Combining power, elegance and musicality, the Harman Kardon Citation Multibeam 1100 is an excellent standalone soundbar
- Attractive and compact design
- Excellent all-round sound quality
- Beautiful and detailed LED display
- No DTS:X support
- LED display isn't helpfully positioned
- No real rear channel effect
While Harman Kardon hasn’t exactly been prolific with its own-brand soundbars to date, it’s got plenty of soundbar history thanks to its role in helping Samsung develop multiple outstanding models over the past few years.
This experience is clearly in play with the Harman Kardon Citation Multibeam 1100’s ability to deliver film soundtracks with more power, detail and dynamic range than you’d think possible from such a refined-looking and compact single soundbar solution.
Crucially, the Multibeam 1100’s Harman Kardon branding seems to have given it more freedom to explore its musical side. This capability makes it a worthy rival to the numerous other soundbars in its price bracket, including the legendary Sonos Arc.
Harman Kardon Citation Multibeam 1100 review: What you need to know
For the sake of brevity, I’ll be referring to the Harman Kardon Citation Multibeam 1100 as the Multibeam 1100 from here on in.
The Multibeam 1100 is, on the outside at least, a ‘classic’ soundbar in that it ships as a standalone unit, with no supporting exterior rear or subwoofer speakers. While this limits one or two aspects of its audio presentation, many consumers will be perfectly willing to accept those limits in return for something that integrates as tidily into their living room decor as the Multibeam 1100.
Despite its subtle but engaging presence, the compact design houses a total of 11 drivers, comprising six racetrack drivers (with elongated shapes to enhance their output without causing distortion), three 1in tweeters, and two 2.75in up-firing drivers.
These latter upfirers alert us to the Multibeam 1100’s built-in support for the ultra-immersive Dolby Atmos sound format that now accompanies many films and TV shows, while total power output is rated at a very healthy 630W. You can also add optional wireless subwoofer and rear speakers if you want to ramp up the scale of the Multibeam 1100’s sound.
Audio support includes Chromecast built-in, Apple AirPlay 2 and Alexa Multi-Room Music, and while Harman Kardon disappointingly doesn’t provide its own control app for the Multibeam 1100, it does carry a remarkably high-quality LCD Touch display and can be set up for Wi-Fi music via the Google Home or Alexa apps.
Movie fans should note, though, that the Multibeam 1100 doesn’t support the premium DTS:X multi-channel format used by many films – such as all the Jurassic Parks – as an alternative to Dolby Atmos.
Harman Kardon Citation Multibeam 1100 review: Price and competition
The Multibeam 1100’s £800 price puts it slap bang in the middle of the most competitive part of the soundbar market. Its best-known rival is the Sonos Arc, which is available for very similar money. This legendary soundbar excels with its multi-room capabilities and backs those up with a powerful, cinematic sound that can also turn its hand nicely, as you would expect, to music. It falls short of the Multibeam 1100 when it comes to HDMI connections, though, and its music playback is less bold.
One other option in the same price bracket is the Samsung HW-S800B. This delivers a surprisingly big sound from one of the slimmest, most unobtrusive soundbar designs on the market but its connectivity is severely limited.
Harman Kardon Citation Multibeam 1100 review: Design and features
The Multibeam 1100 is one of the best-looking soundbars around. For starters, at 1,150 x 130 x 65mm (WDH) it’s more compact than you would expect for a soundbar packing 11 premium drivers and 630W of power. Even better, though, is the lovely real-wool Kvadrat material that runs over the entirety of its front and top edges.
Its edges and corners are all elegantly rounded off, too, creating a soft, calming presence in your room that’s a million miles from the harsh lines of your average soundbar. Add to all this the fact that unless you cough up for optional extra speakers the Multibeam 1100 is a single-box solution, and you’ll struggle to find any rival soundbar that can deliver so much audio welly while having such a delicate impact on room aesthetics. Especially if you opt for Harman Kardon’s relatively gentle grey finish option over the black alternative.
The whole bodywork feels beautifully and painstakingly crafted, and the premium finish even extends to an LED display on its top edge that features the clearest, high-resolution information I’ve ever seen on a soundbar readout. As well as looking great, this display also turns out to offer touch controls, relieving the rest of the soundbar of the need to accommodate more traditional buttons. Putting the LED display on the top edge does mean that you can’t actually read what it says when you’re sat down watching a film, however.
