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Harman/Kardon BDS800 review

The upmarket BDS800 is a well-turned out, all-in-one home cinema system, but is it more style icon than trendsetter?

Our Verdict

For

  • Design and cosmetic finish
  • Good audio and video support from USB
  • Extremely easy to use

Against

  • No network functions beyond BD Live
  • No 1080p24 support
  • No 3D support

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):

Idle: 26W

Drops to 1W when left in standby mode

Playing: 50W

This averaged figure shows how much juice the HK will draw when watching a movie

Loading (Boot/Java):

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.

Harmon kardon bds800

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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Tech Specs

Product TypeHome Theater System
Player/Recorder TypeBlu-ray Disc Player
Speaker Configuration5.1
Green Compliance Certificate/AuthorityWEEE
EthernetYes
HDMIYes
RMS Output Power65 W
HDMI Version1.3a
iPod SupportedYes
Number of Digital Optical Inputs2
Sound SystemDolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD, DTS, DTS HD
Brand NameHarman Kardon
FeaturesRDS/EON
ManufacturerHarman International Industries, Inc
Video FormatsBD Video, DVD Video, AVCHD
Frequency BandFM
Green CompliantYes
Dual-Layer Media SupportedYes
Ethernet TechnologyEthernet
USBYes
Operating Power Consumption110 W
Media FormatsDVD-RW, DVD+RW, CD-RW, BD-R
Number of Analog Audio Inputs2
Number of Digital Coaxial Inputs1
Front Speaker Height299 mm
Front Speaker Width110 mm
Front Speaker Depth88 mm
Rear Speaker Height299 mm
Rear Speaker Depth88 mm
Rear Speaker Width110 mm
Center Speaker Height110 mm
Center Speaker Width272 mm
Center Speaker Depth88 mm
Number of HDMI Outputs1
Total Harmonic Distortion (THD)0.1%
Antenna InputYes
Total System Weight (Approximate)19.90 kg
Wireless Speaker(s)Yes
Country of OriginChina
Height100 mm
Width400 mm
Depth280 mm
Video SystemPAL
Number of Discs1
Image FormatsJPEG
Audio FormatsCD-DA, WMA, WMA9, MP3
Product ModelBDS 800
Product NameBDS 800 Home Theater System
Manufacturer Part NumberBDS800/230
Manufacturer Website Addresshttp://www.harman.com
Marketing Information

Stylish, versatile and supremely easy to use, the compact Harman Kardon BDS 800 is the only entertainment system most homes will ever need. The powerful BDS receiver is integrated with a versatile Blu-ray Disc /DVD/CD player and FM tuner (with RDS) to reproduce movies and music from virtually any source with all the clarity and fidelity of the original material. It even plays iPod or iPhone files via a Harman Kardon The Bridge IIIP dock (not included). Voice-matched satellite and centre-channel speakers with dual flat-panel midrange drivers deliver rich, realistic audio that envelops you in an uncanny 360-degree soundscape, while a 200-watt powered subwoofer adds deep, satisfying bass that comes at you from every direction.

Package Contents
  • BDS 800 Home Theater System
  • Remote Control
  • HDMI Cable
  • 4 x Wall-Mount Brackets
  • FM Wire Antenna
  • 2 x Speaker Cables (16.4-Foot)
  • Center Speaker Wall-Mount Bracket
  • 1 x Speaker Cable for Center Speaker (13.1-Foot)
  • Metal Stop Plates
  • 4 x Screws
Remote ControlYes
Limited Warranty1 Year
Weight (Approximate)1.50 kg - Front Speaker, 1.50 kg - Centre Speaker, 1.50 kg - Rear Speaker, 9 kg - Subwoofer, 6.40 kg - Main Unit