It’s possible to reach all the way back to the mid-1950s and draw a straight line to these most 21st Century of loudspeakers. Well, a straightish line at least – there are one or two minor deviations involving a food conglomerate, an American president, South Korea, and several billion dollars.
In 1956 Bernard Kardon decided to retire from the company he and Sidney Harman had founded three years beforehand. Suddenly the sole boss of Harman Kardon, Sidney changed the company’s name to Harman International – but its products continued to be branded Harman Kardon.
In 1959, Harman Kardon unveiled the Citation I preamplifier and a tube-driven power amp called Citation II. Citation II in particular, and the rest of Harman Kardon’s model range in general, was popular and successful enough to allow Harman International to begin acquiring other manufacturers – in 1969, for example, Harman International purchased the JBL loudspeaker brand.
Sidney sold his company to Beatrice Foods (yes, really) for $100m in 1976 – he was serving in Jimmy Carter’s government at this point and was allowed no other business interests. By the end of the Carter administration, Beatrice Foods had undermined the Harman Kardon brand to the extent that Sidney was able to buy it back in 1980 for $55m.
Sidney Harman was 88 years old by the time he retired in 2007 – by then Harman International was sitting on a significant portfolio of electronics brands, including the likes of AKG, Lexicon, and Revel. The company had the sort of profile and credibility in the stereo world a brand like Samsung would quite possibly kill for – but instead the South Korean giant settled for a takeover. It acquired Harman International in early 2017 for a reported $8bn.
Harman International probably fancied itself a company of heft and importance – but, of course, its activities are dwarfed by the scale of Samsung’s operation. Yet it seems to have been granted enough autonomy for the first fruits of its labour under new management to be precisely the sort of products one imagines Sidney Harman would be demanding were he still at the helm. And, of course, the range is called Citation.
The Citation Towers are the biggest and boldest statement in the current Citation range. A floorstanding pair of beefily powered speakers (with 200 watts of amplification in each tower), they’re comfortably over a metre tall and are that special three-dimensional, flared-ovoid, vaguely triangular shape for which the world of geometry has (as far as I can tell) no word. Cone? They’re cone-shaped, sort of. The impression of bulk is mitigated somewhat by the way the Towers seem to float a little above the plinths they’re mounted on.