They may look like they're from outer space, but the Harman Kardon SoundSticks III are grounded in real-world performance. Aesthetics aside, critics and consumers alike praise the superior sound quality and formidable low end. Minor quibbles hinge on the lack of some basic features and the design of the volume and power knobs, but they're not enough to prevent emphatic recommendations across the board.
More than just a pretty exterior. The Harman Kardon SoundSticks III pack ample sonic power to balance out their unusual artsy look. The satellite speakers offer clear audio definition backed up by an adjustable subwoofer that lets you tweak the bass level independently of the main volume. CNET editor Justin Yu notes, "Whether you're listening to classical, acoustic, rock, rap, or jazz, the SoundSticks III, with the sub set at reasonable levels, offers a splendidly crisp audio experience with generous, well-defined low-end."
Though you don't need to crank these speakers to get the full effect, PCMag.com's Tim Gideon says they do hold up well at high volumes. "Speakers are resistant to distortion even at extremely loud volumes, and our bass-centric test track (Skrillex's 'First of the Year') sounds crisp and balanced."
Out-of-this-world style -- with a few quirks. The futuristic vibe exuding from the SoundSticks III gives it immediate high-tech appeal, making it equal parts decorative art statement and functional computer sound system. Despite the much-lauded look, editors lament the lack of a few useful functions. Without a remote, a headphone jack and a means to turn the glow illumination off without powering down the unit, these speakers forgo a bit of convenience for sheer style. The decision to locate the dual power button and bass volume knob on the back of the subwoofer itself is particularly vexing for some critics.
Harman Kardon has also released a wireless version of the SoundSticks III with Bluetooth support. Reviews indicate that sonic performance of the SoundSticks Wireless (Est. $230) is similar to that of the SoundSticks III. However, given the roughly $70 price premium that the wireless version carries, value comes in for some criticism.
Great sound, great look, great price. Considering that the SoundSticks III pair high style with high function so brilliantly, the price is more than reasonable for what you get. This boldly designed 2.1 speaker system is backed by an abundance of power and first-rate sound. You just have to live with fewer conveniences.
Justin Yu compares the Harman Kardon SoundSticks III with earlier models in the series. Although some irritants remain -- such as the touch-sensitive volume buttons -- Yu gives the SoundSticks III 3.5 stars (out of 5) and a spot on CNET's list of the best PC speakers.
Review: Harman Kardon SoundSticks III, Justin Yu, September 2011
With "excellent audio performance" and museum-quality design at an affordable price, Harman Kardon's SoundSticks III earns PCMag.com's Editors' Choice award. Tim Gideon is glad Harman Kardon beefed up the cables and didn't alter the design, but he still wishes for conveniences like a remote.
Review: Harman Kardon SoundSticks III, Tim Gideon, November 2010
Garnering 4.4 stars (out of 5) overall with more than 440 user reviews posted, Harman Kardon's SoundSticks III is one of the best-rated PC speaker systems at Amazon.com. A few quibble with the awkward controls, but most give these speakers a perfect or near-perfect score.
Review: Harman Kardon SoundSticks III, Contributors to Amazon.com, As of May 2013
4. The Wall Street Journal
Harman Kardon's SoundSticks III makes The Wall Street Journal's list of the best five computer speakers. They're not only so aesthetically unusual that they're part of the permanent collection at New York's Museum of Modern Art, they also produce "crystal clear" vocals.
Review: Rock the Desktop, Kevin Sintumuang, August 2011