For years the multi-room audio market was owned by Sonos. Amazon chipped away at that a bit by giving their Echo speakers multi-room functionality. Sonos responded by adding Alexa to their speakers. Well, things are changing, and Harman Kardon’s new Citation line of speakers is ready to give both a run for their money; the entry-level Citation ONE is superb.
At $199.95, the Citation ONE is the smallest and least expensive speaker in the new Citation line of smart speakers. (Other speakers in the line range in price up to a wallet-crushing $2499.95 for a pair of floor speakers.) I was, therefore, surprised to open the box and find the speaker is as large as it is.
Measuring a bit more than 7” high by 6” in diameter, it is larger than the Sonos ONE which is 6” high by 4 3/4”. It weighs in at a substantial 4.4 pounds. The comparison to the smallest Sonos speaker is no coincidence and, when looking at the two of them side by side, the similarities are striking. Both are unassuming cylinders. Both come in either black or white. Both have touch controls and holes for microphones on top. And both have no buttons or controls along the sides or bottom. Both are designed to fade into the background rather than call attention to themselves.
But while the Sonos ONE is made from an industrial black plastic with countless holes drilled through it to allow sound to fill your space, the Citation ONE is covered in a less-industrial, more architectural acoustic fabric. I like both, but I think the Citation ONE’s fabric cover lends itself to a more refined look and feel. Still, if your goal is to enjoy the music they create rather than to use the speakers as a key part of your home’s aesthetics, it doesn’t make a difference.
Before moving back to focus solely on the Citation ONE, it is worth looking a bit more into the similarities and differences between the two “ONE” speakers. The key difference is that, while the Sonos ONE is compatible with Amazon’s Alexa voice services, the Citation ONE is designed for use with Google’s voice control offerings. That means homes that are already filled with Alexa devices will likely opt for the Sonos offerings while homes that rely heavily on Google Home services will be drawn to the Citation speakers. Also, the Sonos ONE is also compatible with AirPlay 2. (That was a major reason I purchased one a few months ago.) The Citation ONE is not, although Harman Kardon promises there will be an update that adds AirPlay 2 compatibility sometime this year. I can’t wait since, when that happens, the speakers will be able to work together.
Turning specifically to the Citation ONE I am happy to report that this speaker is fantastic. Inside the box, you will find the Citation ONE smart speaker, a quick-start guide, a warranty sheet, a safety sheet, and a 1.8m power cable. No additional cables are included since the Citation ONE has no ports or other means to connect an audio source physically. Yes, this is a wireless-only speaker, and that’s okay with me!
As noted, the Citation ONE has a simple, unassuming design.
A small power indicator sits along the back just above the spot at the base where the power cable heads toward the wall.
The Harman Kardon name sits in a small plaque toward the bottom of the speaker when facing it from the front and that’s it by was of “design elements.” The entire speaker is covered with the aforementioned acoustic cloth. As the company notes:
PREMIUM INDUSTRIAL DESIGN: Citation ONE blends innovation in home audio entertainment with a sophisticated and beautiful design. The premium blended wool fabric, made by Kvadrat, is dirt repellent and flame retardant.
The top of the speaker has all the touch controls although “all the touch controls” is an overstatement since this speaker is designed to be controlled by voice. There are volume up and down “buttons,” a Bluetooth pairing button, a privacy button for turning off the microphone, and a button to activate the Google Assistant.
Also on top are two holes for the microphones. It is a simple layout but, as noted, this speaker is primarily controlled by voice.
Inside the speaker, there is a 20mm tweeter and an 89mm woofer for a total output of 40W RMS. In other words, this speaker gets loud! More importantly, it gets loud and sounds fantastic. The sound is full, the base thumps and the overall experience is exceptionally well-rounded. (And while I am trying to leave the comparison to the Sonos ONE to the earlier part of this review I can’t help but note that, as much as I love Sonos, this speaker if hands down the better sounding of the two!)
SOUND QUALITY WITH SOPHISTICATION: For over 65 years for Harman Kardon has been dedicated to delivering luxurious audio experiences that allow the listener to feel the music and immerse them in the moment. Citation is the ultimate expression and is the worlds first truly premium product of its kind
The Citation ONE is a truly wireless speaker and, as such, it offers some different ways to connect. First, it has Bluetooth 4.2, so you can stream audio from pretty much any mobile device on the market. And while Bluetooth isn’t known for its audio prowess, I’m listening to music streaming from my iPhone to the Citation ONE right now, and it sounds awesome.
