In the early 1950s, Sidney Harman was the general manager of the David Bogen Company, a leading manufacturer of public address systems at the time, while Bernard Kardon was the chief engineer for the same company. Due to management changes at Bogen in the early 1950s, both men resigned, and with $5,000 investment from each, formed the Harman Kardon Company in 1953.
In the 1950s Harman Kardon designed some of the first high fidelity audio products that helped fuel the Hi Fi business (see section, "Receiver milestones"). Integrated receivers (combining the tuner, preamplifier and power amplifier) was an idea to introduce and provide high fidelity performance in a single unit. At the time, integrated high fidelity receivers were not new. For example, Scott Radio Laboratories manufactured such items in the late 1930s. In 1954, the Festival D1000 would be the world's first AM/FM Compact (a forerunner of today's integrated receiver) Hi-Fi Receiver. By 1956 Bernard Kardon decided to retire and sold his interest to Sidney Harman. As the sole head of HK, he continued to keep HK as a technical leader in Hi Fi products. Sidney Harman would change the name to Harman International, but the receivers, tuners and amplifiers were still branded Harman Kardon. The name continues presently. In 1969 Harman bought the major speaker manufacturer JBL.
Harman was a supporter in Jimmy Carter's bid to become President of the United States. When Carter became President, he appointed Harman to be the Undersecretary of Commerce in 1976. US law required appointees to have no direct business interests in day-to-day activities, so Harman sold Harman International to Beatrice Foods, a large conglomerate for $100 million. Under Beatrice Foods, Harman International turned away from the company's earlier policy of advancing Hi Fi design and marketing that appealed to audiophiles. Under the new style of management by 1980 Harman International sales had dropped 40%.
After the Carter presidency, Harman wanted to regain ownership of Harman International. In 1980 he purchased Harman International from Beatrice Foods for $55 million. However, the receiver group was not included in the purchase because Beatrice Foods previously sold the group to the Japanese company Shin Shirasuna. The Harman Kardon receiver group was the heart of Harman International, and in 1985 he was able to purchase the receiver group and return Harman International to its pre-1976 form.
Harman retired from Harman International in 2007 at the age of 88. At that time he hired technology executive Dinesh Paliwal to succeed him as CEO. Sidney Harman died in 2011.
Hi Fi milestones
The company's first product was an FM tuner. One year after its founding, Harman Kardon introduced the world's first compact size high fidelity receiver, the Festival D1000. This monaural unit was aimed to introduce non-technical consumers to high fidelity and combined many now-familiar features such as a tuner, component control unit and amplifier in a single chassis. The shape, formfunction and size of the D1000 was a forerunner of the modern integrated receiver. Early Harman Kardon or HK Hi Fi equipment can be identified by their distinctive design: a copper plated chassis with a copper and black color scheme for panels and enclosures.
In 1958, Harman Kardon introduced the first stereo receiver, the Festival TA230, once again aimed at non-technical users to make high-fidelity stereo widely available. Stereo sound was achieved by using one channel from the AM band, and one channel from the FM band. This early form of stereophonic reception was called simulcast stereo. Early FM broadcast signals did not have the stereo carrier (pilot) signal that carried the stereo left and right channels. After the stereo signal standard was established, a stereo Multiplex circuit connected to or built into the receiver was used to decode the stereo signal. The first true FM Multiplex Stereo Receiver was sold by HH Scott in 1961 with introduction of the Model 350 tuner.
In 1959, HK marketed the Citation II, the first ultra wideband stereophonic tube amplifier priced at $229.95 in 1959 dollars ($1,867.20 in 2014 dollars). Designed by Stewart Hedgeman, it featured 60 watts/channel output with a frequency response of 18-60,000 Hertz (Hz) at 20 watt output. The company promoted their philosophy of designing high fidelity sound using amplifiers that provided widest possible audio bandwidth. Although the human ear highest audible range is around 20,000 Hz, the full body of sound goes beyond that with harmonics (overtones) that may be beyond the hearing range of the human ear. These harmonics interact with other frequencies to produce audible secondary sounds or interference. This design concept was advertised by HK in audio magazines and product brochures. The Citation II remains popular even today among vacuum tube Hi Fi enthusiasts.
In 1970 HK marketed the first stereophonic cassette recording deck with Dolby B noise reduction, the model CAD5. The Dolby noise reduction system significantly reduced noise originating in the recording circuitry, motors and other sources, allowing the cassette deck to become a high fidelity product.
1980 brought the introduction of the Citation XX high current amplifier, which provided quicker response to large signal transitions from the power amplifier to speakers (reproducers). This improved the accuracy sound reproduction. The Harman Kardon Citation XX power amplifier was called "the world's best-sounding power amplifier" by the editors of The Audio Criticmagazine. The amplifier was designed by Finnish engineer Dr. Matti Otala (born December 26, 1939) who discovered transient intermodulation distortion (TIM) in 1970 and worked to mitigate its effects in the following years. The Citation XX was an at-any-cost project with the single goal of the best possible measurements of output signal, and the best perceived sound.
From 1999 to 2007 HK worked to develop digital processing for audio products. In 1999 the company introduced the model CDR-2 compact disc recorder, the first with 4X high speed dubbing. In 2000, HK brought out the AVR-7000 audio video receiver, able to decode and process HDCD.
Product goal of Harman Kardon
The stated product goal of Harman Kardon is the highest possible design quality for the price, rather than unnecessary features. The HK model 330 series (330,330A,B and C) from 1968-1979 is an example of HK design philosophy, a basic no frills stereo transistor receiver but with excellent performance in its class. It is still regarded as a quality basic Hi Fi receiver today and sought by audio collectors. In 2004 HK marketed the AVR330 audio video receiver that is based on the same design philosophy as the HK 330 series, a basic no frills AV receiver with quality electronic performance.
Other major products from Harman
The Harman Kardon iSub 2000 Subwoofer and SoundSticks were originally introduced at the July 2000 Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC). Harman Kardon partnered with Apple to design and manufacture these products.
Apple did the industrial design and mechanical engineering to have the product fit into the Apple product family. This product won an Industrial Design Excellence Awards gold award and was featured on the cover of I.D. magazine. The SoundSticks II were a minor upgrade, with the addition of capacitive volume control buttons and a 3.5mm mini-jack input replacing the previous USB input. The SoundSticks III were a further update changing the styling slightly using black highlights and white lighting to match the new iMacs, instead of green and blue of previous models (original SoundSticks and SoundSticks II respectively). A new version Soundsticks 3 wireless has been introduced giving the capability to accept bluetooth inputs. It retains the wires between speakers.
Harman Kardon is a supplier of audio equipment to a variety of vehicle manufacturers including Audi, BMW, Land Rover, Mercedes-Benz, MG Rover, Volvo, Buick, Kia,Ssangyong, MINI, Saab, Harley-Davidson, Jeep, Chrysler, Dodge, Subaru and Tata Motors.
Laptop computer speakers
Equipment photo gallery
Harman Kardon Car Audio Speaker in a BMW
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- Auto Express September 2006
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- Harman Kardon, Subaru.com