looks this good, we’re prepared to cut the SB30 some slack.
Score in detail
Sound Quality 9
|Number of Speakers||13|
|Audio Processing||HARMAN Wave|
|Dolby Pro Logic II||No|
|DTS Master Audio HD||No|
|Composite Video In||No|
|Component Video In||No|
|Component Video Out||No|
|S/PDIF Optical In||Yes|
|S/PDIF Coax In||Yes|
|Stereo Line In||Yes|
|Stereo Line Out||No|
|Power (Watt)||230 (100 sub)W|