The Harman group cuts quite a dash. With such brands as Infinity, JBL, Lexicon and Mark Levinson on the books, it knows its way around the higher end of the home entertainment market. But equally, it's not a brand that's synonymous with innovation.
Solid, well-engineered products are the name of its game. In fact, if Harman/Kardon was a meal, it would be a plump Porterhouse steak, to which peppercorn sauce would be added as an optional extra.
Appropriate then that the BDS800 all-in-one system is nothing if not tasty looking, and comprises a combi Blu-ray player/receiver (the BDS550) coupled with a stylish sub/ sat 5.1 speaker system.
The package sits atop a range of new BDS all-in-one HTIBs sold by the brand. H/K rates the BDS5's digital amp at 65W per channel with all channels driven into 6Ω, which matches the stereo measurement recorded by our Tech Labs.
The player/receiver is a sizable, weighty beast. With a metal top plate and rounded corners it's clearly a statement product. Instead of a tray, there's a slot-loading Blu-ray drive, while on the lower lip of the fascia is a USB input. The volume knob increments in satisfying clicks and is framed by a circular backlight. This becomes a little intrusive when watching a movie, but can be switched off in the menu settings if you opt to turn down the brightness of the display.
Similarly, the bundled HKTS 60 speaker package doesn't skimp on cosmetics. The satellite speakers are reassuringly heavy at 1.5kg, with a piano-black finish and glinting branding. The grilles are not user removable, but you can clearly see the dual 75mm flat-panel drivers and 19mm tweeter beneath.
Providing mid-bass is a sealed enclosure subwoofer with 200W power plant. This neat, nicely finished sub stands tall on blunted feet and has a downward firing 8-inch driver. On its rear are the usual controls, including volume, phase and bass-boost.
For all its contemporary élan, the BDS800's feature specification is a tad conventional. Ethernet is provided purely to support BD Live functions (aka that Blu-ray disc feature that no-one uses). It does not enable the unit to go online for firmware updates, stream media files across a network or provide a gateway to internet radio services.
There's no DAB – instead we get FM radio – and 3D is not supported. Now if you were buying a Blu-ray system today, wouldn't you want 3D? Harman Kardon seems to think not.
While there are no networking functions, the unit's local file support is good. The front-mounted USB reader supports a wide range of video and audio files. My test suite of MP3, AAC, WMA and WAV samples all played fine, although FLAC and OGG were passed over.
Video support covers AVI, MOV and MKV (although I had only a partial success rate with Matroska, depending what was within the wrapper). SRT subtitles are also supported.
A refined performance
Blu-ray disc loading speeds are good, but not brilliant. Lou Reed's Berlin (Artificial Eye) went from disc loading to menu screen in 31 seconds; the remastered Goldfinger (Fox Home Entertainment) served up the 007 logo in 56 seconds. This compares to 30 and 46 seconds respectively on the sprightly Sony BDP-S570.
Harman Kardon BDS800 test dataPower consumption (Watts):
Drops to 1W when left in standby mode
This averaged figure shows how much juice the HK will draw when watching a movie
Boot speed and disc eject: 12 seconds
Disc in to main BD menu: 70 seconds
Not the quickest with our test Blu-ray
High definition image quality is perfectly acceptable, although the lack of a 1080p24 video option will, no doubt, rule the machine out of the running for serious AV enthusiasts.
As a hi-fi proposition (CD only, Super Audio CDs are not recognised) it has both strengths and weaknesses. The BDS550 is tuned for mid-range/vocal clarity. So while the pop punk of (early) My Chemical Romance sounds like a riot in a biscuit tin factory, the lilting MOR of Emi Fujita is more engaging and her breathy, closely mic'd vocals sound deliciously intimate.
Two-channel imaging is wide, suiting rounded, resonant piano and slow jazz beats. The sub is quite potent despite its size. For best results make sure that the Bass Boost is turned off. As the crossover between it and the satellites is set quite high, the Boost makes it far too easy to localise. A subwoofer should extend the reach of the satellite speakers without drawing undue attention to itself.
The CEN TS60 centre speaker carries dialogue with clarity and conviction, and is well-matched to the satellites. During multichannel playback, steered effects move around the soundstage with ease, thanks to voice-matched drivers.
Despite the heavyweight build quality of the player/receiver, I found the machine to be rather noisy during operation, even when it was not spinning a disc.
Overall, the BDS800 can be regarded as a stylish home entertainment all-rounder. Blu-ray performance is good, with effective surround sound. The SAT TS60 speakers have a sweet and articulate mid-range making them an ideal fit for vocal/MOR recordings.
If design and upmarket simplicity are important aspects of your purchasing decision, its high-end design and finish lift Harman Kardon's BDS800 system above its mainstream competition, and performance is relatively refined for this category of kit.
That said, I can't help but feel that the unadventurous feature specification, and particularly the lack of 3D support, makes it look like relatively poor value for money. But that probably won't put off the sort of customer who might otherwise plump for a comparable system from Bose, or even B&O.
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