The Citation ONE also has WiFi and is Google Assistant and Chromecast-enabled. Google Assistant integration is excellent. The speaker is responsive to the “Hey Google” command and reacts quickly to commands, requests and other instructions. This is important since I have encountered smart speakers that had enough of a lag between a command and the response that they were almost unusable.
The Google Assistant brings convenient voice control to your Citation ONE for hands-free help around the home. Get answers, play music, organize your day, control your smart home, enjoy your entertainment and more, just with your voice!
The Google Assistant integration is similar to any other Google Assistant-enabled speaker. After downloading the Google Home app and plugging in the speaker, you will be walked through the setup process. The first time I did this it took a while but, since I already have Google Home set up to work with Google Assistant-enabled speakers, the process took just a few minutes. (For a closer look at the setup process you can check out my review of the JBL LinkView.)
Since it doesn’t have a screen, Google Assistant on the Citation ONE won’t be as powerful as it is with the JBL LinkView, but it can still do a great deal. For example, when I asked the speaker, “Hey Google, what’s my calendar for tomorrow?” It read off all my appointments for the day. When I asked, “Hey Google, what’s the weather tomorrow?” It told me the current forecast. And when I asked, “Hey Google, define impeachment.” It read off the textbook definition of the word. That, however, just scratches the surface of what this speaker can do. And that’s the point; a smart speaker has capabilities far beyond what you might expect and, over time, they are becoming increasingly powerful.
Music lovers will love the room-filling sound and access to over 300 music services and high-definition streaming through Chromecast built-in.
Also, the Citation ONE has Chromecast built in. That means you can pull up music, a movie or a podcast and, so long as the app you are using on your phone or tablet is Chromecast-enabled, you can send the audio to the Citation ONE. That’s a nice feature and allows you to have access to pretty much all the music you can ever dream of hearing.
MUSIC EVERYWHERE: The Citation ONE delivers multi-room capability by adding additional Citation speakers to create the ultimate whole house audio experience. You can play the same music or different music in different rooms and control it from a tablet or smartphone.
Finally, there is the real kicker that puts the Harman Kardon Citation series of speakers on a direct competitive footing with Sonos’ offerings. Like Sonos, the Citation line is designed for multi-room, whole house audio. Unlike Sonos however, the Citation doesn’t rely on its own app but, instead, uses the Google Home app. To create a multi-room system you simply create a group of speakers within the Google Home app. It is that simple and, from there, you are good to go. With multi-room audio you can play the same music everywhere or, if you prefer, have different music playing in different spaces. That’s great if you are having a party and the kids are in a different space than the adults!
Also, you can purchase two Citation ONE speakers and create a stereo pair. That too is controlled through the Google Home app.
In all, Harman Kardon was right to describe the new Citation ONE this way,
Beautiful Sound That Speaks To You: The Harman Kardon Citation ONE is a next generation smart speaker with rich sound and an all-in-one compact design. Easy to use, Citation ONE blends innovation in home audio with attention to detail in design, allowing for sophisticated looks and surprising sound in a compact design.
I like this speaker. Sadly, by opting for Google Voice Assistant over Alexa, it falls short in one significant area for my purposes. I am, after all, pretty deep into Amazon’s ecosystem. There is, however, good news. There is good news-ish… First, because the speaker has Bluetooth, even without Google Voice Assistant, it is a great speaker for anyone. Second, HK promises that AirPlay 2 will be coming soon as part of an automatic, over-the-air update. When that happens, I’ll be able to use this speaker as part of the audio system throughout my house. So while Google Assistant is nice, it is by far not the only reason to purchase this speaker.
The Citation ONE is small, relatively affordable, sounds amazing and is under $200. It sounds good enough that, were this “just” a Bluetooth speaker, it would be worth the price of admission. But it isn’t “just” a Bluetooth speaker. The addition of Google Voice /Assistant, Google Chromecast and multi-room audio capabilities make this a bargain. And while you can spend quite a bit on Citation speakers if you want to fill every corner of your home with sound, just a Citation ONE or perhaps two of them will be an impressive start toward bringing smart, excellent audio to your home.
Check it, and the entire Citation lineup out here.
Source: Manufacturer supplied review sample
What I Like: Great sound; Classy, understated design; Responsive voice control; Bluetooth; Can become stereo pair; Multi-room audio; Available in a range of sizes and prices; Price matches equivalent Sonos speaker
What Needs Improvement: AirPlay 2 currently MIA; Great if you are using Google Voice Services but not if you use Amazon Alexa