Harman/Kardon HTC One M8 on Sprint

A quick look at superficial features on an otherwise excellent phone

So this here is the Harman/Kardon edition of the HTC One M8, a phone we've already crawled all over, inside and out. You know the specs. We know how good the 5-inch display is. We know just how good those "BoomSound" speakers are. We know how great the battery life is, how powerful the phone is, and how well the 4-megapixel — excuse us, UltraPixel — camera performs. We know the M8 has curves that might make Kate Upton take notice.

And we also know the M8 isn't perfect. But it's pretty much the most compelling Android smartphone available these days.

If you're on Sprint, though, you now have a choice. You can get the HTC One M8 in gunmetal gray, or the HK version in black with champagne highlights.

That's not all, of course. You'll also get Harman/Kardon's audio enhancements, instead of HTC's "BoomSound." Still need more? You'll get a set of $150 earbuds in the box as well.

So the question still stands: Is this Harman/Kardon version any better than the original?

First up if you haven't read our official HTC One review, take a few minutes and swing through it. We're not going to go too deep into things with this version. Rather, we'll focus on the three differences: The color, the audio enhancements, and the earbuds.

The looks

Harman/Kardon HTC One M8 on Sprint

If the New Orleans Saints had a team phone, this would be it. The HK M8 (which is how I'm abbreviating it here on out) certainly wouldn't look out of place in the Superdome, with its black, brushed-metal back and not-quite-gold-but-OK-it's-"Champagne" fittings on the front. There's a ring on the camera housing as well, which provides some great contrast on the back, and the HTC logo has a nice patina to it. The Harman/Kardon logo sits where some FCC logos were before. And that's it as far as the visual changes go.

The black looks great. I daresay I prefer it to the gray. The only drawback is that it shows off fingerprints. Not surprising — we're used to that with black phones. It's just something to be aware of.

The earbuds

Harman/Kardan HTC One M8Harman/Kardan HTC One M8

I wanted to love these earbuds. I really did. Recognizing that there's a lot of subjectivity when it comes to shoving little speakers into your ears, sure. And I'd argue that these are as good a reason to get the HK M8 as the color or any audio tweaks on the softwares side.

The earbuds sound pretty great. Lots of bass. No muddying up the mid-range. Highs are crisp and clear. Sound is not the issue I have with these earbuds.

What turns me off is that they just don't stay in my ears the way I want. And when I push them back in, I get the a weird sound and feeling. It's probably the rubber of the earbud itself, but it just sounds squishy and creeps me out a little. After the first couple times it makes me want to move back to something foam-based.

The cable is a decent length (and the plug itself is stylish, not something you see every day), but it's also surprisingly stiff. Maybe it'll loosen up over time, but in the week that I've had it out it's constantly been a source of tangulation. (That's totally going to catch on as a word. You wait and see.) It continues to curl up in varying degrees of annoyingness.

Again, it's a shame, because they sound great. Maybe the negatives will bother you less.

The Harman/Kardon sound

Harman/Kardon HTC One M8

Ah, the real reason for this phone. HTC has replaced whatever audio tweaks are in its own "BoomSound" enhancements with Harman/Kardon's here. You'll find them in their own top-level section of the settings menu. You've got a couple options here:

  • Clari-Fi "restores the quality of compressed audio."
  • And LiveStage ... well, the phone doesn't tell you what that does, but you can only use it with headphones. (Or speakers. Anything plugged into the 3.5mm jack.)

Clari-Fi basically boosts everything. You can especially hear it in the highs, but the low end remains pretty fat as well. The mids also are brought out more, but sometimes that's with unexpected results. Parts you're used to being in the background are brought forward. LiveStage works on the high end, bringing it back to a more manageable level. It's still loud and distinct, but not painfully so.

I've taken to leaving Clari-Fi off, as I think it works a little too hard to normalize things. With headphones in, I leave LiveStage on.

Of course, all this is dependent on you having an idea of what the music "should" sound like in the first place. Is what Harman/Kardon has brought to the table any better or worse than HTC's own enhancements — or, for that matter, what you could achieve by yourself with some equalizer settings? Not for me, anyway.

