The Harman GLA-55 high-end two-piece speaker system has been engineered to raise the bar and deliver the industry reference standard in computer audio. No desktop system before has merged art and science so beautifully and so functionally. Offering versatility in its function, the Harman Kardon GLA-55 system is a stylized multimedia focal point, boasting breathtaking beauty, functionality and impeccable sonic performance. Combining numerous proprietary technologies, the GLA-55 system delivers clear and accurate high-impact sound with a large soundstage. Arguably the best 2.0 speaker system ever engineered, it integrates beautifully with home and office decor, and is perfect for audio enthusiasts looking for an audiophile-quality sound experience.
I'm just going to get this out of the way now, since I'm guessing I'm not the first to say this and know I won't be the last--the Harman Kardon GLA-55 2.0 speakers look like they were hewn cold out of the side of Superman's Fortress of Solitude. With their sculpted, gemlike appearance, the GLA-55 ("glass", get it?) speakers are certainly conversation pieces, with their clear PMMA enclosures. But the key question to ask of course if you're going to pony up the $999 retail: how do they sound?
First let's talk about the tech inside of it. As though no one told the Harman Kardon engineers that they were working on computer speakers, the GLA-55s pack a lot of the same technology as Harman Kardon's high-end audiophile speakers. For example, the superior frequency range of the CMMD Lite tweeters gives the GLA-55s the clarity and versatility of a three-way speaker for the highs and mids, despite the two-way design.
The woofer is an Atlas AL, which claims to mimic the performance of an 18-inch woofer in a 3-inch package. I will say that while I disagree with that assessment--bass is clean but not booming--you're definitely not going to feel cheated out of low-end. The excursion on the aluminum woofers is among the highest I've seen anywhere; the GLA-55s don't have any grilles, so you can see immediately how the woofers move so much air under load you could probably dry a wet towel with them. Helping with the heavy lifting on the bass is a variable-width port design that eliminates whacking distortion, and an enclosure made of PMMA (an acrylic used to make bulletproof glass) which creates a super-stiff, resonance-free enclosure for the woofers. All of this is powered by 110-watt integrated amps, so you don't need to worry about your input--important when considering computers or laptops as potential sources.
Volume is controlled via plus and minus touch-sensitive metal buttons on the left speaker. The buttons are very responsive and you can even quickly mute sound by pressing both the plus and minus signs simultaneously.
For my listening test I used a regular Dell Latitude D630 laptop playing some of my own FLAC-encoded digital music through WinAmp 5 with a flat EQ and the stock sound card settings. I have to admit when I received these speakers that despite their pedigree I wasn't sure what to expect, whether or not these were simply status symbols or serious business. I'm happy to say that the GLA-55s performed not just admirably, but surprisingly well. The imaging was strong and rivaled floorstanding speakers at the same price point; not only was there clear localization between the guitar and snares in Alexi Murdoch's "All My Days", it seemed like there was no bad place to stand in the room. I could hear the soft clicks of the opening and closing of the pads of the clarinets in the opening bars of the National's "Geese of Beverly Road". The Fender Jazzmaster distortion of J. Mascis' "Out There" was a thick wall of sound you could almost recline on. The bass on OutKast's "Call of the Wild" didn't shake me out of the room, but it was crisp and punchy without any "whack" or distorted grumble.
Oh, and since they're computer speakers I suppose you could use them for games, too. For gaming I used my home gaming rig, an AMD 64X2 4800+ with a Radeon 3870 and just the stock AC97 integrated sound card. Most sound in games is digitally compressed and can therefore only be helped so much, but recent games that lean heavily on strong sound design such as EA's Dead Space sounded great even without an expensive sound card, thanks to the broad soundstage the GLA-55s can support. Because so much sound in games can be significantly compressed, however, you may notice yourself getting the most out of the GLA-55s by using your iTunes library moreso than your games directory.
Are these speakers worth a grand? Ultimately that's up to you to decide, but I will say that I have heard so-called audiophile speakers at this price point that didn't sound this good. Regardless of the price, the GLA-55s are strong performers with virtually no downsides, save bass that slightly weakens at full volume (but, to be fair, these are 3-inch woofers) and a cosmetic styling that's hardly conservative and therefore may not appeal to everyone.
Pros: Great imaging; responsive touch controls, extremely high woofer excursion for clean, punchy bass; performance equivalent to similarly-priced floorstanding three-way speakers in a two-way design that's one-fifth the size.
Cons: Styling borders on gaudy; bass thins out slightly at full volume.