The Multibeam 1100 ships with a remote control that’s almost as chicly designed as the soundbar – though the styling does come at the price of a little functionality. The minute size of the text used to label some of the buttons as well as the tiny size of some of the buttons themselves makes the handset tricky to use in a dark room.
The two up-firing drivers on the Multibeam 1100’s top edge join angled forward drivers recessed into and beamed through deep acoustic ports on each of the soundbar’s ends and powerful front-firing speakers to create the sort of three-dimensional sound space that Dolby Atmos demands. That said, if you want that Atmos ‘space’ to extend around you rather than just materialising in front of you, you’ll need to add Harman Kardon’s optional Citation Surround rear speakers.
Harman Kardon has equipped the Multibeam 1100 with an auto-calibration feature that balances the audio tuning and 3D sound effects to deliver the best results possible for your room’s sonic sweet spot.
Given how hard the Multibeam 1100 works to do justice to Dolby Atmos soundtracks, it’s a pity that there’s no support for DTS:X. This Atmos-rivalling format is, after all, common on Blu-ray and 4K Blu-ray discs. You can at least enjoy some sort of surround experience with DTS:X sources, though, if your source can convert such soundtracks to a PCM stereo signal that the Multibeam 1100 can then remix into a surround track via its Smart Sound feature. But the results of this aren’t a match for native DTS:X. The Smart Sound option is also available for anyone who wants to try converting music to more than just its native two channels.
Harman Kardon Citation Multibeam 1100 review: Connections and control
The Multibeam 1100 scores a big advantage over many of its mid-price rivals by sporting an HDMI passthrough. This means that the soundbar can strip sound out of an AV feed before passing the video part through to your display.
As well as being welcome by its mere existence, the Multibeam 1100’s HDMI passthrough goes further than most by being able to pass the premium Dolby Vision and HDR10+ high dynamic range formats onto compatible displays.
In fact, unexpectedly (Harman Kardon seemed as surprised as I was when I reported it to them, as it doesn’t fit with the official claimed specifications) I managed to get a 4K/120Hz game feed from an Xbox Series X through the Multibeam 1100’s HDMI passthrough. This did lead to the HDR part of the signal getting lost in transit, though, and I couldn’t replicate the same result with a PS5.
Other connectivity includes support for both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth music streaming, a service-use USB port, and an optical digital audio input for non-Dolby Atmos sources.
Three modes of control are provided for the Multibeam 1100. The one likely to get the most use is the remote control handset – despite the usability issues mentioned earlier. The touch display on the top edge is impressively sensitive and its navigation paths are also reasonably straightforward, though, and if you’ve got an external Alexa, Siri, or Google Assistant-enabled speaker you can also control it to a limited extent via voice instructions.
The only pity is that Harman Kardon doesn’t yet provide a control app for your phone.
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Harman Kardon Citation Multibeam 1100 review: Sound Quality
Often soundbars that excel with film soundtracks are a bit brash or brutish with music, or soundbars that excel with music sound too polite with movies. The big attraction of the Multibeam 1100 is its ability to sound equally great with both audio disciplines.
I started out by feeding it two of the toughest soundtracks around: the Dolby Atmos mix of Blade Runner 2049, with its monumental dynamic range, and the exhaustingly detailed and bombastic Dolby Atmos mix of Roland Emmerich’s otherwise terrible Moonfall. Far from collapsing in a heap of distortion, dropouts, crackles, and bass-lite harshness, the Multibeam 1100 actually rose to both soundtrack challenges exceptionally well.
Its detailing, for starters, is phenomenal. Its drivers are sensitive enough to deliver even the subtlest of sound effects with perfect weight and well designed enough to ensure that not even the highest trebles or most abrupt pops and crackles sound harsh or peaky.
The soundbar is powerful enough, too, to project its impeccable detailing far away from its bodywork, so that it creates an appropriately large and three-dimensional Dolby Atmos sound space – complete with convincing height as well as width and depth – between you and your screen.
The soundstage never loses cohesion despite how unexpectedly big it gets with films, and the mid-range is open and dynamic enough to comfortably and convincingly handle both gradual or sudden soundtrack escalations, however extreme. The drivers are responsive enough, too, to hit you with plenty of well-timed impact for sudden hard sounds such as punches, gunfire or explosions.
