A larger smart speaker that blends rich sound with the convenience of Google Assistant.
By Nick Gelling
Product test writer
Harman Kardon’s Citation 300 fills an interesting niche. It’s a smart speaker with just enough bulk and audio quality to compete with proper stereo systems.
The first thing you notice about the Citation is its design. It’s covered in a soft, blended-wool fabric, which looks stunning. On the top is a sleek full-colour touchscreen for controlling the audio.
The “speaker” bit
The Citation is designed for streaming. It has no physical audio connections – in fact, the only port is a micro-USB connection hidden beneath the unit. Instead, the speaker’s intended to be set up through the Google Home app on your phone or tablet and used like a Chromecast over WiFi. You can also stream directly from your device using Bluetooth.
I’m no audiophile, but my novice ears were impressed by the sound quality. The Citation extracted rich bass from JessB’s thumping hip-hop, impressive considering the lack of a subwoofer, and the treble wasn’t scratchy or hollow at higher volumes. I didn’t go above 60% volume out of respect for my downstairs neighbours, but I didn’t need to because the sound was so full.
The “smart” bit
A key feature of any smart speaker is its voice assistant. In this case, Google Assistant is doing its best to fulfil your wishes. The assistant is simple to access – even when audio is playing, the microphone is superb at picking up trigger phrases (either “OK, Google” or “hey Google”). Once you learn the right commands – such as “play the album Jump Rope Gazers by The Beths”, followed closely by “turn it up” – hands-free music operation works well. It can also help with utilities, such as alarms, and has plenty of fun novelties – I loved the lyric search function (“play the song that goes ‘Let’s do the mortal coil shuffle’”) even though it was hit and miss.
Like any smart speaker, it’s always on and constantly connected to WiFi. Harman Kardon claims the Citation 300 uses less than two watts of power while waiting for commands in standby mode. That translates to less than $5 worth of electricity annually. All virtual assistants have privacy concerns around your recordings being analysed in the cloud, and sometimes stored long term or used to generate targeted advertising. If you’re worried about what’s getting to Google’s servers, the microphone can be switched off, though that nullifies some of the “smartness” of the speaker.
The speaker links with other Google Home smart devices through the app. For example, I was able to use voice commands through the speaker to pause and resume the Chromecast on my TV. And, as is common with this kind of speaker, multiple Citations can also be linked together for a makeshift stereo system or a web of sound throughout your house. At $700 apiece, the 300 is an expensive way to do that, but there are cheaper options like the Citation One ($330).
Is it worth buying?
I enjoyed using the Citation 300 a lot, but I still came away wondering exactly what it is. If I had $700 to spend on audio, I could buy a quality mini sound system or even a decent home theatre system. If I wanted a smart speaker, I could spend a lot less on something like an Amazon Echo or Google Nest. Only if you really want to combine the two is the Citation 300 for you.
Specifications – Harman Kardon Citation 300
Price: $700 Dimensions (WxHxD): 306 x 180 x 142mm Weight: 4.1kg Wi-Fi bands: 2.4GHz and 5Ghz Bluetooth version: 4.2 Audio connections: None
First Looks are trials of new and interesting products from the perspective of our product experts. Our lab-based tests offer truly objective product comparisons. The speaker was loaned to us by Harman Kardon.