Review: Miglia HarmonyExpress
As Apple does not include an option for surround sound output in most Macs, people who buy 5.1 (5 satellites and a subwoofer) speaker systems often find themselves not using their speakers to the fullest. In the case of Power Macs, the solution is easy — add a sound card, but what about the other models, which have limited internal expansion? Miglia Technology’s HarmonyExpress claims to be a suitable workaround. We decided to put it to the test.
The HarmonyExpress is essentially a sound card crammed into a device the size of a flash drive. Two 3.5mm audio jacks are on one end for sound in and out, a mute button and LED are on the top, and a USB 2.0 connector is at the other end. A USB extension cable is included for connecting to models like the eMac or Mac mini. Since its manufacturer is based in the UK, the prices in the US range from around $60-$75.
The HarmonyExpress provides “Virtual 5.1” output, essentially giving a fuller, richer sound for users of 5.1 systems. Although this isn’t true 5.1, it is better than the built-in sound output.
The installation process is fairly simple. The HarmonyExpress is plug-and-play — you connect it, select it in the Sound Preference Pane in OS X, and it’s ready to go. Worth noting is that it will work perfectly well with any set of computer speakers, not just 5.1.
The microphone/line-in jack can be used for microphones, VCRs, tape decks, guitars, or anything else. Unfortunately, it is monaural, so it is best suited for microphones and guitars. We thought this was a bit disappointing, especially considering that Griffin’s iMic, is cheaper and has a stereo input.
In various tests, the HarmonyExpress drove our test 5.1 system with no trouble, and sounded good for iTunes, watching TV (using a tuner card), watching DVDs, and messing around in GarageBand. For most things, the difference was only slightly noticeable, since almost all the functions on a Mac are plain old stereo.
Unfortunately, true 5.1 products that utilize the FireWire port are on the horizon, and are priced within the reach of many. Depending on how well products like the FireWave work, the HarmonyExpress might only be suitable for those who want an ultraportable product.
Overall, the HarmonyExpress is a good product, if you’re looking for a small external sound solution to give you better sound than the built-in output included on all Macs. The audio input is a bonus for those who have Macs without built-in microphones, or built-in audio inputs.
The One-Sentence Verdict™
The small HarmonyExpress is a great product for those who need to fill a gap in their audio setup, but are on a budget.
Pros: Small, provides richer sound, no drivers needed
Cons: Audio input mono, output is still 2-channel