Review: Harman Kardon GLA-55 Multimedia Speakers

When it comes to desktop domes, we at the Lab generally couldn’t care less about looks. Give our tympanic membranes accurate, distortion-free sound at a reasonable price, and we’ll forgive even the most heinous of stylistic transgressions. Well, most of them.

For whatever reason, the designers at Harman Kardon seem to think we all live and work in the Fortress of Solitude; or at least want our multimedia speakers to complement such a decor. From the jellyfish-like aesthetic of its first- and second-gen Soundsticks, now to the etched crystalline enclosures of the new GLA-55 (Glass, get it?!) multimedia speakers, HK has officially taken this unhealthy love affair with translucence to gaudy new heights.

In this case, the company insists it’s not all just needless design frippery. Aside from looking like they were fabricated by Jor-El himself, this 2.0 system is also hailed as the audiophile’s sonic savior — a pair of bulletproof* acrylic jewels sent to Earth to rescue our ears from the doldrums of the digital music era.

One thing’s for certain: These 2.5-pound crystals smack you over the head with sound, due in large part to room-shaking, 110-watt (55 per channel) digital amplification. Combine that power with a generous soundstage, and the GLA-55s do an admirable job of transforming our flaccid digital tracks into rich, nuanced music.

While HK ditched the standalone sub that accompanies its formidable Soundsticks (there’s still a dedicated output if you feel the need to connect the speakers to a standalone sub), dual 3-inch Atlas woofers still offer up plenty of tight, rump-shaking bass reproduction at least at low to moderate volumes (more on that in a sec). These speakers also unleash some glorious highs; compliments of the same dome tweeters found in the company’s high-end home theater systems.

Unfortunately, once we cranked up the volume, things started to go a bit sonically awry. The undulating bass on Aphex Twin’s Alberto Balsalm and Ladytron’s Black Cat proved too much for these limpid crystals, culminating in a pronounced buzz in the right speaker when the volume was pushed to high levels. Similarly, while HK maintains that using acrylic glass yields a stiff, resonance-free enclosure, we also found it robbed certain acoustic and orchestral tracks of their tonal warmth — at least when compared to our beloved M-Audio AV-40s.

Normally, issues like these wouldn’t be a cause for alarm. But when you’re commanding a full G-unit for a pair of desktop speakers, they better be damn near pitch perfect — especially when they’re this ugly. The fact of the matter is you can still buy a comparable desktop system for nearly a 10th of the price, or a very decent home theater in a box.

Alas, in the end, the GLA-55s don’t really live up to HK’s lofty audiophile-grade promises despite their overall solid performance. Yet if you have a serious crystal fetish (and lots of disposable income) these speakers will make both those things very clear — just not necessarily your music.

* Okay, not literally. But the speakers are made from the same material as bulletproof glass.

  • Input: 1/8-inch (3.5mm) mini stereo jack
  • Drivers: 1 x CMMD Lite, 1 x Atlas AL driver per satellite
  • Power: 56 watts per satellite
  • Frequency response: 35Hz-20kHz (-10dB)
  • Dimensions: 12 x 5 x 12-inches
  • Weight: 2.5 lb (per speaker)
  • Input Impedance: 5k ohms
  • Voltage input: 120V AC
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