Harman Kardon Nova - Clear globes of aural delight or form over function?
These speakers are not designed for our desks. The gorgeously globular Novas aren't meant to reside in a mess of bills, geeky toys and discarded (but still hoarded) hardware. Harman Kardon's Novas are aching for a minimalist glass desktop with just a faux-industrial anglepoise lamp and a MacBook for company, all sat in the middle of a white room with wooden flooring and a single bookcase nonchalantly leaning up against one wall. But dammit if they don't still look rather sexeh sat either side of our big screen monitors amidst our clutter.
The clear, spherical casing surrounding the ridged black sound trumpets inside is accented by the bass-rumbling rear membrane and an expanse of material covering the speaker on the front. There are no dials or buttons to spoil the clean lines of the Nova speakers, just sleek touch-sensitive lights that serve as controls. To alter the volume, you simply slide your finger across the gradually dimming or intensifying points of light on the top curve of the right-hand speaker. To select your input, only a feather touch is required on the relevant control LED to the side. In fact, you don't even have to do that if you're going down the NFC Bluetooth route with a compatible phone - tap your device against the side to pair it and away you go.
But we're looking at the Nova set as a 2.0 stereo kit for PCs, and the vast majority of us are still rocking the 3.5mm analogue connection. That's something that doesn't seem to sit well with these little Harman Kardon noise-makers - the electrical interference from unshielded motherboard audio utterly destroys any enjoyment you might have of the Novas' aural quality. And that's the sort of audio most of us have.
With a Bluetooth PC connection though the sound is pretty darned good. There is no discernible hissing and the clarity is genuinely impressive. The low-end may not have the really punchy bass that some gamers desire, but the crystal high-end is exactly what we're after. The Novas' proprietary DSP seems to emphasise the mid-range. That's great for movies or game dialogue, but in musical terms it can make some of your favourite tunes strangely unbalanced. They're not the loudest speakers, but they manage to retain impressive aural clarity right through the volume range; you'll still pick out individual sounds even with the volume pushed way down - that's a very desirable trait from a speaker set. The Novas retain a pleasingly precise spatial sound too, despite the shortish connection between the left and right speakers - you can't put much distance between them. We're impressed with the audio of the Nova speakers, but not ?250-impressed. The slight lack of punch at the low-end is to be expected without a separate sub. But with the failing of the analogue connection it is somewhat difficult to really recommend them if you don't have a dedicated soundcard or a modern motherboard complete with electrical shielding.