Sticks of sound

I finally bought a pair of Harmon/Kardon SoundSticks. This is a three-piece set, two satellite speakers and a subwoofer, all made from clear acrylic.

Like much everything designed for Apple, these speakers are well designed and aesthetically pleasing (if you like acrylic). The subwoofer has a small blue light when powered. It glows steadily, and does not pulse with the music - that would have been a nice effect. Fit and finish are extremely good.

They’re designed for the Apple Macintosh, but they work perfectly on my Windows 2000 machine. They are powered by USB, so my current sound card, a Sound Blaster Live!, is unused. Windows creates a separate “USB Audio Device” to power the speakers. This does suck a little power from the processor to route audio, but on today’s machines, I doubt you’d notice the drain. You won’t miss a couple of frames from Quake 3 Arena if you’re running a good video card and a fast (1.5 GHz+) processor.

One thing lacking is an external volume control. On a Macintosh, the speaker volume is controlled via software, through special volume keys on the keyboard. (By the way, the Apple Pro keyboard works very well with Windows 2000, with the volume up/down/mute keys active.) I don’t vary the volume much, so controlling it through the Windows speaker isn’t a hassle. I should note there is a subwoofer volume control on the subwoofer itself.

As far as audio quality is concerned, I can’t tell yet if they sound better than the speakers they replace, a pair of Yamaha YST-M15s and a Yamaha YST-MSW10 subwoofer. To me, the SoundSticks sound a little flat and lacking in stereo field, when the speakers are placed in the same locations as the Yamahas. When I increase the distance between the sats, the stereo imaging gets better. Because these are a matched set, the sats are high and mid-range only, depending on the subwoofer for all bass effect. Since the Yamaha speakers were seperate from the subwoofer, the speakers gave some immediate bass effect. Perhaps that’s what I’m missing from the H/Ks.

Overall, I’m pleased with the H/Ks.

So why did I buy a set of see-through speakers? I’m planning on upgrading my computer, and it will probably be either a Shuttle system or a FIC Ice Cube. I’ll be using the Apple Pro keyboard (black keys), and plan to get a NEC Multisync LCD1765 monitor. The only thing I haven’t decided on yet is a mouse. Too bad Apple doesn’t make a two-button Pro mouse with a wheel. To match all of this will probably be a glass-top desk. I’m tired of beige.