On one side of the Atlantic, UK Specialist brand Bowers & Wilkins, continues to build beautifully styled speakers, headphones and sound bars, while on the other side of the water US audio-video icon Harman Kardon is at the Apex of stylish sound with its elegant range of speakers, soundbars and electronics.
Harman Kardon SABRE SB 35
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Harman Kardon knows what a pedigree home entertainment system should be.
With decades of experience producing award-winning ranges of audio-video models, Harman Kardon's $1699 Sabre SB 35 soundbar was bound to have a special sound.
Its design parameters called for a soundbar that excelled where all compact sound systems fail, and that's in attempting to create a detailed, involving sound that has realistic sound levels.
Connected to any modern, smart flat screen TV, the Sabre SB 35 succeeds in bringing excitement back to TV viewing.
It's also a dab hand at eliciting all the thrills and spills movie producers and computer games designers add to their creations these days.
The Sabre SB 35 processes surround sound with built-in Dolby Digital TrueHD, DTS HD and the exclusive HARMAN Wave surround-mode technology.
Whether it's a first-person shooting game or Hollywood action blockbuster, the sound effects will wiz around your listening room with so much realism and accuracy, you'll probably want to duck your head.
Getting this level of realism is easy when you're Harman Kardon. A brand that knows how to build 8.1 channel surround sound into a sleek cabinet that's only 1.25-inches (32mm) deep.
Inside reside 8 discrete channels generated by performance tuned 1.75-inch drivers and 1-inch tweeters.
The matching wireless subwoofer powered by 100-watts of amplification is no slouch either. Its unique deisgn allows it to be slid under your couch, mounted on the wall or free standing; the Sabre SB35 wireless subwoofer is as versatile as it is good looking.
Totally modern the Sabre SB 35 soundbar allows you to stream music from smartphones, tablets PCs and other compatible devices using Bluetooth. Harman Kardon's free Remote app works with iPhone, iPad and Android devices and allows music to be streamed from anywhere on a user's network or portable device directly to the sound bar.
Other connectivity options include three HDMI inputs, One HDMI output with Audio Return Channel (ARC) and CEC, one analog and one optical digital input.
Harman Kardon SB 26 Sound Bar
Harman Kardon knows as desirable as its top rank Sabre SB 35 undoubtedly is, consumers with smaller home cinema budgets want the same quality at a different price point.
The answer to their wish is the $899 SB 26 soundbar plus sub-woofer model studded with advanced virtual surround technology, and built to Harman Harman Kardon's standard of excellence.
But don't let its affordable price tag lull you into thinking the SB 26 skimps on sound quality. Even a casual audition will reveal a sonic prowess that exceeds all expectations.
TV program sound improves out of bounds when the SB 26's Dolby Digital surround sound processing and Harman Kardon's exclusive virtual surround sound technology are used.
So does the sound of any Blu-ray player, games console or cable receiver.
It's a sound that plays loud and clear. Certainly it attains the level of decibel excitement that will be the envy of your neighbors.
Delivery of this level of sound quality is the task assigned to the soundbar's four woofers and two tweeters working in tandem with the powerful, 100-watt wireless subwoofer.
Like the costlier Sabre SB 35, the bargain-priced SB 26 carries Bluetooth wireless technology enabling playback of music streamed from smartphones, tablets and a raft of portable, compatible devices.
All that's required is to download the new, free Harman Kardon Remote app that works with iOS and Android devices.
Connecting the SB 26 is easy. One HDMI cable connects to a TV while two HDMI inputs are available for other appliances.
Other user-friendly features are an on-screen display, subwoofer level control using the remote which is a smart model that can learn and store the TV's commands.
By any standard, the SB 26 is an outstanding bargain.
Panorama By Name, Panoramic Sound By Nature
It's in Bowers & Wilkins' (B&W's) gene pool to perfect its models.
An example of this irresistible urge to improve and innovate is the Panorama 2, a unique soundbar audibly better than the model it replaces.
The predecessor still inspires pride of ownership with its fresh styling cues and exceptional sound.
The Panorama 2 stands out in a crowded market place with slinky styling and near-perfect fit and finish.
Featuring a curvaceous, mirror-black stainless-steel chassis with sensuous curves and high-gloss finish, there's no doubting the Panorama 2 is a premium-grade product.
What's unexpected is the price of $2,699, which is about what you'd expect to pay for less techno-endowed, range-topping rivals.
If weight is anything to go by and in audio experience it usually signifies substance over frills, the Panorama 2 weighs a serious 14.1kg.
Which is not surprising since it creates sound using nine, newly developed B&W drivers and all have hefty magnets. From this impressive array of drivers, five (a pair of bass, pair of midrange and one of B&W's famous Nautilus tube-loaded tweeters) are assigned to the Panorama 2's centre channel,a design feature that vastly improves the dialogue on TV programs, Blu-ray movies, cable receivers or games consoles.
The other four drivers generate, immersive surround sound, utilising both direct and reflected sound to provide a convincing 3-D soundfield.
The Panorama 2 is a joy to use. One innovation that ensures bragging rights to its discerning legion of buyers is the innovative proximity-sensitive display control panel, which the original Panorama didn't have.
Powered on, the display is pitch black. But as a hand approaches it illuminates glowing blue and revealing the Panorama 2's menu system.
The control panel is equipped with sensors you swipe to access volume, input and choosing between music and movie sound modes. These are processed by built-in Dolby Digital and DTS decoders. You can also operate all the Panorama 2's controls with the supplied pebble-style remote.
