HTC One (M8) 30-Day Challenge, Day 26: Harman Kardon & Sound

Anna Scantlin
Contributing Editor from  Kansas City, MO
| June 10, 2014


One of the coolest, strangest, and probably most obvious selling features of the HTC One series is the fact that the phone’s speaker isn’t hidden somewhere on the back or sides of the phone; rather, it’s in plain sight on the front, and there are two of them. In a bold (yet positive) move from the company last year with the release of the original HTC One, the dual front-facing “BoomSound” speakers really helped set this phone apart from others when it comes to sound quality.


It didn’t come as a suprise when HTC unveiled the M8 and the same speaker set-up was present. However, despite looking the same on the front, some changes had been made to the BoomSound speakers. Instead of using Beats Audio, which the M7 used, the relationship between HTC and Beats Audio didn’t exist by the time the M8 was released. Although there was no real brand name switch, HTC still claimed that the M8 was still 25% louder and clearer than the M7 was. In the case of the phone I’m using for this 30-Day Challenge, and for customers using the M8 on Sprint, an added audio bonus is included: the Harman/Kardon experience.


Unfortunately, I don’t have my M7 on me to make proper comparisons between the two. However, I do have my average Moto X and a Nokia Lumia 928, so there’s that.


What makes the Harman/Kardon edition of the M8 different is a couple of things: two extra settings and a swanky pair of headphones. When you purchase this phone through Sprint, you also have the option of purchasing the Harman Kardon Onyx Studio Speaker for $99 - which we also received for this challenge.


First, let’s talk about the M8 without the special settings. The audio is still as loud and clear as ever, in my opinion, and continues to blow me away - not literally, of course, but it feels like it’s pretty close to it. As I said, although I can’t compare it to the M7, I was able to compare it to two other phone models that I have on hand. Both the Moto X and the Lumia 928 have a single speaker on the back, and neither are as clear or as loud as the M8 is by far. However, that was to be expected.


The Harman Kardon part is probably the part that everybody is really wondering about, whether you actually use Sprint or not. Are Sprint users getting a much better deal out of the equation? Why wasn’t Harman/Kardon included in all HTC One models? Hopefully this part of the Challenge will answer some of those questions for you.


To put it simply, yes there is a noticeable difference between the different settings used; however, the differences heard aren’t really so impressive that the Harman/Kardon edition of the phone should be seen as a much better product compared to other versions of the M8.


When you head into the Harman/Kardon area of the settings, you’re faced with two options: Clari-Fi, which restores the quality of compressed audio, and LiveStage, which is supposed to give you a more life-like listening experience (only available when using headphones). These are the only two extra options that come with this phone as oppose to any other M8 on the market.


Clari-Fi does exactly as it says. It cleans up the audio and makes it sound even clearer - perhaps even too clear. I found that when the sound was turned up all the way and the Clari-Fi was on, something didn’t feel comfortable. When the Clari-Fi was turned off, though, things were fine. I wasn’t a huge fan of having Clari-Fi on when listening through just the phone’s speakers. I did, however, enjoy Clari-Fi immensely when I used either the headphones or the Onyx Studio Speaker - which, by the way, is also a pretty cool product on its own. Clari-Fi was also fine on the phone when the phone wasn’t turned up all the way. It does get extremely loud, and with the speakers facing you there’s not really any reason why it needs to be turned up all the way when you’re in a quiet room by yourself.


LiveStage also seems to do exactly as it says. I’m a person who typically would rather listen to a pre-recorded song rather than attend a concert and listen live, mostly because I like the loudness, crispness, and clarity that comes from studio recordings. It’s a stark contrast to somebody like my father, who often times would much rather hear a live version of a song instead. The LiveStage does give off the vibe that you’re listening to it in person in the sense that the audio sounds a little more distant, kind of like you were in a concert venue of sorts. I didn’t mind LiveStage when Clari-Fi was also turned on (yes, you can use both at the same time).


As for the headphones that are included with the phone, I have to admit that they’re not exactly the most comfortable things I’ve ever worn. I’ve changed the size of the buds to try and find something that fit better, but nothing really seems to fit just right. I preferred to use my own headphones, but it’s still nice to have a set that comes with the phone.


The Bluetooth Onyx Studio Speaker was one of the cooler aspects of testing the sound, and if I was to purchase this phone myself I would probably end up springing for this speaker. It’s a big speaker, and it produces even bigger, clearer sound. The back is also kind of cool in the fact that the back vibrates to the bass - it lets you “feel” the music. It’s also very simple to operate and it looks nice.


Overall, the sound of the M8 is impressive as I expected, and the Harmon/Kardon experience gives audiophiles some extra options that they may prefer. Is it a real game changer? Not really, I wouldn’t switch carriers for it; but it is a nice little extra to have if you happen to have the chance to get this model.