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A Visit to the Harman Kardon Experience Center

Last week I was cordially invited to Northridge California for an all-inclusive, experiential event that focused on Harman Kardon and JBL audio, as well as Harman’s auto partners, Kia. Firstly, I had to double-back to the dictionary to ensure that 'experiential' is a word. Sure enough it is, though not one in my lexicon. I feel like we have experience and we have experimental, but I don't know if we need experiential. Anyway, I digress. I signed up.

The event was held in the most dislocated of circumstances. On the shuttle bus from the hotel to Harman’s Northridge Experience Center, the driver was quick to highlight, 'the air is bad in Hollywood, but not normally this bad'. Referring to the outbreak of fires that was currently eating its way across the hills of Southern California.

Inside the center (I will use the indigenous spelling as you may have noticed) down the warehouse corridors, the miasma of charred woodland and merciless destruction was omnipresent. It is as you'd expect, immersive, both sonically and visually. David Glaubke, the Director of Public Relations at Harman, curates a mini-tour by picking up an Under Armour visor from a table and immediately a seraphic light pierces the product from above and the product details are displayed on a flat screen in front. All made possible by the Martin Harman lighting, which focuses on creating attractive environments through the use of dynamic light and visual effects.

As well the retail sector, Harman also becoming a recognised force in the travel and hospitality industry. With IBM Watson it has introduced voice recognition into hotels, the perfunctory 'open the blinds' and 'turn on the lights' aren't reinventing the wheel, but still impresses. Significantly it’s also piloted this technology in 50 Thomas Jefferson hospitals in Philadelphia. "Health care is very interested in this technology. Nurses are saying they spend 10% of their time trying to find the remote control to the TV, doing the blinds, making the patient comfortable. Well if you're able to take that off their plate they can reinvest that 10% into critical care for patients. It recognises multiple languages, it’s customisable, this is very aspirational stuff. You can send your presets on to the hotel ahead of time and you can walk into a room tailored to how you want it" - David Glaubke.

The Experience Center is like Disneyland for anyone involved in the creative arts, musicians especially. As someone that used to tour the country in originals and covers bands, I was suitably impressed with the crisp sound from the JBL EON ONE PRO. It's light as heck, 37 pounds (that's 17kg for us Brits and just over 2.5 Stone for us oldies), which makes it perfect for transporting for pub gigs. The bass had a good feel through the 8 inches of subwoofer and as its battery powered, you won't be tripping over power cables (Occupational hazard of a musician or well-oiled wedding guests).

The highlight of the tour was having the opportunity to watch a couple of movie clips inside the $1 Million private cinema. All demonstrating the penetrable firepower of JBL audio capabilities. Watching Tom Cruise on a space bike whizz across a Mars-like planet for a 30 seconds in Oblivion, I thought not only is this the technically punctilious and audibly immersive experience I've ever had, but Tom Cruise gets to ride a motorbike, even when he's in outer space. Lastly, I had the distinct pleasure of road-testing the Harman car audio capabilities by driving the KIA Stinger around the hills of Mulholland Drive. It’s worth mentioning that circa 50 million cars on the roads have Harman technology. Manufacturers such as Audi, BMW, Volvo, Aston Martin, Maserati, Toyota, all use Harman audio systems As Jonathan Pierce, Senior Manager of Global Benchmarking at Harman so eruditely mentioned in his keynote presentation, "Not everyone goes home to listen to their $30k speakers. A lot of people listen to music in their cars. We employ 42 trained listeners, to help us optimise this experience. That covers everything from detecting colourations, alterations in frequency responses and, minimising vibrations in doors".

Overall I was spoilt. It reaffirmed my love of audio and it widened my appreciation of the technical design and emotion that goes into evolving each speaker. I felt that everyone from the PR side, to the technicians, many of whom had been at the company for a number of years, felt an affinity for JBL and the Harman brand. And they're not alone.

Peter Brooker

Peter is a published author on men's style, a huge James Bond fanatic and the host of our very own Menswear Style Podcast. His new book 'From Tailors with Love: An Evolution of Menswear Through the Bond Films' is available now.

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