So should you buy this thing or not?

For me, the decisions whether to purchase the Harman/Kardon HTC One M8 comes down to this:

  • The color — very cool. A nice option.
  • The included earbuds — a nice addition.
  • The audio enhancements — I could take 'em or leave 'em. But I'm like that about HTC's as well.
  • The cost — there is a $30 difference here (the HK M8 is $229 up front versus $199 for the standard M8), if you do a two-year contract with Sprint. If you do zero-down, the HK M8 costs $679 versus $649 for the standard M8. That's all a wash in my book, though.
  • Plus you can save some on Spotify, which is nice.

The other sway factor might just be if you think it's cool to have Harman/Kardon on your phone. We won't judge.


Reader comments

A mini review of the Harman/Kardon HTC One M8


From what I've been reading, the HK M8 was Sprint's idea and creation. They simply made a request to HTC to design an M8 specifically for them based on their criteria.

Wonder if the black scratches easier than the gray. Just curious. Not a Sprint customer but I really like the look.
Oh, and bloatware should die a horrible death.
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You know as much as I am hating Sprints network speeds, they are really good about not putting a bunch of crapware in their phones. They are out of the way, and most of them you could disable.

Brought to you by the Nexus M8

The bloatware is pretty bad, but Sense lets you hide apps from the drawer. Very nice feature.

I have dropped it caseless a couple of times, and not a scratch on it.

Pretty spot on review. I have to agree about the headphones, I have not found the right fit (rubber tip) for my ears. I do like the color better than the gunmetal gray though.

I hate the style of headphones that this phone comes with. They never stay in my ear. I like the bold fashion ear buds much better.

Posted via Android Central App

Hey Phil, you can buy different tips for them there buds. Those Rubber ones are awful. Last I checked $10 gets you a sample pack of sizes and types on Amazon (Monster brand). Makes a huge difference I think.

Posted via Android Central App

You can skip/replay songs using double and triple clicks of the mic button, even on stock Android (though that was added recently, some OEM had it long before). You can even change that behaviour with a Play store app, Headset Button Control amongst others. Can be set to lower volume upon plug in etc, some nice extra features.

Edit: Just realized you might've meant volume control, tho the apps can handle that off a single button too, usually thru a press and hold that lowers it and then starts raising it until release.

I guess if the headphones and the color are worth $30, then buy it, otherwise id just install viper4android and have enhancements for all sound output not just the jack. This thing is just a marketing gimmick. HTC should partner up with Asus and upgrade sound processor to a very good 24bit 96khz output. Make color Matte Black with red accents, the HTC Asus Xonar edition.

Posted via Android Central App

And it'll sound identical to properly ripped VBR MP3 unless you have golden ears and have the phone connected to an external amp and $300+ open headphones or custom balanced armature IEM.

Even then you might not find a difference, and if you think you can with closed headphones or budget IEM while in a noisy environment then you're either fooling yourself (run an ABX test) or you should probably look into a music producer career (though your work might still end up compressed to heck and mangled once mastered and sold).

Not interested... Sorry.. No different than the Evo4G which did start this race... It did. Say different... Then back it up.
Posted via Android Central App

+1. I had the Evo4G and at the time didn't realize how good it sounded. It sounded better than my Note 3 and as good if not better than the G2 I have. The one M8 has 24/96 and this one 24/192. I can't tell the difference on my QUAD57 speakers . Like Phil said, just use an equalizer. I have never found a review of these phones that designates the DAC. That should be important, but I guess not enough smartphone users care, or have heard a difference.