Dialogue is usually clear without sounding artificial or decontextualised, and despite the Multibeam 1100’s compact size, it manages to elevate dialogue vertically enough to ensure that voices nearly always sound like they’re coming from the onscreen action rather than from the soundbar sitting beneath the screen.
The single most surprising movie strength of this unassuming-looking one-piece soundbar, though, is its bass output. An array of large ports along its back edge enable it to move much more air when needed than you’d normally get with a soundbar as compact as this, resulting in bass depths and dynamism that are hard to reconcile with the fact that the Multibeam 1100 doesn’t ship with an external subwoofer.
This bass never sounds baggy or detached from the bottom of the soundbar’s expansive mid-range, never overwhelms other aspects of the soundstage, and only suffers with mild rattling during the most extreme sustained bass rumbles. Bass would likely be better still were you to add Harman Kardon’s optional Citation subwoofer, but I’m confident most people won’t feel any need to rush into such an upgrade.
Much more worth thinking about is adding the Citation Surround speakers, as the Multibeam 1100’s main limitation with film soundtracks is the lack of any real sense of sound coming from behind you. The 3D Dolby Atmos space only really exists in front of you, rather than it making you feel as if you’re sat in the heart of the action. To be fair, this is true of pretty much any single-bar solution, though – it’s the price you pay for wanting such a convenient and tidy sound solution. But it’s an issue that enables the best (but much more expensive) soundbars that ship with external rear speakers, such as the Samsung HW-Q990B and LG S95QR, to claim an advantage.
If you want to add a pair of Citation Surrounds to the Multibeam 1100, you’ll need to add £400 to your costs – and you should bear in mind that these speakers only feature single drive units; you don’t get the up-firing and side-firing drivers carried in the rear speakers of the Samsung Q990B or LG S95QR systems.
If I was being picky I’d add to the lack of rear soundstage action a mild tendency for deep male voices in film soundtracks to sound a little less well dispersed than other types of dialogue and a tendency for sudden spurts of extreme bass to sound momentarily boxed in. Neither of these niggles are major or common enough to stop the Multibeam 1100 from being an incredibly satisfying movie machine, though.
All of which makes its ability to also handle music brilliantly even more impressive. The way it’s able to rein in the excesses of its bass drivers and modify the scale and even the tone of its sound for music is genuinely remarkable, in fact. Running in stereo mode its vocal staging is impeccable, sounding clean but still warm, and sitting perfectly between and slightly above the rest of the soundstage.
The rest of a stereo mix is delivered with confidence, authority, impeccable detailing, great timing, and perhaps best of all, the sort of feel for balance between a song’s many elements that you usually only get with seriously superior hi-fi kit, and certainly rarely find in the soundbar world. Especially where a soundbar is as capable with films as the Multibeam 1100.
The Multibeam 1100 sustains its gorgeous musicality at seriously room-filling volume levels too, and as a final example of just how well Harman Kardon understands the different disciplines of movies and music, the soundbar manages to sound as credible with hard rock and bass-heavy dance tracks as it does with pop and classical tracks.
Even the Smart Sound option that remixes stereo music to take advantage of all the Multibeam 1100’s available channels remains more engaging and musical than most similar upmix systems, with a touch of harshness with shrill notes and vocals being the only price to pay for Smart Sound’s much larger staging.
Harman Kardon Citation Multibeam 1100 review: Verdict
The Multibeam 1100 somehow manages to combine both the experience Harman Kardon has gained creating home cinema soundbars with Samsung and its long-running hi-fi experience to deliver one of, if not the most flexible mid-price single-unit soundbar I’ve heard to date.
With film soundtracks, it has the power, clarity, channel steering and soundstage-building talents to deliver even the most extreme Hollywood Dolby Atmos mixes with absolute conviction, while with music it’s able to adapt its tone and rein in its extremes to mesmerising and beautifully balanced effect.
Its lack of rear speakers as standard means Dolby Atmos movies and music only create their three-dimensional sound space in front of you rather than all around you, but you can add optional wireless rear speakers if you wish.
The biggest chink in the Multibeam 1100’s armour is its lack of DTS:X support given how common DTS:X soundtracks are in the physical media world, at least. The Smart Sound upmixing processing compensates for the lack of native DTS:X playback to an extent though, and in the end, the Multibeam 1100’s combination of an elegant form factor, remarkable adaptability and consistently fantastic quality makes it almost impossible to resist.