Harman Kardon Go + Play II
Sleek lines, super sound
Ralph Graves is one of Crutchfield's blog editors, and part of the company's social media team. He writes about home audio/video gear, specializing in Apple-related and wireless technologies. Ralph holds a master's degree in music composition, and his works have been released on various labels. He's served as product manager for an independent classical and world music label, produced several recordings, and worked extensively in public broadcasting. Since 1984 he's hosted a weekly classical music program on WTJU, and is also active as a blogger and podcaster.
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Looks aren’t everything, but…
When I brought the Harman Kardon Go + Play™ II home to audition, one thing struck me right away. This was a very sophisticated-looking system.
The case is a study in curves — with the exception for the dock area, there are almost no straight lines on the piece at all. The stainless steel handle frames the system, and there are two small feet underneath to provide stability.
The system weighs almost nine pounds, so it's pretty hefty, but that's OK. I didn't have to worry about it falling over or getting knocked over as I do with featherweight systems. When I put it down, there it stayed. Period.
The provided remote control has an interesting aspect that I was sure I would have trouble with. It only has six buttons to perform all the different functions. When the remote is in Music mode, for example, the buttons let me play, pause, skip and fast forward/reverse through tracks. In Navagation mode, I used those same buttons to search through my player's library to select a song, artist, album or a playlist.
"So," I thought, "how am I supposed to remember which mode I left the remote control in?" Well, as it turned out when it was in Music mode, a blue light shone on the remote. In Navigation mode, an orange light.
The Go + Play II put out a nice wide soundfield, making it ideal for outdoor use. I didn't have to sit right on top of it to get good sound. And it had more than enough power for my needs. I cranked it to the max and was more worried about my hearing than I was about the system. There was almost no distortion at maximum volume.
When I turned the system all the way down, the sound quality was still there. The highs were still clean and the low end distinct.
Overall, the system has a very clear sound. Inside the Go + Play II are two woofers and two tweeters, each with their own amplifier. The woofers had to handle both the mids and the lows, which they did very well. Because the tweeters were powered independently, I think, they articulated the high end with clarity. At the same time, though, I thought they also gave the music a little bit of an edge. Now depending on the genre, that can either be a plus or a minus.
Rock and soul
That slight edge was a plus for rock and roll. I played a wide variety of tracks, ranging from vintage Rolling Stones through Metallica and on into the Hives. I also played tunes by Devo, Pink Floyd, the Who and Morphine. The guitars screamed appropriately, and the drums and bass thumped away just as they should. And of course, the higher I turned the volume, the better it sounded.
The same was true with electronica artists such as the Chemical Brothers and Microsillon, as well as rap acts like the Beastie Boys, Kanye West, and Jay-Z. These genres tend to mix their music to be crunchy, and crunchy it was through the Go + Play II.
The softer sound of acoustic music
The slight edge of the highs was present in the acoustic music I played, but at no time did I feel the sound was unnatural or harsh. Bluegrass artists like Ricky Skaggs and Ralph Stanley shone through the Go + Play II, although their standup basses had a little more presence than probably would live.
Folk groups and singer/songwriters like Pentangle, Vashti Bunyon, and Marc Carraway had a clean sound through the system. The clarity of the highs actually helped the vocals in many cases (key in a genre where the lyrics can be the most important element).
And lastly, classical
Classical music was something of a mixed bag on the Go + Play II. Granted, for most people that won't matter at all, but for me, it was important. Orchestral tracks sounded very full. The highs were present, which gave the ensembles a bright sound. The mids and lows were fine.
Orchestral tracks had a homogeneous blend — great for some compositions like Richard Strauss' tone poems, but not so good for works that rely on complex counterpoint and an interplay between parts of the ensembles, such as Brahms' symphonies. The same was true of choral recordings as well. So John Rutter's anthems sounded great, while John Tavener's a little diffuse.
Chamber music and solo instruments were a different story. The instruments sounded full, with plenty of natural reverberation. It was easier to pick out lines in a string quartet than it had been with an orchestra. And although the instruments seemed bright, the sound was still well-balanced overall.
The bottom line
The Go + Play II may not be my first choice for classical, but classic rock is a different story — and rightly so. The bigger and bolder your music, the better it will sound on the Go + Play II. Which only makes sense — after all, the Go + Play II has a big, bold design. While it sounded great in our family room, this is the type of system I'd like to take along for get-togethers on the deck, or a tailgate party. If you're still getting by with an old boombox held together by duct tape, you should really upgrade to a Go + Play II. Your friends will thank you.