Anandtech had some audio tests for a while, the guy that codes voodoo audio was helping with it... Not sure if they've kept at it. These gussied up EQs and even 24/192 support are mostly gimmicks that cater to naive buyers and gullible audiophiles.
You can get a damn good DAC and decent headphone amplification for very little money (see: SanDisk Clip Zip), so when a phone is below average in that regard it's just a matter of the OEM cutting corners or running into issues with the SoC's audio stack.
I just don't care a whole lot anymore, even Bluetooth audio has progressed substantially and the default codecs were improved, so I usually use a clip on Sony BT receiver which takes the phone (mostly) out of equation, along with wire that dangles to it.
Can't tell the difference when compared to my Clip Zip while using my $100 Etymotic IEM or $200 V-Moda on ear headphones. To test with any of my better headphones I'd need better amplification than any of these portables will provide...
Might compare again when I get a pair of Fidelio X1 in, I've read those are easy to drive. I doubt they're any more revealing than my IEM tho, but they'd surely expose a weak low end better. Ultimately quality headphones make a much MUCH bigger difference than anything.

I have this phone. My main issues -

The notification area is a mess. Both the HK sound features have icons in the bar. I have never owned a LTE Spark device, and the icon is a disaster. There is a headphone icon when plugged in. (Why? I know I have headphones plugged in.) All of these things leave no room for what I actually want to see. If I have more then 3 notifications active, I have to pull it down to see what they are. It's absurd.

The volume rocker is still very loose, as it is with the other models.

Without a case, the thing is a magnet for fingerprints. I have very clean hands, but you wouldn't think so after an hour of holding it.

On the plus side of things -

The sound is absolutely ridiculous. Really does make a difference. An absolute treat to listen with headphones in.

The coloring is gorgeous, and I normally dislike the champagne colored devices. Really attractive device, when its wiped clean.

I upgraded from a Nexus 5, and I really do not regret it. Amazing phone, especially if you are in to music like I am.

That was pretty good. HTC hired Samsungs old marketing guy over a month ago and I haven't seen anything about it since, I wonder if it was him that designed the commercial. My only problem with it was they kept showing the HK Bluetooth speaker, it's an ad for a phone and it's audio enhancements, I think they should have shown the phone more in it. HTC has always made great devices but their marketing sucks so nobody really knows about them.

I wish the front-facing speakers were black. And there was another HK offer at my local Sprint Store recently, which included a HK Onyx Studio bluetooth speaker for $99 with a zero down Easy Pay agreement.

Posted via AC App on HTC One

why doest HTC never learn? If they want to sell more phones, they should not have these exclusive deals... least of all SPRINT! (the undisputed worst network in North America)

It's not just HTC or Sprint. What about the phones that have wireless charging (qi) built in exclusively for VZW such as the moto x?

And no. I won't leave Sprint for ANY VZW exclusive phone.

Works pretty good here in the Caribbean, LTE deployment has been superb. AT&T is pretty saturated since there's no VZW, I'm curious how much Tmo coverage has improved tho since they were pretty late to enter the market in PR. I've seen some superb speeds that put most of my Sprint speed tests to shame, but I've also heard various complaints about coverage around the island.

TL;DR Not all markets are the same and generalizations are pointless.

I really wanted this phone. Bad. I returned my original M8 (that I loved) and waited. But that color looks like shit. I'm really over black, knowing that there are so many other options. We've been black-slabbed to death over the years. But the barely-gold just fugglies it up for me. And it felt weird in my hand. I liked the headphones though. I ended up going back to the gunmetal but got them to give me a combo deal on that speaker (that really is awesome) and a couple of cases. Now if only they could start patching the gaping LTE holes around me...

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I was actually surprised at my last Sprint bill, apparently I used 4GB on LTE, 0.5GB on 3G, and 5MB while roaming... For $64 before taxes I'm happy, as long as they don't suddenly tell me I'm at the top 5% and start throttling me.

I'm still curious about AT&T/Tmo speeds tho and will probably try them out with pre paid SIMs once my Sprint contract is out (pointless to do so before then as I wouldn't switch beforehand).

Their LTE deployment here was superb tho, and my Nexus seems to get much better signal than the old EVO LTE.

Main reason not to buy: Sprint, unless you're already with them and like their service.

posted from LG G2

Another side benefit to the phone not mentioned here is a $300 discount on the Harman/Kardon Onyx Studio which normally retails for $400. I don't think it is worth $400 (my Klipsch KMC-3 is much better, IMO), but for $100 it becomes a pretty good value.