Connections include a 3.5mm optical input, three HDMI inputs plus ARC HDMI output on the rear and a sub-woofer output for the kind of additional low-frequency wallop provided by any of B&W's optional subwoofers.
Powered up, the Panorama 2 sets about establishing its top rank credentials with crisp, detailed treble, inviting midrange and tight informative bass. Movie soundtracks spring into life with vibrancy and presence. Since launch, Panorama 2 has gone on to pickup a host of accolades including the prestigious 'EISA' Award for European HT Soundbar of the Year.
Harman Kardon's Gold pass To The Cinema
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If a high-performance home cinema system with scintillating surround sound quality and brimming with wireless features is on your wish list, the $3499 BDS 880 will top the list.
Blu-ray movies, music videos and computer games are typically recorded with 5.1 channels of surround sound. Harman Kardon's premium level BDS 880 is a comprehensive home cinema system primed to extract the abundant detail from all these sources.
The package comprises five stunningly styled speakers, a matching self-powered subwoofer, networked 3D Blu-ray player, two wireless network antennas and a programmable remote.
It's a comprehensive package tailored to handle six discrete channels of digital surround sound.
With three speakers in front of the listening position two at the rear and the sub-woofer placed where you like, the sound the BDS 880 evokes is truly cinematic, in the best sense of the word.
Expect crystal clear dialogue even when the actors or musicians voices are at whisper levels. The same goes for the amazing range of sound effects we normally only experience at the cinema.
Cars, helicopters and even stampeding dinosaurs will arrive in your listening room with pinpoint precision. The system is rated at 325-watts and won't run out of grunt.
Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD decoders provide built-in processing for the BDS 880.
They create a sound field so life like, you'll think you're part of the action.
Video quality from the BDS 880's 3D 1080p Blu-ray player rivals its sound quality. You'll see videos laced with a vibrant range of 30/36 bit Deep Colour and the blackest blacks from up to 4K sources.
The BDS880 ripples with HDMI connectivity including ARC and MHL for HD playback from Android devices.
While lesser home cinema systems play loud and are crammed with the kind of 'bells and whistles' features you'll rarely use, the BDS 880 has been designed to appear to disappear in your room.
The best sound systems are self-effacing. They remain faithful to the original source and rarely attract attention to themselves.
As for features, the BDS 880 has plenty, and they're all desirable.
Along with a 3D Blu-ray player of exceptional quality you also get an FM tuner and Bluetooth and AirPlay wireless streaming.
Another streaming option is Harman's patented TrueStream Bluetooth making it easy to playback music and media stored on PCs, laptops, tablets and smartphones from your home network or a USB.
Front Row Viewing With Harman Kardon's BDS 680 Home Cinema System
Let's face it, our fully connected lifestyles have moved on from traditional home cinema systems because our requirements have evolved.
The good news is Harman Kardon's $2499 BDS 680 is primed to tick all the boxes a modern buyer expects from a modern home cinema system.
Connectivity? No problem. You can stream audio wirelessly from just about any compatible portable device to the BDS 680. Devices with iTunes such as the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch will playback via the BDS 680's built-in Airplay technology.
As well, just about any smartphone, tablet or laptop will connect wirelessly using the BDS 680's Bluetooth technology with HARMAN TrueStream and MultiConnect.
NFC enabled Android and Windows devices can also make a connection to the BDS 680 via Bluetooth. Pairing is as easy as touching your device to the BDS 680's NFC sensor.
The BDS 680 is DLNA 1.5 compliant and provides a number of ways users can send music, pictures, and video using a home wireless network.
When it comes to sound quality, the BDS 680 is a deft hand with music and movie tracks. It uses five 65-watt-per-channel amplifiers to drive its left, right, centre and rear speakers.
A space saving, 200-watt, self-powered subwoofer provides the deep, tight, informative bass.
Video quality is up there as well with the system's 3D Blu-ray player serving up videos with striking colours, subtle hues and plenty of depth.
Surround sound processing hasn't been forgotten either with a choice of Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD and HARMAN Truestream decoding.
A programmable remote controller rounds out some, but far from the BDS 680's entire entire legion of features.
Flexibility Guaranteed With Harman Kardon's BDS 380
You've just got to love Harman Kardon's BDS 380 2.1 channel sound system. It's such a persuasive argument to upgrade the sound of your TV or PC.
Indeed $1999 isn't so much of an ask considering the BDS 380 has many of the features of the sophisticated models above it in the range.
Like them it is a high-performance, networked 3D Blu-ray Disc sound system and a gateway to just about every portable device.
While the more elaborate Harman Kardon models employ six speakers to spread the sound around, the BDS 380 relies on a stereo pair of-two main speakers and a powerful subwoofer.
Route your TV's sound through the BDS 380 and the result is spectacular.
Riveting highs, addictive dialogue and wicked bass are the traits of the BDS 380's stereo speakers powered by Harman's finest, high-current 2 x 65-watt amplifiers boosted by the 200-watt space-saving subwoofer.
Adding to these sonic thrills and spills is the BDS 380's onboard DolbyTrueHD and DTS Digital surround sound decoding.
The BDS 380 has bundles of connectivity and streaming options. It has Apple AirPlay, Bluetooth and built-in Wi-Fi networking capability.
And you can even get receiver updates and online BD-Live content for your Blu-ray disc media streamed wirelessly.
It's also fast and easy to connect NFC-enabled Android and Windows devices using Bluetooth.
The BDS-380 is compact, complete all wrapped up in a throughly modern minimalist aesthetic.