It’s not new, but the Harman Kardon Aura Wireless Speaker System has become my new favorite computer speaker, combining space age looks and great sound in a (relatively) compact form factor.
It looks like the subwoofer in the SoundSticks speaker system — also from Harmon Kardon — but without the speakers. The result is an eye-catching, ear-catching, all-in-sound system with six 1.5-inch high- and mid-range drivers and a 4.5-inch subwoofer. Though it doesn’t take up too much space, it delivers omni-directional, 360 degree sound (though it’s still a 2.1-channel audio system) and pumps out thumping bass, crisp mids, and warm lows.
The Aura easily fills a mid-sized room plenty of volume, outputting 15 watts to each of the right and left channels, and 30 watts to the subwoofer. The drivers are arranged produce a similar sound field no matter which direction the speaker is facing. The speaker is mounted on the bottom of the Aura case and is covered by a black cloth. A black strip runs around the bottom and is home to the cool-looking-but-kinda-hard-to-see volume slider and source button.
There’s also a ring of light around the speaker's core that changes when the volume is raised or lowered, which is a pretty nifty effect. The source button lights up in blue or green depending on which mode you select. On the lower back of the Aura are the AC power socket, digital optical input, 3.5mm aux input, and a USB port called “Service,” which can be used to for firmware upgrades but NOT for charging other devices.
The Aura also has several connectivity options, including built-in Bluetooth to stream audio from your Bluetooth devices, Wi-Fi for Apple AirPlay and DLNA streaming for your home network. When connected to my iMac via Bluetooth, music would occasionally stutter when I typed on the Magic Keyboard (which also uses Bluetooth).
AirPlay is more difficult to set up than it should be, especially with a $399.95 speaker system. (You can use the free Harman Kardon Remote iOS app — available at the Apple App Store — to guide you through a simplified set-up.)
Despite these hiccups, if you need a space-saving alternative to a multi-speaker set-up with pristine audio and striking visual appeal, the Aura is certainly worth investigating. But definitely investigate first. After all, we’re talking a price tag of 400 smackers here.