Harman/Kardon Aura wireless speaker
An interesting design is just the start; this thing can produce sound that will turn your cap back
- Interesting design
- Easy to use
- Very good overall sound quality
- Impressive low-frequency response
- Bass tended to be too strong for trance
- Rock could've use more mid-range
Price$ 549.00 (AUD)
We're not ones to judge what is and isn't art, and it’s up for debate whether Harman/Kardon’s Aura wireless speaker qualifies for such a distinction. Regardless, it would make for an interesting addition to any contemporary living space. It has a captivating look that isn't typical of a wireless speaker, instead giving hints that it's perhaps some sort of machine that's about to start rotating, rather than a device that's about to produce sound waves to soothe your ears.
At the base of the unit resides a 4.5in sub-woofer that fires downwards. Its ported design is evident through the clear dome that makes up the enclosure, with a trumpet-ended pipe allowing the negative waves to escape through the top of the unit. You can see slits at the base of the unit above the woofer, and these are reminiscent of a jet engine’s fan blades; or maybe even the shredder in a juicer. It’s all open to interpretation.
In addition to the sub-woofer, there is an array of six 1.5in speakers installed around the front of the base, and these handle the mid- and high-range frequencies. You don’t see these speakers, but you sure can hear the effect they have on the overall sound quality. Put simply, this is a wireless speaker that impresses with both its power and clarity.
You probably should expect that of a speaker that costs north of $500, but sometimes it’s not always the case. What we found with the Aura is that it’s more than capable of filling a mid-sized room with an ample volume, and most importantly, it’s capable of filling it with a sound that’s clear and enjoyable to listen to.
We tested the speaker using a Bluetooth connection that was made to a laptop, through which we streamed albums from our Google Play Music account. The speaker also supports Apple AirPlay, and DLNA. We prefer the ease of a Bluetooth connection, which also allows for our Android smartphones and tablets to be easily connected. There are some physical inputs, too, including S/PDIF, and a 3.5mm auxiliary port.
Being a small, round unit (it has a diameter of about 22cm), the fear was that the sound would appear to come from only one direction and that the stereo effect would be lost on us. However, the Aura does a good job of spacing out the sound, making it appear wide and spacious. We placed the speaker on a solid workbench for our tests, and we recommend it be placed on a heavy buffet or table in the home in order to minimise the chance of vibrations impacting the sound quality.
Its bass response is imposing and quite impressive for a speaker that takes up a relatively small footprint, and this needs to be taken into consideration if you live in an apartment. There really is a boom to this speaker that will excite you, but your neighbours might be left a little infuriated. If you live in an apartment, you’ll need to place the Aura in an area where it’s least likely to emit its sounds through adjoining walls. Or at least run it at a low enough volume to not be a nuisance.
The good thing is that, even at low volumes, subtle details in a track can be clearly heard. This makes the listening experience most enjoyable, and it brings out aspects of tracks that are perhaps not always noticeable through lesser speaker systems. In particular, the Aura seemed to bring out low frequencies that would sometimes require more volume to be heard on cheaper systems.
In our tests, we tried to use as wide a variety of music as possible, starting off with hip-hop, and moving to things such as electronica, trance, metal, jazz, soul, and classical. We feel that the speaker is best suited to the hip-hop and electronica genres, which really thrive with the active low-frequency response of the sub-woofer. Metal and rock music also did well on it, as did the rest of the genres we tested apart from trance.
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Using Markus Shulz & Johan Miller’s Rotunda (original mix) for our trance test, we feel as though the bass response was a little too strong, overpowering the track and making it a chore to listen to -- though we acknowledge that some might love the bass coming through in this way. For trance, we would use an equaliser to tame the low frequencies and let the melodies shine a little more.
Turning to electronica and hip-hop, the subtle bassline that underpins DJ Shadow’s Fixed Income oozed out of the speaker with a warmth that was comforting to the ears. At the same time, the drum hits were delivered with the firmness that was necessary to portray the track’s emotion. The wobbly bassline on Deltron 3030’s Positive Contact was reproduced with ease, and once again it felt soothing to be able to hear it so easily, especially during the chorus.
For jazz, David Axelrod’s Holy Thursday, which has a soft melody that breaks out with large-looming horns and strings, sounded mellow, but quite powerful when it needed to. The drum hits were satisfyingly crisp, and the symbols warm and unobtrusive.
Classical music was also portrayed powerfully by the Aura, with Beethoven’s Symphony no.7, in particular, making us feel energised and a little tingly when all was said and done.
For rock and metal, we used a bunch of artists: Soundgarden, Blind Melon, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Iron Maiden. For the most part, the Aura handled all of them with aplomb. Vocals were accurate and they sounded undisturbed by the crisp highs above and the heavy hits below. However, we feel that on some tracks there was too much separation between those highs and lows. A bit more mid-range would better suit these particular genres.
Overall, we are very much impressed by this wireless speaker and think its sound quality will be good enough to satisfy most tastes. The design is funky, the controls are minimal (there are soft-touch buttons for power and input selection, while the volume control is a series of bumps that illuminates a series of LEDs in the centre of the speaker), and it’s easy to set up and use (especially if you use Bluetooth).
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